May 20, 2012 – Today, English rock and blues legend Joe Cocker turns 68 years old and, for most of those years, he has brought millions of fans some of the most legendary music in history. Music fans know and love him from songs like “With A Little Help From My Friends”, “Up Where We Belong”, “You Are So Beautiful”, “Cry Me A River” and “Feelin’ Alright”, not to mention, his iconic stage presence where he literally twists the emotion of a song out of him with his physical gyrations and raspy, soulful singing. With a career that spans more than 50 years, LQM wants to know: Do you know Joe?
John Robert “Joe” Cocker was born in England, on May 20, 1944, to a modest family at 38 Tasker Road, in Sheffield, Yorkshire. How he acquired the nickname of “Joe” is unclear, but conflicting stories say he either got it from playing a game called “Cowboy Joe” as a child, or he may have received it from a local window cleaner with the same name.
Joe didn’t always use that name. As a young man, he worked as a gas fitter by day, and used the name Vance Arnold as his stage name at night, playing along side his band, Vance Arnold and the Avengers. The Avengers formed in 1961 and, by 1963, they were opening for the likes of the Rolling Stones at Sheffield Hall, playing covers by Ray Charles and Chuck Berry.
By 1964, Joe had been offered a solo recording contract with Decca Records. He recorded his first single, a Beatles tune by the name of “I’ll Cry Instead”, an he even had Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page playing back up guitar. The stint with Decca proved to be unsuccessful for Joe, but you can’t keep a good performer down, so Joe left Decca and created a brand new act, Joe Cocker’s Big Blues. The band released their only known EP, which featured songs such as “I’ve Been Trying” (Curtis Mayfield) and “Saved”.
Joe finally got his first big breaks during the mid 1960′s when he formed The Grease Band. It was with The Grease Band that Joe’s career began to take flight, beginning with his rendition of the classic Beatles song “With A Little Help From My Friends”, also the name of Joe’s first album with the band, and a song that still get’s played to death on YouTube, especially the Woodstock Festival version.
The recording featured lead guitar from Jimmy Page, drums by BJ Wilson, backing vocals from Sue and Sunny, and Tommy Eyre on organ. The single made the Top Ten on the British charts, remaining there for thirteen weeks and eventually reaching number one in 1968. It also reached number 68 on the US charts.
Joe’s second album, entitled Joe Cocker!, featuring songs like “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” and “Delta Lady”. Having already completed two tours with The Grease Band, all through the US and the UK, Joe decided not to pursue a third tour with the band and he subsequently dissolved it. Unfortunately, there was a US tour already book, so Joe had to form a new band, and fast.
In 1969, Mad Dogs & Englishmen was born. The band consisted of 30 members, such as Leon Russell as the band leader and Rita Coolidge on backing vocals. The band named their first album Mad Dogs & Englishmen and released it in 1970. The album was comprised of mostly cover songs by The Rolling Stones, Traffic, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Ray Charles, Sam and Dave, and Otis Redding.
In 2005, Mad Dogs and Englishmen was released as a 2-disc deluxe edition set through Universal Records to commemorate the album’s thirty-fifth anniversary.
The album was released again in 2006 as a 6-disc box set under the title, “The Complete Fillmore East Concerts” by Hip-O Select. Both early and late shows from March 27 and March 28, 1970 were released in their entirety.
Since 1970, Joe has release 19 other albums. In 1983 he won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for his duet with Jennifer Warnes, “Up Where We Belong”. He was nominated again in 1988 for Best Rock Vocal Solo Performance for “Unchain My Heart”. In 1989, 1990, and 1991 he received Grammy nominations for Best Rock Vocal Performance – Male for the songs “Unchain My Heart” (1989), “When The Night Comes” (1990), and “You Can Leave Your Hat On” (1991).
Today, Joe lives with his wife of 25 years, Pam Baker, on the Mad Dog Ranch in Crawford, Colorado. When he’s not making music, he enjoys growing tomatoes in his garden, playing the English game Snooker with his buddies, or puttering around town in his pick up truck.
Joe and his wife also began the Cocker Kids Foundation, which has given over $900,000 in grant money to children in Colorado and who’s main goal is to exercise the idea of “neighbor helping neighbor”, according to the foundation’s website.
After moving to Colorado in the mid 1990′s, Joe and his wife could see that the economic hardship facing many residents of Colorado’s Delta county and they felt this was something they could pour their entire hearts and souls into. Since the foundations launch in 1998, they have held several events and raised thousands of dollars, with Joe giving live performances at each one.
In 2011, the foundation raised $65,000, another $165,000 in 2010, and over $360,000 between the years 2004 and 2008.
Tax-deductible donations for Cocker Kids Foundation can be sent to:
Cocker Kids’ Foundation
P.O. Box 404
Crawford, CO 81415
Below is a personal favorite Joe Cocker song of LQM’s called “When the Night Comes”, off of the 1989 album, One Night of Sin. Enjoy!