Chattanooga Now City Beat: Dennis Palmer left his mark on our city

Chattanooga Now City Beat: Dennis Palmer left his mark on our city

February 21st, 2013 by Barry Courter in Chattnow Music

Dennis Palmer

Dennis Palmer

Photo by Lido Vizzutti

I don't remember when I first met Dennis Palmer. My wife has known him since first grade at the old Barger Elementary and used to kid him about the day he came to school dressed as Alice Cooper.

One of my earliest memories is walking into Jan Cooper's Squirt Works store on Georgia Avenue in the mid-'80s to find Palmer there with his young son, Chris. After being introduced, Chris smiled and said, "I saw you before."

"When?" I asked.

"Just now," he said, "when you walked down the steps."

So right away, I knew Chris had inherited his father's sense of humor.

The arts and music scenes in Chattanooga have changed quite a bit in the last 30 years, and I can think of no one who is more representative or responsible for that change than Dennis Palmer.

That is not to give him full credit nor to diminish the work of so many others who have worked to make art important here. It's just that Dennis inspired, pushed, pulled, nudged and carried so many people into looking at things in new ways through his paintings and works with friend and collaborator Bob Stagner of the Shaking Ray Levi Society.

Back in the mid-'80s, Palmer and his then-band Bend Sinister partnered with Musical Moose (full disclosure: two of my brothers are in the band) to self-promote a concert at the old Knights of Columbus Hall on Eighth Street. Both bands played entirely original music, and it's fair to say neither would ever be called mainstream.

At the time, there really wasn't a club in town that could afford to book a band that didn't feature a lot of cover songs, though the Brass Register did on occasion. Promoting their own show was pretty forward-thinking at the time. It has became commonplace, as are local bands that focus on original songs, but it wasn't then.

For the last 26 years, Palmer and Stagner have been promoting and producing such shows, and as one of the funded agencies supported by ArtsBuild, they have given nontraditional arts organizations a place at the table and allowed people to open their minds.

His greatest contribution may have been as a teacher. For years, Palmer taught young people about art. In many cases, it was to underprivileged or underserved youth. We might not ever really know just what his impact has been on those young people, but I believe it has been significant.

When I spoke to Stagner the day Palmer died, this was what he remembered most about his lifelong friend.

"He lit a fire under so many people," he said.

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.