Carl Palmer gained fame as the drummer for the '70s supergroup, Emerson, Lake And Palmer. Rolling Stone calls him one of the Ten Greatest Drummers Of All Time! Since he started in the business in the 1960s Carl Palmer has sold over fifty million records. It should also be noted that Carl was a founding member of the '80s group, Asia. With the passing of Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, Carl Palmer is left to carry on the music he helped create. Since 2001 he has fronted a three piece power trio, guitar, bass and drums, doing the classically driven hits of ELP with no keyboards. In effect, he has re-invented the music of ELP with his trio! He regularly tours the world, including five very successful tours of both North and South America. BMG has just released a new ELP box set as well as re-releasing the ELP catalog. Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy has just signed with BMG as well. Out on the road in 2017, Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy: Emerson, Lake And Palmer Lives On! is and has performed in venues throughout the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. Carl Palmer spoke with us recently about his past, the present, and the future.
Q - Carl, I was doing an interview with a singer by the name of Bobby Bare last week, who told me there is no record business anymore. That being said, what can BMG do for Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy?
A - I don't know about Bobby Bare, but BMG has signed the group Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy and there will be a new product out witch will be "Carl Palmer Live!" In the U.S.A. that will be a DVD which will come out probably next year (2018). I don't think there's enough time to get it out this year. As you know, the complete catalog of ELP is with BMG. The most important release we have at the moment is the box set, which is an incredible box set. It's something that we've never really done before in this way. It's newly released and selling remarkably well. I think about half sold already on that one, so we're very happy. That's the latest release at this moment in time. There are still record companies that are working. You have to understand that when people have rather large back catalogs which carry on selling, which ELP's catalog does, there will always be publishing houses. There will always be people to distribute these products. And don't forget there's been a 50% increase in vinyl this year (2017), so it depends on what level of artist you are, what kind of music you're involved in, how much can be selling. All I can say is, it's still alive and kicking as far as I'm concerned. I'm not that crazy over streaming. Downloads don't really pay a lot of money as you well know. It does take a lot away from the artist really. You don't really have a chance to make any money from it unless you've had a massive hit and obviously that's not going to happen to everyone. So, there's a few things that don't work, but 'live' music is still at the top. That's the main source of income, CDs, DVDs. I've probably sold more at concerts than ever, so that's the way the business is right now.
Q - Is the market for your 'live' performances bigger in the U.S. or bigger in Europe?
A - Well, you have to understand the actual status of the group is bigger here (the U.S.) because the country is bigger than anywhere else in the world. So, this would always be the lead market as we call it. That's not to say we didn't do great business in Europe, which we did. We did great business in Italy. Even Legacy still does great business. Germany. There are pockets which are better than others, just like there are in America. You go into Florida, not a lot of people were that keen on ELP. There are pockets everywhere in the world. America, because of the vast size of it obviously, is more commanding and can offer you more than most other places you can go to.
Q - I realize (Carl Palmer's ELP) Legacy has been together since 2001, but was it difficult to find guys who were not only musically compatible with you, but also were compatible personality wise?
A - I'll tell you what it's like. If you were looking for guitar players to play this type of music back in the '70s you wouldn't be able to find them. If ELP could have found a fourth person to be a guitar player within the band we probably would have had one, but we couldn't find one. There was no one that came to mind. There was no one around. That was the '70s. There were lots of well-known keyboard players, but not lots of guitar players. Now the situation is reversed. There's more great guitar players than there are keyboard players. If you sit back and think about it, there are some great, great guitar players. Many, many of them. And there are not a lot of keyboard players. So, to actually put something together like this was a lot easier than people think. We use guitar. We use six string bass. We use a Chapman stick. So, we get a lot of keyboard sounds out of it plus the bass if we want it. The real problem was not getting the people to play the instruments, but was to find our what actually could be played and how we could portray the music as accurately as possible, albeit in a new way. The main prerogative here is to present ELP music in a new way to show the versatility of it, how versatile this music is. There will always be the original music. People my age will listen to that. At my concerts we have people in their late 30s, early 40s, to make it their own and this is how they can do that. So, they hear it with guitars. They hear it with the Chapman Stick. It's something different. For them it's fresh. They can always go back and listen to the original. But that's what it's all about, stretching the music across the generations. I'm hitting three generations at concerts now. So, I'm very happy. If's fun just copying ELP. The catalog is there to be used. A lot has transferred to guitars remarkably well due to the expertise, playing techniques, professionalism and talent of the musicians that are involved. So, I'm very happy.
Q - As I recall, you had a lot of drums onstage. Do you still have that same set-up?
A - I use the same drums that I've used since the beginning of Asia. So if you ever saw Asia, which started in the '80s, it's the same drum set. Two bass drums, four tom-toms, a snare drum and about four or five cymbals, two gongs, and I've got semi-electronic equipment. So, it's been the same set-up for an awful long time. Maybe thirty years.
Q - How long of a show are you performing every night? Two hours?
A - Yeah. What we're doing, this is like in the last year, we're basically dedicating the show to Keith and Greg. We use a 14' x 8.5' deep screen. We project a lot of film. The film is always related to what we're playing at the time. But, this is a two hour show, playing a lot of the hits that ELP had such as "Lucky Man", "Welcome Back My Friends". We're playing some historical pieces which were connected to individuals in the band, like we play a version of "America", which Keith made popular in The Nice. That was the first thing I heard him play in The Nice and I became a fan. I used to watch him play. We met each other when I was about seventeen. I was on the same bill as him. I was in a band called Fleetwood Mac. I was subbing for Mick Fleetwood, who was ill one night. Keith was in The Nice. He was top of the bill. So there's pieces like that we put in. We also put in the first piece that ELP ever played as a group. It was "21st Century Schizoid Man", which is a King Crimson piece. We play that onstage. I think that was something that should be part of the story. So, I tell a short story, a very small amount of words, just to give people the idea of why this music is in the set. I tell 'em why it's there. I hope that collates all the ideas for them to understand what's happening.
Q - I first realized ELP was famous when CBS Evening News featured a segment on the group really early on in your career.
A - There you go. These things happen. You don't get it all the time, but now and again it does happen and I'm grateful for it when it does.
Q - Is is true that you were going to work with Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, but it fell through?
A - That's a complete fallacy. That was some story that was made up by some journalist. Jimi Hendrix never came down to play with ELP. I never saw Jimi Hendrix. I never played with him. That was all just a journalist making up a story. Mitch Mitchell did come down for the audition originally with ELP. For some reason they didn't take him and they took me. So that's how it was.
Q - According to Irwin Stambler's Encyclopedia Of Rock, in the later years of ELP critics were saying, "How do you spell pretentious? Emerson, Lake And Palmer." Did statements like that make you mad?
A - No, not really, because I think of the naivete of the person who wrote it. To call ELP pretentious when you look at the shows that go out today, when you look at the shows that U2 put on where they had those leap frog shows where they had a show setting up the next night, where they have unbelievable productions, production heights that ELP never reached. The same with The Rolling Stones. You can go on and on. All that happened was we probably did it first and they took the blueprint and somebody like that didn't understand what he was seeing. He was seeing the progression of music and the progression of audio and the visual sighting, which should be done to visually enhance the music. That's all we did at the time. To say it was "pretentious" is absolutely stupid because what's happening today is more pretentious. It's not pretentious anyway. It's to do with the music. Nothing should be added unless it enhances the music and that's all we ever did. When journalists say the group played well, I don't take notice of that. When they say the band played bad, I take no notice of that. When they say the group is pretentious, I take no notice of that. The only thing I take notice of is what I know myself and what I talk about, the band members and what I know happened. That's what the real deal is. I don't need to be told I'm good. I don't need to be told I'm bad, because I know when I'm good and I know when I'm bad and I know when the band sounds good and if it was pretentious we would have known. It wasn't pretentious because it was forward thinking. He's just getting mixed up in what is pretentious and what is forward thinking. It's the way the business was going to go. You could have said we were pretentious using quadrophonic sound, which it wasn't quadrophonic, it was cross stereo based on the joy stick. You could have called that pretentious. Nobody did though. It was quite amazing. The minute you put up a few flags and you jump across the stage, you're called pretentious. So, next question.
Q - Next question, last question. It never gets tiring or boring for you to be on the road, does it?
A - I look at it as this is what I do. I've been doing it since I was incredibly young. I'll tell you what it's like: If you've got a job that you really enjoy doing, then you'll do it for the rest of your life. If it's something you would do on your day off, which I would, if it's something you do as a hobby, which I do, if it's something that's really serious to you, it is, then you'll do it forever. What everybody in the world is looking for is a job they can do throughout their life, a job they're happy to do. Not many people have that. And I've been blessed to have that. So, to me it's just a day at the beach. Yes, it's difficult. Yes, it's gets boring. At the end of the day there's always the music. There's always the playing, which gives you the gratification and tells you why you're here and everything else is forgotten. Yes, I complain. I complain to management about this, about that. Everybody does. That goes without saying. But at the end of the day it's the music that's the most important thing and that makes it worthwhile to me and I will put up with a lot of shit just to be able to play the right type of music in the right place at the right time with the right people, because that's what's important to me.