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.
Joe Cocker Mad Dogs & EnglishmenThe Complete Fillmore East Concerts Universal
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.
This set begins with Russell exclaiming, "Come with us dear friends we'll take you down the aisle of rock & roll history," followed by the circus rave-up introducing the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women, on which Cocker changes the lyrics with every performance. This version eclipses the one originally released, with the caveat that Chris Stainton's piano is buried under the band. Cocker's voice is very well captured and preserved, as is Russell's guitar.
Next is "She Came In Thru' The Bathroom Window from the original recording, followed by the only performance of "The Weight from the four shows. A favorite of jam bands today, in 1970 the song was barely two years old, having been released on The Band's Music From The Big Pink
in July 1969. The song is transformed into a rolling juggernaut with Russell providing a simple guitar solo behind the only other voice (besides Levon Helm's) to do the song justice. "Cry Me A River is previously unreleased and comparable to the original release (from the second show, March 27th). Don Preston tears up "Further On Up The Road, relishing the big line-up.
Three additional inclusions not on the original release were John Sebastian's "Darling Be Home Soon, performed with an aching momentum, Claudia Lennear's deeply soulful "Let It Be, and Cocker's piece de résistance
, "With A Little Help From My Friends, which closed the show. This would have been a show to brag about having seen.
While this much of Mad Dogs
is more than the pedestrian Cocker fan would want, Mad Dogs & EnglishmenThe Complete Fillmore East Concerts
is the perfect historical release, documenting all of the music that was performed during an easily definable series of shows. The additional performances of previously released music plus the remaining unreleased material together compose an important document of the beautifully decadent state of rock & roll in the early 1970s, before the music was antiseptically homogenized and stripped of its inherent danger and romance. This is bracing, exciting music.
Joe Cocker Mad Dogs & EnglishmenThe Deluxe Edition Universal
Deluxe editions may be one of the devices labels use to extract ever more money from a shrinking population ageing hippies, but they do have an upside. Previously unreleased music sees the light of day in a form more acceptable to the general listening public than complete documents like The Complete Fillmore East Concerts
. Mad Dogs & EnglishmenThe Deluxe Edition
certainly fills the bill.
The set contains the entire original Mad Dogs & Englishmen
album plus performances never before released. Added to this release and not on The Complete Fillmore East Concerts
is a spurious jam containing a ragged "Under My Thumb that doubtlessly demonstrates how material was selected and practiced before the tour. Also included is the single release of "The Letter"/"Space Captain.
The sonics of the original are well scrubbed. This improvement in sound, coupled with the previously unreleased material, make this an acceptable set. In any event Mad Dogs & EnglishmenThe Deluxe Edition
is light years better than the original LP and CD releases. For the average Cocker fan, this deluxe edition will more than do.
Joe Cocker Mad Dogs & EnglishmenDVD Universal
And finally, the film. In 1971, the movie Mad Dogs & Englishmen
was the first of a new class of concert films which documented an artist over a single tour. It was big and brash, and full of the excess and hedonism of the 1970s. Because of its split-screen production, frank depiction of drug use and philandering, and its generally rebellious vibe, the movie might be seen as harsh and crude by today's standards.
That's not the angle from which to view Mad Dogs
. A period piece it may be, but it's a defining period piece. In early 1970, the United States was in the last quarter of the British beat group invasion. Up to this time, the greatest thing the British invasion did was to re-introduce American music to its blues roots. The Animals, The Rolling Stones, John Mayall & The Blues Breakers and The Yardbirds all repackaged the blues of the Deep South and Chicago and made America pay attention.
What Joe Cocker did was a next step. He repackaged the music of Stax-Volt and Atlantic-Muscles Shoals and showed America that she did indeed possess musical divinity in Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes...the entire Southern r&b/soul axis.
Released in 1971, Mad Dogs & Englishmen
has thankfully not aged gracefully. Compared to the antiseptically prepared concert films of the past several years (The Eagles' Hell Freezes Over
and Fleetwood Mac's The Dance
), Mad Dogs
is a glorious messfull of contemporary energy generated by playing a sexy, funky, rocking version of Southern-fried soul strained through British sensibilities. This is not note perfect music; it couldn't be because of early 1970s' technology. The performances are loose and fun, drunken and transcendentthe soul of rock & roll. Mad Dogs
is superior to Woodstock
in that it is more tightly focused in theme and form. However, there would have been no Mad dogs
first. This is true if for no other reason than Joe Cocker's incendiary performance of the Beatles' "With A Little Help From My Friends that not so much jump-started his career as radioactively detonated it. Woodstock
was a celebration of the musical counter-culture and Mad Dogs & Englishmen
was the perfect realization of it.
One of the first things striking the viewer of this newly remastered DVD release is the plethora of regional accents one is pummeled with. First, of course, is Cocker's boggy Sheffield brogue, thick and mossy with a slight interdental lisp. Next there were Okies Leon Russell, Carl Radle and Kim Keltner. Russell's dry, Lawton, Oklahoma twang is as astringent as moonshine and authentic as the dust bowl.
Then there were the Texans: Bobby Keys from Lubbock and Jim Price from Fort Worth, both speaking with the sweet light crude of the Southwest. Rita Coolidge and Bobby Jones lent their Tennessee tongue togs to the swirling mix, along with other band members from parts known and unknown.
The concert film is a very human endeavor. Cocker's "choir consists of various professionals and non-professionals including wives, girlfriends, friends and acquaintances, and as backup singers they sound so. They provide that big wet kiss of sound behind Cocker's plaintive wailing. Nowhere does the power of this group reveal itself better than the choruses of "The Letter, "Feelin' Alright, and "With A Little Help From My Friends. They made history as if they did it every day. The great humanity of the tour is evident in the tour mascot, a dachshund-terrier mix that is on stage with the band during its performances.
The lynchpin of the tour was Russell, whose presence on the recordings almost equals that of Cocker's. Russell acted as musical director, arranger, lead guitarist, pianist, lead vocalist and all around glue to the tour.
Contemporary criticism of the tour likes to accuse Russell of having taken advantage of Cocker, using the singer to advance his career. If that is true, then the whole band is guilty, as they almost all went on to bigger things. That is what makes this brief two-month tour a touchstone in music history. It was the moment when these musicians came together to play before they left for the Rolling Stones, Derek & The Dominoes and many of the defining recordings of the 1970s, and indeed of rock music itself.
Please see the companion article The Colossal Mess of "The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East"
Tracks and Personnel Mad Dogs & EnglishmenThe Complete Fillmore East Concerts
CD1: Honky Tonk Women; Let's Go Get Stoned; Sticks And Stones; Bird On A Wire; Cry Me A River; Superstar; Delta Lady; Something; Feelin' Alright; Space Captain; The Letter; Girl From The North Country.
CD2: Honky Tonk Women; She Came In Thru The Bathroom Window; Let's Go Get Stoned; Bird On A Wire; Cry Me A River; Superstar; Feelin' Alright; Something; Sticks And Stones; Blue Medley: I'll Drown In My Own Tears/When Something Is Wrong With My Baby/I've Been Loving You Too Long.
CD3: Space Captain; Hummingbird; Dixie Lullaby; Delta Lady; The Letter; With A Little Help From My Friends.
CD4: Honky Tonk Women; She Came In Thru The Bathroom Window; Sticks And Stones; Bird On A Wire; Cry Me A River; Superstar; Feelin' Alright; Something; Space Captain; Let It Be; Delta Lady; The Letter; Blue Medley: I'll Drown In My Own Tears/When Something Is Wrong With My Baby/I've Been Loving You Too Long; Give Peace A Chance.
CD5: Honky Tonk Women; She Came In Thru' The Bathroom Window; The Weight; Cry Me A River; Further On Up The Road; Darling Be Home Soon; Space Captain; Superstar; Delta Lady; Let's Go Get Stoned; Sticks And Stones; Let It Be.
CD6: Feelin' Alright; Something; The Letter; Give Peace A Chance; Blue Medley: I'll Drown In My Own Tears/When Something Is Wrong With My Baby/I've Been Loving You Too Long; With A Little Help From My Friends.
Personnel: Joe Cocker: vocals; Leon Russell: guitar, piano; Don Preston; guitar; Bobby Keys: tenor saxophone; Jim Price: trumpet; Chris Stainton: piano, organ; Carl Radle: bass guitar; Chuck Blackwell: drums, percussion; Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner: drums; Bobby Torres: congas; Sandy Konikoff: percussion; Daniel Moore, Donna Weiss, Matthew Moore, Pamela Polland, Rita Coolidge, Claudia Lennear, Bobby Jones, Donna Washburn, Nicole Barclay: background vocals. Mad Dogs & EnglishmenThe Deluxe Edition
CD1: Honky Tonk Women; She Came In Thru' The Bathroom Window; The Weight; Sticks And Stones; Bird On The Wire; Cry Me A River; Superstar; Feelin' Alright; Something; Darling Be Home Soon; Let It Be; Further On Up The Road.
CD2: Let's Go Get Stoned; Space Captain; Hummingbird; Dixie Lullaby; The Letter; Delta Lady; Give Peace A Chance; Blue Medley: I'll Drown In My Own Tears/When Something Is Wrong With My Baby/I've Been Loving You Too Long; With A Little Help From My Friends; Girl From The North Country; Warm-Up Jam Including Under My Thumb; The Letter; Space Captain; The Ballad Of Mad Dogs & Englishmen.
Personnel: Joe Cocker: vocals; Leon Russell: guitar, piano; Don Preston; guitar; Bobby Keys: tenor saxophone; Jim Price: trumpet; Chris Stainton: piano, organ; Carl Radle: bass guitar; Chuck Blackwell: drums, percussion; Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner: drums; Bobby Torres: congas; Sandy Konikoff: percussion; Daniel Moore, Donna Weiss, Matthew Moore, Pamela Polland, Rita Coolidge, Claudia Lennear, Bobby Jones, Donna Washburn, Nicole Barclay: background vocals. Mad Dogs & EnglishmenDVD
Tracks: Albion Introduction from The Anglo-Saxophone; Will The Circle Be Unbroken; Delta Lady; Feelin' Alright; Change In Louise; Darlin' Be Home Soon; Going To New York City; Superstar; We Love You Conrad; Please Give Peace A Chance; She Came In Through The Bathroom Window; Let It Be; The Letter; Sticks And Stones; Lawdy Miss Clawdy; Bird On A Wire; Honky Tonk Woman; Space Captain; Something; With A Little Help From My Friends; The Ballad Of Mad Dogs & Englishmen.
Personnel: Joe Cocker: vocals; Leon Russell: guitar, piano; Don Preston; guitar; Bobby Keys: tenor saxophone; Jim Price: trumpet; Chris Stainton: piano, organ; Carl Radle: bass guitar; Chuck Blackwell: drums, percussion; Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner: drums; Bobby Torres: congas; Sandy Konikoff: percussion; Daniel Moore, Donna Weiss, Matthew Moore, Pamela Polland, Rita Coolidge, Claudia Lennear, Bobby Jones, Donna Washburn, Nicole Barclay: background vocals.
Production Notes: 117 minutes. Recorded March 27-28, 1970 at The Fillmore East, New York City, New York. Format: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Live, Original recording remastered, NTSC. Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1.