Cocker's biggest influences were that of Ray Charles & Lone Donegan. He began singing in a skiffle group, playing in local pubs in the early sixties while working as a gas fitter to make money. It was also around this time he began dating Eileen, whom he would have a relationship with until 1976.
His middle class working roots fit his raspy, gritty, gravely voice. When Joe Cocker sang he was mesmerizing, he would jerk his body in spastic motions like he was possessed & belt out songs with one of the most powerful different voices rock & roll has known. It seemed every word he shouted out could be his last but the next verse would then come out stronger than the last. He was amazing, certainly different.
After some failed solo & group efforts he formed the Grease Band in 1966. It was his rearrangement of the Beatles "With A Little Help From My Friends" sang in a way no one could image was the original song, that got him his first fame. The classic song featured Jimmy Page on lead guitar.
The song & album was a big hit. Cocker & the Grease Band came to the United States in spring of 1969, they played the Newport Folk Festival & other big festivals. But the biggest was when producer Denny Cornell convinced the organizers of Woodstock to put them on the bill.
Joe Cocker & the Grease Band, which featured future Paul McCartney & Wings guitarist: Henry McCullough on lead were flown in by helicopter. His performance became legendary, as he blew away the crowd & had a big part in the Woodstock movie.
Paul McCartney & George Harrison were so impressed by his version of "A Little Help" that they agreed to have him cover "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" & "Something". This became a big part of his successful career as he would take other peoples song & put his own style of singing to it.
As the sixties ended he performed his hits on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tom Jones show, toured played Woodstock & the Isle of Wight Festival. Although he did not want to tour the states again & broke up the Grease Band, a tour was scheduled.
He assembled the now Legendary Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tout that featured band leader & pianist: Leon Russell, Bobby Keyes on sax, three drummers including Jim Kelter & some great backing vocalist that included the great Rita Coolidge & Claudia Lennear.
The tour hit 48 cities, produced a live album & got fantastic reviews. But it was exhausting, Cocker began to drink heavily, became depressed & wore himself down.
In any event he was putting out hit after hit; songs like Leon Russel's "Delta Lady", "Cry Me A River", Dave Mason's "Feeling Alright", the Box Tops "The Letter", "High Time We Went" "Lets Get Stoned" & Billy Prestons- "You Are So Beautiful" (which as a top five hit) were all getting regular air play on the radio.
In 1972 he was arrested with other members of his band, for possession of marijuana in Australia. He had problems with drugs & alcohol for many years which also led him to falling over a half million dollars in debt. He hooked up with producer Michael Lang who put together the Woodstock festival & he agreed to help Cocker if he stayed sober. Cocker toured the world over the next few years & got his act together.
Quotes: Joe Cocker 2013- “If I’d been stronger mentally, I could have turned away from temptation. But there was no rehab back in those days. Drugs were readily available, and I dived in head first. And once you get into that downward spiral, it’s hard to pull out of it. It took me years to get straight."
In 1976 he appeared on Saturday Night Live, performing Feeling Alright where he was joined by John Belushi, dressed just like Cocker doing an incredible impression. Belushi once said his most favorite part of all time was doing his impression of Joe Cocker.
In 1979 he played New York's Central Park & released a Live Album of the show. In 1982 he did a duet with Jennifer Warnes "Up Where We Belong" for the movie Officer & A Gentleman. The song won a Grammy & an Academy Award, reaching number one around the world. Cocker would play New York's Madison Square Garden on Ronnie Lane's Tour for Multiple Sclerosis, which also featured Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page & Jeff Beck.
Other hits in the eighties included the Grammy nominated Unchain My Heart & Leave Your Hat On. He married Pam Baker in 1987 & the couple would live on Mad Dog Ranch in Crawford, Colorado until his death.
He continued to perform through the nineties & 2000's, as I was lucky to see him at Radio City Music Hall with the Steve Miller Band during one of his last tours. There were many more famous shows he played along the way such as the Woodstock 94, the inauguration of George H. W. Bush, performances for the Queen of England & many other charity events.
In September 2014, during one of his many Madison Square Garden shows, Billy Joel announced that Cocker was very ill. Two months later, on December 22nd, Joe Cocker passed away from lung cancer at age 70. He will certainly be missed & certainly made a great mark in rock & roll.
Paul McCartney said " He was a great guy, a lovely guy who brought so much to the world and we'll all miss him. He turned the Beatles song into a soul anthem and I was forever grateful. I knew him through the years as a good mate and I was so sad to hear that he had been ill and really sad to hear today that he had passed away.
Beatles drummer Ringo Starr tweeted: "Goodbye and God Bless to Joe Cocker."
Cocker's friend Rick Wakeman, keyboard player of Yes, called his rendition of With a Little Help From My Friends "sensational" and said: "He had a voice that was just unique. The great thing is with someone like Joe is what they leave behind, and that will be with us for years and years."