By Jim Johnson

Joe Cocker died today (Monday) at his Mad Dog Ranch in Crawford, Colorado, reportedly from lung cancer. He was 70.

Born John Robert “Joe” Cocker on May 20th, 1944 in Sheffield, England, he’ll forever be remembered for his gruff voice and spastic movements on stage while taking songs by others and making them uniquely his own. Case in point are his versions of The Beatles‘ “With a Little Help from My Friends” and Billy Preston‘s “You Are So Beautiful.”

Cocker kicked around in various groups in the early ’60s before signing his first record contract in 1964 and releasing his first single, a cover of The Beatles’ “I’ll Cry Instead” with  Jimmy Page on guitar. The song flopped and Cocker then formed another group, Joe Cocker’s Big Blues, before taking a hiatus in 1965. In 1966 he teamed with keyboard player Chris Stainton to form The Grease Band, and after a few incarnations they hit paydirt in 1968 when their version of “With a Little Hep From My Friends” cracked the Top 10 in the U.K. and charted in America. In 1969 Cocker played numerous festivals around the States, but it was his performance at Woodstock that catapulted his career.

Success followed in the early ’70s with covers of The Beatles’ “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and “Something,” plus a hit with Leon Russell‘s “Delta Lady.” Sadly, the rock and roll lifestyle caught up with Joe, who got into heroin, a habit he kicked, but he wasn’t as lucky with alcohol. His career hit a slump later in that decade, but he got it back together in 1982 when he teamed with Jennifer Warnes on “Up Where We Belong” for the soundtrack of An Officer and a Gentleman. It went to number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 and he earned a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo and the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Cocker was a strong touring act, particularly in Europe, having last played there in 2013. He is survived by his wife of 27 years, Pam.

Joe Cocker on “With a Little Help from My Friends” becoming a staple of his live shows following his classic live version at Woodstock.


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