Carl Palmer: Getting By With A Little ELP From His Friends

Carl Palmer: Getting By With A Little ELP From His Friends

By David DeRocco

In a city that was once home to Rush’s Neil Peart, it would be hard for any ordinary drummer to come into St. Catharines as a band leader and try to impress the locals. Then again, CARL PALMER is no ordinary drummer.

 Named one of the Top 10 drummers of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, Carl Palmer has spent the last four decades thrilling audiences and fans around the world with his drumming virtuosity. Known for his technical brilliance, dynamic showmanship and consummate professionalism, Palmer has sold over 50 million records in his roles as founding member of both Emerson Lake and Palmer (ELP) and ASIA, as well as performing with 60’s icons Atomic Rooster and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

 With the unexpected loss of his ELP bandmates Keith Emerson and Greg Lake in 2016, Palmer was left alone to carry on the legacy of one of the most influential progressive rock bands in history. In most bands having the drummer as the sole surviving member may present a problem when it comes to accurately recreating the music that made them famous. However, along with their own progressive rock classics like “Lucky Man” and “Karn Evil 9”, ELP was revered for their aggressive instrumental arrangements of such classical music pieces as Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition” and Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” As a key contributor to those epic recordings, Palmer is aptly suited to perform the songs in a manner that measures up to ELP’s exacting musical standards.   

 With “Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy 2017 – Emerson Lake and Palmer Live On,” the musician known as a “drummer’s drummer” has created an amazing tribute to his recently departed bandmates. Rather than hire a keyboardist and vocalist and expect them to faithfully recreate the musical contributions of Emerson and Lake, Palmer has instead completely rearranged and reinvented ELP’s instrumental pieces for performance on guitar, bass and drums. The tour that brings Palmer and his current bandmates to St. Catharines’ First Ontario Performing Arts Centre October 12th is an all-new show that traces ELP’s musical history, from their eponymous first album through such seminal prog-rock LPs as Tarkus, Brain Salad Surgery and Work Volume 1 and 2.

 The tour is also a visual spectacle, as Palmer has included a video-retrospective of his years with ELP to heighten the nostalgia and pay proper respect to his recently departed friends. If you never got to see ELP in their heyday, this tour gives you an excellent opportunity to experience the music delivered with power and precision by one of the best drummers of the rock era – with all due respect to Neil!

 In advance of his show in St. Catharines, Carl took time to chat with Go/Be Weekly about choosing the music for the Legacy tour, thoughts on Greg Lake and Keith Emerson and his favourite ELP album:

 Go/Be: How did you approach the task of choosing the set list for the Legacy tour given the broad spectrum of ELP music from which to choose?

 Carl: Initially we looked at the main instrumentals that ELP did because we are a non-vocal band for the most part. I worked for a long while with a musician who transcribed all the keyboard parts to guitar. It grew from there. Lately we have added vocal guests on occasion and will likely do more of that. Really, there is not anything ELP did that we cannot do. Now, we even do our version of “Lucky Man.”

Go/Be: From a musical perspective, does performing these songs with guitar accompaniment rather than keyboards result in any different approach for you as a drummer when playing these great instrumental pieces

Carl: Well, it is a different perspective and a way to re-invent the music. There is enough there that audiences relate to the song and remember it from hearing it with ELP. It is guitar driven now, not keyboards, and that lends itself to a harder sound and  a more contemporary sound. We see more and more young people at every show. They can relate to this format better, I believe.

Go/Be: You’ve had the wonderful good fortune of being part of some very successful rock bands; when you look back at your catalogue of music what era or pieces of music are you personally most proud of having created as drummer – certainly your solo pieces on the WORKS albums must rank high?

Carl: I am proud of all of it, or nearly all of it. Some of the ELP records like LOVE BEACH were done to fulfill contractual obligations and could have been stronger had we all not been so exhausted. But for the most part, I think all the bands I was involved with only put out good, solid records. I would have to say for ELP the high point was BRAIN SALAD SURGERY; for ASIA it was the first album with “Heat of The Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell.”

Go/Be: Where do you rank your dearly departed band mates in the echelons of their professions as a keyboardist and a vocalist?

Carl: I rank them the same as everyone else: they were extraordinary. Amazing talent especially Keith as a keyboardist.  Greg Lake had one of the best baritone voices in rock history.  The music speaks for itself. Their legacy lives on with what I am doing now.

Go/Be: The glory days of lavish tours and live production excess always must come to an end. Where do you find your greatest enjoyment these days in being an active touring musician?

Carl: I was never caught up in the star making machinery thing. Celebrity and fame has its perks but it has its downside too. For me it was always about the music and being excited about what I did for a living.  I always run my bands as a solid business and I have enjoyed all the wonderful experiences and travel and ability to live a good lifestyle, but I also worked very hard for everything I have. As far as my enjoyment now- it has to be from seeing the fans still love what I am doing as a musician and seeing new people discover the music for the first time.

Go/Be: As a fan  of all your work – I know I’m biased but I think a place in the Rock and roll hall of fame is in order. Do you foresee that honour being bestowed upon ELP in the near future – we prog rock fans certainly put our push in for RUSH. By the way, you’re coming to Neil Peart’s home town!

Carl: I am already in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. It  has to be with the millions of fans who bought tickets to see the shows I played; and the people who bought the 50 odd million records I have sold. That is the real Hall of Fame.  Music fans decide who are the real hall of famers.  With that said, it would be nice to  recognized by the organization that runs the Hall of Fame, but I can’t let it stop what I do every day.

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