Sunday, July 06, 2008


When I was a kid the standard knock against Rock from adults was that they couldn't understand what the guy was saying.

"Louie, Louie" aside, that never made much sense to me, until I dated one girl who thought Jimi Hendrix was gay ("Scuse me while I kiss this guy") and another who was scandalized by Springsteen ("Wrap your hands 'round my inches"). And then "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came along and I knew they weren't writing songs guys my age were supposed to decode.

Among those the generation before me couldn't understand was one of England's great Blues artists, Joe Cocker. Most North Americans became aware of Joe through a stunning debut performance at "Woodstock".

I must have seen that film 20 times and he and fellow countrymen "Ten Years After" always blew me away.

If you ever get the chance, you should also catch another performance film he did, "Mad Dogs & Englishmen", a rock-doc that chronicles Cocker's tour with Leon Russell and friends.

As a budding performer, there was a defining moment in that one for me; a long, lingering pan of the dressing room after one of the shows. Leon Russell and the band crank the tops off bottles of Jack and Southern Comfort as the place fills with groupies, record execs and hangers-on eager to party. The shot ends on Cocker, slumped in the corner, soaked in sweat, wrapped in a towel and utterly, utterly spent.

It was a lesson that a true artist leaves it all onstage.

The only time I saw him perform was 20 years after Woodstock in a small Toronto bar trying to build its rep on burned out rockers. There were only a handful of people there and most of them couldn't have cared less who was onstage -- or maybe they just couldn't understand what he was saying.

Here's Joe at Woodstock in a mash-up that has a little fun with his performance style and lyrical interpretation but gives you a glimpse of a great artist in full flight.

Enjoy your Sunday.


James Goneaux said...

Interesting that your post would include the two artists who have had the best cover versions EVER: Hendrix' "All Along the Watchtower", and Cocker's "Little Help From My Friends", each of which could be argued are not only better than the originals, but on an entire other plane.

Actually, most of Cocker's covers fit this description.

Someone clue in the "Idol" set...

monster paperbag said...

Definitely. Hendrix's "Watchtower" is the greatest cover version of all time.