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Joe Cocker: The Woodstock Screamer Was A Master Interpreter

Music | November 14, 2018

Joe Cocker performing on stage at the Whisky a Go-Go with the Grease Band in 1969. (Photo by Jim McCrary/Redferns)

Joe Cocker's Woodstock performance of "With A Little Help From My Friends" was one of the highlights of the festival, and gained him international exposure. With songs including "Feeling Alright," You Are So Beautiful," and "Up Where We Belong," Cocker established himself as one of the great song interpreters of the '70s and '80s. Cocker was best known for his rustic and gritty vocals as well as his unexpected and unorthodox body gyrations and movements while covering all genres of pop culture songs of his heyday.

Joe Cocker Was One Of The Great Song Interpreters Of The '70s

Joe Cocker in 1970. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Joe Cocker didn't write songs, and he didn't necessarily record songs others had written for him. In fact, his best-known recordings are of tunes that had already been recorded and released -- often to much success -- by other artists. That was certainly the case with "With A Little Help From My Friends," which was the second track on the Beatles massively popular 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Cocker recorded notable versions of two other already-famous Beatles songs, "Something" and "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window." "Feeling Alright," which would become a signature Cocker tune, was written by Dave Mason for the band Traffic. Cocker's hits "Midnight Rider," "You Are So Beautiful," and "The Letter" were first recorded, very well, by the Allman Brothers Band, Billy Preston, and the Box Tops, respectively.

Often times, Cocker was recording his cover while the original version was still fresh in listeners' minds -- and still managing, somehow, to make the song his own. It's a style of and talent for song interpretation that has largely faded from popular music.

Woodstock Introduced Cocker To The U.S. Audience

Joe Cocker on stage at Woodstock. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Joe Cocker's version of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends" had gone gone to #1 on the UK pop chart in 1968, though it hadn't earned much attention in the States. That changed when he psrformed it at Woodstock in 1969. The three-day festival included some memorable performances and some fiascos, but Cocker's screaming and flailing version of that song and others made the highlight reel.

John Robert Cocker, better known as Joe Cocker, was not born into a privileged family. Like most of us, he came from humble beginnings. While he was given the name of “John” at birth, Cocker was nicknamed, Joe, either after a game called, “Cowboy Joe,” or possibly a local window cleaner named, “Joe,” depending on the story you believe. Either way… we know him as Joe Cocker.

Joe Cocker’s Idols Included Ray Charles And Chuck Berry

Joe Cocker was interested in music at a very early age. Ray Charles, Chuck Berry and Lonnie Donegan were huge influences in his life and musical career. Cocker first performed publicly at the young age of 12 years old after being invited to perform by his older brother.

Though he was a white Englishman from Sheffield, Cocker's musical tendencies were firmly in the American blues and soul tradition of Ray Charles and other black musicians. Blues was phenomenally popular in the UK in the '60s. Many long-running "rock" acts -- the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin -- got their start playing R&B or blues inspired by their American idols. Some, like Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd, let go of their blues aspirations, while others, like Zeppelin and the Stones, always retained some of that bluesy sound. Cocker was certainly in the latter camp, continuing to record blues, R&B and blues-rock his entire career.

Joe Cocker’s first official music group was formed in 1960 and was called the Cavaliers.

 A young Joe Cocker and three of his friends formed a band and called themselves the Cavaliers. They were unknown at the time, so much so that they actually had to pay admission to get into the venues where they themselves were performing.

Elvis Was Another Influence

In the early years, Joe Cocker used the stage name Vance Arnold. The iconic Elvis Presley was actually an inspiration to the group.

Vance Arnold and the Avengers was the name of the group Cocker formed early on. The band’s name was derived from a combination of the influence of Elvis Presley in the infamous, Jailhouse Rock and country music great, Eddy Arnold. One of the group’s first-ever significant music gigs was with the Rolling Stones in 1963.

As a result of his early success, Joe Cocker was signed to a recording contract in 1964 and released his first ever single.

Joe Cocker’s first single was his rendition of a song by the Beatles that he covered. Cocker recorded, “I’ll Cry Instead,” alongside Big Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page. Unfortunately, the single failed to chart. He didn’t let it deter him, though, and the rest is history.

Over the years, Joe Cocker has been associated with different groups and many other successful musicians. He was one of those groovy musicians that appealed to the counterculture generation with his working class roots.

Joe Cocker was a British lad that entertained audiences for many years and eventually passing on at the age of 70. Nevertheless, Cocker certainly got the attention and recognition of music fans that he deserved. He is definitely a huge part of our musical nostalgia.  

Tags: Joe Cocker | Rare Facts And Stories About History | Woodstock

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.