Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Asia star CARL Palmer insists peer Bill Ward is still one of the top rock drummers in the world, despite Ozzy Osbourne's fears he's past his prime.

Ward pulled out of the Black Sabbath reunion last year (12), citing a contractual dispute, and ever since former bandmate Ozzy has suggested the rocker isn't fit enough to keep up with the rock legends.

Ward has taken the high road on the jibes and said nothing, but now Elp drummer Carl Palmer, who has teamed up with Ward on a new percussive art project, has spoken out to defend the former Black Sabbath star he almost replaced last year.

He tells Wenn, "It's a shame that Bill's not there. I said to them (Black Sabbath bandmates), 'Bill should be in there...' but I went to the website the other day and I noticed that Bill was removed from all of the photographs... There's not a picture of Bill on there at all, which I thought was weird.

"I've heard he's completely cleaned up from alcohol and he's been straight for many, many years. Maybe he's lost some confidence... but I'm sure that they (bandmates) wish, whatever's happened, that it had all gone the right way and Bill was in the band.

"If they could have had Bill in the band they would have had him there. It was just political and certain managerial things got in the way. Bill's a really good guy, he's still a really great drummer, he still hits really hard and he would have done a great job there."

Palmer recently told Wenn that his name was put forward as a possible replacement for Ward when he first announced he would not be returning for the reunion, but he was not available and Black Sabbath hit the studio with Rage Against the MAChine's Brad Wilk and then recruited Alice Cooper's drummer Tommy Clufetos for their current tour.

Meanwhile, Palmer and Ward have joined forces with Def Leppard's Rick Allen to create a new art form, using drumming sequences as computerised brush strokes on canvas.

Palmer's drum art has already been a hit all over America and the Elp star debuts his first exhibition in Los Angeles on Thursday (22Aug13) at Hollywood's Mr. Musichead gallery.