Joe Cocker on John Belushi's Impression of Him: "I Thought Vocally, He Did Quite a Clever Job"
It's one of the most indelible images in rock 'n' roll, that of Joe Cocker, clad in tie dye, twitching and gyrating onstage at Woodstock, singing with that whiskey-soaked voice that became his stock in trade. For most, it proved an auspicious introduction to a rough-and-tumble young singer from the north of England who had an uncanny ability to interpret well-known material and make it all his own.
In the years to come, Cocker would remain a persistent presence, whether standing at the helm of his own Grease band, sharing the stage with the sprawling communal aggregate christened as Mad Dogs and Englishmen, or straddling the middle of the road with his biggest hit of all, "Up Where We Belong," the soaring ballad he shared with Jennifer Warnes.
We spoke with the musician about everything from his frustrated stage moves to the clever vocals of John Belushi when impersonating him. Ensconced at his Mad Dog Ranch, in Crawford, Colorado, located in the remote reaches of the Colorado Rockies, Cocker turned out to be surprisingly down-to-earth, willing to open up about his history, and as gracious and engaging as any musician I've ever encountered.
On his singing style: "A lot of people have asked me over the years why the north of England was so prone to R&B. It was odd, but most of the bands out of Sheffield and Newcastle never wrote songs. We'd cover Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Ray Charles, of course... And so we all started singing like black blues singers. It just evolved. I always think of myself as a white soul singer, for lack of a better term."
On the origination of his stage moves: "I never played organ or piano or guitar, so it was more out of frustration and me just trying to impersonate in a way. I did it subconsciously. People mistook for me being ill, like I had palsy. I'm not nearly so demonstrative now, but I still have my own way of feeling the rhythm.