Robert Palmer was born in Batley, Yorkshire in 1949 but spent his childhood on a Naval base in Malta, where he listened to the records requested by American servicemen on Forces Radio.
Palmer joined The Alan Bown Set at the age of 19, moving on to jazz-rockers Dada and, finally, Vinegar Joe, with whom he recorded three albums of blues-rock notable for his powerful vocal duets with Elkie Brooks. But when record sales failed to match their live popularity, both singers embarked on solo careers.
He signed to Island in 1974, commencing a series of solo albums which fused R&B with blue-eyed soul. His superb debut, Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley, was released in 1974, and he probably never bettered it.
The follow-up, 1975’s Pressure Drop, added the reggae of the Toots-written title track to the white-hot soul that found him backed by Little Feat, while Barry White‘s arranger, Gene Page, added glorious strings to tracks such as Give Me An Inch.
Further albums Some People Can Do What They Like and Double Fun followed in a similar vein. Success was a long time coming, but in 1979 he finally cracked it with Bad Case Of Loving You. Then came the 1980s – a decade that unnerved Palmer as it did so many of his vintage. To his irritation, he became as famous for his suits and matinee idol image as his music.
His biggest selling album, Riptide (1985), was propelled by the single Addicted To Love and its Terence Donovan-directed video which depicted Palmer as a suave lady killer surrounded by a band of scantily-clad models.
Into the 90s Palmer recorded a decent cover of Dylan‘s I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, made an album of big band standards long before Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams stole the idea, and released Drive, a tribute to the blues music that originally inspired him.
Palmer’s innate sense of style could never disguise the fact that he possessed one of the finest soul voices, deployed to brilliant effect early in his solo career when he recorded some of the most joyously rhythmic white funk any British artists ever produced.
Given his disastrous diversions into ‘world music’ and Power Station (formed with Duran Duran‘s John and Andy Taylor and Chic drummer Tony Thompson), the world needs reminding that Palmer had a terrific white soul voice and made some splendid singles.
His ultimate demise (he suffered a heart attack in Paris on 26 September 2003) robbed the world of a golden-voiced, work-shy fop.