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Joe Cocker: Shakin’ Soul Shouter

Joe Cocker

As a singer, Joe Cocker was blessed with a magnificently raspy, soulful delivery that made him one of the most immediately recognizable vocalists in the history of rock music.

But what really stuck in the public’s mind was his dancing: those flailing, knock-kneed, spasmodic movements that made it almost seem as if he was struggling with a demonic possession as he blew away the crowd at the Woodstock festival in 1969. As Cocker explained in a 2013 interview, even he was sometimes startled when he saw video clips of himself onstage. “It’s just a way of trying to get feeling out,” he said. “I get excited and it all comes through my body.”

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Cocker, who died on Dec. 22 at age 70 in Colorado, was selected by Rolling Stone as one of 100 greatest rock singers of all time. Here are some facts about his life and career.

  • Born John Robert Cocker in Sheffield, England, he initially took the stage name Vance Arnold, which he dreamed up by combining the names of country singer Eddy Arnold and Vance Reno, the fictional brother of Elvis Presley’s character in the movie Love Me Tender.
  • His singing style was influenced by R&B great Ray Charles.
  • His big break came when his then-band, the Avengers, opened for the Rolling Stones in Sheffield in 1963. He signed a solo recording contract a year later.
  • Over a career that stretched more than 50 years, Cocker recorded 22 studio albums, but his most famous release was a 1970 live LP, Mad Dogs & Englishmen, recorded during a U.S. tour on which he was backed by such stars as Rita Coolidge, Leon Russell and saxophonist Bobby Keys. Here’s Cocker performing “The Letter” from a documentary on that tour.
  • Cocker was best known for his covers of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and the Box Tops’ “The Letter.” He also had a hit in the mid-1970s with Billy Preston’s “You Are So Beautiful” and received a Grammy in 1983 for “Up Where We Belong,” a duet with Jennifer Warnes.
  • He performed at former President George H.W. Bush’s inaugural celebration at the Washington Convention Center in 1989.



Here’s Cocker performing at Woodstock:


Photo: Didier Baverel/Getty Images

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