John Robert " Joe " Cocker OBE 20 May — 22 December was an English singer known for his gritty voice, spasmodic body movement in performance, and distinctive versions of popular songs of varying genres. Cocker's main musical influences growing up were Ray Charles and Lonnie Donegan. Cocker's first experience singing in public was at age 12 when his elder brother Victor invited him on stage to sing during a gig of his skiffle group. In , along with three friends, Cocker formed his first group, the Cavaliers. For the group's first performance at a youth club, they were required to pay the price of admission before entering. The Cavaliers eventually broke up after a year and Cocker left school to become an apprentice gasfitter working for the East Midlands Gas Board, later British Gas , while simultaneously pursuing a career in music. Cocker is not related to fellow Sheffield-born musician Jarvis Cocker , despite a rumour to this effect particularly in Australia, where Jarvis Cocker's father, radio presenter Mac Cocker , allowed listeners to believe that he was Joe's brother ,   although Joe was a friend of the family and even did some babysitting for Jarvis when he was an infant. In , under the stage name Vance Arnold , Cocker continued his career with a new group, Vance Arnold and the Avengers. Despite extensive promotion from Decca lauding his youth and working-class roots, the record was a flop and his recording contract with Decca lapsed at the end of
BBC News Navigation
After starting out as an unsuccessful pop singer working under the name Vance Arnold , Joe Cocker found his niche singing rock and soul in the pubs of England with his superb backing group, the Grease Band. He hit number one in the U. November , went gold in America. Top Ten. Subsequent efforts were less popular, and problems with alcohol both on- and off-stage reduced Cocker 's once-powerful voice to a croaking rasp. Cocker returned to the U. He still charted during the '90s, albeit with less frequency than he did in the '70s and '80s. Across from Midnight arrived in , followed by No Ordinary World two years later. His complete Live at Woodstock performance was released in In , Hard Knocks -- his first studio album in three years -- appeared in Europe.
'Unchain My Heart'
Though he came of age musically as a member of the Woodstock generation, Joe Cocker was one of the last of the great rock interpreters. He became most famous for what he did with others' words, even in an era that prized songwriting more than singing. And so, any list of top Joe Cocker songs necessarily includes tunes written by others. But Cocker chose well — there are catalog items here from the Beatles , Ray Charles , Billy Preston, the Animals and Traffic , among others — and then he often had the guts to radically rework them. Add in his famous gravel-gargling vocals, not to mention a few foot-stampingly loose jams from a series of ace sidemen, and Joe Cocker's audacious updates often actually superseded even the celebrated originals. Here are 10 of the best examples:. By the time they were done with this song, it had become a searing cry for love — and almost, but not quite, the equal of Russell's version. A long-awaited pass at one of Charles' signature songs, "Unchain My Heart" arrived too late to receive the definitive update it deserved from Cocker. Oh, he's in fine voice, singing with a sandpapered desperation.