John Robert Cocker (20/05/44-22/12/14) of Sheffield, also known as ‘Vance Arnold‘ and “The Sheffield Soul Shouter“, has passed after a hard-fought battle with small-cell lung cancer. His latest release, Fire It Up from November 2012, showed him to be in fine form even after seemingly an entire life of shovelling gravel vocally. Cocker recorded 21 studio albums and 4 live recordings during his career, and received a Grammy Award, a Golden Globe, an Academy Award and even an OBE. He died in Crawford, Colorado.
According to Edgar Berger, Chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, “Joe is a legendary artist of rock and blues history and yet he was one of the most humble men I’ve ever met. His iconic voice will forever be etched in our memories and our thoughts go out to Joe’s wife Pam and his family at this difficult time. Joe will live on in the hearts of millions of fans around the world.”
Cocker had the Number One single in the U.K. in November of 1968 with his cover of The Beatles‘ With a Little Help From My Friends. Performing this particular tune at the Woodstock Festival in New York in 1969 firmly launched his career. In 1970 he toured behind the epic double-set, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, featuring Leon Russell (bandleader amongst other roles), Rita Coolidge and drummer Jim Keltner. By 1973, even though his I Can Stand A Little Rain spawned a #5 hit with You Are So Beautiful (a cover of Dennis Wilson and Billy Preston’s song), his performances were often mired by alcohol and drugs.
In 1976, Cocker performed Dave Mason’s Feelin’ Alright on Saturday Night Live, joined by John Belushi in what marked an incredibly ironic moment. The iconic Belushi, it seems, was emulating Cocker, but clearly poking fun at the same time. Producer Michael Lang of Woodstock fame agreed to work with him if he could remain sober.
In 1982, Cocker recorded Up Where We Belong with Jennifer Warnes, a Number One hit from the soundtrack to the film An Officer and a Gentleman. With this, they won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance By a Duo.
More recently, whilst Cocker was performing at Madison Square Garden on September 17, 2014 with Billy Joel, Joel stated that Cocker “was not very well right now” and asked that he be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cocker died from lung cancer on December 22nd. The two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, were among the many who paid tribute to him. Cocker’s agent, Barrie Marshall, said that “Cocker was without a doubt the greatest rock/soul singer to ever come out of Britain“.
For myself, I often recall the title track from 1987’s Unchain My Heart, an Otis Redding cover that had more of an edge than a lot of his material. He will be sorely missed. Goodbye and good night, Joe!