Joe Cocker – Mad Dogs and Englishmen


I really wish more bands would learn a few cover songs to add to their repertoire.

When you go see The Rolling Stones, they obviously don’t need to ’cause they have 50 some odd years of material to play with…but with the newer bands out there it would really help.  It’s really disappointing to go see a hot new band and all they can play is the songs off their only album. I’ve sat through a couple of shows that ended like this:

“Sorry, that’s all the songs we know!  Goodnight!”

And I’m sitting there in the audience thinking “Really?!?! What kind of musicians are you???  You only know ten songs???” It’s at this point that the concept of the cover song becomes necessary.

So, if you are a musician in a band that is touring, learn some extra material.  Not only will it help stretch out your set and show your range, but it also gives you an encore when your album set is over. It’s such a no brainer that I have a hard time figuring out why more bands don’t do it.

And no one understood the concept of covering a song better than Joe Cocker.

Born in Sheffield in 1944, he made his first public performance on stage at age 12 with his brother’s skiffle band.(Is it just me, or was every UK musician required to be in a skiffle band at the time?)  A few years after, Joe formed his own band, The Cavaliers, but broke it up after a year when Cocker left school to pursue music full time.

By 1961, Cocker had taken on a new stage name and was playing local venues under the moniker of Vance Arnold and the Avengers…mostly doing covers of Chuck Berry and such. They reached their apex in 1963 when they opened for The Rolling Stones at a concert at City Hall.  Cocker was soon signed to Decca Records and released his first single, a cover of The Beatles ‘I’ll Cry Instead,’ but despite a huge promotional push by the label,  the single fell flat and he was dropped. This led to Joe’s dropping of the Vance Arnold name and forming a new band, Joe Cocker’s Big Blues…but after a tour of France, that band too was disbanded for lack of funds.  Cocker decided to take some time off from the music scene.

By this point Cockerwas well known for his gravelly vocals and high energy performances, and in 1966 he formed The Grease Band with friend Chris Stainton. After a string of local Sheffield performances, The Grease Band caught the attention of Procol Harem producer Denny Cordell, who brought a solo Cocker into the studio to record another single, ‘Marjorine.’ Soon the Grease Band was disbanded and Cocker and Stainton had moved to London where they would soon have a residency at the Marquee Club.

‘Marjorine’ proved to be a modest success, but Cocker soon hit paydirt with his classic rendition of the Beatles ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ which featured Jimmy Page on guitar and Steve Winwood on drums.  I’ll say this much, when Joe Cockercovers a song, he covers a song. The band went on tour with The Who in 1968, and after a early 69 tour With Gene Pitney, Joe and his band headed to the states for a tour of their own. His album “With a Little Help From My Friends” was released around the same time and soon went gold.

While on the tour, Cocker and his new Grease Band hit some big name shows like the Denver Pop and the Newport Rock Festivals, and so they were likely candidates to play at Woodstock. When the band arrived, they had to be flown in by helicopter due to the crowds, and played a legendary set that culminated in a rainstorm.

Cocker was on a roll.  Almost immediately after Woodstock he released his second album “Joe Cocker!”   His work on “Friends” won him fans like George Harrison and Paul McCartney who were happy to let him use ‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’ and ‘Something’ for his latest work. He hit the TV circuit and soon cemented his reputation as a dynamic performer…but by the end of 1969 Joe was burnt out.  Not wanting to do another tour, he dissolved the Grease Band again.

Unfortunately for Joe, a US tour had already been booked and He had only days to get a band together. Luckily, Leon Russell heard of his plight and offered to help put the group together.  By days end they had a band of ten people…including Russell and Stainton.  After four grueling days of twelve hour rehearsals and the addition of eleven back-up singers, someone suggested they film the tour.  The result was “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.”

Filmed on March 27th and 28th at the legendary Fillmore in 1970, the album captures not only Cocker’s energy, but the feel of the merry band of 43 musicians, family, and crew that made up the group as a whole.  This is the way Joe Cocker was meant to be heard.  You get all the hit’s: The Beatles covers, ‘Delta Lady’ and ‘The Letter’… but also quieter pieces like “Bird on a Wire’ and the Russell song ‘Girl From The North Country.’

The group disbanded two months later…as tensions in the band and Joe’s drinking began to get out of hand.  It’s a fitting close to the Woodsstock era…but the album captures that brief moment in time when it seems like it was all going to be alright.

The album is a must…and so is the DVD if you’re into that sort of thing.


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