In a year when the world of music has already had to bid sad farewells to Phil Everly, who was one half of The Everly Brothers; the American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger; DEVO’s guitarist and keyboardist Bob Casale; DJ and record producer Frankie Knuckles; the last surviving original Ramone, Tommy Ramone; another original band member, former Primal Scream guitarist Robert “Throb” Young; legendary bass guitarist Jack Bruce; the great soul singers Jimmy Ruffin and Bobby Womack; Nick Talbot, aka Gravenhurst, who left us at the desperately young age of 37 and Ian McLagan of Small Faces fame, we are now mourning the loss of one Joe Cocker.
For many he will mostly be remembered for that saccharine AOR ballad ‘Up Where We Belong’. Taken from the 1982 hit film An Officer and a Gentleman, this duet with Jennifer Warnes garnered him a Grammy award and a particular place in musical history. But to hear the real Joe Cocker you really have to step back in time some thirteen years before then to the Woodstock festival and bear witness to his absolutely incendiary reading of Lennon and McCartney’s ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’. Captured on film, it is one of the most memorable moments of an event that defined an entire generation. Watch him as he twists, turns and strains every single sinew of his body and sweats each individual ounce of emotion out of a song that espouses togetherness, a musical symbol of a magical, unified moment in time.
Joe Cocker’s first two albums – With a Little Help from My Friends and Joe Cocker! – both released in that same year similarly show his unerring ability to interpret the music of others. Working with a stellar cast of musicians including Jimmy Page (on the first of these records), The Grease Band‘s vastly underrated guitarist Henry McCullough, Stevie Winwood, bass player Chris Stainton and Leon Russell (on the second of these albums and who also appeared to even greater effect on the following year’s live offering, the magnificent Mad Dogs & Englishmen), the gravel-voiced former gas-fitter from Sheffield just let rip and cast his incredible, indelible vocal stamp on every single one of these songs. Listen to these albums once more and hear Joe Cocker in full flight as he soars all the way from Traffic’s ‘Feelin’ Alright’ to Russell’s ‘Delta Lady’, imbuing the material with his very own brand of blues, rock and pure soul and immortalising his place in the pantheon of modern music.
John Robert “Joe” Cocker (20 May 1944 – 22 December 2014)