Joe Cocker died aged seventy from lung cancer on 22
nd December 2014 in Crawford, Colorado, U.S.A.. He had smoked 40 cigarettes a day until 1991. The two remaining living ex-Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, were among those who paid tribute to the singer, while Joe's agent, Barrie Marshall, said that Joe Cocker was "without doubt the greatest rock/soul singer ever to come out of Britain."
Joe Cocker was born in Sheffield, UK on 20th May 1944. He was the youngest son of a civil servant, Harold Cocker, and Madge Cocker. According to differing family stories, Joe Cocker received his nickname of 'Joe' either from playing a childhood game called "Cowboy Joe," or from a local window cleaner named Joe.
Joe Cocker's main musical influences growing up were Ray Charles and Lonnie Donegan. His first experience singing in public was at age twelve when his elder brother Victor invited him on stage to sing during a gig of his skiffle group. In 1960, along with three friends, Joe Cocker formed his first group, the Cavaliers. For the group's first performance at a youth club, they were required to pay the price of admission before entering. The Cavaliers eventually broke up after a year and Joe Cocker left school to become an apprentice gasfitter working for the East Midlands Gas Board, later British Gas, while simultaneously pursuing a career in music.
In 1961, under the stage name Vance Arnold, Joe Cocker continued his career with a new group, Vance Arnold and the Avengers. The name was a combination of Vince Everett, Elvis Presley's character in Jailhouse Rock (which Joe misheard as Vance); and country singer Eddy Arnold. The group mostly played in the pubs of Sheffield, performing covers of Chuck Berry and Ray Charles songs. Joe Cocker developed an interest in blues music and sought out recordings by John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins and Howlin' Wolf. In 1963, they booked their first significant gig when they supported the Rolling Stones at Sheffield City Hall. In 1964, Joe Cocker signed a recording contract as a solo act with Decca and released his first single, a cover of the Beatles' "I'll Cry Instead" (with Big Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page playing guitars). Despite extensive promotion from Decca lauding his youth and working-class roots, the record was a flop and his recording contract with Decca lapsed at the end of 1964. After Joe Cocker recorded the single, he dropped his stage name and formed a new group, Joe Cocker's Blues Band. There is only one known recording of Joe Cocker's Blues Band on an EP given out by The Sheffield College during Rag Week and called Rag Goes Mad at the Mojo.
In 1966, after a year-long hiatus from music, Joe Cocker teamed up with Chris Stainton, whom he had met several years before, to form the Grease Band. The Grease Band was named after Joe Cocker read an interview with jazz keyboardist Jimmy Smith, where Smith positively described another musician as "having a lot of grease." Like the Avengers, Joe Cocker's group mostly played in pubs in and around Sheffield. The Grease Band came to the attention of Denny Cordell, the producer of Procol Harum, the Moody Blues and Georgie Fame. Joe Cocker recorded the single "Marjorine" without the Grease Band for Cordell in a London studio. He then moved to London with Chris Stainton, and the Grease Band was dissolved. Cordell set Joe Cocker up with a residency at the Marquee Club in London, and a "new" Grease Band was formed with Stainton and keyboardist Tommy Eyre.
After minor success in the United States with the single "Marjorine," Joe Cocker entered the big time with a groundbreaking rearrangement of "With a Little Help from My Friends," another Beatles cover, which, many years later, was used as the opening theme for The Wonder Years. The recording features lead guitar from Jimmy Page, drumming by B. J. Wilson, backing vocals from Sue and Sunny, and Tommy Eyre on organ. The single made the Top Ten on the UK Singles Chart, remaining there for thirteen weeks and eventually reaching number one, on 9th November 1968. It also reached number 68 on the US charts. Upon hearing about Cocker's death in 2014, Paul McCartney said the following words about Cocker's version of the Beatles 1967 song: "Joe 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 and playing me what they'd recorded and it was just mind-blowing. He totally turned the song into a soul anthem and I am forever grateful to him for doing that."
The new touring line-up of Joe Cocker's Grease Band featured Henry McCullough on lead guitar, who would go on to briefly play with Paul McCartney's Wings. After touring the UK with the Who in autumn 1968 and Gene Pitney and Marmalade in early winter 1969, the Grease Band embarked on their first tour of the United States in spring 1969. Joe Cocker's album 'With a Little Help from My Friends' was released soon after their arrival and made number 35 on the American charts, eventually going gold.
During his United States tour, Joe Cocker played at several large festivals, including the Newport Rock Festival and the Denver Pop Festival. In August, Denny Cordell heard about the planned concert in Woodstock, New York and convinced organiser Artie Kornfeld to book Joe Cocker and the Grease Band for the Woodstock Festival. The group had to be flown into the festival by helicopter due to the large crowds. They performed several songs, including "Delta Lady," "Something's Comin' On," "Let's Go Get Stoned," "I Shall Be Released" and "With a Little Help from My Friends." Joe Cocker would later say that the experience was "like an eclipse ... it was a very special day."
Directly after Woodstock, Joe Cocker released his second album, 'Joe Cocker!' Impressed by his cover of "With a Little Help from My Friends," Paul McCartney and George Harrison allowed Joe to use their songs "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" and "Something" for the album. Recorded during a break in touring in the spring and summer, the album reached number 11 on the US charts and garnered a second UK hit with the Leon Russell song, "Delta Lady."
In August 1969, Joe Cocker performed at the Isle of Wight Festival at Wootton Bridge, Isle of Wight, UK. Throughout 1969 he was featured on variety TV shows such as 'The Ed Sullivan Show' and 'This Is Tom Jones'. Onstage, he exhibited an idiosyncratic physical intensity, flailing his arms and playing air guitar. At the end of the year Joe Cocker was unwilling to embark on another US tour, so he dissolved the Grease Band.
Despite Joe 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. It proved to be a large group of more than 20 musicians, including pianist and bandleader Leon Russell, three drummers – Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, and Chuck Blackwell, and backing vocalists Rita Coolidge and Claudia Lennear. Denny Cordell christened the new band "Mad Dogs & Englishmen," after the Noël Coward song of the same name. Joe Cocker's music evolved into a more bluesy type of rock, compared to that of the Rolling Stones.
During the ensuing Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour (later described by drummer Jim Keltner as "a big, wild party"), Joe Cocker toured 48 cities, recorded a live album, and received very positive reviews from Time and Life for his performances. However, the pace of the tour was exhausting. Leon Russell and Joe Cocker had personal problems; Joe became depressed and began drinking excessively as the tour wound down in May 1970. Meanwhile, he enjoyed several chart entries in the United States with "Feelin' Alright" by Traffic and "Cry Me a River." His cover of the Box Tops' hit "The Letter," which appeared on the live album and film, Mad Dogs & Englishmen, became his first US Top Ten hit. After spending several months in Los Angeles, Joe Cocker returned home to Sheffield where his family became increasingly concerned with his deteriorating physical and mental health. During this time, in periods between work, Joe Cocker wrote the overture played by the UK Prime Minister Edward Heath on the occasion the Prime Minister famously conducted a live orchestra while in office. In the summer of 1971, A&M Records released the single "High Time We Went." This became a hit, reaching number 22 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, but was not issued on an album until November 1972 on the Joe Cocker album.
In early 1972, after nearly two years away from music, Joe Cocker went on tour with a group that Chris Stainton had formed. He opened with a performance in Madison Square Garden which was attended by about 20,000 people. After touring the United States, he embarked on a European tour where he played to large audiences in Milan and Germany. He then returned to the United States for another tour in autumn 1972. During these tours the group cut the songs that would be part of his newest album, 'Joe Cocker'. A mixture of live songs and studio recordings, the album peaked at number 30 on the US charts.
In October 1972, when Joe Cocker toured Australia, he and six members of his entourage were arrested in Adelaide for possession of marijuana. The next day, in Melbourne, assault charges were laid after a brawl at the Commodore Chateau Hotel, and the Australian Federal Police gave Joe Cocker 48 hours to leave the country. This caused huge public outcry in Australia, as Joe Cocker was a high-profile overseas artist and had a strong support base, especially amongst the baby boomers who were coming of age and able to vote for the first time. It sparked hefty debate about the use and legalisation of marijuana in Australia, and gained Joe Cocker the nickname 'the Mad Dog.'
Shortly after the Australian tour, Stainton retired from his music career to establish his own recording studio. After his friend's departure and his estrangement from his longtime producer Denny Cordell, Joe Cocker sank into depression and began using heroin. In June 1973, he kicked the habit but continued to drink heavily.
At the end of 1973, Joe Cocker returned to the studio to record a new album, 'I Can Stand A Little Rain'. The album, released in August 1974, was number 11 on the US charts and one single, a cover of Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful," which reached the number 5 slot. Despite positive reviews for the album, Joe Cocker struggled with live performances, largely due to his problems with alcohol. One such instance was reported in a 1974 issue of Rolling Stone, which said that during two West Coast performances in October of that year he threw up onstage.
In January 1975, he released a second album that had been recorded at the same time as I Can Stand a Little Rain, 'Jamaica Say You Will'. To promote his new album, Joe Cocker embarked on another tour of Australia, made possible by the country's new Labor government. In late 1975, he contributed vocals on a number of the tracks on Bo Diddley's The 20th Anniversary of Rock 'n' Roll all-star album. He also recorded a new album in a Kingston, Jamaica studio, Stingray. However, record sales were disappointing; the album reached only number 70 on the US charts.
In 1976, Joe Cocker performed "Feelin' Alright" on Saturday Night Live. John Belushi joined him onstage doing his famous impersonation of Joe Cocker's stage movements. At the time, Joe Cocker was $800,000 in debt to A&M Records and struggling with alcoholism. Several months later, he met producer Michael Lang, who agreed to manage him on the condition that he stay sober. With a new band, Cocker embarked on a tour of New Zealand, Australia and South America. He then recorded a new album with session work by Steve Gadd and Chuck Rainey, and a new, young bassist from Scotland, Rob Hartley. Hartley also toured briefly with Cocker's friends in 1977. In the autumn of 1978, Joe Cocker toured North America promoting his album, Luxury You Can Afford. Despite this effort, it received mixed reviews and only sold around 300,000 copies.
In 1979, Joe Cocker joined the "Woodstock in Europe" tour, which featured musicians like Arlo Guthrie and Richie Havens who had played at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. He also performed in New York's Central Park to an audience of 20,000 people. The concert was recorded and released as the live album, Live in New York. Joe Cocker also toured Europe and appeared on the German television recording amphitheatre, Rockpalast, the first of many performances on the show. In 1982, Joe Cocker recorded two songs with the jazz group the Crusaders on their album Standing Tall. One song, "I'm So Glad I'm Standing Here Today," was nominated for a Grammy Award and Joe Cocker performed it with the Crusaders at the awards ceremony. The Crusaders wrote this song with Joe Cocker in mind to sing it. Cocker then released a new reggae-influenced album, Sheffield Steel, recorded with the Compass Point All Stars, produced by Chris Blackwell and Alex Sadkin.
In 1982, at the behest of producer Stewart Levine, Joe Cocker recorded the duet "Up Where We Belong" with Jennifer Warnes for the soundtrack of the 1982 film 'An Officer and a Gentleman'. The song was an international hit, reaching number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and winning a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo. The duet also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and Joe Cocker and Warnes performed the song at the awards ceremony. Several days later, he was invited to perform "You Are So Beautiful" with Ray Charles in a television tribute to the musician. In 1983, Joe Cocker joined a star-studded line-up of British musicians, including Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Steve Winwood and Bill Wyman for singer Ronnie Lane's 1983 tour to raise money for the London-based organisation Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis, in particular because Lane was beginning to suffer from the degenerative disease. The tour included a performance at New York's Madison Square Garden. While on another tour that year, Joe Cocker was arrested by Austrian police after refusing to perform because of inadequate sound equipment. The charges were eventually dropped and Joe was released. Shortly after the incident, he released his ninth studio album, Civilized Man. His next album 'Joe Cocker' was dedicated to his mother, Madge, who died when he was recording in the studio with producer Terry Manning. A track from the album, "You Can Leave Your Hat On" was featured in the 1986 film 9½ Weeks. The album eventually went Platinum on the European charts. His 1987 album Unchain My Heart was nominated for a Grammy Award, although it did not win. One Night of Sin was also a commercial success, surpassing Unchain My Heart in sales.
Throughout the 1980s, Joe Cocker continued to tour around the world, playing to large audiences in Europe, Australia and the United States. In 1988, he performed at London's Royal Albert Hall and appeared on The Tonight Show. After Barclay James Harvest and Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker was the first to give rock concerts in the German Democratic Republic, in East Berlin and Dresden. The venue, the Blüherwiese, next to the Rudolf–Harbig–Stadion, bears the vernacular name Cockerwiese (Cocker meadow) today. He also performed for US President George H. W. Bush at an inauguration concert in February 1989. In 1992, his version of Bryan Adams' "Feels Like Forever" made the UK Top 40.
In 1992, Joe Cocker teamed with Canadian rocker Sass Jordan to sing "Trust in Me," which was featured on The Bodyguard soundtrack. At the 1993 Brit Awards, Joe Cocker was nominated for British Male Solo Artist. Joe Cocker performed the Saturday opening set at Woodstock '94 as one of the few alumni who played at the original Woodstock Festival in 1969 and was well received.
On 3 June 2002, Joe Cocker performed "With A Little Help From My Friends" accompanied by Phil Collins on drums and Queen guitarist Brian May at the Party at the Palace concert in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, an event in commemoration of the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II. In 2007, Joe Cocker appeared playing minor characters in the film Across the Universe, as the lead singer on another Beatles' hit, "Come Together." Joe Cocker was awarded an OBE in the Queen's 2007 Birthday Honours list for services to music. To celebrate receiving his award in mid December 2007, Joe Cocker played two concerts in London and in his home town of Sheffield where he was awarded a bronze Sheffield Legends plaque outside Sheffield Town Hall.
In April and May 2009, Joe Cocker conducted a North American tour in support of his album Hymn for My Soul. He sang the vocals on "Little Wing" for the Carlos Santana album, Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time, released on 21 September 2010. In the autumn of 2010, Joe Cocker toured Europe promoting his studio album Hard Knocks.
On 20 March 2011, Joe Cocker took part in a benefit concert for Cornell Dupree at B.B. King's Blues Club in New York City. Dupree played on two Joe Cocker albums: Stingray (1976) and Luxury You Can Afford (1978). Dupree's band Stuff was also Joe Cocker's backing band on a tour promoting Stingray in 1976.
Joe Cocker kept recording and touring through his later years. 2012's Fire it up, which would turn out to be Joe 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 Joe Cocker enjoyed there. The full show of 22 April at Cologne'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 Joe Cocker's final live performance, was at the Loreley Open Air Theatre in Sankt Goarshausen on 7 September 2013.
While performing a concert at Madison Square Garden on 17 September 2014, fellow musician Billy Joel stated that Joe 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."
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song: 'Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word' by Joe Cocker