Earl Palmer Memorial Website Online

The family of legendary drummer Earl Palmer launched the website earlpalmermemorial.

You can share your memories and photos of Earl Palmer and there’s a discography compiled by electric bassist/guitarist Carol Kaye, who played on many records with Earl Palmer.

Earl Palmer died last week at his home in Banning, California. He was 83. From 1947 until the nineteen-eighties, Earl Palmer’s drumming was an essential part of  many important popular recordings and film soundtracks.

Der grosse amerikanische Schlagzeuger Earl Palmer ist gestorben

Sein Vermächtnis ist immens: mit seinem Schlagzeug-Spiel formte er die amerikanische Pop-Musik von den späten vierziger Jahren bis in die achtziger Jahre. Earl Palmer, geboren am 25. Oktober 1924 in New Orleans, starb am 19. September zuhause in Banning (Kalifornien). Ungefähr vor einem Jahr wurde er an der Lunge operiert und hat sich davon nicht mehr erholt.

Tief im Herzen war Earl Palmer ein Jazz-Schlagzeuger, aber sein geschmackssicheres und unglaublich vielseitiges Schlagzeug-Spiel war in jedem Musikstil zu Hause: Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Blues, Rock, Soul, Filmmusik, Musik für Zeichentrickfilme oder Easy Listening. Er ist auf Dutzenden von historischen Songs und Filmmusiken zu hören.

Zu seinem Schlagzeug tanzten in den fünfziger Jahren Teenager auf der ganzen Welt. Er spielte auf wegweisenden Rock ‘n’ Roll Songs wie I’m Walkin (Fats Domino) , Tutti Frutti, The Girl Can’t Help It, Long Tall Sally (Little Richard) , La Bamba ( Ritchie Valens) oder Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran). Er spielte für Soul-Star Sam Cooke (Cupid, Twistin’ The Night Away), für Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, Herb Alpert, Glen Campbell, Mel Tormé, Lou Rawls, die Beach Boys, die Monkees, Tim Buckley, Tom Waits, die Byrds, die Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Randy Newman, Barbara Streisand und viele mehr.

Und dann sind da noch die Filmmusiken: Er arbeitete mit grossartigen Komponisten wie Quincy Jones, Elmer Bernstein, John Barry, Neal Hefti und Maurice Jarre. Er sorgte für den Rhythmus in Filmen wie Das Urteil von Nürnberg, Die Lady und der Tramp, In der Hitze der Nacht und Bullitt. Und er ist auch in vielen klassischen Fernsehserien auf der Tonspur zu hören, unter anderem in 77 Sunset Strip, Peyton Place, Die Partridge Familie und M*A*S*H.

Als Kind war Earl Palmer Stepptänzer, später fing er an Schlagzeug zu spielen. Bald spielte er mit vielen Bands in New Orleans. Nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg studierte er mit einem Armee-Stipendium an der Grunewald’s School of Music in New Orleans Musiktheorie, Notenlesen und Arrangieren. Als er 1957 nach Los Angeles zog, brachte er nicht nur charakteristische New Orleans-Rhythmen mit, sondern auch fundierte musikalische Kenntnisse. Diese halfen ihm dabei, zum meistgefragtesten Studio-Schlagzeuger von Los Angeles zu werden.

Drummerworld bietet interessante Informationen zu seinem Schlagzeug-Stil und Video-Beispiele. Es gibt auch eine sehr gute Biografie mit dem Titel Backbeat: Earl Palmer’s Story, die 1999 erschien.

Great American Drummer Earl Palmer Has Died

His legacy is immense: he shaped American popular music with his drumming from the late nineteen-forties until the nineteen-eighties. Earl Palmer, born October 25, 1924, in New Orleans died on September 19th at his home in Banning California. He had to undergo a lung surgery about a year ago and was suffering since then.

Earl Palmer was a jazz drummer at heart, but his tasteful and incredibly diverse drumming felt at home in every style of music: rhythm ‘n’ blues, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, rock, soul, funk, film scores, cartoon music, or easy listening. He can be heard on dozens of historic songs and film soundtracks.

In then nineteen-fifties his drums made teenagers dance all over the world. He played on defining rock ‘n’ roll songs like I’m Walkin (Fats Domino) , Tutti Frutti, The Girl Can’t Help It, Long Tall Sally (Little Richard) , La Bamba ( Ritchie Valens) or Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran). He recorded for soul star Sam Cooke (Cupid, Twistin’ The Night Away), for Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, Herb Alpert, Glen Campbell, Mel Tormé, Lou Rawls, The Beach Boys, The Monkees, Tim Buckley, Tom Waits, The Byrds, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Randy Newman, Barbara Streisand and many others.

And then there are the film soundtracks: He worked with great composers like Quincy Jones, Elmer Bernstein, John Barry, Neal Hefti and Maurice Jarre. He supplied the rhythm to movies like Judgment At Nuremberg, Baby The Rain Must Fall, In The Heat Of The Night, Bullitt and he played on many television scores: 77 Sunset Strip, Peyton Place, The Partridge Family, M.A.S.H. and many others.

Earl Palmer was a tap dancer when he was a child and later picked up the drums. Soon he played with many local bands in New Orleans. After World War II he used the GI schooling for entering the Grunewald’s School of Music in New Orleans. He studied music theory, sight reading and arranging. So when he moved to Los Angeles in 1957, he not only brought with him the New Orleans “swamp beat”, but also a strong theoretical background that served him well in becoming the number one studio drummer of the Los Angeles music studios.

Drummerworld presents interesting information about his drumming including video samples. There’s also a very good biography called Backbeat: Earl Palmer’s Story that came out in 1999.

‘Variety’ Gives Music Docu ‘The Wrecking Crew’ Thumbs Up

Logo of Documentary \

There’s a positive review of the music documentary The Wrecking Crew on the Variety website. The documentary features some of the Los Angeles studio musicians who recorded many of the hits of the nineteen-sixties.

The film features legendary musicians such as Carol Kaye, Plas Johnson, Tommy Tedesco, Earl Palmer, Hal Blaine, Don Randi and stars like Nancy Sinatra, Cher, Brian Wilson and Glen Campbell.

Who Played On ‘La Bamba’?

Ritchie Valens

In 1958 Ritchie Valens recorded a rock and roll version of the traditional song “La Bamba” at Hollywood’s Gold Star studios:

Buddy Clark: string bass
Ernie Freeman: piano
Carol Kaye: rhythm guitar
Rene Hall: Danelectro guitar (six-string bass guitar)
Earl Palmer: drums
Ritchie Valens: vocals, guitar

Producer and owner of the “Del-Fi” label Bob Keane (a former clarinet player and big band leader) used some of the finest musicians to back up newcomer Ritchie Valens. They all had a jazz background. René Hall, Earl Palmer and Ernie Freeman worked for the Ernie Fields Orchestra at one time or the other.

Earl Palmer brought the “swamp beat” from New Orleans to Los Angeles. He started his career in New Orleans playing jazz and doing sessions for Fats Domino and Little Richard. In Los Angeles he became one of the best and most recorded studio drummers of the nineteen-sixties.

Jazz guitarist Carol Kaye switched to electric bass in the early sixties and would become a defining innovator of this instrument. With her bass lines she wrote music history. You can hear her playing on hundreds of pop songs, movie- and TV-soundtracks.

Ernie Freeman not only played piano, but was also an arranger and worked with Frank Sinatra, Petula Clark, Dean Martin and Connie Francis.

René Hall worked as studio guitarist on many R&B and pop records and wrote arrangements for Sam Cooke.

All these musicians were essential in creating the great US hits of the nineteen-fifties and -sixties. They used their jazz background to create legendary pop, soul and R&B music.

I’m not sure if bassist Buddy Clark is the same Buddy Clark who worked with Bud Freeman, Tex Beneke and Les Brown and later became a member of the Supersax band. NOTE: (April, 25th, 2008): It’s the same Buddy Clark. See following post: Who Played On ‘La Bamba’ Part 3

Learn about the historic background of “La Bamba”. And also read Who Played On “La Bamba”? Part 2.


– Bob Keane, “The Oracle Of Del-Fi”, Los Angeles: Del-Fi International Books, 2005
– E. Olsen, P. Verna, C. Wollf, ”The Encyclopedia Of Record Producers”, New York: Billboard Books, 1999
– Tony Scherman, “Backbeat – Earl Palmer’s Story”, Da Capo Press, 2000

Note: Studio musicians usually didn’t get credits until the late nineteen-sixties/early nineteenseventies. That’s why it’s sometimes hard to find out who played on records. I try to include as many sources as possible, but I don’t guarantee that my information is correct.