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Singer Joe Cocker Dies at Age 70
From the Wall Street Journal of Mon, 22 Dec 2014 23:14:09 EST
Joe Cocker, at an undated concert.
Joe Cocker, at an undated concert. Zuma Press

In a field of more subdued English singers, Joe Cocker stood out as a soulful belter whose intensity was mirrored in his frenetic body language on stage.

The influential British rock and blues singer known for his gravelly voice and unbridled performance style, died at age 70 at his home in Crawford, Colo., on Monday following a battle with lung cancer, said a representative at his agency, Marshall Arts.

Mr. Cocker’s raw rendition of the Beatles song “With a Little Help From My Friends” brought him U.K. fame in 1968. He appeared as a tornado in a tie-dye T-shirt at the Woodstock music festival the following year and in the accompanying concert film, which established him as a star in the U.S. and an enduring symbol of 1960s rock.

Bouts of substance abuse during the singer’s commercial peak in the 1970s marred his vocals and made his live performances notoriously erratic. Still, Mr. Cocker’s career endured for more than 40 years. He released 22 albums and experienced several resurgences through 2013, when he released his most recent album, “Fire It Up: Live,” and toured Europe.

Born on May 20, 1944, in Sheffield, England, John Robert Cocker joined his first band, the Cavaliers, in 1959. After an abandoned apprenticeship as a gas fitter and several false starts in his singing career, Mr. Cocker caught momentum with his group the Grease Band. The band (supplemented by Jimmy Page ) backed him on his breakthrough recording of “With a Little Help From My Friends.”

Following his Woodstock appearance, he joined the U.S. musician Leon Russell on an elaborate concert tour, which yielded the live album and concert film “Mad Dogs & Englishmen.” The project earned Mr. Cocker two U.S. hits with the standard “Cry My a River” and his cover of the Box Tops song “The Letter.”

In 1975, Mr. Cocker released one of his most famous singles, “You Are So Beautiful.” Written by Billy Preston, the ballad highlighted the subtler side of his singing abilities during an otherwise troubled time in his life.

Mr. Cocker had a comeback in 1982, when he recorded the duet “Up Where We Belong” with singer Jennifer Warnes. The song, featured in the soundtrack to the film “An Officer and a Gentleman,” hit No. 1 and earned Mr. Cocker an Academy Award and a Grammy.

In 2007, Mr. Cocker was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to music.

He is survived by his wife, Pam, along with his brother, a stepdaughter and two grandchildren.

Write to John Jurgensen at john.jurgensen@wsj.com



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