Remembering Joe Cocker
An appreciation from a fan who first saw the English singer at the Atlantic City Pop Festival in 1969.
I never saw Joe Cocker perform live myself, and he didn't hit the generational bullseye for me the way he did for so many counterculture-era music fans who came of age with him in late 1960s and early 1970s.
But the British singer who died on Monday at age 70 from lung cancer and was known for his covers of Traffic's "Feelin' Alright" and The Beatles "With A Little Help From My Friends" hit the soul-rock sweet spot for many.
Among his ardent fans was Inquirer reader Rob Weiss, who sent me a passionate appreciation of Cocker, and an excellent remembrance of seeing him play the Atlantic City Pop Festival in 1969, as well as Woodstock and the old Electric Factory, among other venues.
Here's what Weiss, 63, of Marlton, who agreed to have his tribute posted here, had to say:
"RIP Joe Cocker.
I never heard of Cocker until he performed with The Greaseband in April 1969 on The Ed Sullivan Show. They did a cover of Traffic's "Feelin' Alright" and it was all right, but that was about it. He looked a bit grungy and played spasmodically a guitar he alone could see. I don't remember him getting heavy airplay in Philly.
Several months later, I went down to the Atlantic City Pop Festival. I saw Zappa, Canned Heat, Joplin (with a putrid band), 300 pounds of open-shirted drummer Buddy Miles roaming the stage singing nonsense because his band had no material, and a truly berserk Little Richard leaping on top of his piano and screaming over and over "Shut up!"
In the middle of this madness Cocker and The Greaseband appeared. He blew the place apart, absolutely killing "With a Little Help from My Friends."
Soon, I was soon off to Woodstock where, among the tired, poor and drugged-out acts, Cocker stood tall. He did a fantastic set that, as you know, truly stopped the show: the rainstorm began the minute it ended. I was hooked
I saw him at the Electric Factory and at the long-gone Convention Hall. I was at the Academy of Music when he showed up with the mind-boggling Mad Dogs and Englishmen review (coincidentally, Bobby Keys just died).
Then Cocker went downhill. John Belushi did a perfect impersonation of him on Saturday Night Live. They once performed together and – this was sad – Belushi did a better Cocker than Cocker. Maybe this embarrassment literally and figuratively sobered him up because he eventually came back with "Up Where We Belong" (with Jennifer Warnes). He toured for years.
Joe Cocker didn't play an instrument. He didn't write. He wasn't the first to do something, he didn't influence the direction rock or have a long string of number one's. He had no wacky costumes or wild stage shows. The guy looked less like a rock star than the schlub sitting next to you at a neighborhood tappy. Perhaps this held him out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But he needs to be remembered. When you strip away the pop music trappings, Joe Cocker was just an old fashioned song stylist who for a half a century could make anybody's tune his own.
Not a bad legacy."
"With A Little Help From My Friends" is below.