Carl Palmer, of Asia and Emerson Lake & Palmer: Something Else! Interview

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Carl Palmer joins Preston Frazier for a Something Else! Sitdown focusing on his new concert recording, how Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy is boldly refashioning the Emerson Lake and Palmer catalog, and what the future holds for Asia in the wake of frontman John Wetton’s tragic death. Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy Live is due on June 29, 2018.

PRESTON FRAZIER: It’s a great honor to speak with you. I understand you are just greeting back to England after a tour in South America.
CARL PALMER: Yes, Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy had a wonderful time. It went very well, indeed. I believe it was the third time Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy was there. Great reception in Chile. Rio was fantastic, also. I think this tour turned a lot of heads. Prog rock is really big over there.

PRESTON FRAZIER: You’ve been touring as Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy for quite a while. Was it The Carl Palmer Trio before that?
CARL PALMER: Well, it was the Carl Palmer Band. I just decided to make it very obvious to what kind of music we are playing. We are playing Emerson, Lake and Palmer – ELP – music, albeit in a different style.

PRESTON FRAZIER: And these dates were a prelude to the double CD/DVD and digital download of Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy Live?
CARL PALMER: Yes, It’s a CD and DVD. There’s a CD of material from our 2014 New York City performance. The DVD also contains the 2016 Miami performance which features guest appearances by Steve Hackett [of Genesis] and Mark Stein [of Vanilla Fudge]. The CD is of my group playing our interpretations of classic Emerson Lake and Palmer.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Are these the first recordings of the group with [guitarist] Paul [Beilatowicz] and [bassist] Simon [Fitzpatrick]?
CARL PALMER: No, I recorded the prior two albums with Paul and Simon. They are Working Live 2 and Working Live 3.

PRESTON FRAZIER: I saw the trio live at the YESteval tour stop in Baltimore, Maryland. It was an incrediblly energetic and powerful interpretation of ELP music. Paul and Simon provided fascinating interpretations of ELP classics. How did you meet them?
CARL PALMER: Paul’s my second guitar player. My prior one was Shaun Baxter. Shaun and I got together in 2001 and we were together a couple of years. Unfortunately, there was a car accident, and he developed tinnitus. I started to look around in the music school here in England and asked around for an up-and-coming guitarist. One of the names that rose to the top was Paul Beilatowicz. Yes, we’ve been together 14 years.

Simon Fitzpatrick is my third bass player he’s been with me about seven years or so. I basically called the Guitar Institute here in London and asked about any great bass players. They said they had two – one being so good they had to change their criteria! They sent a sound clip and two days later he was in my house drinking tea and eating biscuits and talking about how we were going to move forward. That’s how that happened! He’s a phenomenal musician.

If these guys were around in the ’70s, they would both be legends in their own right. There’s no doubt about that.

PRESTON FRAZIER: If I may back track a bit, you toured in 2017 before YESterval with Asia opening for Journey.
CARL PALMER: Yes, that was in May, June in July.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Billy Sherwood of Yes stepped in on the tour on bass and vocals after the unfortunate death of John Wetton. Are there plans of continuing on with Asia.
CARL PALMER: Geoff [Downes] and I have talked a little bit about it. As of right now, we have nothing planned at all. Geoff, as you know, is very busy with the Yes#50 tour. I’m just back from South America. We will resume our discussions at some point, as we would like to continue with Asia. As of right now, we just don’t know how we are going to do it, or who we are going to do it with. It’s open to discussion, and it will resume at some stage – but how, I can’t tell you at the moment.

PRESTON FRAZIER: The rest of 2018 looks pretty busy even without Asia.
CARL PALMER: Yes, we are going back out, Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy, in support of the new album and DVD in June. Our first date is in New York City. This is a flying tour were we have dates in New York, Las Vegas and California, before going to England, Austria, Italy and Germany – then returning to the states later in the year.

PRESTON FRAZIER: The arrangements you play in Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy are extremely complex. Paul’s in New England, and you and Simon are in London. How do you develop such a tight show given the proximity of the band?
CARL PALMER: Well, we rehearse at home, and we’ve taken care to develop the show. We also rehearse face to face. Once we put a show together, it may not change too much for 18 months. That way, we hone it. We’ve been playing together so long too that if we change things around, we pick it up quickly. We’ve changed around “Tarkus,” which is 22 minutes long, and “Pictures at an Exhibition.” We have a large repertoire of music to play, and don’t need a lot of time to get up and running. We do include interpretations of new classical pieces, which take a bit longer to learn, but basically it’s all doable. We rehearse onstage in Webster, New York, to get it all down.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy Live set is also a tribute?
CARL PALMER: That’s right, as Keith Emerson and Greg Lake both died in 2017. On the DVD, we have Steve Hackett playing harmonica on a track and, of course, guitar on a couple of tunes. Mark Stein does vocals, too. It’s quite an interesting mix.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Who engineered the CD?
CARL PALMER: I used my long time sound engineer, Harry Ford.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Is your drumming style different? Do you make an adjustment going from Asia to the ELP Legacy Band?
CARL PALMER: Sonically, the ELP Legacy is different since we use guitar instead of keyboards. With keyboards, there is more of a harmonic structure you can use so, in some ways, the music can sound bigger. When I play the music with my trio, we play the same piece and it will sound different – because you don’t have the same harmonic structure there. It will have a different sound of excitement, because it’s created by six-string guitar and bass guitar or Chapman Sticks. There’s a different dynamic and a different excitement. My playing becomes a little more harder and rocky then what I did with ELP. It’s not intentional, but it’s driven organically by the music.

It’s quite a lot of intensity from Paul’s guitar versus a keyboard. The whole premise around using guitar is simple. I could have found a singer that sounded like Greg Lake and gone out and duplicated the music exactly how you know it, but I couldn’t personally do that. I think it’s important to push the music as far as you can, and show that the music is adaptable and alive.

These two gentleman are so good they would have been huge in the ’70s. Of course, they weren’t born back then! When I decided to use guitar instead of keyboards I knew it would be a tall order, but I thought this is one way to bring the music to a new generation. I look into our audience and see several generations. It shows how strong and versatile the music is. I’m very glad we honor this ELP music and show how versatile it truly is. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, as we say in England, but it is original!

PRESTON FRAZIER: How do you stay at the top of your game as a player?
CARL PALMER: I’ve never smoked. I rarely drink, and am very strict with my diet. If you want to continue to play the way you did when you were 18, then it requires lots of discipline. I’ve only wanted to play one way and that’s with energy, being and power. To do that, I must be an athlete. I look after myself. I’m a vegan. I’ve been one the last seven years, and it’s given me energy. I will never play below par. I feel if any of my contemporaries are playing below what they did when they are 20 years old, then they should just stop. You’ve got to go out kicking.

PRESTON FRAZIER: What are your favorite albums?
CARL PALMER: Arc of A Diver – Steve Winwood; Fresh Cream – Cream; Live at Leeds – the Who; Time Out – Dave Brubeck; This One’s For Basie – Buddy Rich.

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