We’ve got the State Street Ramblers featuring Palmer heating it up with Kentucky Blues on the Hi Fi right now and it’s providing a rare window into that long-gone world. It was recorded on March 19th, 1931.
At 14 years of age the young Palmer began playing professionally with string trio Roseal’s Orchestra. He had not yet shifted his talents to the trombone and was hired as a guitarist.
Could the Come Clean Hall in Gretna or Pete LaLa’s have been one of the venues Roseal’s played? That has been lost to the sands of time but pay was decidedly low with one musician from the era recalling that the payout at the end of the night was often as low as .75c
Palmer was known to play at Fewclothes Cabaret as early as 1911
After a decade playing dance halls, barrooms, cabarets, street corners, funerary second lines and anywhere else a young man could find work he packed his things and hit the road with a band that guitarist Louis Keppard had formed.
This group was sometimes known as the New Orleans Creole Jazz Band.
After playing their final gig of the tour in Chicago, a few of the lads decided the city of big shoulders was where they would stay to seek their fortune. As the ringleader, clarinetist Lawrence Duhé led the young men into steady work at Bill Bottoms Dreamland Ballroom where a teenage Lilian Hardin, the future wife of Louis Armstrong would sit in on piano.
Years later Hardin would recall that the rhythm section “beat out an African rhythm that would put the tribes of Bechuana to shame.” Hardin was a minor at the time and her mama would come pick her up when she was through performing.
In late 1919, after a dispute between Joe Oliver and Lawrence Duhé where Oliver demanded Duhe fire Palmer, Duhé left the band as did Palmer. Oliver’s new iteration of the outfit would go on to become King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band with a young Louis Armstrong playing second cornet. At the time this outfit was the hottest thing in jazz.
Not everyone was enamored of the new art form. Dave Peyton, a columnist for the Chicago Defender ran a letter an irate reader had mailed to him:
The jazz band craze is an empty-headed fad. It emerged from the dives and night orgies of jig revelry.
That person really hated jazz.
Roy Palmer was a hot player and didn’t have any trouble landing with a new band. Fellow New Orleanian Freddie Keppard had a residency at the Deluxe Cafe with Sidney Bechet and Palmer was quickly back in business.
The life of a working musician is that of a vagabond and Palmer soon found himself working with Tig Chambers at the Dusty Bottom, an open air “club” with a wooden dance floor underneath a hoisted tent. The perimeter was dirt and as the patrons danced wilder and wilder a cloud of dust would rise – hence the name.
Attendance was strong at jazz shows in that era as the black population of Chicago was rising from 45,000 in 1910 to 235,000 by 1930.
Palmer’s work of that time would merely be the stuff of legend had it not been for Jelly Roll Morton. When Ink Williams of Paramount Recording Company hit Chicago scouting for fresh music it was Jelly Roll he found, and Morton quickly put together a band so they could lay down some tracks in the recording studio. These recordings in June of 1923 were Jelly Roll’s first.
That’s Roy Palmer playing trombone. He also briefly toured with the hot but short-lived combo of Jelly Roll and W.C Handy. You had to know those two big personalities were not going to be able to share a stage for very long.
Johnny Dodd’s Black Bottom Stompers came calling next as Palmer was regarded as a hotshot on the trombone by this time. Dodds and Palmer teamed up with Louis Armstrong on trumpet and Earl Hines on piano in the studio on April 22, 1927 to lay down six tracks including Wild Man Blues. Y’all know Dodds from his critical work with Louis on his Hot Five and Hot Seven Okeh records. There was not a better clarinetist alive at that time.
If you’re champing at the bit to get some music from this period check out Johnny Dodds Definitive Dodds 1926 – 1927, and prepare to be floored.
Richard M. Jones began playing cornet with the legendary Eureka Brass Band as early as 1902, and by 1929 had lived in Chicago for over a decade. During this period he was the producer of Armstrong’s crucial Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings He was also the next bandleader to hire Roy Palmer.
Jones and His Jazz Wizards went into the studio February 8th, 1929 to lay down six tracks including two alternate takes. Tickle Britches Blues from the session is on Youtube for those inclined.
The 1930s saw Palmer in hot demand for sessions work as well as live performances. There’s plenty recorded music from his work with State Street Ramblers (1931), the extra-lively Memphis Nighthawks in (1932,) and finally with the Chicago Rhythm Kings (1936.)
Roy Palmer also worked a square job at that time for the Mazola Oil Company as well as playing in the company’s brass band. As his live music-playing days began to wind down, Palmer bought and ran a commercial laundry mat and began teaching trombone in his home.
Roy Palmer was born on this day back in 1892
He passed in his adopted hometown of Chicago on December 22nd, 1963.
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ed note: Tiger Moan Blues off the Jazz Trombone Legends: Ike Rodgers, Roy Palmer, Preston Jackson disc is a great reflection of how hot an artist Palmer was during his heyday