Session drummer Earl Palmer, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee who featured on hits like Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High" and the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," passed away Friday at his Los Angeles home after a lengthy illness. He was 84. Palmer got his start as a session drummer in New Orleans, working with artists like Fats Domino and Little Richard, with Palmer providing the drums on Richard's hit "Tutti Fruitti." Palmer moved to Los Angeles in 1957 and began working with artists like Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Rick Nelson and producer Phil Spector. Palmer would later contribute to the Monkees' Head, Elvis Costello's King of America and Tom Waits' Blue Valentine. Palmer's drumming also featured in the theme song to The Flintstones. In addition to his session work, Palmer played weekly gigs in L.A. with his Earl Palmer Trio, often attracting musicians like Ringo Starr and Bonnie Raitt to the shows. Palmer was rewarded for his contributions to music history in 2000, when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Says Tony Scherman, author of the Palmer biography Backbeat: Earl Palmer's Story: "Earl Palmer was a brilliant and caring man, and he remembered everything. His amazing life was an adventure that wound not just through rock & roll; it was an eyes-open odyssey through 20th century America. In his unforgettable personality and language, Earl was a pure product of New Orleans' rich culture. Before he was 10 he was a featured performer in the great blues singer Ida Cox's vaudeville troupe, the Darktown Scandals. He was a soldier in our segregated World War II army, stubbornly fighting two enemies: the Nazis and racist white GIs. He was at the center of an overlooked but star-studded little chapter in jazz history, New Orleans bebop.
"As far as rock & roll goes, Earl had a major impact not just once, but twice. It was Earl, playing in a tiny Fifties recording studio in New Orleans, who steered the music from old-fashioned shuffles ("Lawdy Miss Clawdy") and R&B backbeats ("Maybelline") to the streamlined eight-to-the bar beat that still drives rock today. (He was only trying to match Little Richard's right hand on "Slippin' and Slidin'," Earl always said.) And then, heading for the West Coast, he became the soul of L.A.'s studios, playing on everything from Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba" to Phil Spector/Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep Mountain High" to Elvis Costello. When his studio days ended, Earl returned to his beloved bebop. Although the L.A. jazz clubs that hosted the Earl Palmer Trio were always meccas, right through to the end of Earl's life, for the rock cognoscenti who knew that Earl Palmer, among just a handful of others, was an immortal, one of the founding fathers of rock & roll."