Gene Palma – Street Musician from Taxi Driver

I took this photo of street drummer Gene Palma in the mid to late 1970′s. Not sure if it was before or after his appearance in “Taxi Driver.”  Palma also appeared in “Hero at Large.”

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51 comments on “Gene Palma – Street Musician from Taxi Driver

  1. Awesome photo! I have always loved that little moment in TAXI DRIVER. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Again with the memories. I feel like Forest Gump when I read your New York based posts. I used to see Gene in Times Square often back in the ’80s. During that same period, I worked at a coffee shop on 6th Avenue and 57th Street called Miss Brooks and Gene came there often; really nice guy, but that hair smelled like hell.

    • John Greco says:

      Sorry for the late reply Michael. Your comment got mixed in with spam and I just found it. The photo was taken in Times Square and I do remember seeing him there a couple of times banging away. Wasn’t that coffee shop near the 57th Street Playhouse? Now I think it is the Director’s Guild of America Theater.

      • You’re right, John. Miss Brook’s was right on the corner of 6th Ave; the theater was a block away. Saw Sid & Nancy there. Question: was that the old Playboy Theater?

      • John Greco says:

        Yes, it went under a few names over the years. The Cinema Rendezvous, the Playboy, 57th Street Playhouse and probably a one or two others.

  3. I knew Gene for about 8 years during the 90s. Always had his little suitcase and sticks with him. I wonder if he is still alive and living on 8th ave in Chelsea-

    • John Greco says:

      The little I have seen written about him on the web, there is nothing to indicate where his is, or if he is still with us. I recently found some old B&W photo contact sheets containing a few shots I took of Gene back in the late 70′s. Unfortunately, the negatives seem to have disappeared.

  4. richard mirissis says:

    being a commuter from staten island, i would see gene almost every day at the corner of 7th avenue and broadway and, we would sit and have lunch together. he was a great person and very talented. he was a joy to see him playing his drumsticks on any surface. he could immitate any classic drumer-even giger baker!!!

  5. Julian says:

    I watched Taxi Driver last night and decided to look up Gene again. Love that movie and I too used to see Gene in the 80′s and probably in the mid-seventies a couple of times (before I moved to NYC). He was one of many street characters I loved seeing as I walked around. It really was a great time in NYC. Now the Times Square area is just another damn suburban mall. I used to eat lunch frequently at the Japanese lunch counter that was on 42nd, across from Hotalings News. Another favorite was the Orange Julius that was on 7th around 45th St., the only one I knew of where they’d toss in a raw egg for you.

    In the scene in TD where Travis & Betsy are coming out of the ‘sexy’ film, I forgot that one of the movies next door was, “Street Gangs of Hong Kong,” which I’ve been hoping to find on dvd.

    Love your pictures of Gene. Thanks so much.

    • John Greco says:

      Julien,

      Glad you enjoyed the photo and it brought back memories. Times Square is now just a tourist attraction. It’s cleaned up but it has lost it allure. Thanks!!

  6. paul says:

    Last time I saw Gene was in 2002-2003. He was living in a special adult home on 8th ave in Chelsea next to a Burito place called Blue Moon Cafe. I had numerous conversations with Gene over a period of 8 years. Nice man. Good drummer. Liked pastrami. Ate the middle out of pastries. Carried a small suitcase with a pressed suit and shoes inside along with coloring books given to him by Jehova’s witnesses. Any more info you wish to have, e-mail me at paulcorrigan@gmail.com

    • John Greco says:

      Paul,

      Thank you for this update. I still vividly remember him playing. Happily many people who commented have fond memories of Gene.

  7. Michael Adams says:

    I moved to NYC in June of 1970 and began working in a small ad agency on the top of 580 5th Aveune (47th street). I was previously an amateur drummer and played some R&R in college, etc, and was the biggest Gene Krupa freak on earth (saw him perform live twice before his young death at 64 in 1973). The ad agencies in those days had dozens of deliveries back and forth from “stat” houses (long before computers). Stats were hi quality b&w copies of existing artwork needed to make new ads. Our office was on the top floor of the building and shortly after I began the job, several times a week I found myself riding the elevator with a curious delivery man from one of the stat houses. He would hold those large flat rigid stat envelopes in two hands, and endlessly play the most astounding cadences with his finger tips, right there in the elevator on the backs of those envelopes. Over and over again I was blown away, crippled by what I heard, since I actually recognized dozens of his riffs. Krupa, Belson, Hampton, Rich, you name the drummer, he was right there keeping up with them. In the two years I had that job (1970-72), I must have ridden in the elevator 40-50 times with this mystical man who never said one word to anyone, never made any eye contact and was totally oblivious to the effect he was having on the people who stood with him in those elevator cabs. Imagine how astounded I was four years later when completely out of nowhere, that wonderful guy miraculously appeared on screen as I sat idly watching Scorsese’s epic Taxi Driver! So yes, I can testify that for at least a couple years, Gene Palma delivered stats to New York ad agencies, but all the while his entire being was simultaneously consumed with breathtaking drum cadences. Bravo to Scorsese for bringing this wonderful personality a little immortality on the big screen.

    • John Greco says:

      Michael,

      Thank you for adding your story to the list of folks here who have crossed paths with Gene over the years.This is turning out to be a fasincating little story with pieces of a puzzle slowly being put together.

  8. Michael Adams says:

    I sometimes wonder when Gene Palma began his street appearances. During the time I rode elevators with him 1970-72, I am almost positive he was not yet on the streets, as I was all over mid town in those days and I never saw him except on the lifts. I left NY in July 1972, and stayed away for three years. Then I saw him in the movie, and realized he must have begun performing on the street while I was out of town.

  9. ED says:

    JUST THOUGHT ABOUT GENE AND GOOGLED THIS PAGE. I SAW HIM OFTEN RIDING ON SUBWAYS IN MID TO LATE 70′S WHILE WORKING 12-8 FOR NYCTA. HE EVEN HAD BUSINESS CARDS MADE UP, “GENE PALMA, STAR IN TAXI DRIVER”. HE WAS A NICE STREET PERSON WHO WOULD CONVERSE WITH US AND PERFORM ON TRAINS.
    ED

  10. Bobby Fisher says:

    I photographed Gene in my Chelsea bathtub back in 86′

    /Users/bobbyfis/Desktop/Untitled-1.jpg

  11. O'Lee says:

    Screen Presence of Gene in Taxi Driver …… most memorable moment.Thanks for the post.

  12. Bill Bohaboy says:

    hmmmm Times Square in the old days, God I never thought I’d miss it. Gene was super cool on that corner drumming his heart out. I hope hes doing well. I remember Orange Julius and Romeos Spaghetti and of course Tads steak house ( a decent steak a huge baked patato and a salad 99 cents ) the train was 15 cents a bottle of beer was 35 cents, what in the hell has happened to this country?

    • John Greco says:

      Bill,

      Gene was a main stay in that area during those days. There have been quite a few sightings of him over the years. Hopefully, like you say he is doing ok. For me, the best part of Times Square in those days were the movie theaters, there were just so many. As for those prices, we for sure will not be seeing those again! Thanks for stoppong by.

  13. Michael Kaye says:

    Sometime in the late 80s or early 90s I saw a small documentary on some public access station (might have been on in Los Angeles) about a young man befriending Gene Palma and attempting to get him off the streets of NYC and into a welfare hotel. I specifically recall a scene where Gene sees the squalor of the room and the bathroom that was offered – he didn’t like the residents either – and opts to go back living on the streets. Did anyone else ever see this besides me ?

  14. John Greco says:

    Hopefully, someone can respond. I am not familar with the film. Other folks have commented on seeing Gene over the years but no one seems to know what happened to him. Thanks!

  15. gordon s proctor says:

    I met Gene on the streets of N.Y.C.sometime in the late 70s early 80s,I bought him lunch,we ate talked,and had a very nice time! I hope he is doing well !

  16. MBJ says:

    Is Gene still around ?

    • John Greco says:

      Really don’t know. One earlier commenter mentioned he knew Gene in the 90′s but that is now more than 10 years ago.

      • MBJ says:

        Thanks. I used to see Gene all the time in the city back in the late 70s / early 80s. Pretty good drummer. One of those people you never forget.

  17. T says:

    Do you mind if I post a rework of this to Deviantart with proper credit? I did a mixed media b&w drawing of this photo for an art class. I love street drumming and this was the best image I could find to use for the project.

  18. John Greco says:

    T,

    You have my permission to do so as long as I get the source credit. And if you would, please forward a link to your reworking. Would really like to see it.

  19. John Greco says:

    hi Gary! Thanks for sharing this. It’s amazing how many folks have seen Gene and how he left a lasting impression. Will hunt fo the article,

  20. Joe says:

    Someone on youtube said that Gene died in 2005. I remembered him well back in the 70′s. Look for the comment from bagonghithejoker

  21. I met Gene in the Early 90′s while living in Chelsea. I would see him walking around the neighborhood with his leather jacket and briefcase, head tilted down. I always wanted to photograph him and would say hello when I could. One day he invited me up to his apartment in ’95…I have a half of a contact sheet in the archives somewhere. He was always a kind fellow and a charismatic guy. We took a few photos that day.

    btw Mr/ Fisher ‘s photo is exceptional, thank you for sharing that. I am so happy this post exists as well, I was too thinking about Gene and wondering is he is still around.

    here’s an image I took that day:

    http://muggs.smugmug.com/photos/i-6zT8qhp/0/O/i-6zT8qhp.jpg

    Thank you John.

    • John Greco says:

      Robert, Thanks for your input and your own photo of Gene. I continue to be amazed at how many people who seen Gene or knew him have made their way to this site. Thanks again!!!

  22. thanks John, sorry for the double post- feel free to delete whichever. Grateful you have this post good sir.

  23. bepresent3 says:

    Wow, what a great picture. I remember seeing Gene in NYC when I’d go into Times Square playing the drums or the spoons. What memories.

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks! Yeah, it seems many people remember seeing Gene back in the day. He was a fixture in the Times Square area.

  24. Joe says:

    I used to work in orange Julius while attending BMCC in 1972 or 73, the one on 7th ave. and 47th, later on 42nd street, that was some experience in gritty Times Square, lemme tell ya. I saw Gene several times around that area, I was a young immigrant, utterly fascinated by this character playing the drums on anything. I was floored when I saw him in taxi driver, then I would see him on the streets, more people around him after the movie came out. That hair, jet black, tinted, seemingly, by a gallon of dye. To me, he is the background music while I remember the TS of that time.

    • John Greco says:

      Joe, thanks for adding these memories of yours about Gene, great stuff. I remember the Orange Julius stores well.

      • Michael says:

        does anyone remember a short film involving Gene that ran on Public Access channels in the mid to late 1980s? It chronicled a couple of young people who took an interest of Gene and tried to get him off the streets and into some assisted living program (unsuccessfully I might add.)    

  25. John Greco says:

    I am not aware of this film but if anyone is please help out.

  26. frank Rowland says:

    I saw him 1980 when I was 12 years old. I went to NYC with my dad, who played drums. We came off the subway and heard him playing. Thinking back, that was such a cool experience. I’m glad I was able to cross paths with him.

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