The Colossal Triumph Of Joe Cockerís Mad Dogs & Englishmen
The phenomenon known as Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen turned 35 years old in 2005. A six-disc limited edition box set, Mad Dogs & EnglishmenThe Complete Fillmore East Concerts, was released to commemorate the anniversary, and documents all four shows performed by the band at New York's Fillmore East Auditorium on March 27th and 28th, 1970. Released concurrently were the two-disc Mad Dogs & EnglishmenThe Deluxe Edition and a remastered DVD of the original concert movie.
This review looks at all three of these commemorative releases.
The original recording Mad Dogs & Englishmen is included in my Top Ten Live Rock Recordings and remains one of the most important live rock recordings preserved. The tour is perhaps the only late "rock & roll revue to have had any commercial and critical success, a miracle when one considers the tight timeframe of the tour and the well-earned reputation of rock musicians.
The 1970 Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour was a late-in-the-day, hastily organized appendage to a longer tour Cocker was due to complete early in the year in support of his With A Little Help From My Friends and Joe Cocker! albums. Since late 1969, Cocker and his Grease Band, anchored by Chris Stainton, had been engaged in grueling promotional road work for the albums. At the end of the tour, Cocker and the Grease band parted on amiable terms, each to pursue other creative avenues.
Cocker arrived in Los Angeles on March 11th, 1970 for some rest and relaxation after the stressful and decadently excessive tour. While in LA, Cocker intended to spend his time hanging out and assembling a new band.
As legend has it, however, on March 12th, Cocker's manager Dee Anthony revealed other plans. Anthony announced that he had booked a seven-week (48 nights in 52 cities) tour set to commence in eight days. Anthony further explained that should Cocker not agree to the tour, the Musicians' Union, immigration authorities and concert promoters involved would be disinclined to allow him back into the States to tour in the future. Needless to say, Cocker was caught flat-footed, exhausted, and perhaps a bit burned out.
Seeing an opportunity to help his friend and promote his own growing front-man status, musician-composer-producer Leon Russell assembled a band comprised of Grease Band members and a group of talented studio wonks known to Russell through his already lengthy career.
In the bargain, Russell became the tour's musical director, lead guitarist, pianist and overall Svengali. After several 10-plus hour rehearsals with his new band (whose numbers were to increase over the life of the tour), Cocker and company hit the studio, recorded and released the single "The Letter"/"Space Captain and then took to the road, kicking off in Detroit, Michigan and finally ending up in San Bernardino, California two months later.
The importance of the releases from this tour cannot be overestimated. The essence of rock & roll music, warts and all, was captured in both audio and video formats. The tour was one of the principle catalysts in the tempering of the golden age of popular music that began in the mid-1950s and ultimately ended with the advent of disco.
Mad Dogs & Englishmen - The Complete Fillmore East Concerts
The concert tapes that ultimately became Mad Dogs & Englishmen were derived from the four shows performed at the Fillmore East eight days into the tour. The original two-LP set assembled 14 performances from the 61 pieces performed over the two March days. Notable in this original release were those songs that were not included. For instance, where was "With A Little Help From My Friends? Cocker had slayed the Woodstock crowd just eight months prior to Mad Dogs with the Beatles' classic as well as Dylan's "I Shall Be Released. The Beatles' "Something was a standout from Joe Cocker! but this too was not included.
Fortunately, these songs have been restored on The Complete Fillmore East Concerts, and digitally remastered to boot. Also restored are compelling performances of The Band's "The Weight, John Sebastian's "Darlin' Be Home Soon, "Further On Up The Road, performed by Don Preston, and "Let It Be, performed by Claudia Lennear. Included too are Russell's "Hummingbird and "Dixie Lullaby. These pieces have the added distinction that they were not repeated in the course of the four shows. They are evidence of the loose circumstances surrounding the performances that added to the excitement of the Mad Dogs' tour.
Hindsight provides the unique opportunity to address the new material in light of the original release. All of the performances are uniformly fine. However, I found no need to pick and choose between takes as the fourth and final show on March 28th is easily the best.