Guide to British Music of the 1960s

 

Joe Cocker & The Grease Band

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Joe Cocker (real name John Cocker) started off as a drummer with the Sheffield skiffle group The Cavaliers. A gas fitter by day, he changed his name to Vance Arnold and became the front man of a rock & roll band called The Avengers playing cover versions. In 1962, the group had moved to playing more blues and started playing at Peter Stringfellow’s club nights in Sheffield. London A&R men were all over the north of the country including Sheffield looking for “the next Beatles”. Local and national newspapers had noticed the Avengers and so Decca’s A&R man, Dick Rowe, the man who is famous for turning down the Beatles, went to see an Avengers gig in Manchester. Cocker was persuaded to ditch the rest of the Avengers and recorded The Beatles’ I’ll Cry Instead with backing from session musicians including Big Jim Sullivan and The Ivy League on vocals.

The lack of success for the single discouraged Decca from extending the contact beyond one single. Cocker then formed a band called Joe Cocker’s Big Blues with Dave Green on bass, Dave Memmott on drums, Dave Hopper on guitar and Vernon Nash on piano. After playing US army bases in Europe, the band packed up and Cocker rejoined the Gas Board.

After a break from performing, Joe Cocker put together the Greaseband with Hopper, who was replaced by Frank Miles, and Nash with Freddy Guite joining on drums and Chris Stainton on bass and piano. The band gigged steadily around the north and a demo of a song called Marjorine was recorded but again as a Cocker solo effort. Regal Zonophone signed Cocker and Stainton and a new incarnation of the Greaseband was formed with Tommy Eyre on keyboards, Tommy Reilly on drums and Mickey Gee, also on drums. The single reached the top 50 and both drummers were told to leave. Joe Cocker’s breakthrough came with the follow-up, a haunting version of Lennon & McCartney’s With a Little Help from My Friends. This featured the session player Jimmy Page on guitar and BJ Wilson, drummer of Procul Harum. This reached number one in November 1968. Henry McCullough (guitar) and Kenny Slade (drums) joined as the single and album made the band in America 

A new version of the Greaseband started 1969 with a British and US tour. Alongside Cocker were Alan Spencer on bass, Bruce Rowland on drums with Stainton moving to keyboards. The US section of the tour included a spot at the Woodstock Festival. Delta Lady became the next hit single in October 1969. This was followed by a second album, simply called Joe Cocker.

As the 19670s arrived, Cocker’s backing group, now known as Mad Dogs & Englishmen, continued to have success in America with tracks such as The Letter and Cry Me a River. However, an Australian drugs bust led to him being barred from the lucrative US tours. He made a successful comeback in the 1980s, co-performing Up Where We Belong from the film Officer and a Gentleman.

Cocker died of lung caner at his Colorado home, 22 December 2014.

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