Carl Palmer: Prog Rock Legend

With the first words he utters after saying hello, Carl Palmer wants to be sure everyone knows precisely who he is. “You’re talking to a legend — I hope it’s front page!” he says, laughing heartily.

But there’s a serious side to the “living” part of living legend, because at age 58, Palmer’s biggest troubles come from within. Having recently recorded Phoenix with Asia’s original lineup — the first studio album by the four Brits in 25 years — Palmer was gearing up for 18 months of touring around the globe when he underwent an angioplasty procedure. Along with previous carpal tunnel operations in each hand and a pinched nerve in each forearm, it’s significant that the man best-known for his mesmerizing stage presence — the ability to remove his shirt while playing complicated double bass drum patterns, for example — is even managing a world tour at all.

“I was basically a timebomb ready to go off, really,” Palmer says. “It’s a genetic problem — my father died when he was 36. It’s the luck of the draw. I am grateful.”

Palmer isn’t much for talking about the intricacies of recording Phoenix with Asia after a quarter-century, because to him, it’s like a stroll through his old stomping grounds — you just know the way home. “It was relatively easy,” he says. “The same format we always did. it was very natural, like it was from the beginning. It was a slow build, but it was actually done quite quickly. It had a nice flow to it.”

In between gigs Palmer has enjoyed seeing other drummers play live, and is astounded by the quantity of high-quality players out there — if only there were more performers. “To be honest, it upsets me a little bit,” he says. “For me, drum solos are a problem. The minute they start, that’s a problem. I get bored. There’s no entertainment value. I’m a great believer in that. I’m not just here to play the drums. I’m here to entertain people. I treat my instrument as an entertainment vehicle. You command a lot of respect from the audience, and they’ll give it right back.

“On the other hand, that’s why I do things like master classes and drum clinics. I always like to go back and really establish the technical side of it that I’m really into. I am what I am — a technician. But I present myself accordingly. There’s an awful lot to do with the drums — they’re highly underrated as an instrument.”

Which is why a world tour with Asia is in some ways a beginning. “I see myself doing this forever,” he says. “If you keep yourself well, you can do it as long as you want to. I don’t see myself retiring. I’ve got this thing, it’s a bit like driving a fast car — the faster you drive, the better it feels.”