Earl Cyril Palmer (October 25, 1924 – September 19, 2008) was an American drummer. Considered one of the inventors of rock and roll,[1] he is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[2]

Earl Palmer
Palmer in 2000
Background information
Birth nameEarl Cyril Palmer
Born(1924-10-25)October 25, 1924
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
DiedSeptember 19, 2008(2008-09-19) (aged 83)
Banning, California, U.S.
GenresR&B, rock, jazz
Occupation(s)Session musician

Palmer was one of the most prolific studio musicians of all time and played on thousands of recordings, including nearly all of Little Richard's hits, many of Fats Domino's hits, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" by the Righteous Brothers, and a long list of classic TV and film soundtracks. According to one obituary, "his list of credits read like a Who's Who of American popular music of the last 60 years".[3]



Born into a show-business family in New Orleans and raised in the Tremé district, Palmer started his career at five as a tap dancer, joining his mother and aunt on the black vaudeville circuit in its twilight and touring the country extensively with Ida Cox's Darktown Scandals Review. His father is thought to have been the local pianist and bandleader Walter "Fats" Pichon.[3] Palmer was raised Catholic.[4]

Palmer was 12 when he headlined a floor show at the Rhythm Club in New Orleans, "a very beautiful spot where one can enjoy a floor show, headed by Alvin Howey and Little Earl Palmer".[5]

Palmer served in the United States Army during World War II and was posted in the European theatre.[6] His biographer wrote,

Most Negro recruits were assigned to noncombatant service troops: work gangs in uniform. "They didn't want no niggers carrying guns," says Earl; they carried shovels and garbage cans instead. Earl's job, loading and handling ammunition, was relatively technical, but his duty was clear: to serve white infantrymen.

— Tony Scherman, Backbeat: Earl Palmer's Story (1999), p. 47[7]

After the war ended Palmer studied piano and percussion at the Gruenwald School of Music in New Orleans, where he also learned to read music. He started drumming with the Dave Bartholomew Band in the late 1940s.[3] Palmer was known for playing on New Orleans recording sessions, including Fats Domino's "The Fat Man" and "I'm Walkin" (and several more of Domino's hits), "Tipitina" by Professor Longhair, "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard (and most of Richard's hits), "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" by Lloyd Price, and "I Hear You Knocking'" by Smiley Lewis.

His playing on "The Fat Man" featured the backbeat that has come to be the most important element in rock and roll. Palmer said, "That song required a strong afterbeat throughout the whole piece. With Dixieland you had a strong afterbeat only after you got to the shout last chorus…It was sort of a new approach to rhythm music." Reportedly, he was the first to use the word funky, to explain to other musicians that their music should be made more syncopated and danceable.[3]

Palmer left New Orleans for Hollywood in 1957, initially working for Aladdin Records. He soon started working with the Wrecking Crew, a loose-knit group of session musicians who recorded nonstop during their heyday from 1962 to 1968.

The musicians union tracked Palmer playing on 450 dates in 1967 alone.

For more than 30 years he played drums on the soundtracks of many movies and television shows. Amongst the many artists he worked with were Glenn Yarbrough, Frank Sinatra, Phil Spector, Ricky Nelson, Bobby Vee, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Eddie Cochran, Ritchie Valens, Bobby Day, Don and Dewey, Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys, Larry Williams, Gene McDaniels, Bobby Darin, Neil Young, The Pets, The Byrds when they were still known as The Beefeaters, and B. Bumble and the Stingers. He also played in jazz sessions with David Axelrod, Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic, Onzy Matthews, and Count Basie, and he contributed to blues recordings by B.B. King.

He remained in demand as a drummer throughout the 1970s and 1980s, playing on recordings for albums by Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Tim Buckley, Little Feat and Elvis Costello.[3]

In 1982, Palmer was elected treasurer of the Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians. He served until he was defeated in 1984. He was re-elected in 1990.[6]

A biography, Backbeat: Earl Palmer's Story, by Tony Scherman, was published in 1999.[7]

In later years, Palmer played with a jazz trio in Los Angeles.[3]

Palmer is interviewed on screen and appears in performance footage in the 2005 documentary film Make It Funky!, which presents a history of New Orleans music and its influence on rhythm and blues, rock and roll, funk and jazz.[8] In the film, he performs "Rip It Up" with guest vocalist Ivan Neville and house band.[9]

Palmer is also interviewed in the 2008 documentary film about Los Angeles session musicians, The Wrecking Crew.

Palmer died in September 2008, in Banning, California, after a long illness.[10] He is buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.

Personal life


Palmer married four times and had seven children.[2] At the time of his death, he was survived by his children Earl Cyril Palmer Jr., Donald Alfred Palmer, Ronald Raymond Palmer and Patricia Ann Palmer from his marriage to Catherine Palmer; Shelly Margaret Palmer and Pamela Teresa Palmer from his marriage to Susan Joy Weidenpesch; and Penny Yasuko Palmer from his marriage to Yumiko Makino. He married his fourth wife, Jeline, in 2004.[10]


  • "You could always tell a New Orleans drummer the minute you heard him play his bass drum because he'd have that parade beat connotation."
  • Late in his career, Palmer appeared in a music video with the band Cracker on the song "I Hate My Generation". As Addicted to Noise tells the story, "According to Cracker leader David Lowery, when Palmer was asked if he would be able to play along with the songs, he gave Lowery a look and said, 'I invented this shit.'"
  • "I've been asked if people could borrow my drums because they like their sound. What the hell, they think the drums play themselves? I said, 'You really want 'em? Really? Okay. Cost you triple scale and cartage.'"
  • When asked by Max Weinberg what more of the recording sessions he'd played on Palmer replied, "Don't ask me which ones I played on. I should have done like Hal [Blaine]. Hal used to get gold records for all the things he played on. I never did that, you know. I would like to have a room with all those things in them. It would have been nice—show my grandchildren when they grow up so they don't say, 'Oh shut up old man and sit down.' I could just say, 'Look. I don't have to tell you nothing. There it is.'"[11]



In 2000, Palmer became one of the first session musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[3]



As leader

  • Drumsville (Liberty Records, 1961)
  • Percolator Twist (Liberty Records, 1962)

As sideman


With David Axelrod

With The Beach Boys

With Glen Campbell

With Sam Cooke

With Bobby Darin

With Fats Domino

With José Feliciano

  • 10 to 23 (RCA Victor, 1969)
  • That The Spirit Needs (Of Muse And Man) (RCA Victor, 1971)

With Bobbie Gentry

With Lightnin' Hopkins

With B.B. King

With Peggy Lee

With Ketty Lester

  • Love Letters (Era, 1963)
  • Ketty Lester (Records By Pete, 1969)

With Harvey Mandel

  • Righteous (Phillips, 1969)
  • The Snake (Janus, 1972)

With Teena Marie

With The Monkees

With Maria Muldaur

  • Waitress in a Donut Shop (Reprise, 1974)
  • Sweet Harmony (Reprise, 1976)

With Della Reese

  • I Like It Like Dat! (ABC, 1965)
  • On Strings of Blue (ABC, 1967)
  • I Gotta Be Me... This Trip Out (ABC, 1968)
  • Let Me in Your Life (People, 1973)

With Little Richard

With Howard Roberts

  • Color Him Funky (Capitol, 1963)
  • H.R. is a Dirty Guitar Player (Capitol, 1963)

With Lalo Schifrin

With others



Film scores


Palmer was the session drummer for a number of film scores, including:[7]


Judgment at Nuremberg, score by Ernest Gold


Hud, score by Elmer Bernstein
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, score by Ernest Gold


Baby the Rain Must Fall, score by Elmer Bernstein
Ride the Wild Surf, score by Stu Phillips
Robin and the Seven Hoods, score by Nelson Riddle


Boeing Boeing, score by Neal Hefti
Harlow, score by Neal Hefti
How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, score by Les Baxter
A Patch of Blue, score by Jerry Goldsmith


Pretty Polly, score by Michel Legrand
Cool Hand Luke, score by Lalo Schifrin
In the Heat of the Night, score by Quincy Jones


A Dandy in Aspic, score by Quincy Jones

Television scores


Palmer was also the session drummer for a number of television show themes and soundtracks, including:[7]


Artist Song title Highest position
on US charts
Lloyd Price "Lawdy Miss Clawdy"


Artist Song title Highest position
on US charts
Smiley Lewis "I Hear You Knocking"
Fats Domino "Blue Monday"
Shirley and Lee "Feel So Good"
Little Richard "Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey" Later covered by The Beatles


Artist Song title Highest position
on US charts
Little Richard "Tutti Frutti" #17
Fats Domino "I'm in Love Again" #3
Fats Domino "My Blue Heaven" #19
Fats Domino "When My Dreamboat Comes Home" #14
Little Richard "Long Tall Sally" #6
Little Richard "Slippin' and Slidin'" #33
Little Richard "Rip It Up" #17
Amos Milburn "Chicken Shack Boogie"
Shirley and Lee "Let the Good Times Roll" #20


Artist Song title Highest position on US charts Miscellaneous
Fats Domino "I'm Walkin'" #4 March 9, 1957
Roy Brown "Let the Four Winds Blow" #29 July 1, 1957
Sam Cooke "You Send Me" #1 October 28, 1957
Thurston Harris "Little Bitty Pretty One" #6 October 28, 1957
Don and Dewey "I'm Leaving It Up to You" July 18, recorded 1957 Became a #1 hit for Dale and Grace in 1963 and a #4 for Donny and Marie Osmond in 1974[12]
The Hollywood Flames "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz" #11 December 2, 1957 Bobby Day, lead singer
Little Richard "Lucille" #21 April 6, 1957
Little Richard "Jenny Jenny" #10 June 24, 1957
Bob Luman "Red Hot"
Ricky Nelson "I'm Walkin'" #4 May 6, 1957 Palmer had previously charted with the Fats Domino original version of this song
Ricky Nelson "Be-Bop Baby" #3 October 7, 1957
Larry Williams "Slow Down" Recorded September 11, 1957 Song later recorded by The Beatles
Larry Williams "Short Fat Fanny" #5 July 8, 1957
Larry Williams "Bony Moronie" #14 November 11, 1957 Song later covered by John Lennon
Percy Mayfield "Please Believe Me"


Artist Song title Highest position
on US charts
Eddie Cochran "Summertime Blues" #8 August 25, 1958
Bobby Day "The Bluebird, the Buzzard and the Oriole"
Bobby Day "Rockin' Robin" #2 August 4, 1958
Bobby Day "Over and Over" #41 Covered by the Dave Clark Five for a #1 hit
Doris Day "Everybody Loves a Lover" #6 August 4, 1958
Eddie Cochran "Jeannie Jeannie Jeannie" #94
Fats Domino "I Hear You Knocking" Previously (1955) recorded with Smiley Lewis
Don and Dewey "Koko Joe" Recorded March 27, 1958 Song written by Sonny Bono and released as a single for The Righteous Brothers in 1963
Jan and Arnie "Jennie Lee" #8 Jan and Arnie later changed their name to Jan and Dean
Johnny Otis Show "Willie and the Hand Jive" #9
Little Richard "Good Golly, Miss Molly" #10
Art and Dotty Todd "Chanson D'Amour" #6
The Burnette Brothers
Johnny Burnette & Dorsey Burnette
"Warm Love, Boppin' Rosalie" Recorded February 5, 1958
Eugene Church "Pretty Girls Everywhere"
Ritchie Valens "Come On, Let's Go" #42
Ritchie Valens "Donna" #2, 12/15/58
Ritchie Valens "La Bamba" #22, 1/19/59
Larry Williams "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" Later covered by The Beatles
Sheb Wooley "The Purple People Eater" #1 Remained #1 for 14 weeks


Artist Song title Highest position
on US charts
Edd Byrnes "Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)" #4 The female voice on the song is Connie Stevens
Eddie Cochran "Teenage Heaven" #99
Anita Bryant "Till There Was You" #30
Ernie Fields "In the Mood" #4
Don and Dewey "Farmer John"
Don and Dewey "Pink Champagne"
Jan and Dean "Baby Talk" #10
Chan Romero "Hippy Hippy Shake" Later covered many times, notably by The Swinging Blue Jeans
April Stevens "Teach Me Tiger"
Don Ralke "Bourbon Street Beat"
Connie Stevens "Sixteen Reasons" #3
The Teddy Bears "Oh Why"
Larry Williams "Bad Boy" Recorded by The Beatles in 1964
Ritchie Valens "Stay Beside Me"


Artist Song title Highest position
on US charts
Bobby Vee "Devil or Angel" #6
Bobby Vee "Rubber Ball" #6
Bobby Bare "Book of Love"
Dante & the Evergreens "Alley Oop" #15
Dinah Washington "Love Walked In"
Walter Brennan "Dutchman's Gold" #30
Dorsey Burnette "Hey Little One" #48


Artist Song title Highest position
on US charts
B. Bumble and the Stingers "Bumble Boogie" #21 A reworking of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee
B. Bumble and the Stingers "Nut Rocker" #23 A reworking of Tchaikovsky's March of the Toy Soldiers, Nutcracker ballet
Glen Campbell "Turn Around, Look at Me" #62
Timi Yuro "Hurt" #4
Jimmy Witherspoon "Warm Your Heart"
The Castelles "Sacred"
Bobby Vee "Run to Him" #2
Bobby Vee "Take Good Care of My Baby" #1
Paul Anka "Dance On Little Girl" #10
Sam Cooke "Cupid" #17
Sam Cooke "Twisting the Night Away" #9
Bobby Darin "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" #5
Simms Twins "Soothe Me" #5 on the US R&B charts Written by Sam Cooke
Jackie DeShannon "Heaven Is Being with You"
The Fleetwoods "Tragedy" #10
The Fleetwoods "(He's) The Great Imposter" #30
Lou Rawls "Above My Head"
The Lettermen "When I Fall in Love" #7
Gene McDaniels "Chip Chip" #10
Gene McDaniels "A Hundred Pounds of Clay" #3
Gene McDaniels "Tower of Strength" #5


Artist Song title Highest position
on US charts
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass "The Lonely Bull" #6
Walter Brennan "Mama Sang a Song"
Vicki Carr "He's a Rebel" #115
Ray Charles "I Can't Stop Loving You" #1
Ray Charles "You Don't Know Me" #2
Nat King Cole "Ramblin' Rose" #2
Johnny Crawford "Cindy's Birthday" #8
Bobby Darin "You're the Reason I'm Living" #3
Duane Eddy "Ballad of Paladin" #33 Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the top 100 Western songs of all time (#36).[13]
The Everly Brothers "Don't Ask Me to Be Friends" #48
Ketty Lester "Love Letters" #5
Willie Nelson "Half a Man" #25 on the US Country charts
Clifford Scott "The Kangaroo/Skee-dattle to Seattle"
Frank Sinatra "Everybody's Twistin'"
Bobby Vee "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" #3


Artist Song title Highest position
on US charts
Roy Clark "Through the Eyes of a Fool" #128, #31 on Country chart
Bobby Darin "Treat My Baby Good" #43
The Everly Brothers "It's Been Nice (Goodnight)" #101
Jan and Dean "Drag City" #10
Jan and Dean "Surf City" #1


  1. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music. Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 978-1904041702.
  2. ^ a b "Earl Palmer, 84 [sic], a Jazz Session Drummer, Dies". The New York Times. Associated Press. September 22, 2008. p. B7. Retrieved October 10, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Perrone, Pierre (September 22, 2008). "Earl Palmer [Obituary]". The Guardian (US ed.). Retrieved October 10, 2020.
  4. ^ "Obituary - Session Drummer Earl Palmer | Motown Forever - A Tribute To The Classic Sound". motownforever.proboards.com. Retrieved December 12, 2023.
  5. ^ Barnes, Walter. "Walter Barnes' Band Tremendous Hit at Big Dance Down in Ol' New Orleans." Chicago Defender 13 May 1937: 24.
  6. ^ a b Dahl, Bill. "Earl Palmer Biography". AllMusic. Rovi. Retrieved February 19, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d Scherman, Tony (1999). Backbeat: Earl Palmer's Story. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. ISBN 9781560988441. OCLC 39655139.
  8. ^ "IAJE What's Going On". Jazz Education Journal. 37 (5). Manhattan, Kansas: International Association of Jazz Educators: 87. April 2005. ISSN 1540-2886. ProQuest 1370090.
  9. ^ Make It Funky! (DVD). Culver City, California: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 2005. ISBN 9781404991583. OCLC 61207781. 11952.
  10. ^ a b Noland, Claire (September 21, 2008). "Legendary session drummer". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 6, 2009. Retrieved January 22, 2022.
  11. ^ Weinberg, Max (2004). The Big Beat: Conversations with Rock's Greatest Drummers. Hudson Music. ISBN 978-0634082757.
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Billboard Books, New York, 1992
  13. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on October 19, 2010.