There are several music journalists considered the “dean” of music critics. The music journalist community looked favorably upon Robert Palmer in that leadership role.
There was a period of my life where I voraciously read the New York Times along with Rolling Stone Magazine. It was during that time I became captivated by the knowledge imparted by Robert Palmer.
Robert Palmer had an incredible knack in adding jet fuel to my interests. I read his writings with a desired relish that made me very learned in the process. I believe this had to do with his transferable music interpretive skills.
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 in 1976, serving as chief pop music critic at the newspaper from 1981 to 1988.
Fat Possum Records (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The part of Robert Palmer’s career that interests me the most was when he began teaching ethnomusicology and American music courses at colleges, including at the University of Mississippi. He made tremendous strides as a blues musicologist. He produced blues albums for Fat Possum Records with artists like R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough.
The book he wrote Deep Blues is a standout publication in the study of the blues. Robert Palmer had a rich analytic side strongly complemented by an ability to synthesize information into discernible form. His definitive style compels the reader to immerse themselves in the delta and south side blues experiences.
Deep Blues became a living documentary. This is perhaps the best blues documentary.It was filmed in the Northern Mississippi hill country, where Fred McDowell is the figurehead of local tradition.
Robert Palmer was a practitioner of music, which set him apart from many music journalists who wrote about music but lacked that intricate detail of performing it with scope and precision. 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 played alto sax and clarinet.
Robert Palmer’s daughter Augusta from the first of his four wives put together a film of discovery and connection with her estranged father entitled, The Hand of Fatima.
An excellent first anthology of Robert Palmer’s writing curated by Anthony DeCurtis who was Robert Palmer’s editor at Rolling Stone in the 90s. Blues & Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmer