A few days ago, I had thought that I would probably sit down to write about this week’s song on December 26th, which is the feast day of St. Stephen, and would say something about the Grateful Dead’s “St. Stephen.”  Then, on December 22nd, Joe Cocker passed away and so a short remembrance seems appropriate.

On August 17, 1969, Joe Cocker opened the final day of the Woodstock festival, playing for nearly half a million fans of music and the counterculture.  Another group on the Woodstock stage that day was the British blues-rock band, Ten Years After.  I was not there.

One week later, on August 24, 1969, both Cocker and Ten Years After were playing for perhaps half a thousand fans at a roller skating rink in Denver called Roller City Central.  I was at that concert.

I had worked that summer for the Post Office as a seasonal letter carrier.  My job had ended the previous week because school was about to start.  I had spent a couple of days camping in the area around Guanella Pass in the Colorado Rockies; then, on the night of the concert, I met my friend Annette at the home of her friend Ann, which was less than a mile from Roller City.

There was also a third band called Apple West on the bill that night.  I don’t remember anything at all about its music.  I recall that when Ten years After played I was amazed at how fast Alvin Lee could move his fingers on the guitar.  However, I want to talk about Joe Cocker here.

He was touring with a group of musicians known as the Grease Band.  His first American record had been released that Spring, and he had played a short set at the Denver Pop Festival in June; but most people knew very little about him.  After he was introduced, the band began a jazzy instrumental.  It wasn’t exactly what one would call “cool” jazz.  It was a little farther down on the temperature scale and brought to my mind the song by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band called “Jazz Delicious Hot Disgusting Cold.”  Annette asked me, “Which one is Joe Cocker?” and I said that I didn’t know.

None of them was Joe Cocker, it turned out.  It was just the Grease Band.  When the song was over, the band began the intro to the next number – I believe it was Bob Dylan’s “Dear Landlord” – and Cocker came out and sang it beautifully (in his own inimitable style).  At the end of the song, he acknowledged the applause, rubbed his eyes, and said “Thank you.  It’s great to be back in Denver.  This is Denver, isn’t it?”

What I recall about Joe Cocker over the years is that inimitable style.  He was singer, and not so much a musician or composer.  Back in those days, critics referred to him as a white version of Ray Charles; which led me to wonder why we needed such a thing when we still had the original Ray Charles.  Cocker was more, though.  His delivery was certainly influenced by Charles, but it was his personal “soul” that made his music so much fun to hear.

For nearly 20 years before his death, Joe Cocker’s home was in Crawford, Colorado – a town of some 400 residents on Colorado’s Western Slope.  There, he was appreciated for his philanthropic work with youth in the area and for being “a great guy to hang out with.”

Somewhere along the line I read a review of his version of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” that said his entry was more like a fat man slipping on a bar of soap. That is sort of how I remember him appearing on the stage at Roller City (though he was not fat).  It had been sort of quiet and boring for a few minutes – and then whooom!, what a voice.  Here’s the song:

“She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”
By John Lennon and Paul McCartney

She came in through the bathroom window
Protected by a silver spoon
But now she sucks her thumb and wanders
By the banks of her own lagoon

Didn’t anybody tell her?
Didn’t anybody see?
Sunday’s on the phone to Monday
Tuesday’s on the phone to me

She said she’d always been a dancer
She worked at 15 clubs a day
And though she thought I knew the answer
Well I knew what I could not say

And so I quit the police department
And got myself a steady job
And though she tried her best to help me
She could steal but she could not rob

Didn’t anybody tell her?
Didn’t anybody see?
Sunday’s on the phone to Monday
Tuesday’s on the phone to me
Oh yeah




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