Renowned music critic and record producer Robert Palmer, whose recent bout with liver disease rallied musicians such as Patti Smith and Alex Chilton to perform benefit shows and fund raisers, died Thursday morning in New York of complications from the illness. He was 52.
The heralded record producer, documentarian and author of Deep Blues, Palmer had been fighting hepatitis, which he first contracted in 1985. He was moved first from Mississippi to his native Arkansas in August, but was transferred to New York City several months ago where he awaited a donor for a potentially life-saving liver transplant. Doctors were hoping for a single donor to provide both a liver and kidney to reduce the chance of rejection.
Palmer is best known for the seminal genre-study Deep Blues (1981),
and he served as rock critic for the New York Times for more than a
decade in the '70s and '80s. Most recently he authored the book Rock &
Roll: An Unruly History, the companion to the PBS series of the same
name. In addition, he produced records for many of the artists on
Mississippi's Fat Possum label, including such northern hill country
masters as R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Palmer also wrote and
directed the film documentary The World According to John Coltrane.
Music critic Greil Marcus, a contemporary and long-time friend of Palmer's,
referred to him as "one of the few distinguished pop music critics to come out of the south. 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."
Palmer, like many musicians and writers, did not have health insurance. The past few months saw several benefits launched around the country to cover
the costs of his transplant. Patti Smith played a benefit show for Palmer
in late October at C.B.G.B.'s in New York, while alternative-rock pioneer Alex Chilton and Allen Toussaint raised funds at a show in New Orleans.
Palmer is survived by his wife, Jo Beth Briton, along with his mother and
sister. An announcement about a memorial fund is expected to be made in the
coming days. -- Chris Nelson [Thurs., Nov. 20, 1997, 3:30 p.m. PDT]