In 1970 I was wearing out the grooves on a copy of Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Joe Cocker. That voice. What power, what soul, what raw emotion. I couldn’t get enough. If someone had told me then that sometime in this life I’d end up on a first name basis with that British invasion rock legend I would have asked them what drugs they were on.
Fast forward 26 years to the winter of 1996. We moved to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Colorado. I soon learned that the legend himself lived in the next town over – Crawford, CO – even tinier and more in the middle of nowhere. One dark, snowy night I was baking cookies. I turned on the local radio station and Joe was in the studio giving a live interview to his good friend DJ Geitz. I dropped everything, bundled up and walked the 3 blocks to town hoping I could get a glimpse of him through the window. I couldn’t. The blinds were drawn. It took another dozen years before I actually came face to face with him. In those years I learned that sightings were rare because he still toured the world most of the year and was still as powerful and vital a musical force as ever. I also learned that he and his wonderful wife Pam were legendary locally for their acts of charity. Aside from supporting every other local charity, their Cocker Kids Foundation funded computers, playgrounds, band uniforms, arts programs and more for underfunded schools. It funded dreams for kids who couldn’t afford them. It even kept the heat on in the winter in homes where paying the utility bills was a struggle. To raise funds for these gifts, the Cockers gave of themselves. They opened up their home for tours. They cleared out their closets and had yard sales. They hosted garden parties. And twice, they gave concerts. It struck me that this would be a very different world if everyone who had celebrity status used it to do good the way the Cockers did.
We finally met him when, in 2009, Pam called and hired us to play at their Halloween party. Joe was dressed as King Henry the Eighth. He was such a presence that it was easy to imagine that he was the reincarnation of King Henry. I stood next to him in my 60’s Carnaby Street costume too terrified to speak. The following year Pam called again and told us that Joe was doing another local concert for the Foundation and asked us if we’d like to open. They had rented the local fairgrounds. It held in excess of 4,000 people. A small crowd for Joe, but for me still the biggest thrill of my professional life. After that, we saw him from time to time at parties or out and about. He was always soft spoken (!), friendly, gracious and accessible – and very British. He greeted us by name and was more interested in talking about what we were up to than talking about himself. When he passed on last month, the outpouring of tributes world wide reminded me that he was an international superstar. Even so, I’m sure glad we got to know Joe Cocker, regular guy.