Rock music is a prolific breeder. The genre has spawned numerous offshoots and hybrids through the past 50 years, many of them heavily influential in political, cultural, and stylistic changes even the most prescient couldn’t have predicted. Carl Palmer is among the pioneers of one the most dominant forces in the genre. After auditioning for ex-King Crimson guitarist/vocalist Greg Lake and ex-Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson, Palmer left his successful band Atomic Rooster to become the “P” in the internationally acclaimed progressive rock group ELP. In a phone interview, Palmer discussed first impressions about the music of ELP, and how someone might think these three really had very different personal styles that merged to create their hybrid sound.
“I don’t believe it’s true that we came from separate influences” said Palmer. “We’re all into rock, jazz, and classical. We really just played what felt right to us. One of us would have an idea about an interpretation or a song, and we all followed that inspiration. It was all extremely collaborative.”
Palmer’s experiences with Atomic Rooster, ELP and Asia provided a foundation with which to re-think compositional elements. On his Carl Palmer Works Live CD’s, Palmer applied fresh takes on the works of Copland, Orff, Mussorgsky and others.
“What I did on Working Live is much less collaborative and more about re-working previously explored musical themes in a European rock context. The ideas are mine, and I’m working with the best musicians England has to offer in bringing these ideas to fruition.”
Palmer admires a number of styles and incorporates a lot of fills that are reminiscent of the work of his close friend, the late Buddy Rich, and jazz giant Gene Krupa. However, he sees limitless potential in progressive rock.
“God knows I’d have loved to work with Miles Davis or John Coltrane at various times. They had amazing musical instincts far beyond most of their contemporaries. But they’re gone now. In the meantime, I love playing progressive rock. The form allows me the freedom to experiment and revitalize music that is dear to me. I wouldn’t want to work in any other form.”
Palmer’s upcoming US Tour with a new Carl Palmer Band will feature a much edgier, metal-oriented approach to progressive rock.
“It’s not Metallica, by any means. It’s really centered on this new European orientation which places a great deal of emphasis on guitars. This took a great deal of transcription of Emerson’s piano and keyboard parts. The guitarist has a huge job in that Emerson’s work is extremely brilliant and complex. But it works well, especially on some of the non-ELP material like the version of the Peter Gunn theme. It’s a progressive rock that keeps the sexy, bluesy feel an electric guitar can characterize much better than piano or keyboards.”
Palmer admits he has a goal in mind with his current incarnation, and any future ones. In a recent interview with David Harris, Palmer talks about that goal.
“I would still like to accomplish that great Emerson, Lake and Palmer album that I know we have still yet to make. This is still a dream, but as long as I can prove that I am getting better all the time, that to me is ultimate accomplishment.”
While this may not happen for quite some time, Palmer is carrying through with ELP’s mission of expanding the boundaries of both rock and classical music, making each more accessible for generations to come. His virtuosity and versatility are the wings that carry his soaring musical vision.