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BACKBEAT: Earl Palmer's Story Hardcover – April 17, 1999

4.4 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonian (April 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560988444
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560988441
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,606,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you like behind the scenes stories of the old days of music, this is a book you'll like. Palmer has a gunfighter mentality that enhances his story, and a career that began back in the 1930's when he was a child dancer. He's experienced alot in his career, including the start of rock and roll. His explanation of the rhythmic changes that set early rock and roll apart from the music that came before it is fascinating. Palmer was playing in Little Richard's band and he noticed that Little Richard wasn't playing blues shuffle rhythms on his piano. Although the band could play a blues shuffle behind Little Richard and sound acceptable, as was the case on "Tutti-Frutti," the sound was better when the drummer and the band adapted to the rhythm that Little Richard was playing, as they did on "Lucille". Palmer doesn't know if Little Richard or Chuck Berry invented the rock and roll rhythm first, but he points out that Berry's band always played blues shuffles behind him, while Little Richard's band had a more modern beat. The records bear this out. I thought it was a fascinating explanation, and a cool insight.
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By A Customer on September 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
I am a great fan of Earl Palmer and eagerly read the book. I was even lucky enough to get him to sign my copy at a jazz fest appearance.
That said, this is a moving book chronicling his rise as THE New Orleans drummer to being the premier studio drummer in the world .
Music is the background of this book-the foreground is more about Palmer's life, loves and career. Palmer is frank, unapologetic, opinionated and somewhat cocky.
He discusses New Orleans in the 40's and 50's, race relations and the music scene from a first person perspective. Its refreshing and full of surprises.
He moves on to chronicle his career in L.A.- how he comes into the scene- who he displaces and eventually how he gets displaced. Anecdotes abound about various sessions and gigs- though not as many as one might want to hear.
What this book clearly is not is some sort of insight into technique or musical philosophy. This disappointed me at first - then I realized Earl can let the huge body of recorded work do the talking there. ( I have seen some video tape for sale where Earl demonstrates various beats and techniques)
The book is a bit choppy and somewhat unpolished at times- but it makes up for it in frankness.- over time I came to appreciate that.
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Format: Paperback
The life story of the 'inventor' of the rock and roll backbeat! Great insight on life in the 50's era of music in New Orleans.

His success in LA as the premier drummer and his great down to earth language in reliving some of the times when he was in his prime.

He and Hal Blaine are the reason so many of the record labels recorded in LA, and their ability to not only provide the beat, but many times either arrange or help arrange the tunes made Earl invaluable in the studio.

A must read if your into the rock and roll history of the roots of the music.
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Format: Hardcover
Earl Palmer is an incredibly important figure in pop music. His drumming virtually defines early rock 'n' roll, especially his recordings for the Specialty label in the 1950's.
It was great to hear him talk about his early years and how he became such a major performer in the studios of New Orleans and Hollywood.
It is also fascinating to hear him talk aout his desire to be a bebop drummer.
As a result of reading this book I went out and bought a whole bunch of records with Palmer.
Anyone interested in the roots of rock or in what makes a good drummer should read this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a drummer and a fan of great music of the fifties, sixties and seventies, this book was a must-read. What a life Earl had! From child dancing prodigy to first-call L.A. session-drummer, Earl Palmer IS the story of Rock and Roll, and any and all forms of recorded music. His approach, his instincts, his professionalism, and his humor are all here in this great bio on a man so important to contemporary music, that most people don't even know it was him playing on their favorite hits, which is a shame. Read this book and let anyone and everyone know that Earl Palmer was THE man that made them dance.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of the greatest and most prolific drummers in history. Palmer's story is a very interesting look at the life of a musician from the days when segregation ruled up through modern popular music. It coincides with America's history from a time when racism was a part of every institution through our continuing evolution toward overcoming prejudice in all walks of American life. Music has led the way, but it's still a work in progress, to be sure. This autobiography is a great read, even if you are not a musician or a music historian.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Back in the day" I played drums in several rock/R&B bands. Only much later did I realize how much I was learning then from Earl Palmer. The man was EVERYWHERE in '50s through '70s rock, to say nothing of TV themes and movie sound tracks. This book brings it all home. Tony Scherman carries this project off with great skill and feeling. He writes in third-person when sketching in background, then switches to first-person for long sections in which Earl is telling the story, obviously taken from extensive recorded interviews.

I expected this to be a book primarily about Palmer's heyday as a first-call studio drummer in Los Angeles. But no, Scherman takes it back to Palmer's early childhood in New Orleans, painting an exquisitely detailed portrait of a life and upbringing that few readers have ever experienced or could scarcely imagine. He takes us with Palmer to Europe during World War II and relates a hilarious tale framed by the most deplorable racism.

Throughout, one aspect of Palmer's personality that shines through is his ability to take poverty, hardship, racism, and stellar success all in stride. He took life as it came at him while summoning his inborn talents to become one of the most successful studio musicians of the 20th century. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from cover to cover. I came away with vastly increased respect and admiration for Earl Palmer.
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