Robert Allen Palmer was born in Batley in Yorkshire in 1949. He was the son of a school teacher and former British naval intelligence officer. The family moved to Scarborough, Yorkshire when Robert was 10. At school he played saxophone and clarinet and was influenced by music he heard on American Forces Radio i.e. jazz blues and soul. Aged 15, he joined his first band The Mandrakes. Robert later replaced Jess Roden (singer) in the Alan Bown Set in 1969 and moved to London where he recorded "Gypsy Girl".
The single enjoyed sufficient success the band re-recorded their album The Alan Bown! with Robert as lead vocalist. In 1970 the singer left the Set and joined a jazz fusion outfit called Dada.
There he shared vocals with Elkie Brooks. She was an established singer and started her professional career aged 15. Her powerful husky voice made her a natural blues singer although throughout the 60s she had become a cabaret singer. Elkie preferred the work she and Robert were doing and although Dada had a short life the duet formed Vinegar Joe in 1971.
Vinegar Joe was a superb live band and played raw R&B. The line was Elkie Brooks (singer), Robert Palmer (singer and guitar), Steve York (bass), Tim Hinkley (keyboards), Peter Gage (guitar and piano), and Conrad Isidore (drums). The band was signed to Island Records (in the UK) and released three albums Vinegar Joe (1972), Rock 'n' Roll Gypsies (1972), and Six Star General (1973).
Despite a continued lack of commercial success, they were a well-respected outfit and popular on the UK university circuit. The group broke up in 1973 and Palmer and Brooks went onto have successful solo careers. Robert had a distinctive voice and was always on stage the epitome of Seville Row eloquence. His first solo album Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley was recorded in New Orleans and was produced by Lowell George (Little Feet). The album reached the Top 100 in the US.
Palmer relocated to New York and his next album Pressure Drop was a fusion between reggae and rock.
Less commercial than the previous works, Robert toured with Little Feet but after Some People Can Do What They Like failed to attract the attention of the public Robert moved to Nassau in the Bahamas where he recorded a collection of Caribbean-influenced rock on an album called Double Fun. The single from the album “Every kind of people” was a chart success and the album reached the Top 50 on the US Billboard chart.
He recorded Secrets in 1979 and the single, "Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)" raced up the single charts.
More success followed with the album Clues which featured Chris Frantz and Gary Numan. "Johnny and Mary" and "Looking for Clues" were chart successes.
In 1982, the EP Some Guys Have All the Luck saw Robert high in the charts again.
A year later the album Pride was not so successful and after performing with Duran Duran at a charity concert Robert teamed up with Andy Taylor (guitar), John Taylor (bass), and Tony Thompson (Chic) to form, Power Station in 1984. Two hit singles came from their debut album, "Some Like It Hot" and "Get It On (Bang a Gong)" (previously recorded by T Rex).
Despite the success Robert returned to his solo career and released Riptide in 1985. The single from the album, "Addicted to Love" became a number one hit and the stunning music video by Terence Donovan with a bevy of heavily made up female clones (influenced by the art of Patrick Nagel) an outstanding award winner.
Other single chart success came with "Hyperactive" and "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On."
In 1987 Robert and family relocated to Lugano, in Switzerland and he set up his own recording studio. As the nineties approached he continued to explore new sounds recording a bossa nova influenced album in 1988 called, Heavy Nova. "Simply Irresistible" became a chart topper in the US and the ballad "She Makes My Day" was a UK hit.
In 1990 he released "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" which was collaboration with UB40, then later "Mercy Mercy Me" (previously recorded by Sam Cooke), both charted.
Always keen to keep exploring new fusions the best dressed man in rock continued to release diverse material most of which commercially went unrecognised. In 1996 Robert did briefly reform with other members of Power Station. The Yorkshire singer died of liver failure aged 54. in 2003.
Worth a listen
Sailin' Shoes (1974)
Hey Julia (1974)
Every kind of people (1978)
Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor) (1979)
Johnny and Mary (1980)
Looking for Clues (1980)
Some Guys Have All the Luck (1982)
Addicted to Love (1985)
I Didn't Mean to Turn You On(1986)
Simply Irresistible (1988)
She Makes My Day (1988)
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight with UB40 (1990)
Mercy Mercy Me/ I want you (1990)
Alan Bown Set
Gypsy Girl (1969)
Some Like It Hot (1984)
Get It On (Bang a Gong) (1984)