Cordel on Cocker
Something rather interesting happened up at Island Studio the other week. Joe Cocker, former gas-pipe fitter in Sheffield, took it upon him-self to walk in there and make a re-cord.
Remember Joe ? Of course you do. But he hasn't been seen around town for a good six months now and a lot of people were beginning to wonder what on earth had happened to him.
So was Joe, by all accounts. I mean,
reliable sources had it that after completing that Mad Dogs and Englishmen
tour he wasn't feeling. You know, too hot, and had gone back to mum
and dad in Sheffield. That was before Christmas and with rare exceptions,
like his appearance with Rita Coolidge on one date during the Byrds’
tour, he hadn't been out to play at all, even with his old chums The
There was even a story, told by a Sheffield Journalist and former schoolmate of Joe's, that he - the journalist that is - had run into Joe in the street and got him to agree to an interview after months of trial and tribulation on the telephone. Only to find, though, in the coffee bar around the corner, that Joe preferred to react to each question in exactly the same way. With blank silence.
It was all very peculiar, especially as all those people in America were just dying to have Joe return and sing to them again, and so there were a lot of sighs of relief and broad smiles when he walked into Island studios a fortnight ago.
But it was learned that Joe was still feeling awful reticent. A good many there were those whose desire it was to see him actually working, maybe even to talk with him, but the sessions were all very hush-hush and hidebound with security. (Shhhhh, don't even breathe a word).
Now, of course, Joe is no-where to he found. He's done a Greta Garbo job, returned to seclusion, although according to David Sandison he is having a good think about whether to come out some-time in the future and ex-plain the ins and outs of the whole business.
Dave Sandison is Island's press officer and he says, understand, that "Joe is gradually getting himself together every day." Joe remarks Dave, was beginning to find his feet more as the sessions went along.
Dave, you see, knows Joe pretty well, but not half as well 33 Denny. Denny is Denny Cordell and Denny Cordell is Joe's record producer and friend and helped to set up the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, so as you can appreciate he is Joe's right-hand man. Actually though, even he doesn't know him as well as Chris Stainton, that is, who used to be in the Grease Band with Joe but is now just a free agent. He was on Joe's latest sessions, in fact, like Denny.
Now the strange thing is just how far the Garboesque situation extends, because not only can you not get Joe but you can't get Chris, who is away in the country and cannot, repeat, not, he disturbed in the middle of re-decorating his house. Denny, too, has proved very inaccessible. You know the business: phones left off the hook, not turning up for appointments, etc.
There was a perfectly sound reason, however, for Denny not turning up last Tuesday because he had to make arrangements to fly to Argentina for his father's funeral.
That was why he couldn't make it on Thursday after-noon, too but Max Clifford, who happens to be Chris' press agent, said I could always try phoning him while he was packing. So I did. Guess what — he was in.
Naturally, I wished to know all about the sessions. They had, said Denny, lasted from one Monday to the next, though they hadn't gone in every day.
They ? "Yeah, Joe and whoever was available. Ringo was there one day, and B. J. Wilson played drums on all the rest. There was Mick Wayne - who's he;? He's from Junior's Eyes - on guitar, and Steve (Winwood) played bass and a bit of organ. Chris played everything, and Joe sang. He even did drums on some tracks - really straighforward stuff, very basic, no frills at all."
Fancy Joe playing drums. And whose idea was it to go into the studio after this long time? Whence came the initiative? " From Joe. I had a word with him and he said he was ready to have a toot in the studios. Those were his actual words. He just fancied having a toot in the studio. So we all went in and Joe wrote all the material. Well, he wrote it with Chris; they did it on the studio floor but they'd already got the ideas. He didn't come in with any songs, but Chris had a whole lot of changes.
"He always writes with Chris Stainton who does the changes and Cocker writes the lyrics. They're things which just come into his head and end up by crystallising and making sense. Like his single which is now out here. That was just a stab at something, recorded at Muscle Shoals last year. There are four or five tapes of it." It didn't do very well in the States, did it ?
"No, it sold about 130,000 and got in the top 30. But it was a bit scruffy. It wasn't meant to be a single, and we didn't want it to be released. Anything that Joe does there is big."
Denny is absolutely right about that, of course. Joe is almost as big there as Kinney car parks. Strange then that he hadn't been back for some time, or even worked. How was he, in himself ?
Long pause. "What do you mean".
Well, to tell the truth, I heard he was pretty f….d up. Another pause. "Look you're judging him by normal standards, and he's not a normal person. He's more into himself, he doesn't stand on ceremony, and you may have caught him at a time when he seemed f….. d up."
"People consider him an extrovert, as opposed to an introvert, which he really is, and he won't play the role they want, so they usually label him an anti-hero. He'll always do it his way, or no way. And that applies to whether he does interviews, what clothes he wears, where he sleeps and what he sings."
Ah yes, what he sings. What is he singing now? Is his stuff like that Mad Dogs thing ?
"That was his last influence. That was a hastily thrown together thing. A tribal hand, doing material that anyone suggested in a few rehearsals that were held before they went on the road. This is his own stuff."
Still soul-orientated, then, huh ?
"Look, Joe's a blueser, He doesn't copy blues or soul, despite what a lot of people say about him. He's not any interpreter ; he's an originator."
"I mean, I was reading in your paper about B. B. King today, and he was saying that when he started he was influenced by Lonnie Johnson and T-Bone Walker. But just influenced. He developed his own style. That's like Joe. He began by digging Ray Charles and Charles Brown, and there might be a bit of Charles Brown in his singing now, but as the years go by you mature and you end up being what you are and you don't play the same things."
Still soul-orientated then, huh ?
"Well, he's altered slightly the direction he's going. The basis is traditional but the melodic approach is newer, he's reaching for a simpler approach." I see. And if and when he goes back on the road will he be using any of the session men in his band ?
He wishes he was ! But Joe has his own ideas about whom to use. He knows who he wants. Yeah, he keeps saying, wow, I really like that bass playing, or I really dig that drummer. I guess that by September or October he'll have found a group. With Stainton, of course. He and Joe have an empathy when it comes down to music.
Joe, you see, has occasionally been getting up and singing at some places. Little clubs in Bradford and Leeds. He sees what musicians are happening. He's been travelling around looking for somewhere to live - no, he won't live in the South - and at night he goes and sees what's going on in the music scene. There's a couple of people he's thinking of at present. I'm sure he's got his eye on them.
"Yeah, Joe is trying to get a studio together up north, but I don't think he intends it as a commercial venture. More for himself. Chris and he are getting a 16-track. It'll probably be where he gets a house. A room in the house."
I'd like to know about the actual sessions. How much has gone down on tape and how successful is it ?
Well, there's sufficient to bring out an album in September or October, probably October. Nine tracks, it needs two more.
I've been very satisfied with them. So has Joe. There's been a lot of incredibly good ideas and the directions are crystallising. It's all useable stuff. I'm going back to the States with the tapes. Probably mix them at Skyhill in California. But we'll probably do a whole lot more We never have plans. Actually, I venture to say that if we'd had two more incredible cuts we might've released an album in August. But we didn't.
No, Joe won't be coming to the mixing. He's not interested in mixing. The States ? He may, you never know. He's fairly spontaneous. He rings you up and says ' I'm on my way, what's happening ?' I never know what Joe is going to do. I can't say if he will.
"Really, you'll have to ask Joe."
It's funny you should say that. But
never mind. Thanks a bunch for taking time out to talk to me.