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Backbeat: Earl Palmer’s Story by Tony Scherman

If Earl Palmer had never gone on to become the great drummer who appeared on such timeless pop classics as Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’,” Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba,” Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep Mountain High,” the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” and Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away,” this book would still be a fascinating read. Meticulously researched by Scherman and told in Palmer’s own colorful voice, Backbeat travels from the funky Treme neighborhood of his New Orleans youth to the big time recording studios of Los Angeles where he made his reputation as an in-demand session man in the ’60s and ’70s, playing on literally thousands of songs by the Beach Boys, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Bobby Darin, the Mamas and the Papas, and others.

Palmer’s reminiscing of Treme and all the colorful characters and customs of the Sixth Ward is particularly vivid, interspersed with sociological insights about poverty, racism and the animosity that existed between dark-skinned blacks and light-skinned blacks (or passé a` blancs ). The pungent flavor of life in New Orleans, circa late ’30s, comes across in these pages in the same way that Crescent City icon Danny Barker conveyed it in his autobiography, A Life in Jazz (Oxford).

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