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Back Beat: Earl Palmer's Story


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About the Author

Tony Scherman has written about American music and culture for more than two dozen publications, including the New York Times and Rolling Stone. He edited the anthology The Rock Musician and co-edited its companion volume, The Jazz Musician. He lives in Rockland County, New York.


From his show business debut at the age of five, tap dancing with his mother and aunt in the last days of black vaudeville, Earl Palmer grew up to become the beat of popular American musical culture. After a stretch in the service during World War II, Palmer returned to his native New Orleans and began drumming with Dave Bartholomew's legendary band. By the time the rock'n'roll era was in full swing, Palmer was right there, playing with Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Sam Cook. In the 1960s he made a comfortable living as one of Los Angeles's top studio musicians. His behind-the-scenes influence continued to be felt through his work with the musician's unionÄhe was instrumental in seeing to it that musicians received royalties when Hollywood started using oldies as a standard part of the soundtracks of the 1980s. Music writer Scherman's "as told to" style is rich with anecdotes and stories, some of the most amusing being the ledgers from Palmer's session work with acts from Jimmy Durante to Bonnie Raitt. Entertaining and informative; recommended for all public libraries.ÄDan Bogey, Clearfield Cty. P.L. Federation, Curwensville, PA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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. (May)

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