Joe Cocker, who became popular in the 1960s, is known for his gritty voice, his idiosyncratic arm movements while performing, and his cover versions of popular songs, particularly those of The Beatles. He is the recipient of several awards, including a 1983 Grammy Award for his song "Up Where We Belong," a duet which he performed with Jennifer Warnes. He was ranked #97 on Rolling Stone's 100 greatest singers list.
-----John Robert Cocker was born in Crookes, Sheffield, England. Cocker received his nickname of Joe either from playing a childhood game called "Cowboy Joe" or from a neighborhood window cleaner named Joe.
Cocker's first experience singing in public was at age 12 when his elder brother Victor invited him on stage to sing during a gig of his skiffle group. In 1960, along with three friends, Cocker formed his first group, the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers eventually broke up after a year and Cocker left school to become an apprentice gasfitter while he pursued a career in music.
In 1961, under the stage name Vance Arnold, Cocker continued his career with a new group, Vance Arnold and the Avengers. The name was a combination of Vince Everett, Elvis Presley's character in Jailhouse Rock, and country singer Eddy Arnold. The group mostly played in Sheffield pubs, performing covers of Chuck Berry and Ray Charles songs.
In 1963 they booked their first significant gig when they supported The Rolling Stones at Sheffield City Hall.
In 1964 Cocker signed a recording contract as a solo act with Decca and released his first single, a cover of the Beatles' "I'll Cry Instead" with Jimmy Page playing backup guitar. Despite extensive promotion from Decca lauding his youth and working class roots, the record was a flop and his recording contract with Decca lapsed at the end of 1964.
After Cocker recorded the single, he dropped his stage name and formed a new group, Joe Cocker's Big Blues. There is only one known recording of Joe Cocker's and Big Blues on an EP called Rag Goes Mad at the Mojo.
In 1966, Cocker teamed up with Chris Stainton, whom he had met several years before, to form the Grease Band. Like the Avengers, Cocker's group mostly played in pubs in and around Sheffield.
The Grease Band came to the attention of Denny Cordell, the producer of Procol Harum, the Moody Blues and Georgie Fame. Cocker recorded the single "Marjorine" without the Grease Band for Cordell in a London studio. He then moved to London and the Grease Band was dissolved. Cordell set Cocker up with a residency at the Marquee Club in London, and a "new" Grease Band was formed.
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-----After minor success in the U.S. with the single "Marjorine," Cocker entered the big time with a groundbreaking rearrangement of "With a Little Help from My Friends," another Beatles cover, which was later used as the opening theme for The Wonder Years.
The Grease Band embarked on their first tour of the U.S. in spring 1969. Cocker's album With A Little Help from my Friends was released soon after their arrival and made number 35 on the American charts.
During his US tour, Cocker played at several large festivals, including Woodstock. Directly after Woodstock, Cocker released his second album, Joe Cocker! Impressed by his cover of "With A Little Help From my Friends," Paul McCartney and George Harrison allowed Cocker to use their songs "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and "Something" for the album. Recorded during a break in touring in the spring and summer, the album reached number 11 on the US charts and garnered a second UK hit with the Leon Russell song, "Delta Lady."
At the end of 1973, Cocker returned to the studio to record a new album, I Can Stand A Little Rain. The album, released in August 1974, was number 11 on the US charts and one single, a cover of Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful," reached the number 5 slot.
Despite positive reviews, Cocker struggled with live performances, largely due to his problems with alcohol. In January 1975, he released a second album that had been recorded at the same time as I Can Stand a Little Rain, Jamaica Say You Will. Throughout the 1980s, Cocker continued to tour around the world, playing to large audiences in Europe, Australia and the U.S.
In 1982, at the behest of producer Stewart Levine, Cocker recorded the duet "Up Where We Belong" with Jennifer Warnes for the soundtrack of the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman. The song was an international hit, reaching number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and winning a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo. The duet also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
In April and May 2009, Cocker conducted a North American tour in support of his album Hymn for My Soul.
In May 2010, Cocker joined Season 9's American Idol Lee DeWyze and first runner-up Crystal Bowersox, for a version of "With a Little Help From My Friends."