When I was in my early 20’s working at my first radio station, I brought some contest winners backstage to meet him. It was my first time being backstage at a concert, and Cocker couldn’t have been nicer. He took photos, signed my ticket stub, signed albums for the winners. Of course, when a rock star is backstage meeting fans, especially part of a promotion, they’re usually nice.
On that same bill was Stevie Ray Vaughn. I’ve told this story before but, the promoter told our winners they’d only be allowed to meet one of them in the dressing room/backstage area. Since they didn’t have a preference, they asked me if I did. I said, “Yeah, Joe Cocker.”
I loved Vaughn as a guitarist, but wasn’t fond of his voice. Yet when SRV died in a helicopter crash not long after, I regretted the choice; especially since I’d meet Cocker a few more times.
The first time I had gotten his autograph was as a teenager. Autograph Magazine (remember when we used to be in the newsstands?) had addresses on the back pages. It was always hit-and-miss trying to get people to sign in the mail, but I had a few things signed from the cast of “An Officer and a Gentleman” and wanted him to sign the album in which he did the theme song (and won a Grammy for). It came back 4 months later signed, but I didn’t do the best job with the self-addressed stamped envelope. It was a record album, and the cardboard of it wasn’t strong enough to handle the postal workers, and it was a wrinkled mess when it was returned. But hey…it had his signature on it.
I had planned to frame all the various photos from “An Officer and a Gentleman” but when the album, which had a few of the signatures, was in such bad shape…I just shelved the idea.
With the autographed ticket, I decided to frame it with a nice photo I had of Cocker at Woodstock, wearing his tie-dye shirt, and flailing about the stage like a whirling diverish.
It’s funny, I remember when I first heard Cocker, I hated him. I was a kid and his version of The Beatles “A Little Help From My Friend” was terrible. It was #1 in 1968, and hey…I was a kid. I liked hearing Ringo sing the tune. He sang “Yellow Submarine” and “Octopuss’ Garden.”
My older brother was watching a rerun of Saturday Night Live when I walked in the room, and saw John Belushi (who looked a lot like him in the face), doing the hysterical impersonation (I’d find out later, Paul McCartney offered him $30,000 to do it at a party, and he declined).
It wasn’t until I was going to SDSU, and watched The Wonder Years. That TV show used his version of “A Little Help From My Friends” as their theme song. It was perfect. It encapsulated the ‘60s, and it wasn’t Iron Butterfly or Steppenwolf classics. I was a fan.
The third and final time I met him was at a venue called Humphrey’s. It’s hard to meet the artists there, because it’s a nice resort on the water. They give the artists a room, and they’re not usually walking out to their tour buses and there’s lots of security. One time, the legendary Dion walked right up to some autograph collectors, and didn’t sign a thing. Robert Plant walked by me there, surrounded by 8 security guards. Yet, if the artist was nice (and not so obsessed with why you wanted an autograph), it was an easy score.
We almost didn’t recognize him as he casually walked over. There were four of us, and he started signing and talking. I told him my friend Kevin had gotten married and danced to his song. He laughed and said, “So many people over the years have told me they’ve had their first dance to ‘You Are So Beautiful’.”
I replied, “Yeah, yeah, it’s usually that song…but they did ‘When the Night Comes’ which is as good a ballad. It’s a beautiful tune.”
I was tempted to say, “As much as I love ‘You Are So Beautiful’…it’s a bit odd that you add, ‘…to me.’ That’s almost like saying, “You’re ugly and disgusting to everyone else, but you’re so beautiful, to me.”
After chatting us up for 15 minutes, he thanked us for supporting him and hanging out. I was pleasantly surprised to see one of the autograph collectors snapped a photo of us chatting, and he gave it to me a few months later. I don’t usually ask the artists to take photos with me, so it was kind of cool to have one.
It wasn’t that long ago that I saw Leon Russell, and wrote about that experience here. He was part of Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour in 1970. And since Cocker had been battling lung cancer for a few years now, I have to think Russell knew this when he shared stories about Cocker that night.
It’s a very sad day in the music world…but a groovy day in heaven.