Carl Palmer: Survivor

Carl Palmer had previously been in other bands, most notably The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster at the tail end of the 60s (he had left the latter by the time of their hit singles Tomorrow Night and The Devil’s Answer).

But it was when he joined ex-Nice keyboard player Keith Emerson and ex-King Crimson bassist/vocalist Greg Lake in the instrumentally bulging Emerson Lake And Palmer in 1970 that the drummer was thrust into the limelight of international superstardom.

Following the release of ELP’s self-titled debut album in 1970, the band rode a wave of commercial success with albums such as Tarkus (71), Trilogy (72) and Brain Salad Surgery (73), until they disbanded in 1979. (The three musicians would regroup in 1992 to record and tour again.)

Palmer then had a brief spell with the band PM before jumping back into the big league in 1981 with supergroup pop progressives Asia, who enjoyed album and single success before disbanding in 85, only to reunite in 1990 and release Aqua (92) and Aria (94). Thereafter Asia have continued, with a changing line-up, sporadically touring and releasing mostly live recordings.

He has since involved himself in various projects, including Quango, with John Wetton, and has his own band. He currently commutes between his homes in England and Cyprus

**What would you say was the best career decision you ever made? **

I would imagine it would have been to leave Atomic Rooster and join Keith and Greg in ELP. That was certainly the biggest move in my life. Musically I thought it was perfect for what I wanted to do. Also, joining Asia, although that was purely a commercial decision. Both those decisions sort of run parallel, really.

**Which career move would you like the opportunity to be able to go back and change? **

I don’t think I would change any of the opportunities, I just think that with the opportunities I was given I’d have worked a lot harder. I would have worked harder in ELP – I’d have made sure we toured more – and in Asia. I would’ve liked to have been a little more focused when I was doing those things. But when you’re young, and things are coming at you that quickly, you do tend to miss things, and if you could go back again then you could do a better job.

**What’s the most ridiculous thing you ever asked for on a tour rider? **

To be honest, we were never that extreme. All bands used to have shrimp and stuff in the dressing room, so we used to ask for lobster. But as soon as we realised we were paying for it, after about three years, we went off that.

What’s the worst stunt a record or management company has ever tried to pull on you?

In Germany, when the record company wanted to promote an ELP single called Tiger In The Spotlight. And without telling us, they had a tiger strapped to the floor directly in front of where we were playing for German TV. The animal didn’t budge when we played at the soundcheck – the playback, as we were miming. But when we went on air there were all the flashing lights and stuff, and the tiger just went radio-rental! I was thinking, god, where do you go if this thing gets loose!

**Which song would you rather never hear again? **

If I never, ever heard the Asia song Don’t Cry again I’d be more than happy. It was the beginning of the big downfall, really, and Asia was just becoming too poppy, and that song was a landmark in our career, where we’d just gone the other way completely. I always think of Don’t Cry as the nail in the coffin.

How many groupies have you slept with in your career?

10, 20, 50…? God! I don’t count. Let me think… I couldn’t even answer that. Let’s say fewer than people would imagine. But more than others!

**Do you think great musicians are born as such rather than made? **

I think great musicians work hard. I don’t think they’re born. I think there’s a certain amount of talent that you’re born with, and I think there’s a certain amount of tenacity that you’ve got to have. I believe that the more you put in, the more you get out.

**Would you ever have sold your soul to the Devil if the terms had been right? **

I think it went years ago! No, I don’t think so.

Given the increasing importance of image, if the time came when you needed to, would you wear a wig if it would help **your career? **

I don’t think I would ever wear a syrup, to tell you the truth. If it meant someone was going to pay me a lot of money I would think about it.

What would we find on the ‘hobbies & interests’ section of your cv?

I took up fencing about nine years ago, after I had both my hands operated on. I got the Bronze medal in fencing, for sabre, for the over-40s at a national tournament in Spain, which was nice. I also enjoy bowling – on greens. It’s fantastic. But it’s still presented by companies like Saga and BUPA, so it has got a bit of an old image.I run at least five days a week, and I’m a big swimmer. My daughter’s in the English swimming team, so swimming plays a big part in our family.

**What’s the worst aspect of doing what you do? **

Basically, having to deal with the unprofessionalism that has always been in the music business. That’s what frustrates me. On the other hand, there are some _almighty _people in the business who I really take my hat off to.

**What goals, musically and otherwise, would you still like to achieve? **

I was very pleased with a review I read recently when someone said: ‘He’s still a great drummer’. And I hope I can keep achieving that. I don’t really want to be a has-been, I want to stay on the cutting edge of my craft. That’s what I’m all about.

**Which song or piece of music would you like to be played at your funeral? **

In my will I’ve got Onward Christian Soldiers. I like the positiveness of that.

This was first published in Classic Rock issue 55.

Paul Henderson

Classic Rock’s production editor for the past 22 years, ‘resting’ bass player Paul has been writing for magazines and newspapers, mainly about music, since the mid-80s, contributing to titles including Q, The Times, Music Week, Prog, Billboard, Metal Hammer, Kerrang! and International Musician. He has also written questions for several BBC TV quiz shows. Of the many people he’s interviewed, his favourite interviewee is former Led Zep manager Peter Grant. If you ever want to talk the night away about Ginger Baker, in particular the sound of his drums (“That fourteen-inch Leedy snare, man!”, etc, etc), he’s your man.