Great Britain taught America to be proud of her musical heritage by importing it, transforming it, and sending it back to her. The American South between 1920 and 1960 was a hothouse for all of America's great musical offerings: blues, R&B, country, jazz, and rock and roll. All of these genres germinated in the United States, migrated to Europeparticularly the United Kingdomattend finishing school and were carried back to the United States by, among others, The Animals, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, Led Zeppelin and Joe Cocker.
It was the latter of these who would, among other notables like Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Band, and Johnny Winter, earn his formal breakout at The Woodstock Music and Art Fair in 1969. Cocker and the Grease band had just completed a U.S. tour supporting With a Little Help From My Friends (A&M, 1969) and had returned home for some rest when the entire lot of them were brought back to the States for what was, at the time, the most important of music festivals. Cocker and the Grease Band took the stage Sunday morning, August 17, 1969 following Jefferson Airplane, and made rock history with a cover of a Beatles tune. Mad Dogs and Englishmen (A&M, 1970) was still a year off.
With a Little Help From My Friends, released April 1969before Woodstockand Joe Cocker! (A&M), released November 1969, established Cocker as a supreme song interpreter. He proved that definitive interpretations could be made of other prominent musician's music. As a Beatles interpreter, Cocker had no peer, a fact he illustrated with his Woodstock set closer "With a Little Help From My Friends" and later with "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window." He would go on to be a performer of choice for the songs of Randy Newman, Jackson Browne, The Beatles, Ray Charles, and Bob Dylan.
It was Dylan's music in abundance during Cocker's morning Woodstock set, paying tribute to the iconic songwriter with solid covers of "Dear Landlord," from John Wesley Harding (Columbia, 1967), "Just Like A Woman," from Blonde on Blonde (Columbia, 1966) and "I Shall be Released," from The Band'sMusic From Big Pink (Capitol, 1968). On "I Shall Be Released" Cocker competes with the most distinctive voice of the Band, Richard Manuel, giving him a run for his money. The inclusion of "Do I Still Figure in Your Life" and "Hitchcock Railway" lend gravity to Live at Woodstock in comparison with Mad Dogs and Englishmen which was a much more Leon Russell-centered affair.
The Grease band was tight...way tighter than Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Most criticism of Cocker in the period was that he did not keep the Grease Band and that criticism is justified. But Cocker's closing of his Woodstock set, with a fully transformed Beatles throwaway, made way for Cocker the R&B master to come forth and show America her hidden gems. Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett...Cocker belongs with all of them.
Personnel: Joe Cocker: vocals; The Grease Band: Chris Stainton: keyboards; Henry
McCullough: lead guitar; Neil Hubbard: rhythm guitar; Alan Spencer:
bass; Bruce Rowland: drums.