A “professional” musician can simply mean a musician who gets paid. It’s a popular notion—that once you’ve been compensated (and not in “exposure bucks,” as some venues prefer), you have officially transcended the divide that separates amateur and professional players.
But to Allen Palmer, director and guitarist of the genre-spanning cover group Platinum, being a professional has other requirements.
“There’s no ‘talent,’” said Palmer, “There’s pretty much just work, and wherever you can create it.”
Palmer grew up immersed in the music industry around Compton, Calif. A multi-instrumentalist since childhood, he found steady work as a backing musician with Capitol Records, working with soul and R&B artists like Tracie Spencer, Calloway and Tara Kemp. He also found his way onto TV stages, playing live on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and The Arsenio Hall Show.
“We backed artists who were on a particular label and did promotional tours, just right in L.A., for a long time, “ Palmer said. “The big thing that we prided ourselves on back then is that we were, like, Johnny-on-the-spot. I mean, we knew everybody’s music … so that allowed us to be considered for situations, due to us being up on what was hot.”
Palmer also had a knack for building relationships with other players. For several years, he toured with various bands, playing covers in showrooms, lounges and cruise ships all over the West Coast. He came as close to Reno as South Lake Tahoe—but never actually entered the city. That changed around 1999.
“I ended up playing with this band called Hollywood, which ended up coming to Reno for two weeks,” Palmer said. “An agent approached me here in town at the Silver Club. They were asking, ‘Well, where do you come from? What do you do?’ … They asked me, if they gave us another room to play, would I come up from L.A. to play the room?”
He said yes, and for several years, Palmer commuted from Los Angeles to Reno to play rooms around town—until he met and married his wife in the early 2000s, and relocated to Northern Nevada full-time. Unbeknownst to Palmer, other musicians with similar professional backgrounds had made moves to Reno around the same time. When he started auditioning players to join his new group, Platinum, in 2014, he recognized a few faces.
“The guys grew up in L.A., kind of doing some similar things,” Palmer said. “We didn’t know each other in L.A., though. But the funny thing is, we were playing some of the same clubs, and that’s how I remembered them up here. … I used to go see them, and—actually, this is the key to it all—the Grand Sierra was where we all met again.”
It was in the Grand Sierra showroom, the venue Palmer wanted to play most upon his arrival in Reno, where he connected with Platinum’s keyboardist and bassist, Terry “TC” Caldwell, and drummer, Deemonier Harris. After a few lineup changes over the years, vocalist Erika Malone—originally from Dallas—joined four years ago, cementing the current lineup.
For the past almost-decade, Platinum has had a steady series of local and regional gigs, bringing their mashup of genres and styles to a dedicated fanbase—many of whom follow the band from club to barroom to cabaret, looking for a good time.
“We’re unique in the sense of the quality in our sound,” Palmer said. “We pride ourselves on having a certain feel, you know. We’re a big dance band. We’re a big party band, and so our song list is a lot of party music and a lot of happy music.”
Palmer and his bandmates grew up steeped in a variety of sounds. He lists influences like the early Motown greats, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Wes Montgomery and, especially, Prince. Platinum mostly sticks to funk, R&B, pop and neosoul, but Palmer takes care to mention that just because they play covers, that doesn’t mean they’re a jukebox. Showgoers will hear songs they recognize (everything from Ben E. King to Lady Gaga), but Platinum’s “act” is all about advanced musicality and putting their own spin on hit songs.
“We don’t just play the song like the song,” Palmer said. “What we normally do is speed the song up just slightly, just to have a certain swing. … When someone yells out a song, a request, sometimes you could oblige them … and we normally pull it off, because we put it in our vein. We go, ‘OK, you want a country song? You want to hear “Neon Moon”?’ We’re gonna do ‘Neon Moon’ meets The Temptations.”
Palmer credits the band’s professional experience for what he calls their “natural appeal”—a fluid combination of technique, stamina and stage presence that allows them to adapt to the room and capture the audience’s attention, no matter where (or what) they’re playing.
“It doesn’t matter if we play rock, country, reggae, pop—it’s going to feel a certain way,” he said. “And that’s why people come hang out with us. Before you even play a note or sing anything, your band just walks to the stage, and people start crowding around. That’s a natural appeal.”
In 2019, Platinum’s appeal was undeniable, with shows booked almost every weekend—momentum that was slowed during the pandemic. Over the past year, the band has been getting back on track. Their next shows are scheduled for Feb. 3 and 4 at the Circus Circus; Feb. 10 and 11 at the Legends Bay Casino; Feb. 17 at the Polo Lounge; and Feb. 24 and 25 at the Silver Legacy. Palmer also hopes to get an EP featuring original tracks recorded this summer.
Until then, Platinum knows their Reno audience well—and they plan to keep making them feel that certain way.
Learn more about Platinum on their Facebook page.