By the time Earl Palmer moved from New Orleans to join the Los Angeles session musician Mafia in 1957, he'd already had a couple of careers in entertainment. As a kid tap dancer in black vaudeville, he saw the country, crossing paths with the likes of Art Tatum and Louis Prima before embarking upon a stint in the segregated World War II Army ("You was always running into stuff you didn't like. At first you took it. After two years you ready to hurt somebody"). Back in Louisiana, he took up work as a jazz drummer, little knowing that he'd soon be part of a revolution in music. As a regular on the scene, Palmer played on the seminal sides by Little Richard, Fats Domino, and many other R&B and early-rock & roll performers. Marked by a preternatural sense of propulsion and delightfully sly fills, Palmer's drumming was an indispensable part of shaping the new sound. By the '60s, he was working with Sinatra and Phil Spector, playing jazz (his first love) in clubs and contributing to dozens of movie and TV soundtracks (you'll hear him next time you watch Harold and Maude, Cool Hand Luke, or a rerun of M.A.S.H. or The Odd Couple). Backbeat is an incisive, frequently hilarious read that opens doors on recording studios, show business, and race in America. --Rickey Wright
From Publishers Weekly
Earl Palmer, the New Orleans jazz musician who became one of rock and roll's great drummers, is a name known chiefly to connoisseurs. By transforming rhythm and blues' lope into a powerful headlong thrust, he propelled hits by Little Richard, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Ritchie Valens, Ike and Tina Turner, Ricky Nelson, the Beach Boys, the Supremes and the Mamas and the Papas, among others. Moving to Los Angeles in 1957, Palmer practically lived in the studio for the next dozen years, co-creating hundreds of hits as drummer or arranger, though never sharing royalties or credits. Between sessions, he played big-band pop and jazz with Sinatra, Gillespie, Basie and Ray Charles, besides doing film and TV soundtracks. In a vibrant oral autobiography, Scherman (who edited The Rock Musician and co-edited The Jazz Musician) lets Palmer tell his own story through interviews, adding chapter introductions and meticulous, informative endnotes that often amount to brief essays. Born in 1924, Palmer joined his mother and aunt on the black vaudeville circuit around age eight as a professional tap dancer. In World War II, he issued live ammo to his noncombatant mates during training (so they could shoot back at racist whites); tried to go AWOL before shipping out; and took a two-week joyride through France. A great raconteur, at once hip, opinionated and irreverent, Palmer reels off stories and lets the good times roll. This exhilarating book offers a rare first-person window on the New Orleans musical scene from honky tonk to bebop, the insular world of black vaudeville, the bitter combat experience of African-Americans during WWII, and rock's early days. 32 photos.
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