Joe Cocker (born John Robert Cocker, May 20, 1944) started his musical career in the city of his birth Sheffield, England, in some minor bands at the age of fifteen: the first band was The Avengers (under the stage name Vance Arnold), then Big Blues (1963), and then The Grease Band (1966). In 1969 he was featured on the American TV program, The Ed Sullivan Show.
His first big hit was "With a Little Help from My Friends", a cover of the song by The Beatles off the Sgt. Pepper's album, with guitar played by Jimmy Page. The same year he appeared at the Woodstock Music Festival. He had further success covering Beatles' tunes with his cover of "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" off their Abbey Road album. Other early hits included "Cry Me a River" and "Feelin' Alright". In 1970, his live cover of the Box Tops' hit "The Letter", which appeared on the tour compilation album, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, became his first U.S. Top Ten.
On stage, he often exhibited a physical intensity as he sang, and his unique stage presence was often spoofed by comedian John Belushi (including an impromptu duet when Joe was the guest musician on Saturday Night Live).
In the beginning of 1970s he had problems with drugs, including alcohol, that had a bad influence on his musical career. He managed, however, to make a comeback in the 1980s and 1990s with several massive chart hits like:
- "Up Where We Belong", (Academy Award-winning song written by Will Jennings and sung with Jennifer Warnes for the motion picture An Officer and a Gentleman)
- "You are So Beautiful
- "When the Night Comes
- "N'oubliez Jamais or Unchain My Heart".
Despite the less than stellar moments of his career, Cocker's reputation remains secure as one of rock's greatest interpreters. His trademark antic gesticulations must have caused titters at first, but soon became an invaluable asset of his stage performance. Flailing like a man aflame, Cocker exuded the intensity of a soul possessed by the song. Though he may sound like he just smoked an entire carton of cigarettes and forgot to blow out the smoke, Cocker possesses the lungs of a whale, and with his powerful voice he brought the energy and spectacle of Tom Jones to the Woodstock nation. Cocker never just sings his songs; the man testifies.
Hard Knocks (2010) is a collection of nine all new songs plus a cover version of the Dixie Chicks’ “I Hope.” Produced by Matt Serletic (Matchbox 20, Carlos Santana), Hard Knocks has the timeless ‘Cocker’ sound fusing rhythm and blues, soul, and pop into an undeniable infectious mix of unique contemporary style.
The recording sessions took place in Serletic’s own Emblem Studios in Los Angeles involving a host of acclaimed musicians like Ray Parker Jr., Tim Pierce and Joel Shearer on guitar, Josh Freese, Matt Chamberlain and Dorian Crozier on drums, Chris Chaney on bass and Jamie Muhoberac on keyboards. The songs were mixed by Chris Lord-Alge and mastered by Bob Ludwig. Songwriters Kara Dioguardi of recent American Idol fame and Marc Broussard contributed songs to the collection.
Says Cocker, “I don’t really know what you would call this album: ‘rock/pop’? It’s a little more pop than I’ve been into for quite a while so it would scare me sometimes. I would do the basic tracks and then Matt would go away and do some of these overdubs and he had all these electronic things on there. It was sometimes like ‘Oh, my god!’. But I wanted to work with Matt very much. And I always knew what kind of record we would be making.”
Joe Cocker, the British singer whose impassioned, gravel-voiced covers
of popular rock and blues songs were an indelible sound of 1960s
counterculture, has died at age 70 after a battle with lung cancer.
Cocker died Monday, December 22, 2014 at his home in Colorado.