Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


PALMER, Robert

(b Robert Allen Palmer, 19 January 1949, Batley, West Yorkshire; d 26 Sep. 2003, Paris) White soul singer who became a self-styled Romeo of pop. Joined his first band the Mandrakes at age 15; came to London as lead singer of the Alan Bown Set '68 (The Alan Bown Set '69 later reissued on See for Miles as Kick Me Out), left to join experimental jamrockers Dada '69 (LP '70 on Atco), which evolved from a twelve-piece lineup into Vinegar Joe (Palmer and Elkie Brooks, vocals; Pete Gage, guitar; Pete Gavin, drums; Steve York, bass; Mike Deacon, keyboards): the hard-nosed R&B sound brought gigs on college/club circuit, LPs Vinegar Joe and Rock'n'Roll Gypsies '72, Six Star General '73 before they split. Palmer made the solo album Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley '74 in New Orleans with the Meters and Lowell George backing, still his most cohesive work: the title track (by Allen Toussaint) and a medley of Palmer's 'Hey Julia' and Lowell George's 'Sailing Shoes' were classic white soul. Pressure Drop '75 included a reggae influence (cover of Toots Hibbert's title track); Some People Can Do What They Like '76 made the USA top ten LPs, coinciding with a move to Nassau. Double Fun '78 made in NYC was his most commercial yet: still recording his own plus other people's songs, he had his first top 20 USA single with Andy Fraser's 'Every Kinda People'; his second, on Moon Martin's 'Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor Doctor)', was from Secrets '79. Clues '80 saw a partially successful venture into electro-pop: a disastrous collaboration with then-hot Gary Numan on 'I Dream Of Wires', 'Found You Now' cheek by jowl with his first UK top 40 hit, the more convincing 'Looking For Clues'. Maybe It's Live '82 was a hodge-podge of live/studio with top 20 UK 'Some Guys Have All The Luck', cover of '73 Persuaders hit. After the uneven Pride '83, he threw in with Andy and John Taylor (not related; ex-Duran Duran) to form hard-rock Power Station with Tony Thompson on drums for a commercially successful eponymous LP '85; Palmer split before their Live Aid appearance (replaced by Michael Des Barres, ex-Silverhead, Chequered Past). Solo Riptide '85 was tainted by wide-screen hard-rock excess. He flirted with electronic music, electro-disco, ballads and hard rock without fully applying himself to any of it but had loyal fans, more in Europe than in USA.

'Addicted To Love' '86 was a transatlantic hit with a miming band of sexy girls in the tongue-in-cheek video. All the albums were on Island CDs '96; meanwhile he switched to EMI for albums Heavy Nova '88 ('Change His Ways' was about his move from the Caribbean to Switzerland), Don't Explain '90 (the cassette version had ten songs on one side, hit-and-mostly-miss experiments on the other), Ridin' High '92 and Honey '94 (with Nino Bettencourt). He re-formed Power Station for a new album '96: Andy Taylor and Thompson came back but John Taylor's cocaine addiction got in the way; ex-Chic Bernard Edwards recorded all the bass parts before he died of pneumonia. He released Rhythm And Blues '99, made a live album at the Apollo 2000 and stuck with the blues on Drive 2003.

The American scholar and critic Robert Palmer (b Robert Franklin Palmer Jr., 19 June 1945; d 20 November 1997 of liver disease) had played saxophone in the 1960s band the Insect Trust, and thereafter wrote for many publications, publishing a well-known book called Deep Blues; when he died, the British pop star had to answer a great many queries to establish that he was still alive. Only a few years later he had taped a retrospective show for Yorkshire TV when he died of a heart attack on holiday with his long-time girlfriend.