Referred to as the greatest white soul singer on the planet, Joe Cocker’s unique fusion of rock and blues, as influenced by Ray Charles and Chuck Berry, differentiated him from mainstream rock at a time when rock and roll was morphing into the psychedelic phase.
Who wasn’t mesmerized with the 1970 “Woodstock Festival” documentary of Cocker’s performance of the Beatles cover, “With a Little Help from My Friends?” Who was this madman with the raspy voice, flailing his arms and playing the air guitar? To even attempt a Beatle song at that time was heresy, yet his bluesy arrangement and physical intensity won the crowd over, and they’ve never wavered in their loyalty. Although not original material, he made this and numerous other covers uniquely his own with his blues arrangements, sometimes surpassing the originals in record sales.
No musical career spans a half a century without a whole lot of talent and a little help from your friends. Friends Paul McCartney and George Harrison allowed Cocker to use another one of their songs, “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” on his 1970 live album and film by the same name…Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Drawing equally on rock and soul, the album was mostly comprised of covers: from rock…The Rolling Stones, The Box Tops, Bob Dylan; and from soul…Ray Charles, Sam and Dave, and Otis Redding. The album featured a huge choir, brass section, and several drummers. The deluxe 2-record set was an amazing production, and so is his 2012 tour performing many of these popular covers.
Among Cocker’s accolades: the duet, “Up Where We Belong,” which Cocker recorded with Jennifer Warnes for the soundtrack of the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman. The song was an international hit, reaching number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It won a Grammy Award for ‘Best Pop Performance by a Duo,’ and the Academy Award for ‘Best Original Song.’ Cocker and Warnes performed the song at the awards ceremony.
Where does Cocker rank as a blues rocker? The late great Ray Charles called Cocker his one true disciple. I saw the great Ray Charles perform “Unchain My Heart.” Which version was better? It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Both are great for you and you savor them differently. One’s not better than the other, they’re just different. Well, compare for yourself in these YouTube stock videos.
Joe Cocker w/ Huey Lewis & The News * July, 2012 @ CWMP