Joe Cocker - A Soul Story by Jacqueline Strong
Disappointingly for Joe Cocker, his 1964 debut single would not be the full-blown Ray Charles treatment of Georgia on My Mind which he had performed with a 22-piece orchestra at Decca's London recording studio.
A & R man Dick Rowe felt that its commercial appeal was limited so Joe was summoned back to cut a cover of Lennon & McCartney's I'll Cry Instead, from A Hard Day's Night, that had Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan on guitars. It was the end of the road for his current persona as Vance Arnold and the Avengers, and time for Joe Cocker's Big Blues with a revamped line-up. He was granted six months' leave of absence from his gas fitter's job and a nationwide tour loomed alongside Manfred Mann, Little Eva and The Merseybeats.
That was a disaster from the word go, a loss-maker that ended prematurely. The record also bombed, no surprise to Joe who never thought the bread-and-butter pop tune showcased his vocal ability. Bookings were lean as New Year 1965 arrived. A last-minute invitation to trek around US air bases in France saved the day, though the band had to SOS for a girl singer to keep the servicemen happy. On the return to Sheffield, things were even leaner and no gigs meant no more Big Blues.
Joe started work at a wholesale newsagent's warehouse, but, despite not gigging for a year, he remained convinced that he was destined to perform. Out of the blue, he put a quartet together for a Sheffield University booking then talked, tentatively at first, about a return to the road.
The Grease Band was in the making and Joe would find a rapport with a new bassist, Chris Stainton, who would become his trusted friend and collaborator. The partnership would see Marjorine tickle the UK Top 50 in May 1968 and explode in a reworking of The Beatles' With a Little Help from My Friends hitting No 1 later the same year.
There would be US fame but no fortune and Joe would be grateful for the help of real friends who, unlike rock's hangers-on, were not out to bleed him dry. The road would be long and bumpy, but the man would survive.
Born and bred in the same city as Joe, I am a Yorkshire lass from Sheffield in South Yorkshire. 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.