In memory of Joe Cocker 1944 – 2014
It’s been a very long time since my last post. Have no good explanation for that guess i’ve been too lazy. Anyway today i was remembered about a great singer whom left us too early on this very day 2 years ago. As the headline above says it’s Joe Cocker that is today’s artist.
Photo copyright: starsingers.net
As always let’s go way back to Sheffield in the United Kingdom. The year was 1944 and the date was 20 May on 28 Tasker Road, Crookes. He was born as John Robert Cocker as the youngest son of a civil servant, Harold Cocker, and Madge Cocker, née Lee. There are different stories of how he got the his nickname Joe. Some says it was due to a childhood game called “Cowboy Joe” or from a window cleaner named Joe. While growing up his first musical influences were Ray Charles and Lonnie Donegan. The stage debut where he sang for the first time came when he was 12. This happend when his older brother Victor invited him to gig with his skiffle group. Joe had his own first band in 196o, a trio called The Cavaliers. However this project only lasted for about a year. Then next year he had a new band going on although he called himself Vance Arnold now.
A young Joe most likely in the mid 60’s but not sure.
The next band was called Vance Arnold & The Avengers. They played mostly on different pubs in Sheffield doing Chuck Berry and Ray Charles covers. At this time Joe began to discover the Blues music and started to check out guys like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Smokestack Lightning and Howlin’ Wolf. In 1963 the band got a bigger gig as support act for The Rolling Stones at the City Hall in Sheffield. The year after he got a contract as a solo artist for Decca Records. They released his first single “I’ll Cry Instead” a Beatles cover featuring Big Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page on guitars.This wasn’t the only time Joe got to work with guitarist Jimmy Page but i’ll get back to that later.
Despite heavy promoting from the record company and pointing out Joe’s working class background the single was not a success which led to Joe beeing dropped by Decca in the end of 1964.
Photo copyright: Martin Grams
Joe at the legendary Woodstock Festival in 1969.
In 1966 he teamed up, what would become his long time musical director, Chris Stainton to form the Grease Band. Just like previously bands he had even this one played mostly at local Sheffield pubs. Eventually Joe and Chris moved to London and the band was dissolved. Before that Joe had met a producer called Denny Cordell whom had worked with British artists like Procul Harum, The Moody Blues and Georgie Fame. He produced a song called “Marjorine” and later Cordell set Cocker up for a residency at the classic rock club Marquee in London. The song “Marjorine” had some minor success in the U.S. although the big breakthrough was just around the bend…
This time it was another Beatles song but completely and totally rearranged!
The recording featured guitarist Jimmy Page, yes THE Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame, B.J. Wilson on drums, backing vocals from Sue & Sunny and organ from Tommy Eyre. Following quote is from Sir Paul McCartney regarding Joe’s passing and version of the Beatles tune “With a Little Help From My Friends”
“He [Cocker] was a lovely northern lad who I loved a lot and, like many people, I loved his singing. I was especially pleased when he decided to cover “With a Little Help from My Friends” and I remember him and (producer) Denny Cordell coming round to the studio in Savile Row (central London) and playing me what they’d recorded and it was just mind-blowing, totally turned the song into a soul anthem and I was forever grateful to him for doing that.”
Photo copyright: The Independent
Joe sometime in 1970.
Denny Cordell convinced the arranger of the Woodstock Festival to book Joe and his band. Due to the large masses there they had to be flown into by Helicopter. About this gig Joe later said “like an eclipse … it was a very special day.” After this legendary festival he played several other festivals and did several tv apperances as well. On stage he had a very unique style he exhibited an idiosyncratic physical intensity, flailing his arms and playing air guitar. This was something that continued for the rest of his career. By the end of 1969 Joe was unwilling to embark another US tour so he dissolved the Grease Band. Despite Cocker’s reluctance to venture out on the road again, an American tour had already been booked so he had to quickly form a new band in order to fulfill his contractual obligations. Denny Cordell christened the new band “Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” after the Noël Coward song of the same name. The style became a more bluesy kind of rock compared to what The Rolling Stones played.
Photo copyright: Music of our hearts
Joe and The Mad Dogs and Englishmen in action early 70’s.
Joe had many success’ from an artistic point of view hower all touring began cathing up on him. He began drinking heavily and got mental isssues such as depression. He cathed up working with Chris Stainton again but when he left to pursue a solo career and build up his own studio Joe fell deeper into depression. He began using Heroin although he managed to kick the drug habit but not the drinking one. Still fighting with his alcohol problems he still managed to record albums. Although his problems were still there and reports said he had thrown up on a show in 1974. In 1976 he was in Cocker was $800,000 in debt to A&M Records while struggling with alcoholism. At this time he met producer Michael Lang who offered to help him due to Joe staying sober.
Joe with Jazz band The Crusaders. Left to right: Joe Sample (keyboards), Wilton Felder (Saxophone), Joe himself, Stix Hooper (drums).
Eventually Joe managed to get his act together and sober up. He continued to make albums with different session players. In 1980 he was featured as guest singer on two tracks on the Jazz band Crusaers album “Standing Tall”.
The two songs were “This Old World’s Too Funky For Me” and “I’m So Glad I’m Standing Here Today”. The latter one was writtten with Joe in mind and received a Grammy nomination. At the ceremony they performed the track together.
At the behest of producer Stewart Levine Joe recorded the song “Up Where We Belong” for the “An Officer and An Gentleman” movie along with songtress Jennifer Warnes in 1982. The song later won a Grammy Award for “Best Performance by a Duo”.
Photo copyright: Billboard
Joe and Jennifer Warnes performing their famous duet.
Now during the 8o’s Joe was definetely back on the right track so to speak. His album were selling quite well and he was featured in different charity/benefit concerts with all kinds of “All star line-up’s” meaning with different famous musicians and singers. Then in 1986 the title track from his “You Can Leave Your Hat On” album was featured in the 9 1/2 Weeks movie starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger. On the European charts this album eventually sold platinum. Then the next two albums were also commercial success’. The first of the two were Unchain My Heart which earned a Grammy nomination but failed to win. Then the album that followed One Night of Sin sold better than the previously one. When the 80’s turned to the 90’s Joe continued to tour all over the world while still recording albums.
Joe in a scene taken from the 2007 movie Across the Universe.
So in 2007 Joe played a small part in an indipendent movie called Across the Universe a movie about the 1960’s in America. The story is somewhat based on the music of the Beatles. The caracters all have names from different Beatles songs. If you haven’t seen it do it! In 2011 he was featured on a benefit concert for guitarist Cornell Dupree whom played on of Joe’s albums in the late 70’s. Now Cornell himself was a member of a New York City band called Stuff in the mid 70’s and they were touring with Joe in 1976 promoting Joe’s Stingray album. Maybe sometime in 2017 i might write about Stuff.
Joe on the left and actor/comedian John Belushi on the right performing together on the Saturday Night Live show with Stuff in 1976. The guitarist on the right on the pic with the the Fender Telecaster is Cornell Dupree.
Cocker kept recording and touring through his later years. 2012′s Fire it Up, which would turn out to be Cocker’s last studio album, was followed by an extensive tour, consisting of a US leg in 2012 and a European leg in 2013. He played 25 shows in Germany alone on the European leg of the tour, which reflects the popularity Cocker enjoyed there. The full show of 22 April at Colonge’s Lanxess Arena was recorded and released on CD and DVD under the title Fire it up Live later in 2013. The last concert on the tour, which was to be Cocker’s final live performance, was at the Loreley Open Air Theathre in Sankt Goarshausen 7 September 2013.
While performing a concert at Madison Square Garden on 17 September 2014, fellow musician Billy Joel stated that Cocker was “not very well right now” and endorsed Cocker for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame before impersonating the singer in a take on “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
Cocker died from lung cancer on 22 December 2014 in Crawford, Colorado at the age of 70. The two remaining living ex-Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, were among those who paid tribute to the singer, while Cocker’s agent, Barrie Marshall, said that Cocker was “without doubt the greatest rock/soul singer ever to come out of Britain. I was lucky to see him live one time at the biggest indoor venue in my town. This was in 1997 if i don’t recall wrong, man almost 20 years ago! Where did those years go?! I remember i thought it was a great show with a tight band. One of the members in the band was Steve Grove, Euge Grove nowadays, whom was a member of my favorite band Tower of Power a few years from the late 80’s til’ the early 90’s. He had a support act as well and that was 4 Irish siblings with the lastname Corr meaning it was the Corrs. Remember them as beeing a great live band never really liked their hit singles that much.