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Robert Palmer Biography

Home > Music > P > Palmer, Robert > Biography

Birth Name: Robert Allen Palmer
Born: 1949/01/19
Birth Place: Batley, Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Died: 2003/09/26
Years Active: 1969–2003
Genres: Rock, Blue-Eyed Soul, Pop Rock

Robert Palmer (born Robert Allen Palmer, January 19, 1949 - September 26, 2003) was a Grammy Award-winning English singer-songwriter born in Batley, Yorkshire. He was known for his distinctive voice and the eclectic mix of musical styles on his albums, combining soul, jazz, rock, pop, reggae and blues. He found success both in his solo career and in the musical act Power Station.

Influenced as a child by blues, soul and jazz music on American Forces Radio, Palmer joined his first band, The Mandrakes, at the age of 15 while still at Scarborough Boys' High School. His first major break came with the departure of singer Jess Roden from the band The Alan Bown Set in 1969, after which Palmer was invited to London to sing on their single “Gypsy Girl.” The vocals for the album “The Alan Bown Set!,” originally recorded by Roden were re-recorded by Palmer after the success of the single.

In 1970, Palmer joined the 12-piece jazz-rock fusion band Dada, which featured singer Elkie Brooks. The band lasted a year, after which Brooks and Palmer formed the critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful rhythm and blues group, Vinegar Joe. Signed to the Island Records label, they released three albums: 1972’s “Vinegar Joe,” and “Rock 'n' Roll Gypsies” and 1973’s “Six Star General,” before disbanding in March 1974.

Island Records signed Palmer to a solo deal in 1974. His first solo album “Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley” recorded in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1974, was heavily influenced by the music of Little Feat and the funk fusion of The Meters who acted as backing band along with producer/guitarist Lowell George of Little Feat. Although unsuccessful in the UK, both the album and single reached the Top 100 in the U.S. Notably, “Sailin' Shoes,” Palmer's own “Hey Julia” and the Allen Toussaint–penned title track carry virtually the same rhythm, and were packaged on the album as a "trilogy" without a pause between them.

Subsequently relocating from London to New York, Palmer released “Pressure Drop” in November 1975, featuring Motown bassist James Jamerson. An album infused with his interests in reggae and rock music, it was noted for its cover art of a nude girl on a balcony rather than any commercially successful songs. He toured with Little Feat to promote that album.

However, with the failure of the 1976 follow-up “Some People Can Do What They Like,” Palmer decided to move to Nassau, Bahamas, directly across the street from Compass Point Studios which was owned by Palmer's mentor, Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records.

In 1978, he released “Double Fun,” a collection of Caribbean-influenced rock, including a cover of “You Really Got Me.” The album reached the Top 50 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and scored a Top 20 single with the Andy Fraser–penned “Every Kinda People.” The song has been covered by other artists including Chaka Demus and Pliers, Randy Crawford and Amy Grant. It reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart.

Palmer's next album was an artistic departure, concentrating on pure rock. 1979's “Secrets” produced his second Top 20 single with Moon Martin's “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor).” The #14 hit also gave Palmer his first Billboard Hot 100 year end chart hit.

The 1980s saw Palmer find an increasing amount of commercial success. The album “Clues,” produced by Palmer and featuring Chris Frantz and Gary Numan, generated hits on both sides of the Atlantic, first with the radio-friendly single “Johnny and Mary” and then “Looking for Clues.” Catchy music videos matching the synth pop stylings of New Wave gave him much needed exposure to a younger audience. The success was repeated with the 1982 EP release of “Some Guys Have All the Luck.”

In April 1983 “Pride” was released, which not as commercially successful as “Clues” did feature the title song and Palmer's cover of The System's “You Are In My System,” with The System's David Frank contributing keyboard tracks to the latter song.

In July 1983, Palmer performed at Duran Duran's charity concert at Aston Villa football ground where he struck up friendships with members of Duran Duran which would spawn the supergroup Power Station. Duran Duran went on hiatus, and their guitarist Andy Taylor and bassist John Taylor joined former Chic member Tony Thompson and Palmer to form Power Station. Their eponymous album, recorded mainly at the New York recording studio for which the band was named, reached the Top 20 in the U.K. and the Top 10 in the U.S. It spawned two hit singles with “Some Like It Hot” a U.S. #6 hit and a cover of the T.Rex song “Get It On (Bang a Gong),” which peaked one position higher than the original at #9. The band toured, and played Live Aid, with singer Michael Des Barres after Palmer bowed out at the last moment to go back into the recording studio to further his solo career.

Palmer recorded the album “Riptide” at Compass Point Studios in 1985, recruiting Thompson and Andy Taylor to play on some tracks plus Power Station record producer Bernard Edwards, who worked with Thompson in Chic, to helm the production. “Riptide” featured the U.S. #1 and U.K. #5 single “Addicted to Love.” The single was accompanied by a memorable and much-parodied music video, directed by Terence Donovan, in which Palmer is surrounded by a bevy of near-identically clad, heavily made-up female “musicians,” either mimicking or mocking the painting of Patrick Nagel. In 1987, he won the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for “Addicted to Love.” The singles “Hyperactive!” and his cover of Cherrelle's “I Didn't Mean to Turn You On” also performed well, with the latter being a #2 U.S. and #9 U.K. hit single.

Concerned about the rising crime rate in Nassau, Palmer moved to Lugano, Switzerland, in 1987 and set up his own recording studio. Producing “Heavy Nova” in 1988, Palmer again returned to experimenting, this time with bossa nova rhythms, heavy rock and white-soul balladeering. He repeated his previous success of “Addicted to Love” with the video of “Simply Irresistible,” again with a troupe of female “musicians.” The song reached #2 in the U.S. and was Palmer's final Top 10 hit there. The ballad “She Makes My Day” also proved to be a hit in the U.K., peaking at #6. In 1989, he won a second Grammy for “Simply Irresistible,” which would later be featured in the Tony Award winning musical “Contact.”

Palmer expanded his range even further for his 1990 album, “Don't Explain.” It also featured the Bob Dylan penned Top 10 single “I'll Be Your Baby Tonight,” in a collaboration with UB40, that secured a #6 placing in the U.K., and the Top 20 Marvin Gaye cover “Mercy Mercy Me.” Throughout the 1990s, Palmer ventured further into diverse material. The 1992 album “Ridin' High” was a tribute to the Tin Pan Alley era. In 1994, Palmer released “Honey” to mixed reviews. While the album failed to produce any hit singles in the U.S., he did find success in the U.K. with the release of three modest hit singles “Girl U Want,” “Know By Now” and “You Blow Me Away.”

In 1995, Palmer reunited with other members of The Power Station to record a second album. Bassist John Taylor eventually backed out of the project, to be replaced by Bernard Edwards. Palmer and the rest of the band completed the 1996 album “Living in Fear,” and had just begun touring when Edwards died from pneumonia.

Palmer moved to Lugano, Switzerland, in 1986, and became a naturalized citizen of Switzerland in 1993. He lived there until his death. A heavy smoker, he died in Paris, France, from a heart attack on September 26, 2003 at the age of 54.