Joe Cocker... gets by with a little help from AskMen
What have you been up to in the last little while ?
Last year I toured a bit of America. I was on the road for 7 months, 'cause I hadn't toured the states in a long time. It was nice. Europe is usually where I am usually galloping around. I thought it would be good to keep Europe alone for a bit, so it's coming up to almost three years since I have played over there. Right now I am back in the studio again, Capitol Records down in Hollywood, just working on a new album of songs people know. I don't like to call them covers interpretations.
You've had 19 original albums and decades of hit singles. Now you're coming out with an ultimate collection - 20 of your best tracks from the '60s to the '90s. Tell us what your fans can expect and how you went about choosing the tracks ?
I left it to the record company and my management, Roger Davis. If I get involved, it wouldn't be hits, probably. "Unchain My Heart", "You Can Leave Your Hat On", the basic big ones are all there. I always look down the list and have to give it the okay in the end, but I mean it's almost, to me, a way of letting people know that I'm still making music after 40 years and this is the latest update, basically.
In many ways, a lot has changed since you started doing music 40 years ago, but not that much has changed. Back in the '60s America was in the middle of one war in Vietnam and now it seems to be in the middle of another war in Iraq. What are your thoughts on this ?
I've been touring now since about '68. I was in Germany when the wall came down. Unfortunately I was in New York when 9/11 happened. You carry on doing what you do, know what I mean ? Making music, if you're a real musician, you carry on, regardless in this world. When you think of the size of the world when you go back to the '60s, you look how huge everything is. There's more people now than back then. When I used to put an album out, I knew everyone on the charts. There weren't that many bands, now I couldn't even name half the new groups. The world is a tougher place to live in than it was back then, as we come into the computer age.
Who were your earlier influences and who do you listen to now ?
Back then, I, most rockers loved Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis you know in the '60s. Then I got hung up on Ray Charles very heavily; I loved Ray's music and still do. We all kinda found this source of rock and roll by listening to the blues, really. I don't really like the guitar bands I keep hearing [today], I keep thinking well in 40 years, I was expecting that we would have been blown out the window and someone would be laying down a whole new musical direction and the fact that rap, I never get off on rap too much, you know I can take a rhythm, but when I record, even now I like to use real bands with real drums and everything. I like to use effects, but a lot of the time I just can't deal with these tracks with all these artificial sounds.
You were born in Sheffield, England. If it wasn't for music, what would you be doing ?
I had a job when I was 16 at a gas fitter, which was a bit like a pipe fitter. That lasted for about 5 years, I never could think of anything other than music. I mean, it was just an obsession with me, whether I made it "big time" or whatever, I would've carried on working the clubs or whatever. I think the only thing I would've ever been any good at was probably being a pub landlord. I've thought of that a couple of times.
Have you thought about opening up a pub now ?
Don't start that. We have a caf up here where we live, we had it open for 3 years, and my wife was running it. But I sank so much money into it we gave it a shot.
Did the theme song for The Wonder Years get the younger generation into your music or your other records? How did that association come to be ?
I never really knew anybody back then from the TV show. No one contacted me particularly. But it was weird how they used "With A Little Help From My Friends". When people come to the concerts now, I can always tell if they are "Wonder Years" kind of people. It's interesting, as I said on the last tour in America, the audience actually came out, they had to have been the kind of fans who listened to my music via their parents, you know what I mean? It happens a lot when I go to Germany - the audience is like a continuation.
You've released a lot of records ; 19 original.
I thought I did more I thought I was working on my 22nd album (laughs).
What are some of your own favorite songs ?
I don't listen to myself very much. Some of the songs I do once in a while that I kinda my set list is basically like my hits, there is a good reason why they are there; people really like them. There is one song that I do "Highway, Highway", it didn't make this album, it was by Steve Davis and that's probably one of my all time favorites. I have always been a sucker for ballads, but you have to be careful these days, you can't overload people.
Tell us about the original Woodstock, what was that experience like ?
Looking back It's getting further and further away. The experience itself, the more I look back on it was what was valuable. I have sung to large crowds since then, and there is a feeling that once you get over 100,000 people, you kind of lose the control element, you don't know if you are really getting through or not. When we did that show, it was only a one-hour set. The song "Let's Get Stoned" came through about three-quarters of the way through. All of a sudden, I kinda felt like it was just this social - everyone smoking pot happened, but until then I felt they were enduring what I was doing but not really diggin' it, and those last three or four numbers I just could feel this weird sort of consciousness, you know what I mean ? We felt like we were getting through to them, it was very strange. Once you get into entertaining a quarter of a million people, it's a very weird place to be. When I did the second one, we opened up, I was in the first song and the crowd, there were some strange people looking at me like I was from another planet, and all of a sudden they raised this girl up out of nowhere. It was in the moshing days, you know, and this girl with this huge black crotch came, they passed her forward like an offering, then she disappeared back into the crowd.
You have played with a tremendous list of artists. Who are some of the people you would like to perform with, either in the studio or live that you have not yet performed with ?
Over the years, I've worked with just about everybody. There aren't that many artists, of course there are some great players still around, but I have been very lucky to have the kind of sessions that I've had over the years. I would like to be able to do a song with Ray Charles, before we both get too old. I did a TV thing with him and I hear Ray's doing an album now.
What do you want people to think when they hear the name Joe Cocker ?
I try to do what I do. I'm going out on the road again for 6 months next year, I'm approaching 60 next year, so it's quite intriguing to me that I'm still there have been a few times in my life where people thought I would never make it so the fact that I am still making music, if they just associate a good night's performance when they hear my name, that would make me very happy.
You won a Grammy for one of your songs and an Oscar was won for a song you performed but didn't write. What are your feelings towards performing your own song vis-vis someone else's song ?
You don't get as much of that anymore; we were commissioned more or less. When they played me the demo, of "Up Where We Belong", the executive producer told me it was for a really big movie, An Officer and a Gentleman. He talked me in and I guess Jennifer in, and I explained how it would sound, I realized we got something really big on our hands. By the time we finished recording it, I just, every now and then you sense that you've got a hit. What I loved was that we spent a lot of time crafting it. The same with "You Can Leave Your Hat On" ; I was basically commissioned to do that song for a movie. Nowadays you don't get asked so much, you get more they'll use your track if it suits the film.
What advice would you give AskMen.com readers who want to succeed in show business ?
Don't go on American Idol, I think you'll spend the rest of your life living it down and I think it's getting kinda scary, isn't it ? I can understand the quick shot to get you some exposure in this fast world we live in. I just find it a little disquieting.
What is Joe Cocker's advice on how to succeed with the ladies ?
God, I'm just a fat bald guy, 60 years old, singing the blues, you know ? I don't think I can be that much help. You just have to work at it.
Thanks so much for your time Mr. Cocker.