Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b John Robert Cocker, 20 May 1944, Sheffield, England; d 22 December 2014, Crawford CO) UK singer with superbly rough white soul voice. He formed his first band '59, recording and touring part-time '60s as Vance Arnold and the Avengers; signed by Decca '64 he took leave of absence from his job as a gas fitter, but a single flopped (seven live tracks were issued on Voiceprint 2000). He formed the Grease Band, played in Northern pubs, moved to London, co-wrote 'Marjorine' with keyboardist Chris Stainton for a minor hit. Then '(With) A Little Help From My Friends' (a Lennon/ McCartney song, Jimmy Page and Stevie Winwood guesting on the record) was no. 1 UK '68 (both singles on Regal Zonophone), the LP of that title on A&M reaching the USA top 40. He appeared at Woodstock '69; Joe Cocker! with Leon Russell and the the Grease Band was a USA no. 11 USA that year and another Beatle song 'She Came In Through The Bathroom Window' was a top 30 hit; two-disc live Mad Dogs And Englishmen '70 included no. 7 hit 'The Letter': the album was no. 2 USA, top 20 UK; souvenir of a tour of that name with Russell, Stainton and more than 40 others, critically successful but leaving Cocker broke and sick (from too much drink): Russell had put the show together (also filmed) and just about stole it. Joe Cocker '72 and I Can Stand A Little Rain '74 were hit LPs, the latter helped to no. 11 by no. 5 single 'You Are So Beautiful'; Jamaica Say You Will '76 was top 50, Stingray '76 no. 70; Live In L.A. '76 was tracks from a '72 tour with Stainton.

He switched from A&M to Asylum for Luxury You Can Afford '78, still in the top 80 LPs USA. By this time he was known for throwing up on stage. Sheffield Steel '82 on Island, Civilised Man '84 and Unchain My Heart '87 on Capitol charted in USA, though not in top 100. Other Capitol CDs are Cocker '86, One Night Of Sin '89, Live! '90, Night Calls '92. He had got hold of his health again, and there will always be fans of that rough-edged voice. Recorded with Crusaders on their Standing Tall '81 (single 'I'm So Glad I'm Standing Here Today' was a minor hit); no. 1 USA duet with Jennifer Warnes 'Up Where We Belong' '82 (from film An Officer And A Gentleman). Space Captain '82 on Cube in UK compiled live tracks; The Long Voyage Home '95 was a four-CD retrospective on A&M. Organic '96 was a new studio set produced by Don Was, with guests Jim Keltner, Billy Preston, Randy Newman etc. On Air on Strange Fruit with the Grease Band had BBC recordings from the '60s, while Across From Midnight '97 included Bob Marley's 'Could You Be Loved'. Cocker's consistent best showed no diminution over more than 30 years: No Ordinary World 2000 on Red Ink was a strong set, if missing some of the old fire, followed by Respect Yourself 2002. Definitive Collection was a 16-track greatest hits set on Festival 2002; something called Heart & Soul was due 2004 on EMI.

He had lived in the USA for many years and always remained true to himself; a new album Hymn For My Soul in 2008 got him a feature article in Blues Revue magazine, where he named Ray Charles as one of his biggest influences.He died of lung cancer.