17 Apr Joe Cocker: “U.S.’s Only Culture is Black”
Humperdinck, Doonican, O’Connor, Leapy Lee, Louis Armstrong, Hugo Montenegro etc. are about 40, where Joe is a mere 24. And anyway, “Friends”—with that mean guitar, soulful vocal and the Blossoms—is a hell of a lot more like English charts of old than a Tom Jones ballad.
Joe has been singing for eight years, says Eileen, who’s been a fan since the very first public appearance. “I met Joe when I was 13 and he was 15. We’ve been good friends for years, but it was nothing more than a good old chat Then it seemed to happen and that was it. One of those pathetic old all-American romances.
“Joe’s always been a big fan of Ray Charles,” she said, a fact which I’d presumed when looking through their record collection, which also included liberal selections of Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, Dylan, Lightin’ Hopkins, and their favorite LP of the moment: Music from Big Pink.
Joe worked around Sheffield for several years to audiences invariably consisting of 80% males. But that’s always been the way—guys go to see male singers with talent where it matters, rather than where it shows.
He always wanted to make it in London, but Sheffield was not the right place to be when the London talent scouts were looking around the country. Dave Berry is the only other big name ever to come out of Sheffield’s similar-to-Liverpool environment of factories and drizzle.
“I sent a tape to producer Denny Cordell because I’d seen what he’d done for other people. I thought he’d be the person to know if it was any good. I thought to myself ‘if he says the tape is rubbish, we’ll pack it in,’” Joe explained, when he arrived home.
As it happened, Cordell grooved on the tape and suggested Joe should come to London. They made a single, “Margarine,” which edged into the top 30 but didn’t stay too long. Before that, Joe had a single out on Decca four years ago called “I’ll Cry Instead.”
“I got a royalty cheque for one dollar and 97 cents,” he says, with a grin.
“ ‘Friends’ was a fluke, it was just one of those things that happen,” Joe claims. It was cut in London, with Madeline Bell and cohorts doing the girl vocal parts.
Joe worked out the heavy arrangement with Chris Stainton, bass guitarist with the Grease Band, his backing group.
Despite a slow start, the record soared into the charts, selling close to half a million copies, and making Joe an overnight star in such places as Holland, Canada, Iceland, Australia and Venezuela. A year ago, they were only getting an average of 12 to 20 pounds ($30 to $50) a night.
Joe moved to London in June, and Eileen followed in August. “At first, we had to be very careful what we said in interviews,” Eileen confessed, none-too-sheepishly, “because our parents didn’t know we were living together. Joe and I aren’t married, but that’s fine. We stick together because we have mutual interests. I wouldn’t feel anymore secure just because of a piece of paper.
“Joe’s a great fella,” says Eileen.
“He’s a terrible driver though, and really, he’s not together at all. And he hasn’t got any image yet, so I can’t say ‘yes he is like that, or no, that’s all rubbish.’ He’s simply a guy who started off as a blues singer and progressed from there.”
I asked Joe to describe his stage repertoire. “Well, I’ve got my own version of ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned,’ which always goes down well. And I do Dylan’s ‘I Shall be Released’ and Moby Grape’s ’Can’t Be So Bad.’ We also get into a lot of impromptu blues things.” Joe is backed by the Grease Band, a Sheffield group who’ve been with him several years. They consist of Henry McCullough. 22, guitar (Henry was with Eire Apparent, when they toured the U. S. with Jimi Hendrix); Kenny Slade, 30, drums; Tommy Eyre, 19, organ; and Chris Stainton, 24, bass. They wheel around in a thing affectionately called the Grease Van.
Right now, Joe is well into the studio scene. “We’re working hard on the LP,” he said, “that’s more important to me than a single because people will be able to listen to us as we are. We haven’t decided on the followup single as yet, but I guess it will be out in February.” Joe eagerly anticipates a forthcoming U.S. tour. Like a lot of English cats who’ve crossed the Atlantic before him, he wants to dig the American blues scene. “Colored people have given America the only culture it has, and probably ever will have.”
But the future is a very fluid thing for Joe Cocker. He realizes “Friends” has broken down some barriers in England. And he tells a funny story about the British broadcasting scene, which demonstrates just where it’s all at over there.
“A dee jay played a record by Bobbie Gentry, and at the end of it, said, ‘wow, that guy sure has got a good voice.’”