Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b Earl Cyril Palmer, 25 October 1924, New Orleans LA; d 19 September 2008, Los Angleles CA) Session drummer who helped to invent modern rhythm & blues as it swept on to the white pop chart in the 1950s, and then became one of the busiest freelancers in Hollywood.
He began tap-dancing by age 5 in black vaudeville circuit; his mother was a singer and they toured with Ida Cox's revue. He learned drums after serving in Europe during World War II, returning to New Orleans and studying at the Gruenwald School of Music on the GI Bill. 'I had the advantage of knowing music before I played it,' he said in an interview in 1993. 'Being a dancer gave me an understanding of rhythmic time, and you can't teach that.' He began playing drums and recording with Dave Bartholomew and the house band at Cosimo Matassa's J&M studio in New Orleans, where Fats Domino, Little Richard, Lloyd Price and Smiley Lewis were making classic R&B tracks, and soon storming the pop chart. The sound of Palmer's syncopated bass drum and backbeat became the sound of dance music in the 1950s. 'What we were playing on those early records was funky in relation to jazz,' Palmer told The Los Angeles Times in 2000. '[It] already had that natural New Orleans flavor about the music. I played the bass drum how they played bass drum in funeral parade bands.'