Joe was born in Sheffield, England on May 20, 1944, the youngest son of a civil servant. By 1961 Joe worked as an apprentice gas fitter by day, and by night, in dark suit and bow tie, became "Vance Arnold" singing with The Avengers in rough Sheffield pubs. The bands biggest moment came in 1963 when they supported The Rolling Stones at Sheffield City Hall, and brought the house down.
The following year, Joe quit his day job and recorded his first single, a cover of The Beatles "I'll Cry Instead." His band, Joe Cocker Big Blues, built up a large following in the north of England and ventured to France for a two month stint, playing on American airbases.
The servicemen, many from America's deep south, loved Joe. The French called him "Le Petit Ray Charles". Unfortunately when he returned home to England the bottom had fallen out of the local scene and Joe Cocker Big Blues folded.
For an entire year, Joe never had a single gig. Then along came the man Joe has called the greatest musician in the world, Chris Stainton, and soon after, "The Grease Band" was formed.
It didn't take long before a demo found its way to Denny Cordell, the producer of The Moody Blues, Georgie Fame and Procul Harum. Cordell liked what he heard of Joe, and soon set him up in London with a residency at The Marquee.
Joe and The Grease Band recorded a tune called "Marjorine", which became a minor success in the U.K. Shortly thereafter, they recorded "With a Little Help From My Friends," produced by Denny Cordell of A&M Records. This album featured guest performers Jimmy Page, Steve Winwood and Matthew Fischer. It quickly took off and received airplay on both sides of the Atlantic. The title track on the album is arguably Cocker's best, it became a major highlight of the Woodstock Festival in 1969.
In 1970, Joe sold $3 million worth of records in America alone. His first three albums went platinum and Playboy voted him number one vocalist in their annual jazz and rock poll. Joe's music was universally lauded by the critics, especially songs such as "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," "Delta Lady," "Darling Be Home Soon," and his rollicking rendition of "Hitchcock Railway."
After two years of constant touring, Cocker was ready for a break and wanted to go home. This, however, was not to be the case. He had made commitments to appear in concerts throughout the states and the U.S. Immigration Department said the contracts must be honoured or he was in danger of never being able to work again in America. With some help from Leon Russell, a motley group of talented musicians was quickly formed to fulfill the promised concert dates. The "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour produced an album and a movie detailing the zaniness and the circus-like atmosphere of the forty three person entourage. They whipped through thirty nine cities in a little less than two months. After this endeavour, Cocker was physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and in trouble legally and financially. He went into seclusion, travelling in his van around England, making an attempt to find himself again.
In the ensuing years, 1971 - 1974, there were numerous reports of alcohol and drug abuse. His episodes of public drunkenness were as well known as his talents, and the music industry mavens had written Cocker off as "washed up, an early burn-out." The albums released during this period included "Joe Cocker," "I Can Stand a Little Rain," "Stingray," and "Jamaica, Say You Will." None of them were artistically great, nor did they come close to the commercial successes of his previous releases. There were some songs that received airplay, "High Time We Went," "Fun Time," "Put Out the Light," and "You Are So Beautiful." There was a period of about four years where he didn't record at all; instead, he toured constantly, playing mostly small clubs to pay the bills and to satisfy his need to perform.
As the 80's dawned, Joe was invited by The Crusaders to join them on a song they had written exclusively for him - "I'm So Glad I'm Standing Here Today." The lyrics said it all and Joe received a standing ovation when he sang the song at the Grammy Awards.
From that point on, Joe has gone from strength to strength, aided undoubtedly by the love and support of his wife, Pam, who he married in 1987. His Capitol albums from "Civilized Man" onwards have been tremendously successful. "Cocker," "Unchain My Heart" and "One Night Of Sin" all turned platinum, (the latter also delivering Joe's most recent US top ten song "When The Night Comes," written by Bryan Adams). Joe's album "Night Calls," the title single penned by Jeff Lynne, turned gold and headed towards platinum all across Europe within weeks of its release in autumn '91. Joe also sang "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" on the Elton John/Bernie Taupin tribute "Two Rooms," which has sold over 3 Million copies worldwide.
His duet with Jennifer Warnes on "Up Where We Belong", the theme from "An Officer And A Gentleman," brought an appearance at the Oscars ceremony in February 1983 and a hit worldwide, including Joe's first American number one.
Joe Cocker has also sung theme songs for the movies "9 1/2 Weeks," "Harry and The Hendersons," "Bull Durham," and "An Innocent Man."
In 1995, A&M Records released "The Long Voyage Home", a four CD box-set with material, some previously unreleased, that encompasses the highlights of Joe's career. This album is a must have for any Cocker fan. Sony Music has released the "Organic" album. On this one, many of Joe's hits have been reworked, giving them an entirely new sound. Some notable cuts include "Anybody Seen My Girl", "You and I" and an outstanding version of "You Are So Beautiful".
2004 brought Cocker's final album to reach the Billboard 200, "Heart And Soul", which peaked at #81.
In 2007, Joe appeared in the film Across the Universe, as the lead singer on another Beatles hit, "Come Together". He was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in the Queen's 2007 Birthday Honours list for services to music. To celebrate receiving his award in mid December 2007, Joe played two concerts in London and in his home town of Sheffield. In May, 2009, he toured North America in support of the album, "Hymn For My Soul". On May 26th, 2010, Cocker joined American Idol Season 9's Lee DeWyze and first runner-up Crystal Bowersox, for a version of "With a Little Help From My Friends". Later that year, he sang on "Little Wing" for the Carlos Santana album, "Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time", released in September 2010. That was followed by a European tour later that Fall. 2011 saw Joe tour Australia with George Thorogood as his opening act. His twenty-second and final studio LP, "Fire It Up", was issued in November, 2012.
Fans were saddened to learn of Joe's passing on December 22nd, 2014 at the age of 70.
Joe Cocker's ability to take a song, rework it from his soul and make it entirely his own was a talent that few performers in the music industry have. His career was full of ups and downs but he continued to be one of Rock music's strongest assets. Joe Cocker was a survivor, a star, a Rock legend. He had hit records in the 1960's, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Success brought with it a grueling schedule of recording and touring, but after more than forty years on the road he never eased up. He told reporters in 2012, "As long as being on stage is fun, as long as I enjoy that part and still get a buzz out of performing, then I'll keep going out there." And despite battling lung cancer in his final years, that's exactly what he did.