“Basically what we’ve got here is quite a cinematic approach, because I play a lot of instrumentals,” said legendary rock drummer Carl Palmer prior to his three-night run at The Iridium in New York, Oct. 21-23. “We’ve got a lot of footage being shown at the same time we play that obviously corresponds with the music that you’re listening to. There’s some epic moments up there and obviously some old pictures from the past — a walk down memory lane and stuff like that.”
Determined to honor his past through the present, Palmer has been seemingly touring nonstop with his ELP Legacy show, paying respect to his former band and making new fans at every stop along the way
“I’m playing a lot of ELP music: Originals, plus the classical adaptations that ELP played and a few other bits and pieces,” he says. “As far as original things, I’m playing a full version of ‘Tarkus,’ which was one of the first concept pieces played by ELP. I’m playing stuff like ‘Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends’ (‘Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Part 2’), which is a big piece. We’ve got solo spots for Paul Bielatowicz on lead guitar. On bass guitar and Chapman Stick, which is a 10-string instrument, is Simon Fitzpatrick, and he covers things like the classic Moog solo at the end of ‘Lucky Man,’ which was extremely iconic in its day.
“We can produce a lot of those sounds, but obviously the object here is not to duplicate exactly what ELP did. I’m just trying to bring the music to a new generation, to new followers and to show the versatility of the music overall. As you know, a lot of ELP music has been played by classical orchestras and it’s been played by jazz groups. So I just wanted to do it with a guitar group and show what you could do without keyboards.
“I’ve never wanted to be compared, I just wanted to set a new standard and play to a new generation, and I do. There are a lot of people in their 30s and late 40s who are probably the sons of the guys that listened to it in the first place. … Simon has a feature on ‘From the Beginning’ which was a classic piece by ELP and another big single. He plays that on the Chapman Stick. And Paul has his features and, of course, there’s the inevitable drum solo, which, you know, you can’t fault me doing it.”
Ah yes, the drum solo. During his heyday with keyboardist Keith Emerson and singer-bassist Greg Lake (who both died in 2016), a frequently shirtless Palmer would pound away on the skins, leaving audiences spellbound and drummers both young and old aspiring to have his greatness.
Now that he’s a bit more advanced in years and the shows a tad different, what are the length of those solos?
“It depends, really, on how it’s going; I play as much as I possibly can without repeating myself. … it’s all to do with the timing and pacing. If it’s going down well I can sense it, if not and people are getting bored, I close it in earlier, that’s all.”
Simply stated, he is still one of the masters and loves performing. And as this leg of the tour wraps up with shows in Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois this week, Palmer is already looking toward 2019.
“We actually work,” he stated emphatically. “We’ve already been to South America, Europe and England this year and played here in America. I would say that if you were to add up all of the touring periods together, we probably tour for about eight months out of the year. We start next year in England on Jan. 26, we go through the 30th, take a few days off and then we go to Europe from Feb. 3 through March 4 and we play roughly 24 concerts. We’ve nothing lined up for America next year; we might come back in the summer. We’ve been offered a rather big summer tour which I can’t mention at the moment. Maybe because that depends on whether I want to do it or not. So yes, I tour about seven or eight months out of the year.”
Emerson, Lake & Palmer were perhaps the first progressive rock power trio with mass appeal. Breaking through with the more mellow hits he mentioned earlier and their powerful renditions of classical works, ELP obtained immediate success.
After their split in 1979, the three reunited for performances; even recording a couple of albums. Eventually it was Palmer who pulled the plug on the band for good and in the process ruffling the feathers of Lake.
“When Keith died, that was March 9, 2016. I was actually in Italy at the time when I got the phone call. I had spoken to Keith earlier that year prior to his death. We were planning on playing a concert together or he was going to come out and play a couple of tunes with my band; we hadn’t really decided. He wanted to go to Japan in May and then he was going to cherry pick whatever dates he would like to come and visit me during the following June and July. Obviously, he never went to Japan. He never came out to perform with me because he committed suicide March 9, so I was in contact with him right up until about three weeks before he died.”
“Greg Lake I wasn’t in contact with at all. For about six years, I hadn’t spoken with him, we hadn’t emailed, he didn’t even want me to know that he was ill. I actually didn’t know that he was ill or I would have contacted him. His management was told not to tell me and his family never notified me so I was unaware. I did send a couple of emails but there seemed to be no reply at the time so I kind of left it at that. I had to finish Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 2010 when we played at the High Voltage Festival. It was a progressive rock festival in England and I thought it was pretty good but ELP wasn’t sounding quite as good as it used to and I realized that we weren’t going to get any better. So I thought that it’d be better to leave the dream intact and say thank you to England for giving us our start and call it a day.
“We could’ve done a global tour but I think it would’ve taken its toll on both Greg and Keith and somebody had to cut the apron strings. I decided to do so. I don’t know if it was that which caused Greg Lake to stop talking to me, because he didn’t like the fact that I had taken control over that situation, but as I said somebody had to do it and I don’t have any regrets. I’m glad we stopped when we did.”
Over the years, Palmer has become an avid artist, selling his works at his shows and donating portions of the proceeds to various charities. One company in particular, Scene 4 Art out of Los Angeles, is helping Palmer create some very unique works of art using special drum sticks.
“Scene 4 Art are people that I’ve been working with and producing artwork for the last seven years; if you go to carlpalmerart.com there are lots of videos there to tell you all about it. Basically I’ve been producing artwork for seven years using electronic drum sticks with LED lights in the end of the sticks. This is all captured on digital film with two digital cameras running at different shutter speeds in a dark room about 12 foot square that we feed into a computer. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t; it takes about seven hours to get a complete canvas. The art is doing well: We just donated 25 to 30 percent of sales to charities here in America.”
Palmer’s artwork however, is always available and on display on the aforementioned website or by going to carlpalmer.com, where one will find all there is to know about this drumming icon.