Artist of the Month – Joe Cocker
March 1, 2017
One of the most unique, idiosyncratic soul voices to have ever emerged from the British isles, our Artist of the Month for March is a true original, Joe Cocker.
Joe Cocker’s ability to take material from its source and re-mold and reshape it to make it entirely his own is a skill that so few artists possess. It takes a special kind of talent to zone into the very heart and soul of a song, and then read it, understand it, and bring it back with a fresh sensibility, perspective and interpretation that might never have otherwise occurred.
Born the steel city of Sheffield in 1944 and raised on a musical diet of soul and blues, Cocker was influenced by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and, more significantly, the soul pioneer Ray Charles.
Though his initial forays into music – performing as Vance Arnold And The Avengers – proved unsuccessful, his partnership with Sheffield compatriot Chris Stainton in the Grease Band saw Cocker step up several gears and they soon came to the attention of Procol Harum producer Denny Cordell who recorded the single ‘Majorine’.
Though a minor hit, it was with a radically reworked version of The Beatles’ ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ that Cocker hit the big time. Featuring Jimmy Page on guitar, the song broke Cocker through to an international audience and consequently he was one of the very few British acts to have played the epochal Woodstock festival in 1969.
The early 70s saw Cocker scoring more international hits thanks to a fruitful relationship with songwriter Leon Russell, and his touring backing band featured towering figures like singer Rita Coolidge and drummer Jim Keltner.
Despite problems with alcohol, Cocker’s talents and popularity remained in place and his rendition of Billy Preston’s ‘You Are So Beautiful’ cracked the US top five in 1974. With readings as sensitive as this, it was little wonder that Joe Cocker continued as an international draw for the rest of the decade.
But where the 80s proved to be a challenging period for most of his contemporaries, Cocker reached a whole new generation of fans thanks to magnificent songs that soundtracked some of the biggest films of the age. ‘Up Where We Belong’, a duet with Jennifer Warnes, appeared in the 1982 film ‘An Officer And A Gentlemen’ and was an international smash hit.
It won the Grammy for Best Pop Performance By A Duo as well as securing an Oscar for the Best Original Song. Similarly, his version of Randy Newman’s ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On’ was featured in the Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger 1986 vehicle, ‘9 ½ Weeks’.
Thanks to that incredibly soulful voice of his, Cocker’s popularity never waned. Joined by Phil Collins on drums and Queen’s Brian May on guitar, Cocker once again embraced ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ when he performed the song in the grounds of Buckingham Palace to celebrate Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.
Keeping active with touring and recording, Joe Cocker sadly succumbed to cancer on December 22, 2014.
Joe Cocker left behind an undoubted legacy and an amazing body of work, the highlights of which are compiled into ‘The Life Of A Man: The Ultimate Hits 1968 – 2013’. His first compilation in 12 years, it’s the first collection to offer fans of his work a comprehensive overview of his entire career from 1968 to his untimely passing. The album’s release is set to coincide with ‘Joe Cocker: Mad Dog With Soul’ – a brand new documentary to be screened on Sky Arts.
Lovingly compiled, this collection acts as a superb entry point for the novice and poignant reminder for those who travelled with him. It is indeed the life of a man, captured in song.
1. With a Little Help from My Friends
2. Up Where We Belong (An Officer and a Gentleman Soundtrack Version)
3. Many Rivers to Cross
4. You Are So Beautiful (Album Version)
5. You Can Leave Your Hat On
6. Delta Lady
7. The Letter (Live)
8. Cry Me a River (Live)
9. Unchain My Heart
10. Woman to Woman
11. The Simple Things
12. Summer in the City
13. Fire It Up
14. Feelin’ Alright
15. Come Together
16. When the Night Comes
17. I Come in Peace