Joe Cocker died yesterday (22nd December). With his raw soul and blues voice hewn from whisky and cigarettes, and a canny ear for arranging his covers of other peoples songs he was one of the few singers that could actually improve on the original. His famous cover version of The Beatles "A Little Help From My Friend" was recognised by the group at the time with even an advert taken out in the music press to say so. What had been a jolly music hall style Ringo song included on Sgt Pepper, Joe Cocker had turned it into a ravaged and brooding wail of soul and blues. McCartney was so impressed he was to thank him personally which led to them becoming life long friends.
His unforgettable and incendiary performance of the song at Woodstock gave him worldwide acclaim and deservingly so. No one had seen anyone quite like this before. You either couldn't take your eyes of his actions while pouring his guts out on the song or else he frightened the bejeezus out of you with his jerky entranced mannerisms, which it once did with an audience on an Ed Sullivan show. But however you saw his actions there was no denying Joe Cocker was an electrifying performer.
The following Mad Dogs And Englishmen tour of the States had him appearing at 65 dates in 57 days which along with the copious amounts of substances he'd ingested had simply fried him. He returned to his home town of Sheffield to recover. The album 'Mad Dogs And Englishmen' in 1970 had raced up the US charts but the wrecked Cocker was now living back at his parents house and waiting for the local bar to open. It was going to be a long haul back.
When he heard Ray Charles being interviewed on TV saying he thought Joe Cocker was one of the greatest living blues singers he knew of, it was enough to get him on his feet again. Inspired by the compliment he returned to touring America and Europe although still his addictions were taking hold and by 1973 there was the sad sight of him laying on stage "foetal" like incapable of performing.
Despite that alarming collapse and his unpredictability he came back again and continued to record more albums in the 1980's. Cocker had throughout always been seen as a good guy and many stuck by him in his darkest days. 10 years after the dope addled performance in Sheffield he returned to the stage there and began a new era of studio work with top songwriters queueing up to have him record their songs. The resulting success had also brought him peace of mind. The old habits were now kicked. He then married and bought a ranch in Colorado where he raised animals, grew his own food and opened a cafe.
Joe Cocker's wild days were now finally over. And although it would be fair to say his later albums were less than the firey soul of his early days no one could begrudge these better times for him. He never lost the authenticity and integrity he brought to a song. Always remembered in his prime for the shear power of his voice with those uncontrolled marionette like actions conducting the band or thrashing at his air guitar completely lost in the power of the music.
It was a rock and roll life in the large. So long Joe.