Robert Franklin Palmer Jr. (June 19, 1945 – November 20, 1997) was a 20th-century American writer, musicologist, clarinetist, saxophonist, and blues producer. Robert Palmer is best known for books he authored such as Deep Blues, his music journalism articles for The New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine, his work producing blues recordings and the soundtrack to the film Deep Blues, and his clarinet work in the 1960s band The Insect Trust. A collection of his work, titled Blues & Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmer and edited by Anthony DeCurtis, was published by Simon & Schuster on November 10, 2009.
Palmer was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the son of a musician and school teacher, Robert Palmer Sr. A civil rights and peace activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, the younger Palmer graduated from Little Rock University (later called the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR)) in 1964. Soon afterwards he and fellow musicians Nancy Jeffries, Bill Barth, and Luke Faust formed a psychedelic music group blending jazz, folk, and blues with rock and roll, called The Insect Trust. The band recorded its first, self-titled album on Capitol Records in 1968. He continued playing clarinet and saxophone from time to time in local bands in areas he lived throughout the rest of his life.
In the early 1970s, Palmer became a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He became the first full-time rock writer for The New York Times a few years later, serving as chief pop music critic at the newspaper from 1976 to 1988.
He continued his journalism work for film magazines and Rolling Stone; meanwhile, he began teaching ethnomusicology and American music courses at colleges, including at the University of Mississippi. In the early 1990s, he also began producing blues albums for Fat Possum Records artists like R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. After living near Memphis from 1988 through 1992, he spent about six months at a country estate near Little Rock before relocating in early 1993 to New Orleans, Louisiana, his home base until his death.
Two of his better-known books are his 1982 Deep Blues historical study and his 1995 book Rock & Roll: an Unruly History, the latter of which was a companion book to a ten-part BBC and PBS television series on which he served as chief consultant.
In 1985, he was recruited to play clarinet by friends Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood on the song Silver and Gold by U2's Bono for the Artists United Against Apartheid album Sun City.
Throughout his life, Robert Palmer published scholarly liner notes on albums by dozens of top jazz, blues, rock and roll and world music artists, including Sam Rivers, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Yoko Ono, John Lee Hooker, Albert King, Bo Diddley, Ray Charles, Ornette Coleman, the Master Musicians of Jajouka, La Monte Young, and many more. He worked as screen writer, narrator, and music director on the documentary films The World According to John Coltrane and Deep Blues (based on his book by the same name). He additionally worked as codirector with Toby Byron on The World According to John Coltrane and wrote a book about Jerry Lee Lewis entitled Jerry Lee Lewis Rocks. He was heavily involved in the 1995 WGBH/BBC co-production, "Rock & Roll, broadcast in the United States in late 1995 on PBS but never released to the general public.
Palmer died from liver disease at the Westchester County Medical Center in Valhalla, New York, on November 20, 1997.
- Dougan, John. "Insect Trust biography.". Allmusic. Accessed Dec. 9, 2004.
- Wertheimer, Linda (November 20, 1997). "All Things Considered: Robert Palmer" (audio). NPR. Accessed Dec. 9, 2004.
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