‘I don’t really think I can do this’: Carl Palmer on the difficult decision to join Emerson Lake and Palmer

The name tells you all you need to know about this group: There’s Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer. Only the last one, the Palmer part, almost didn’t happen.

Palmer, then best known for playing with Arthur Brown, had aced a turn-of-the-1970s audition for the fledgling prog supergroup — but not before he was asked to delve into the complexities of “21st Century Schizoid Man” from Lake’s earlier stint in King Crimson. Turns out, however, that Palmer wasn’t so sure about this particular venture.

“I got the call from someone — I think it was Lake,” Palmer says, in a video posted by ELP archivist Tony Ortiz. “He called up and said: ‘What’s your decision?’ I said: ‘I don’t really think I can sort of do this. At the moment, I’ve just bought a brand-new Mercedes van. I’ve got this happening, and that happening.’ He said: ‘It’s kind of damaging if you don’t do this, because we think you’re right.’”

Palmer was, of course. He would propel Emerson Lake and Palmer to clearly unforeseen heights as part of one of the decade’s most recognizable bands — ultimately serving from 1970—79, again from 1991—98 and then reuniting for a 2010 anniversary show. A second informal collaboration, he says now, sealed the deal.

“It was even better than the first,” Palmer adds. “Now, they tried [Jimi Hendrix drummer] Mitch Mitchell, I believe. To what degree, I don’t know, but his name had been bantered around. I did hear one story about him turning up with a bodyguard, and they didn’t like that. But Mitch was one of my favorite drummers. I thought: ‘God, if they’ve turned him down, or he doesn’t want to do it, I wonder what’s wrong.’ Suddenly, I got a little bit suspicious. Anyway, long story short, I ended up joining them — and that was it.”

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  • Tom

    ELP was my first show ever. Olympia stadium in Detroit. Great show.