When the great session saxophone player Bobby Keys was writing his autobiography a couple of years ago, one of the many old colleagues he called upon to reminisce about the old days was Joe Cocker.
Trouble was, there were a lot of things about those wild times in the late '60s and early '70s that were pretty blurry.
“You know it was funny,” Cocker said in a recent phone interview from Mad Dog Ranch, his home for the last 20 years in the West Elk Mountains of Colorado.
“He comes up to the house with his publisher and he says, ‘OK, do you remember that?' And I went, ‘No.'” Cocker laughed. “‘Do you remember that?' ‘No.' I mean neither of us could remember much about it at all. Some people said that about the '60s.”
But that's when the rock 'n' roll shouter from Sheffield, England, first made an indelible imprint on the consciousness of American music lovers. Who could forget that tangle-haired, tie-dye-clad Englishman doing that herky-jerky, air-guitar-playing dance as he put his own hard-edged, gravelly growling, rhythm 'n' blues stamp on the Beatles' “With a Little Help from My Friends” in front of 500,000 Woodstock witnesses?
Cocker does remember something about that day in the summer of '69.
“Over the years it's more like a photograph that I picture when I go back to that time,” he said, his British accent still thick as ever. “'Cause that morning when I flew in — you know, I went in a separate helicopter, the band had gone ahead — and I flew in in one of those little bubble helicopters, and I'll never forget seeing that crowd coming into view, slowly but surely, and it was like I didn't know what it was.
“I just saw all this movement and I asked the pilot, ‘What's that?' And he said, ‘That's where you're gonna be singing.' … You know, comin' from Sheffield and just playin' the bars, with suddenly this ginormous crowd, you know what I mean? Woodstock was like the end, the finale of it all that year, '69, in the Grease Band. It was like a climax to it all.”
He also remembers the following year, when he and Leon Russell put together a 40-piece band and toured the world as Mad Dogs & Englishmen. That run resulted in a hit movie and one of the bestselling albums of Cocker's career. It also made a star out of Russell, but Cocker hasn't spoken to the Oklahoma-born Mad Dogs bandleader in 42 years.
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Joe Cocker and Huey Lewis & the News
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Zoo Amphitheatre, 2101 NE 50.
Tickets: Protixonline.com; (866) 977-6849; participating Buy For Less locations.