Saturday, January 9, 2021

Carl Palmer's Turn

Formed in 1969 by keyboardist Vincent Crane and drummer Carl Palmer, Atomic Rooster was one of the pioneering groups in progressive rock with a decidedly harder edge. Bandmates from the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, Crane and Palmer created a cutting sound that borrowed from bands like MC5 and the 13th Floor Elevators but were pointedly more free form in what became hard rock fusion, a harder alternative to Soft Machine. So much more gets written about Emerson and Lake, AM felt it was time to focus on Palmer.

Carl was a teenager when the Liverpool scene and the Beatles burst on the scene. A big fan, Palmer had more eclectic tastes, especially for including Buddy Rich, (Carl brazenly showed up at the jazz great’s hotel when Rich was on tour in England), Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey and Gene Krupa

He joined his first professional group, originally known as the King Bees, and later, The Craig; a “mod” combo that played solid R&B. Palmer recalls that his father saw greater things ahead than joining the ranks of the session musicians (which often included Jimmy Page or Rick Wakeman) despite the top pay, and urged him to resist the temptation, which he did until join up with Vince Crane and Arthur Brown.

Atomic Rooster, alongside bands like The Nice, bridged the gap between the psychedelic garage sound so prevalent in America and progressive rock. He stated that while working with Atomic Rooster he realized he liked working with small groups, preferably a trio where he got to open up his playing and try to do the things he admired in the work of his idol Buddy Rich. After the release of the Atomic Rooster debut, Palmer met Greg Lake of King Crimson, which had “split up” during their first American tour, and Keith Emerson of The Nice, who had split with his group amid a chaotic year that saw the collapse of its label, Immediate Records. In a sense, Palmer was the vertex of the triangle formed by the three personalities, a Beatles fan and a pop/rock enthusiast like Lake, and a jazz enthusiast like Emerson.

Within a year of Emerson, Lake & Palmer's debut in the summer of 1970, Palmer became one of the most idolized rock drummers in the world, the group's debut album showcasing a level of speed, dexterity, and taste that was wholly removed from the kind of playing prevalent at the time, even that of Moon or Bonham, and more like Ginger Baker (of course, the jazz influence) or Palmer’s contemporary Bill Bruford. When push comes to shove, and while never getting the accolades, Palmer is what is best in the jazz of Bruford, the syncopation of Bonham and the wild-man tenacity of Moony. Palmer is a drummer’s drummer.

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