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Earl Palmer

Earl Palmer was the New Orleans drummer who largely defined the beat of rock 'n roll on thousands of recordings from the late 1940s on.

Dapper and outspoken, Earl Palmer may well have been the most recorded drummer in the history of popular music. He stamped his sound on everything from early Fats Domino and Little Richard hits to classic movie soundtracks to music for "The Flintstones" cartoon.

Palmer recorded with Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Sam Cooke, Glen Campbell, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, the Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Sonny & Cher, the Supremes and the Monkees, among many others.

He was the drummer on Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep Mountain High," the Righteous Brothers' smash "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and Ritchie Valens' signature "La Bamba."

"He's the trunk of the tree of drumming, if not a big ol' root," said renowned New Orleans jazz, funk and rhythm & blues drummer Johnny Vidacovich. "He's part of the basic foundation. He's something we all built on."

Earl Palmer grew up in the Treme neighborhood. He entered show business as a young boy, working as a tap dancer with his mother and aunt on the black vaudeville circuit. After a stint in the army during World War II, he returned to New Orleans and studied drumming. He joined the popular big band fronted by Bartholomew, a trumpeter and a friend since childhood.

When Bartholomew became a talent scout and record producer for Imperial Records, he recruited Palmer as the drummer for recording sessions at sound engineer Cosimo Matassa's J&M Music Shop on North Rampart Street. Those sessions bore witness to the very dawn of rock 'n roll.

Palmer's distinct back beat, built on a heavy bass kick and New Orleans second line shuffle, was also informed by bebop jazz. He considered himself a jazz musician at heart, even though his style, a synthesis of power and subtlety, facilitated popular music's transition from rhythm & blues to rock 'n roll.

"Earl had a melodic sense of the bass line," Matassa said. "He didn't just do the rhythm -- he played the bottom end of the tune. It fit hand in glove with what was going on. He used his knowledge and craft, his understanding of what drums could do."

Palmer provided the pulse on scores of Fats Domino singles, including his 1949 debut "The Fat Man" and his hits "I'm In Love Again," "I'm Walkin" and "My Blue Heaven." He backed Little Richard on "Long Tall Sally" and "Tutti Frutti," Smiley Lewis on "I Hear You Knocking," Lloyd Price on "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and Shirley & Lee on "Let the Good Times Roll."

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson


Ace Records


Percolator / Midnight...

Warner Bros. Records



Warner Bros. Records


Percolator Twist And...

Warner Bros. Records




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