Joe Cocker

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Joe Cocker Pencil Portrait
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Last update: 3/8/15

Joe Cocker was one of the greatest white blues and soul vocalists, blessed with a voice that could rage, bellow, rasp, screech or, if circumstance demanded, convey a sense of yearning and vulnerability, never more convincingly than on his original rendition of Billy Preston’s “You are so beautiful.” On those rare occasions when he’d fail to hit a high note, you’d swear blind that he had, such being the level of intensity in his vocalising with which he would carry his audience along.

Quite simply, he was capable of taking any song and making it his own, and as sad as I was to read of his passing in December 2014, there was much to be grateful for, not least that he’d even reached his seventieth year in contented domesticity. Decades earlier, such a feat had once seemed wildly improbable, so prodigious being his youthful excesses.

Cocker’s base for the last twenty years of his life was in the heart of the Colorado Rockies. The house went up for sale in 2015, affording us a unique opportunity to revel in the panoramic views he and his wife enjoyed during their ‘downtime’ off the road.

After Joe’s death, his elder brother would recall his sibling as “a raucous teenager” with a “special talent.” Vic Cocker, four years older than his famous brother, said at the time, that he hoped people would now rediscover some of his brother’s lesser-known works.

“There are so many of his songs that I love,” he told the BBC; “I remember him firstly as a brother. We grew up together in Sheffield. We were both war babies. There weren’t a lot of toys and good things around at that time, but we had a good upbringing,” Mr Cocker said. “He was a raucous teenager and then this special talent started to emerge. I was really a fan and always encouraging him.”

Reflecting on his brother’s fifty year career, Vic remained hopeful that people would “rediscover” the singer’s lesser-known records. Mr Cocker said his brother’s cancer was discovered when he contracted bronco-pneumonia at the end of a tour in 2013. “I don’t think anyone would’ve dissuaded him from smoking when he was younger,” he said, before adding; “He used to have really intensive medicals when he went on tour.” In a final poignmant momento the interview, Mr Cocker said his memories of his brother would “always be about Joe the man, just walking with his dogs in the mountains of Colorado.”

Recommended listening

Joe Cocker! (1969)

Teamed with producer/pianist Leon Russell, “Our Joe” – with a pleasing sense of continuity – would cut the five star classic “Delta lady,” and a solid collection of commercial covers.

A regular visitor to The Beatles’ Apple studios, Cocker would be the earliest recipient of McCartney’s “She came in through the bathroom window” – here suitably countrified with a pedal steel solo – and Harrison’s “Something” – slowed to a funereal pace with obligatory female chorusing – but production delays would ensure his second album trailed the group’s “Abbey Road” album by a couple of months.

Elsewhere, there’s laid-back, soulful, crooning on some imaginative song reinventions – “Hello Little friend,” “Darling, be home soon” – in addition to Dylan’s “Dear Landlord” and Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On The Wire.”

Sheffield Steel (1982)

Have a little faith (1994)

An international top ten album, and a collection of new recordings that reinvigorated Cocker’s professional standing.

Recommended reading

Joe Cocker: The Authorised Biography (J. P. Bean)