Robert Palmer, who has died aged 54, was a gravelly-voiced singer and songwriter whose four-decade career incorporated every genre of music from experimental Jazz to Blues, Soul, Calypso, Reggae and the Bossa Nova. He is best known, however, for the pounding Rock-Soul classic Addicted To Love and its accompanying video, which came to epitomise the glamour and excesses of the 1980s.
By 1986, Palmer had already been established as a respected "blue-eyed soul" singer with a number of albums under his belt. But that year, with the release of Addicted To Love, Palmer, a critically respected but relatively uncommercial musician, would become forever associated with the image of an ageing lothario in a designer suit.
But it was the video that catapulted Palmer to the top of the American charts and to No 5 in Britain. Despite being happily married with two young children, he found himself presented as smooth, rich, raffish and the epitome of "yuppiedom". It was an image that would haunt him for the rest of his career, and one that he would often try to dispel. "I had very little to do with it," he said of the video. "I just showed up and mouthed the words for 15 minutes."
He went on to further international success with the catchy, although less impressive I Didn't Mean To Turn You On and had other hits with Simply Irresistible and the gentle, Beatles-style ballad She Makes My Day.
Addicted To Love went platinum and earned Palmer a Grammy for Best Rock Performance, and in 1990, the quietly spoken and ironic Yorkshireman was voted best-dressed rock star by Rolling Stone magazine. Although he later returned to his more eclectic musical roots, Palmer never quite threw off the playboy image, fuelled in part by his unashamed predilection for designer suits (Versace, Gucci, Armani and especially Gianfranco Ferre), cigarettes and a good malt whisky.
Robert Alan Palmer was born on January 19, 1949 at Batley, Yorkshire, and spent his early years in Malta, where his father worked for Naval Intelligence. Alan, as he was known, was educated at a local international school, but it was from his parents that he learnt about the music of Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole. His love of dressing up came, he would later recall, from his enchantment at watching glamorous naval officers and their wives dressed up for parties. When his parents moved back to Yorkshire, young Alan was devastated and turned to music as solace.
At the age of 15, he joined his first band, the Mandrakes, although he also found work as a graphic designer. In 1969, however, he resigned from his job and moved to London to join the Alan Bown Set (adopting the name Robert to avoid confusion with Alan Bown). The following year, he joined the experimental Jazz-Rock band Dada, singing alongside Elkie Brooks. Dada became Vinegar Joe, which released three albums and has a cult status among certain music fans (Palmer later said that Vinegar Joe was an apprenticeship he would "happily sweep under the carpet".)
In 1974, Palmer became a solo artist and moved to Nassau in the Bahamas where he was to live for the next 13 years. He released a number of albums, including Some People Can Do What They Like. His first American hit came in 1979 with Bad Case Of Loving You. In 1982, he made the British Top 20 with Some Guys Have All The Luck but it was Addicted To Love that brought him worldwide fame as a solo artist.
In 1984, Palmer joined a number of former members of the hugely popular 1980s band Duran Duran to form the ill-fated but briefly successful Power Station, named after a New York recording studio. Power Station's Some Like It Hot was sneered at by British critics but, in America, it lifted Palmer and the band into the arena league and 1.5 million copies of their album were sold. But when his solo album Heavy Nova (released in 1988 and so called because, according to Palmer, it was a fusion of Heavy Metal and Bossa Nova) produced the hits Simply Irresistible ("Her methods are inscrutable/ The proof is irrefutable") and She Makes My Day, Palmer decided to concentrate on other projects.
In 1996, Power Station was reconvened. The band floundered, however, after what Palmer would describe, with typically laconic understatement, as "a couple of bass player problems". In fact, their original bass player, John Taylor (formerly of Duran Duran) checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic for cocaine addiction and his replacement, Bernard Edwards (formally of Chic) died suddenly of pneumonia. The album flopped and Palmer returned to solo work.
Palmer had an encylopedic knowledge of musical history. For his live performances he shunned gimmicks, and dressed, as always, in a suit (although those worn on stage were copies "because I'm wet through after an hour-and-a-half. I'd ruin them"), preferring to let the music speak for itself. Usually it did, although he occasionally looked a little uncomfortable, "like a managing director trying to join in the fun at the office party", as one critic noted in The Telegraph.
Palmer was a workaholic and a perfectionist; he refused to take days off when he was on the road (he once played 69 nights in a row) and said that while on tour he preferred playing scrabble and doing crosswords to rock'n'roll excesses.
"I'm not a film star or a rock star or anything," he would explain, "I'm a singer, someone who makes music." Moreover, he found being pestered by fans "unnerving, embarrassing and frightening" and he preferred to stay up all night writing music fuelled by cigarettes and malt whisky. He was also something of a gourmand and once confessed that if he had to pick another career it would be as a food critic for the Michelin Restaurant guide.
In 1993, Palmer settled at Lugano, Switzerland, partly, he explained, because he found that the Bahamas had become overrun with drugs and guns and was no longer a safe place for him to bring up his children.
But, he said, in many ways he was happiest when he was on tour. "When I sing I am in my own world. When I play live there is this immensely satisfying physicality, this incredible high. It's the best drug I know and it's totally legal. I know I'm obsessive but it's the only way I know how to be happy."
Last year, he released Robert Palmer At His Very Best, a compilation album which included Addicted To Love, Simply Irresistible and his cover version of Marvin Gaye's Mercy Mercy Me.
At the same time, Palmer was told by his doctor that he suffered from high blood pressure, although he was otherwise in perfect health. "I thought," said Palmer, who could never quite resist perpetuating his smoothie image, " 'that's nice - I think I'll have a Martini'."
Robert Palmer, who died yesterday in Paris following a heart attack, was divorced from his wife, Sue, in 1993. He is survived by a son and a daughter from his marriage and by his companion, Mary Ambrose.
(The Telegraph - 2003)