Robert Palmer Biography

Alan Palmer, 19 January 1949, Batley, Yorkshire, England, d. 26 September 2003, Paris, France. Britain’s leading ‘blue-eyed soul’ singer served a musical apprenticeship over four decades in which time he participated in many different styles of music. Palmer spent much of his childhood in Malta where his father was serving in the navy. The family moved back to England when Robert was in his late teens, settling in Scarborough, Yorkshire. In the UK progressive music boom of the late 60s, Palmer joined the Mandrakes part-time, so as not to interfere with his day job as a graphic designer. Shortly afterwards he left for the lure of London to join the highly respected but commercially unsuccessful Alan Bown Set, replacing the departed Jess Roden. The following year he joined the ambitious conglomeration Dada, an experimental jazz rock unit featuring Elkie Brooks. Out of Dada came the much loved Vinegar Joe, with whom he made three albums.

Already having sights on a solo career, Palmer had worked on what was to become his debut, Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley, in 1974. Backed by the Meters and Little Feat leader Lowell George, the album was an artistic triumph. A long-term relationship with Chris Blackwell’s Island Records ensued. Blackwell had faith in artists such as Palmer and John Martyn and allowed their creativity to flow, over and above commercial considerations. Little Feat appeared on Palmer’s follow-up Pressure Drop, recorded after Palmer had relocated to New York. Still without significant sales, he moved to the luxury of the Bahamas, where he lived for many years. In 1976 he released Some People Can Do What They Like to a mixed reaction. Palmer persevered, and his first major US hits came in the late 70s with ‘Every Kinda People’ and the Moon Martin rocker, ‘Bad Case Of Loving You’. He collaborated with Gary Numan on Clues which became a bigger hit in the UK than in America. The infectious ‘Johnny And Mary’ sneaked into the UK Top 50 and two years later ‘Some Guys Have All The Luck’ (originally recorded by the Persuaders) made the Top 20.

Seeming to give up on his solo career, Palmer joined the Duran Duran -based, Power Station in 1985. Continuing his own career, Riptide, released at the end of that year, gave him his biggest success. The album was a super-slick production of instantly appealing songs and it made the UK Top 5 and US Top 10. In 1986, in addition to singing on John Martyn’s Sapphire, Palmer found himself at the top of the US singles chart with the beautifully produced ‘Addicted To Love’. The record became a worldwide hit, notably making the UK Top 5. It was accompanied by a sexy (or sexist) video featuring a number of identical-looking women playing instruments behind Palmer. The singer followed this with another catchy hit ‘I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On’, which reached number 2 in the US charts.

Following a move to Switzerland with his family, Palmer left Island after 14 years and joined EMI Records. His first release for the label, 1988’s Heavy Nova, was accompanied by the US number 2 hit ‘Simply Irresistible’ and the UK Top 10 hit ‘She Makes My Day’. The next year a formidable compilation of his Island work was released, and found more success than Heavy Nova. Palmer returned to the UK Top 10 with UB40 in 1990 with the Bob Dylan song ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’, and the following year with a medley of Marvin Gaye songs, ‘Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)’/‘I Want You’ (the latter was also the singer’s final US Top 20 hit). Honey was another credible release with notable tracks such as ‘Know By Now’ and the title song. Palmer’s late 90s release, Rhythm & Blues, contained the excellent ‘True Love’, although his interpretation of Lowell George’s beautiful ‘20 Million Things’ lacked the heartfelt emotion of the original. 2003’s Drive was a similar project, featuring old standards such as ‘Need Your Love So Bad’ and ‘Hound Dog’. Palmer died of a heart attack in September of that year while promoting the album.

Throughout his career Palmer remained a respected artist, songwriter and the possessor of an excellent voice. He was also admired for his wardrobe of suits, having worn them when they were anathema to most rock stars, and consequently found himself praised for being a well-dressed man.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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