Monday, December 22, 2014

Joe Cocker

It's funny because growing up ... and going to a LOT of concerts ... it had never even dawned on me to go and see him ... 

I mean, I liked his music enough ... 

I guess I Just never felt it was worth the investment in a concert ticket. 

I liked him OK ... just not THAT much. 

The first time we saw Woodstock (we sat thru the film TWICE that day ... and then went back to see it again and again the next two weeks ... sitting through it a total of FIVE times in two weeks!) ... the one act that COMPLETELY blew me away was Joe Cocker!  What was he DOING to my Beatles song?!?! 

I'd never really heard or seen anything like it ... before or since ... unless, of course you count Belushi who TRIED really hard to "do" Joe Cocker ... but he always fell short in my estimation.  Even when they performed together side-by-side on Saturday Night Live, I don't think Cocker ever really quite "got it" ... was it a tribute?  Or was Belushi simply mocking him?  (Truthfully, I'm not quite sure I ever really got it either!!!)  

Joe's version of "With A Little Help From My Friends" is an absolute classic ... when I watched "The Wonder Years" for the very first time and discovered that THIS was the song they had selected to "usher us back to the '60's", I was blown away again.  It was never really a hit ... it stopped at #68(Can somebody other than The Beatles have recorded "the definitive version" of a Beatles tune?  If such a thing is possible, then Joe did it ... if not, he came up with what has GOT to be the most inspired and creative interpretation I've ever heard!)  

Other MUCH bigger hits followed ... his "Mad Dogs And Englishmen" tour, movie and album, made him a household name a few years later ... Joe could take any classic ... whether it be Traffic's "Feeling Alright", "The Letter" by The Box Tops or an old torch song from the '50's like "Cry Me A River" and put his own unique spin on it, and reinvent it along the way.  "High Time We Went", a #22 Hit in 1971, remains one of my favorites ... and then, out of nowhere, he took that soulful gravel he called a voice and did things to a ballad that had never been done before ... and, along the way, "You Are So Beautiful" and "Up Where We Belong" from "An Officer And A Gentlemen" were forever etched into The Great American Songbook.   

I should tell you that I finally DID get the chance to see him.  Several years ago, he was one of the artists booked for The Drive's Birthday Party Concert and we won tickets.  He absolutely blew me away THAT night, too.  (I remember thinking to myself, "Why haven't we ever gone to see him before???" How soon we forget!)  

A few months later, he was the opening act for a Guess Who Reunion Concert (right after 9-11 as I recall) and we saw him again ... and he did it again ... an already revamped show that had us all up on our feet for nearly the entire performance.  

A couple of years later, he played downtown at ChicagoFest ... dare we go again?  Nah, I figured ... he couldn't get any better than what we'd already seen ... let's just cherish the memory ...  

And earlier today ... when I heard that Joe Cocker had died at the age of 70 from cancer ... that's exactly what I did ... I remembered just how GREAT he sounded in concert ... what an accomplished and gifted singer and interpreter he really was.  (When we saw him in "Across The Universe" a few years ago, he covered The Beatles' "Come Together" ... another Beatles connection.  His first break-through hit in the U.K. was a cover of The Fab Four's "Ill Cry Instead" ... listen to it today and you'll never believe how quickly Joe grew and developed as an artist, finding his own voice, as it were, to stand out head and shoulders above the crowd.  (He also hit The National Top 30 with his version of "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" and gained notoriety for his version of George Harrison's "Something".)   

But Joe Cocker did SO much more than just cover Beatles tunes.  He sang Bryan Adams and Ray Charles and Randy Newman and Gregg Allman and Leon Russell and Dave Mason and Jimmy Webb and Diane Warren and countless others as well as anybody ever has.  He MADE these songs his own and we're going to miss him.  
Kent Kotal  
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