If music comes in waves, I've been living my life in a magical sailboat. Riding the waves of harmony and rhythm and innovation, sometimes just me and sometimes in the company of thousands of like minded dedicated fans.
SWING - my first wave
I was lucky enough to be born in the 1940’s so the very first musical wave that caught me was the Swing Era. There I was at the age of 2 or 3, crawling around on the floor and grooving to the sounds of Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. Or I’d be drifting off to sleep to ‘Mr. Sandman’ or up and off to play outside ‘On The Sunny Side Of The Street’. (The streets of Edmonton Alberta were always sunny and safe in those days.)
When I was 8 years old when Ed Sullivan introduced us to Elvis (and the Everly Brothers and Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino...) in our living rooms, on the brand new medium of TV. Everyone began combing their hair like Elvis. One of my older sisters taught me how to Jive a little and I also learned a little boogie woogie on the piano.
Wave 3: FOLK MUSIC
In 1958 I was hit again and even harder – I heard The Kingston Trio singing ‘Tom Dooley’ for the first time. Their banjos and acoustic guitars were like nothing I’d ever heard. I bugged my ever patient mother Queenie and we bought a Harmony 12 string guitar using my paper route money and some extra help from her. I then learned some basic chords and finger picking, mostly playing by myself in my room. I loved those guys even if they were too collegiate for a kid in grade 5.
Technology was changing then too - 78rpm discs had been replaced by vinyl ‘long playing’ discs with cool album covers and album notes to pore over. I could sit for hours, ears glued to our new console radio/record player and listen to The Kingston Trio and hear the folk craze grow and develop into the great Canadian singer/songwriters - Ian and Sylvia first, then Gordon Lightfoot and Buffy Ste. Marie, Joni Mitchell and on to Bruce Cockburn and Leonard Cohen too.
BEATLEMANIA- THE BRITISH INVASION!
In February 1964 Ed Sullivan unleashed a huge wave – a cultural tsunami called Beatlemania. And I barely noticed it; I figured the whole British Invasion was just a fad that wouldn’t last. Until I heard The Rolling Stones. I was already into Muddy Waters and the Chicago Chess records sound - stinging guitar licks, drum shuffle grooves, Little Walter's harmonica… This was music that floated my boat!
I decided it was time for me to jump into the pool and start making some ripples of my own.
1966 The Time Machine (my first band)
Trading off my acoustic 12 string for an electric guitar and a Fender Super Reverb amp, I was ready for my very first band - The Time Machine. We played lots of Stones and Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry tunes and R&B. And one special night, when our singer got too drunk, I sang in public for the first time. And no one threw anything or walked out! This was away cooler than sitting playing in my bedroom.
GRAEME WAIFER & THE WARP FACTOR 1967 TO 1970
Summer of 1967 brought another huge cultural wave - the San Francisco psychedelic scene. I first joined the Sgt Pepper inspired Graeme and The Waifers band at this time, but then jumped ship to join The Warp Factor where I could start writing and playing Folk- Rock, which was more my taste. Happily, The Warp Factor did very well, we had a full schedule of club and high school dances and we were given several opening slots with big name touring bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Winnipeg’s The Guess Who, Cream (with Eric Clapton), and our folk rock hero Jesse Colin Young. Our lead singer was super, Eddie Kilbride and we had excellent management in Paul Winterton.
When the 1970’s came, though, I was now in my 20’s and it was time to earn a living. Cast adrift from being a local music star, I spent a few years bobbing along as a guitar picker for hire. I played every style of gig and every style of music; traveling all over the Yukon and Western Canada and fitting in with touring American R&B and night club bands. I could always get work because I knew my scales and could read charts quickly. And, despite being a folkie, I was the few guys around who could play in horn keys like Bb or Eb. (My mum had taught me my scales at an early age, bless her.)
THE 1970'S - Guitarist For Hire
But in 1976 I caught another wave – this time Light Jazz and Bossa Nova. I started a duo with a very young and very talented and very beautiful singer named Sue Moss. Only 18, Sue was the first singer I met who could sing a perfect chromatic scale and tell you the chord changes and melody notes of any song she sang, without an instrument! Normally performing as a stand up singer with her family band, this was Sue’s first professional gig. She also learned upright bass to add to our duo while singing like a bird. I very wisely stepped back and let her be the music director.
We made beautiful music together but on a personal level, we just burnt out. We were together every day and night for over two years, gigging 6 nights a week and always talking music and business. It was a huge loss for me when we split.
On my own, I moved to Vancouver and I pulled my little musical boat into drydock, studying singing and arranging at Vancouver’s Capilano College for a few years. I began working as a solo singer/guitarist in pubs and lounges, learning over 500 generic pop and country and Elvis songs. Any request the drunks wanted, I had covered. Vancouver was OK but I was still pretty empty from losing Sue.
The mid 1980’s found me back home in Edmonton and riding the urban cowboy wave. I was now a singer/guitarist/band leader and booking agent too. I was surprised but I enjoyed playing the Merle Haggard and George Strait music. I’d always been a bit of a musical snob when it came to country music but all of those heartbreak songs made sense now. And I discovered we could mix Muddy Waters and Stones in with Johnny Cash and ZZ Topp too. We got rocking out pretty good in those prairie honky tonks. And it didn’t hurt that I got to play with some outstanding Alberta musicians over those years.
By the late 1990’s I finally had to shut down my touring band to become guardian for my mother Queenie. She was now in her early 90s and dealing with Alzheimers. (My Father Miles Palmer had passed away back in 1966). Now playing weekend gigs I did find time to start writing some songs. When Mom passed away in 1999 I got some friends together and we recorded my very first album in her honour - ‘From Here To Nashville’. There’s a bit of pain and loss in that album.
Starting fresh in the new millennium I drifted out to Nanaimo BC. It was there, in 2005 that I met the adorable Lorraine Hill and we quickly became soulmates. Lorraine inspired me to develop my singing and writing and told me to quit playing ‘cover tune’ gigs. (“Why aren’t you singing where people are listening?” she asked me) I recorded four more albums under her influence. Lorraine is passed on now from Diabetic complications but her belief and love continues with me, out here in my little boat, surfing the musical waves.
Born: Stephen Hardy Palmer May 2, 1948
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
First Band: The Time Machine
Relationship: Widowed (Lorraine Beverley Hill March 20 1955 to June 2 2015)
Touring Status: Active; Canada, EU, USA
Solo Guitarist/Vocalist with occasional accompaniment
In the winter of 2018 I got the opportunity to catch up with Eddie Kilbride, the singer in our 60's band 'Warp Factor'. Eddie and some other 60's friends came out to my gig at the Blackbyrd in Edmonton and it was a wonderful catching up.
Ed has now passed on but his nephew has done this wonderful video tribute to him.
A great showman and an even better singer - Ed Kilbride!
Aldora Britain Records Ezine 13.
Interview with STEPHEN HARDY PALMER! This veteran singer-songwriter comes by to talk to us about opening for The Who and his latest album dedicated to his late partner!