John Robert “Joe” Cocker, OBE, brought true, shouting blues to rock and roll. Yes, it’s a shame a white guy had to do it. But Cocker did it very well.
Cocker’s performance at Woodstock was iconic; his cover of the Beatles’ “I Get By with a Little Help from my Friends” is one of the signature moments of e legendary event.
He cemented his U.S. reputation with the “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour in 1969-1970. While Cocker was pretty strung out by the end of that tour, at least in the early portions, when he and Leon Russell were still getting along, was utterly amazing. When WC saw the Mad Dogs show in Eugene, Cocker was at the top of his form.
If the late Janis Joplin sang with all of her voice, Cocker sang with all of his body. And when, in the last stanza of “Little Help from my Friends,” he screamed out a shout of pure, primal emotion and not the lyrics, every part of his body was involved in that scream. The body movements, brilliantly satirized by John Belushi years later, were part of what made Cocker such a compelling live act.
Like most 60s’ era rock musicians, he led a life of excesses, and struggled with heroin and alcohol for much of his life. Cocker also battled depression. In some ways, it’s surprising he made it to age 70; so many of his peers died so long ago.
But his performance of the Beatles’ “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” at Mac Court in Eugene, with Rita Coolidge and Bonnie Bramlett on backing vocals, Chris Stainton an n amped-up Hammond organ, three drummers, three guitars and a sax, was electrifying. As was his cover of Ashford’s “Let’s Go Get Stoned” and Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You too Long.” And while Cocker’s fame was as a blue shouter, he could croon as well, not just with his later, Grammy-winning “Up Where We Belong” but even back in “Mad Dogs” with songs like “Girl from the North Country.” Steven Stills is supposed to have said that if you can remember the 60s, you weren’t realy part of them. But WC can still remember shouting himself hoarse after the third encore at Mac Court in 1969, and that Cocker came out for one more song and gave us “Cry Me a River.”
One of the reasons WC is critical of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is that it has never seen fit to induct Joe Cocker, despite his near-six decades of wonderful work. The Hall passed him over for lesser talents. Maybe a posthumous induction will happen.
Rest in peace, Joe Cocker. Wondeful music over more than five decades. Who could ask for anything more?