Joe Cocker (May 20, 1944 — Dec. 22, 2014) was an English soul-rock singer from Sheffield who released back-to-back albums on A&M in 1969. That summer, he floored Woodstock attendees with his full-throated rendition of the Beatles‘ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” His 1970 live set Mad Dogs & Englishmen and third studio album appeared on A&M, followed by three titles on Cube during the mid-1970s, marked by the hit “You Are So Beautiful.”
Cocker bounced between labels for a slew of albums before his comeback ballad “Up Where We Belong,” a duet with American singer Jennifer Warnes for the 1982 romantic-drama An Officer and a Gentlemen. From 1984-onward, he issued a string of albums on Capitol, charting with the 1989 blues-rock ballad “When the Night Comes.”
He was born John Robert Cocker on May 20, 1944, in Crookes, Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire, the youngest son of civil servant Harold Norman Cocker (1907-2001) and Madge (née Lee). According to legend, he got his forename from a childhood game called “Cowboy Joe.”
Growing up, Cocker took to R&B (Ray Charles) and skiffle (Lonnie Donnegan). His brother, Victor, led a skiffle band and invited young Joe on stage one night for a number. Joe formed his first band, The Cavaliers, in 1960 with three friends. After leaving school, he worked for a time as a gasfitter for the East Midlands Gas Board.
In 1961, Cocker played Sheffield clubs as the pseudonymic frontman of Vance Arnold and the Avengers. As the R&B/beat boom took hold, he immersed himself in the works of American bluesmen (John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf). In 1963, his band opened for The Rolling Stones at Sheffield City Hall.
Cocker debuted under his own name with the 1964 Decca single “I’ll Cry Instead,” a Beatles cover produced by Mike Leander (Marianne Faithfull, Barry Ryan). It features guitar-work by Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan. The b-side, “Precious Words,” was written by American Claude Robinson.
In 1966, Cocker linked with bassist Chris Stainton, an old Sheffield mate who’d played in a slew of beat groups (Johnny Tempest and the Mariners, The Cadillacs). They formed the Grease Band and gigged the South Yorkshire circuit, where they were spotted by producer Denny Cordell (The Move, The Moody Blues, Procol Harum).
Cordell got Cocker a residency at London’s Marquee club and oversaw his second single, “Marjorie” (b/w “The New Age of the Lily”), two originals issued on Regal Zonophone. It was followed that October by “With a Little Help from My Friends,” a cover of the popular Beatles song. With its slowed-down, soulful arrangement, Cocker’s version hit #1 on the UK singles chart. It’s backed with the Cocker/Stainton original “Something’s Coming On.”
- With a Little Help From My Friends (1969)
- Joe Cocker! (1969)
- Mad Dogs & Englishmen (live 2LP, 1970)
- Joe Cocker (1972)
- I Can Stand a Little Rain (1974)
- Jamaica Say You Will (1975)
- Stingray (1976)
- Luxury You Can Afford (1978)
- Sheffield Steel (1982)
- Civilized Man (1984)
- Cocker (1986)
- Unchain My Heart (1987)
- One Night of Sin (1989)
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