Saturday, April 18, 2009

Joe Cocker: Legend of the 60s and 70s

Joe Cocker album coverImage via Wikipedia

Joe Cocker a Living Soul Legend by Jacqueline Strong

The living-room of the Cocker family's semi-detached home in the Crookes district of Sheffield, Yorkshire, reverberated to the sounds of nightly rehearsals once younger son Joe had formed his first group, The Cavaliers.

His parents were remarkably tolerant as the lads played youth clubs and the workingmen's club circuit - and practised a lot. Then came Vance Arnold and the Avengers with Joe finally able to pass over the drumsticks to a new recruit and concentrate on lead vocals. He had already quit school and had the daytime security of work as an apprentice gas fitter. It was now 1961 and Sheffield had produced a pop star at last.

As Jimmy Crawford, onetime draughtsman Ron Lindsay, sneaked into the Top 50 with Love or Money, doing even better with follow-up I Love How You Love Me which made No 18. A modest start, but Dave Berry, borrowing the surname of idol Chuck, would top that with eight UK hits from 1963-66 and establish an international reputation that stands him in good stead today. Dave rated Vance Arnold and the Avengers highly, but Joe Cocker would have to wait patiently for his turn to achieve worldwide recognition for his interpretation of rock, blues and soul.

In 1963 The Beatles played a ballroom date in Sheffield as Please Please Me was shooting up the chart and Joe travelled to Manchester when idol Ray Charles made his UK concert debut. As for Vance & Co, they had a club residency and a following at pubs and dance halls. Appearing on a Sheffield City Hall bill with the emerging Rolling Stones did no harm either and a demo sent to Decca Records led to a Manchester audition that paved the way for a debut single in 1964.

As a Sheffield lass, I have watched the triumphs and the dramas of Joe Cocker unfold, often with pride, sometimes with sadness, but never doubting Joe's marvellous talent. To launch my "Remember When" series about singing legends I am starting with Joe Cocker. It is a personal tribute rather than a review, but, in my opinion, the authorised biography, With a Little Help from My Friends, by JP Bean, is the most detailed and best researched of all the Cocker books dealing with the ups and downs of Joe's life and career. My tribute is in three parts and you can read the first by going to the link.

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