Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Rooster, the 'P' and now head of the CPB

I was shopping at Everyday Music last week when I came across an “expanded deluxe edition” of Atomic Rooster’s album, In Hearing Of Atomic Rooster. I had heard that Carl Palmer (the drummer who went on to massive fame with Emerson, Lake & Palmer) had played with that band but I couldn’t tell from the cover art whether he had played on this album or not. Strange that I hadn’t investigated their history a little more, as I had with E,L&P’s other members: Keith Emerson had already achieved semi-fame and notoriety as keyboardist with The Nice, and a young Greg Lake sang lead vocals on the legendary first King Crimson album, In The Court Of The Crimson King.

So I risked the eight bucks and bought it. Turns out Palmer had already moved on by the recording of this, their third album, but it was a satisfying purchase anyway: A good mesh of heavy rock and funky jams, with strong singing by one-and-done member Pete French. The remastering sounds great, too.

So, I did a little reading to find out what album Carl Palmer did play on, and it turns out only the first, self-titled Atomic Rooster from 1969. Check out the sample below, especially starting at the 1:39 mark: An early sign of drumming greatness to come in the 70’s! (It's also interesting to hear how much keyboard whiz Vincent Crane sounded like Keith Emerson – or was it the other way around?)

I’ll be checking out the other Rooster remaster, Death Walks Behind You, very soon.

As for what happened to Palmer after he left the Rooster? If you’re a fan of "sabre rattling" (Palmer's phrase) prog rock, you are already well familiar with Palmer’s work with E,L&P in 70’s. I’ve never quite decided who I liked more, Palmer or Rush’s Neil Peart – but hey, why not a tie?

Flashing forward a bit, I saw the Carl Palmer Band in Portland a couple of years ago and was amazed at how great he plays still. They played a bunch of classic ELP songs, taking a break in between each so Palmer could tell some stories and tall tales of the 70’s (which the audience loved), as well as catch his breath for the next song, which was quite understandable, as these songs require incredible power and speed. He also revealed a great sense of humor, which was a nice surprise.

It was fascinating to see how they transposed the very difficult keyboard parts to guitar!

As an added bonus for the night, he appeared after the concert to sign (purchased) items – hey, a guy’s gotta make a living now that record sales don’t do it! – and I was thrilled to obtain a set of drumsticks. I also got the bass and guitar players to sign them and had a little conversation – very nice folks, all.

There are two CDs available that capture this latest incarnation of the CPB experience, and they’re both quite good (and apparently a 3rd volume is set to be released very soon).

Working Live, Vol. 1
Working Live, Vol. 2

I’ll leave you with a story from my college days. I was living in a dorm with my best friend from high school, but our relationship was becoming strained due to his interest in funk and disco, and my persistent passion for heavy rock. "Stereo wars" ensued with the main loser being our ability to concentrate on homework. He had posters of bands like Earth, Wind & Fire and Parliament Funkadelic, and I had a poster of Carl Palmer circa the Works, Vol. 1 album. One morning, I saw my poster lying at the foot of his bed. I said,

“Ed, why is my Carl Palmer poster lying at the foot of your bed?”

He replied, “You won’t believe me if I tell you.”

“Give it a try.”

“Okay… In the middle of the night, you stood up in your bed, carefully pulled the poster off your wall, laid it on the floor in front of me, and got back in bed. I tried to ask you what you were doing, but you wouldn’t answer and went right back to sleep. I’m pretty sure you were sleepwalking.”

“I guess my subconscious was trying to tell you something, that rock really is better.”

“I guess so, but I still love my funk.”

I’ll never know for sure if he was telling the truth about the sleepwalking, but why would he lie? I had done it before (and after) so it’s not too hard to believe. It would have been nice to be able to tell Mr. Palmer that story when he was signing my drumsticks but all I could manage was “Your playing has meant so much to me; thank you.”

Oh, the thousands of stories he could hear if fans all had their chance to tell him…

Official Carl Palmer Website

p.s. I know he got his start touring with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (but didn't appear on the album), and sold about a gazillion records with Asia in the 80's, as well as experience with lesser-known groups P.M. and 3, but those bands didn't really showcase his special talent at the drums, so I will leave those phases for another time and/or place.


  1. Thanks for sharing. I have to catch up on listening but you have to be careful not to get me too interested in drums - I am a mono-tasker remember!

  2. @hairpinracing: I could see you picking up the drums! It fits: Mathematical precision (like engineering), speed (like racing) and musical soul (like ministry).