Rockers Come To Aid of Seriously Ill Music Critic

Bonnie Raitt and Alex Chilton pledge to play benefit for critic Robert Palmer.

Musicians all the way from down home Mississippi to super chic New York are planning a variety of benefit concerts to raise money to cover costs of a life-saving transplant for music writer Robert Palmer, who is suffering from liver failure.

Palmer (not to be confused with the singer of the same name) was a critic at the New York Times for many years, is author of the celebrated Deep Blues and a record producer. He is suffering from the ravages of hepatitis and needs a liver transplant to survive. However, he has no insurance to cover the estimated $100,000 in medical costs.

"Robert Palmer is one of the few distinguished pop music critics to come out of the south," said critic and historian Greil Marcus, a contemporary and long-time friend of Palmer. "His background in Arkansas, both as a fan and as a teenage rock 'n' roll musician, has always informed his writing and yet he never writes down to people who have no musical training."

Among the big-name artists being sought to play at various benefits for the writer are Sonic Youth and

Patti Smith. Those who have already pledged support for Palmer include Alex Chilton, Bonnie Raitt and Yoko Ono.

"Right now they're in the preliminary stages of ascertaining his condition," said Mark Pucci, a spokesman for Palmer. "They're having him exercise and they're wanting him to increase his food intake to try to get him as strong as possible before they do anything."

Marcus spoke to Palmer just last week. "He sounded really good," said Marcus. "Tough. He sounded eager to get on with his life. He didn't sound the least bit depressed. Just the opposite."

Palmer first contracted hepatitis in 1985. Doctors now say he suffered from the C strain of the disease, which went undiagnosed for years, adding to the severity of his condition. For several years afterward, he underwent care near his home in New Orleans, La. When Palmer's condition worsened recently, he was refused care at the Tulane University Medical Center because he's uninsured.

However, at the end of last month, the renowned music writer was admitted to the University of Arkansas hospital, before being sent to New York City this week for treatment and to await a donor. Palmer, who is in his 50s, is now on a waiting list for a liver and possibly a kidney. The author's medical costs are expected to top $100,000.

Palmer, who played saxophone and clarinet and was a member of the legendary avant-garde band, the Insect Trust, is best known for his

authoritative study of Delta and Chicago blues called Deep Blues

(1981). The book is widely hailed as a definitive work on the subject; Marcus has called it "a lucid, entrancing study." In more recent years, Palmer expanded his musical horizon by producing several records for Mississippi Fat Possum label, including albums by Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. He was the chief adviser for the 10-part WGBH/BBC series, "Rock & Roll: An Unruly History," and wrote the book of the same name. Long a supporter of avant-garde music as well, Palmer wrote the first major article on Sonic Youth for Rolling Stone.

"Bob was drawn to the blues and to bedrock rock 'n' roll from the very start," said Marcus. "Bob's a scholar. His writing has never been anything less than accessible to anyone who brings even a fraction of the interest and passion to reading about music that Bob brings to his writing."

Palmer, who was a music critic at the New York Times from 1976-1988, also wrote and directed the documentary The World According to John Coltrane.

Guitar World editor-in-chief Brad Tolinski hopes to enlist Sonic Youth for a New York concert to benefit Palmer. "Robert needs so much money that I really want to try to get a couple of big names so I can charge a decent price for the tickets," Tolinski said. "I'm hoping to get Patti Smith and Sonic Youth, people who have been closely aligned to Robert."

Already confirmed are two more events closer to the Mississippi delta, to which Palmer has devoted much of his professional life. Junior Kimbrough will perform at Proud Larry's Club in Oxford, Miss. on Sept. 20, along with Tony Joe White and the Mississippi All-Stars with Jim Dickinson. Another benefit will take place in New Orleans on Sept. 30, featuring Alex Chilton (Big Star), the Rebirth Brass Band and Jimmy Thackery (ex-Nighthawks).

As word of Palmer's illness has spread, so has support for the author throughout the industry. Other figures pledging to lend a hand include

Bonnie Raitt, Yoko Ono and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun.

There is no word yet on when Palmer might be linked with a donor. "We

expect him to be in the hospital at least a couple weeks in terms of

getting healthier and building up muscle mass," Pucci said.

Tax deductible contributions can be sent to the Robert Palmer Fund/Giorno

Poetry Systems (tax ID #23-739-7945) at 222 Bowery, New York, NY, 10012.

[Thurs., Sept. 18, 1997, 5 p.m. PST]