Posts Tagged ‘Earl Palmer’

Saturday Single No. 276

February 11, 2012

It’s not like it’s an anniversary I celebrate. I hardly ever notice the date. But as I glanced through the LP database this morning, I saw that it was twenty-three years ago today that I became a record collector instead of just a record buyer.

I’ve mentioned the story at least once: On February 11, 1989, I wandered out to the flea market at the state fairgrounds in Minot, North Dakota, and came across a merchant from Bismarck who was clearing out his inventory by selling LPs for $10 a box. No substitutes, no mixing – you looked through a box and bought all of it or none of it.

The box I bought that day had – if I recall correctly – a few things I already had on the shelf. But it had lots of stuff by groups and artists I knew about whose catalogs I’d either dipped into only a little or not at all (beyond what I may have heard on the radio along the way). Among those were Steve Miller, Jimmy Buffett, Boston, Billy Joel and U2.

There were also some records by groups and performers that were utterly unfamiliar: Ramatam, Rita Pavone, Terry Garthwaite and Mother Earth were some of those. The Ramatam and Rita Pavone LPs are still in the stacks, though I rarely listen to them and have no intention of finding other work by either of the two. Terry Garthwaite, on the other hand, led me to Joy of Cooking and to the work she did later with bandmate Toni Brown; and the Mother Earth LP led me to pretty much everything ever recorded by that band or its lead singer, Tracy Nelson.

There was one LP that surprised me, though. And it was by an artist whose name I knew before I knew about the Beatles and before I knew about Al Hirt. When I pulled the 1961 album titled Drumsville! out of that box of fairgrounds records, I don’t think I knew that Earl Palmer was one of the greatest drummers in R&B history. I doubt if I knew that he’d taken part in some of the most important sessions in New Orleans’ long musical history. All that would come later as I dug into the history of rock & roll, and the histories of rock, soul, country, gospel and R&B. That digging – which continues to this day and will go on, most likely, for the rest of this lifetime – was spurred in large part by that box of fairgrounds records.

As I said, I didn’t know Earl Palmer’s place in history as I pulled Drumsville! out of the box. But I did know the name, and I’d known it for years. As the 1960s began, my sister – three years older than I – began to listen at least a little to Top 40 music. And on several trips to the Twin Cities, we’d stop at a Musicland store and she would pick up a grab bag of records, twelve for a dollar or something like that. I think maybe three or four of those grab bags – stuff the store was unable to sell at regular prices, obviously – came home to St. Cloud.

One of those grab bags – probably bought in 1962, the year my sister turned twelve and I turned nine – contained a record by Earl Palmer: “Honky Tonk Part 11/New Orleans Medley.”

Yes, it should have been “Honky Tonk Part II,” but whoever set the type for the label clearly used 1’s. And it took me years to figure that out; I liked the record a lot – both sides – and I spent some nine-year-old time wondering what Parts 1 through 10 of “Honky Tonk” sounded like.

As much as I liked the record, though, I knew nothing of Earl Palmer’s luster. He was a name on a record. So for years, even while I began to dig into pop and rock, Palmer’s record sat forgotten in the rec room cabinet. After all, I had so much other stuff to learn, beginning with the Beatles and Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers and Duane Allman’s session work and on and on and on. When I left Kilian Boulevard, the grab bag 45s stayed there, ignored for a long time.

But when I pulled Drumsville! from the box of fairgrounds records on that Saturday in 1989, I recognized the name and thought about “Honky Tonk Part 11” and “New Orleans Medley” for the first time in years. And the digging into all those histories that followed my buying that box of records included salvaging the grab bag 45s from the rec room on Kilian Boulevard. That’s why, to mark an anniversary I rarely think of (but one that had a great impact on my musical life), I pulled the vinyl rip of that single’s B-side from the files. Here’s Earl Palmer’s “New Orleans Medley” (Liberty 55356, 1961), and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1961

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 16, 2008

We watched the film The Good Shepherd the other evening, the Matt Damon/Angelina Jolie film about one man’s career in U.S. intelligence, from the OSS to the CIA, from 1940 or so to about 1962. Much of story took place in 1961, with Matt Damon’s character and others in the agency trying to find out who had leaked to the Communists – Russian or Cuban – the plans for a U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

While the film’s story is interesting – lots of historical detail done right, for those who enjoy that sort of thing (I am one of them) – and the acting is impeccable, especially Damon’s, what I found most fascinating was the movie’s portrayal of 1961, the details of a time that stands shrouded in mist at the edge of my memory. The look of the city buses, the household décor, the clothing – for men, women and children – all of it was familiar.

One of the film’s details that struck me was men wearing hats: snap-brim fedoras, panamas, trilbys. I remember watching my dad retrieve his hat from the closet shelf moments before heading out the door each morning. I’ve seen pictures of crowds, usually baseball games, during the 1950s and early 1960s, and nearly every man is wearing a hat. Not a cap, a hat. Modern lore has it that the end of the hat as an essential accessory for men began in 1961, when President John Kennedy delivered his Inaugural address outdoors, bare-headed in Washington’s January chill. The hat as an accessory hung on for a while after that, but – according to those who catalog such things – its remaining time was short.

So much of what I saw of 1961 in The Good Shepherd was familiar, but I really recall very little about the year, which was the year I turned eight. I do remember talk about the Berlin Wall going up in August. What else? Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in April, and a month later, Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space. In October, Roger Maris hits his 61st home run, eclipsing Babe Ruth’s 1927 record by one.

To state the obvious, it was an incredibly different time, and the year’s pop culture reflected that just as much as the events of the year. The top-rated television shows for the season that began in the autumn of 1961 – and yes, there was such a thing as a television season – were:

Wagon Train
Bonanza
Gunsmoke
Hazel
Perry Mason
The Red Skelton Show
The Andy Griffith Show
The Danny Thomas Show
Dr. Kildare
Candid Camera

According to Billboard, the year’s top five singles were:

“Tossin’ and Turnin” by Bobby Lewis
“I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline
“Michael” by the Highwaymen
“Cryin’” by Roy Orbison
“Runaway” by Del Shannon

That listing, in some ways, baffles me. The Lewis, Shannon and Highwaymen singles all went to No. 1 during the year, and Orbison’s single went to No. 2. But “I Fall To Pieces” went no higher than No. 12 on the chart during a ten-week stay. I imagine there’s some explanation, but the presence of the Cline record is especially baffling because the second-longest stay at No. 1 during 1961 was the five weeks by Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John,” which missed the top five. Any chart mavens out there know how that happens?

A few other songs that hit No. 1 for more than a week were: “Wonderland by Night” by Bert Kaempfert, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, “Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk, “Pony Time” by Chubby Checker, “Surrender” by Elvis Presley, “Blue Moon” by the Marcels, “Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson, “Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, “Take Good Care Of My Baby” by Bobby Vee, “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles, “Runaround Sue” by Dion and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens.

And here’s what 1961 sounds like when I listen:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1961

“Spoonful” by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua, Chess single 1771

“It Will Stand” by the Showmen, Minit single 632

“Crying in the Rain” by the Everly Brothers, Warner Bros. single 5250

“Voodoo Voodoo” by LaVern Baker, Atlantic single 2119

“One Mint Julep” by Ray Charles, Impulse! single 200

“Catfish Blues” by B.B. King from My Kind Of Blues

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens, RCA single 7954

“Too Much Monkey Business” by Elvis Presley, Flaming Star EP (RCA 128)

“Gypsy Woman” by the Impressions, ABC-Paramount single 10241

“Shake for Me” by Howlin’ Wolf, Chess single 1804

“Night Train” by James Brown, King single 5614

“I Done Somebody Wrong” by Elmore James, Fire single 1031

“Honky Tonk, Part II” by Earl Palmer, Liberty single 55356

A few notes:

“Spoonful” came from the pen of Chess studio legend Willie Dixon and was first recorded and released as a single in 1961 by Howlin’ Wolf. Five years after James and Fuqua released their version, the English trio Cream recorded it on Fresh Cream and it became a performance staple for the group, with live versions often going longer than fifteen minutes.

In The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh writes: “‘It Will Stand’ was . . . a boldly defiant stroke. Asserting that rock and roll was great was one thing, but this song actually implied that rock would last because it had meaning. This was far from Danny & the Juniors’ declaration of three years earlier that ‘Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay’ because Danny and the boys explicitly declared that they didn’t know why. [Lead singer General] Johnson’s faith was deeper and his record is an anthem that will last as long as rock and roll is heard.” As to General Johnson, he showed up at least once in the Top 40 – “It Will Stand” went to No. 62 –as the lead singer for the Chairmen of the Board in 1970 when “Give Me Just A Little More Time” went to No. 3.

The Ray Charles single, “One Mint Julep” must have some kind of story behind it. It’s one of two regular singles – according to the generally accurate website Soulful Kinda Music – that Charles released on the Impulse! label, evidently between his stays at Atlantic and at ABC-Paramount. The flip side of “One Mint Julep” was “Let’s Go,” and the other single – also in 1961 – was Impulse! 2002, with “I’ve Got News For You”/“I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town.” In addition, there was a DJ promo release of “One Mint Julep.”

Latter-day listeners might be more familiar with other versions of at least two of the songs here. In 1970, Brian Hyland had a No. 3 hit with his cover of “Gypsy Woman.” And fans of blues artists John Hammond might recognize Howlin’ Wolf’s “Shake for Me” from Hammond’s 1969 album Southern Fried. (Legend Duane Allman sat in on four tracks from Southern Fried, including “Shake For Me.”)

I’ve wondered for years as to whether Earl Palmer’s record is titled “Honky Tonk Part II” or “Honky Tonk Part 11,” as the letters on the record label sure like like a pair of 1’s to me. Or it could be “Honky Tonk Part 1” with a mistaken extra digit. I’ve gone with the Roman numeral here. It’s not something I’ve lost a lot of sleep about, but whenever I see the 45, I wonder. This is one of those 45s I’ve had likely since it came out, when my sister would occasionally come home from the record store with a bag of ten 45s for $1.25 or something like that.*

*The single is clearly “Honky Tonk Part II,” and I knew that. My comment was a lame attempt at typographical humor, as the title mistakently uses Arabic numerals and reads “Honky Tonk Part 11” instead of “Honky Tonk Part II.” Note added June 4, 2011.