My mother sent me the wrong album.
I was a freshman in college and I told her to send me the second Band album and Joe Cocker’s debut. But she sent me "Stage Fright" and Cocker’s second album. And as a result, I know every lick on each of those records. You see I was a freshman in college and I refused to overpay for albums at the Vermont Book Shop, ergo the request for my mother to go to Korvette’s and purchase the records I wanted at a discount.
This plan did not last. Thereafter, I waited for vacations to purchase records, which I often did at the rate of nine or ten a clip. Whereupon my mother asked me why I didn’t buy a tape recorder and record them from someone else. And that’s when I informed her NO ONE ELSE BOUGHT THE RECORDS I DID!
She kept bitching and I kept buying and as a result we end up here today.
And don’t give me a hard time, I described the above-mentioned albums in detail. I wanted the brown Band album… Then again, there was a sepia-toned photo wrapping most of "Stage Fright". I don’t know exactly how I described Joe Cocker’s debut. But I’m thrilled she sent me the second… Because it’s better, it’s the BEST!
1. "Hitchcock Railway"
I have no idea who Don Dunn and Tony McCashen are, but they wrote this song. Yet Joe Cocker and the Grease Band made it their own.
Start with Chris Stainton’s piano intro. Then go to the percussion, which sounds like spoons banging on drum rims. And then there are the backup vocals.
Imagine getting buzzed on Boone’s Farm, getting on a train with your musician friends and WAILING!
That’s exactly what "Hitchcock Railway" sounds like.
It’s not made for the hit parade, maybe that’s why it lasts, why it’s as fresh today as it was in 1970.
"Hitchcock Railway" is a tear, a runaway train, if this doesn’t get you jitterbuggin’, YOU’RE DEAD!
2. "Dear Landlord"
At this point, I did not own "John Wesley Harding", but after becoming infected by Joe’s rendition, I bought a used copy from a junior in Starr Hall. That was the last time I ever did this, it was like he’d ironed his skis upon it, I treasure my vinyl, my collection is still pristine, I could donate it to a museum, there are no fingerprints and no self-inflicted scratches, well, maybe an accidental few, and as a result I ended up buying a new copy of "John Wesley Harding" and Joe’s version is completely different musically from Dylan’s original but it introduced me to those famous lyrics:
Now, each of us has his own special gift
And you know this was meant to be true
And if you don’t underestimate me
I won’t underestimate you
That’s my creed. I was brought up in a family that looked down upon people, that carved up the populace, but Dylan is right, we each have our own special gift, it may not be book learning, but how many times have you gotten insight from someone supposedly dumb? Wisdom can’t only be gained in school.
I’m including Bob’s original in the playlist, because it’s better, but Joe introduced me to the song…and you should know it.
3. "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window"
It’s got a rollicking barroom feel as opposed to the Beatles take, it’s almost serious instead of ethereal and fun like on "Abbey Road", but it was a radio staple and it’s GREAT!
Less meaningful than the original, it was one of the very first covers of this second most covered Beatles song. It’s less precious than the Beatles version, and with the heaviness removed it breathes.
5. "Bird On A Wire"
Once upon a time Leonard Cohen was not the icon he is today. As a matter of fact he was decried as a poet poaching in music. Funny how time has a way of settling scores.
Joe lined Leonard’s coffers with this cover, he helped change Cohen’s image.
6. "Delta Lady"
This track is such a killer that I had to immediately go to the mall and buy Leon Russell’s solo debut at the one record store in Bridgeport, Connecticut that stocked it.
Joe’s take is a funky romp that dominated the airwaves, but if you haven’t heard Leon’s take you’re in for a treat.
Leon had something to prove. He saw no need to be subtle, he threw in everything, including the kitchen sink. And his vocals evidence a magnetism that draws both males and females to him. That’s the power of music, that’s why it eclipses money.
But in 1970, musicians were as rich as anybody.
But then Leon convinced Joe to go out with twenty-odd pieces as Mad Dogs & Englishmen and Joe got too drunk and ended up too poor but if you saw that show, not only were you blown away, YOU’LL NEVER FORGET IT!
I had my viewing at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester. Joe fronted the band, but Leon was the king of cool, in his top hat. And we were all in love with Rita Coolidge, who was truly cool. Sure, it about bankrupted Joe but wasn’t it a great era where the music led and money took a back seat?
Stay in til 3:07 when Leon screams, the song changes and Leon scat/raps… It’s a TOUR DE FORCE!
7. "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and "That’s Your Business"
They paled in comparison, but separate them from the winners on this album and they’re truly solid. "Hello, Little Friend" is even better.
8. "Darling Be Home Soon"
THE PIECE DE RESISTANCE! A certified classic. Joe makes this Lovin’ Spoonful song his own, it stands as tall as the original.
Why don’t they sing this on those idiotic television vocal competition shows?
It’s the piano playing of the aforementioned Chris Stainton that truly makes the track. And the backup vocals help…but that’s not to minimize Joe’s contribution.
But credit the arranger. And listen to the original. It’s the intimate flip side the same way George Harrison’s "Something" is to Joe’s rendition.
There’s not a wasted word, there’s poignant imagery, but isn’t it true, ain’t that the human condition, we’re not made to be alone, we want you to come home soon.
Long-haired Chris Stainton went on to play with a multitude of bands and is now most often seen with Eric Clapton.
Guitarist Henry McCullough most famously went on to become a member of Wings, it’s his guitar solo that graces "My Love".
Bruce Rowland, the drummer, ultimately played with Fairport Convention.
Alan Spenner died in 1991, after putting his bass on the bottom of a who’s who of musicians’ work, from Ted Nugent to Murray Head to David Soul to Roxy Music.
And the above four put out two records on their own, as the Grease Band.
As for the session musicians, Clarence White died before his time, struck down by a drunk driver.
"Sneaky Pete" Kleinow died in 2007, after gracing a cornucopia of records, most famously the Flying Burrito Brothers’.
Your jaw will drop when you read Milt Holland’s percussion credits. Everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Ry Cooder to Joni Mitchell. He left us in 2005 at the ripe old age of 88.
Paul Humphries was a journeyman with some good drumming credits.
Supposedly Steve Winwood played bass on "Dear Landlord". We cannot heap enough praise upon this musician who not only survived teen stardom, but prospered.
Which brings us to the backup singers…
Merry Clayton eventually acted, it’s a hard life being a backup singer, but she deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for her contribution to the Stones’ "Gimmie Shelter" if nothing else.
Bonnie Bramlett had one bright moment with her husband Delaney at the turn of the decade, from the sixties to the seventies, when Eric Clapton and Dave Mason joined their band. Then Eric became Derek, stole the eventual Dominos and Bonnie’s career faded.
Patrice Holloway passed in 2006, but before she did she was the singing voice of Valerie on "Josie and the Pussycats".
Sherlie Matthews’s credits are almost as extensive as those of Milt Holland, even if her name is much less recognizable.
Rita Coolidge got her own solo deal as a result of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen hoopla and released such an over-produced record with so many credits that her solo career was stillborn, she never became a big star. She eventually married Kris Kristofferson and has faded away, she does not radiate, but those who lived through the seventies will never forget her.
Which brings us to Leon Russell. Who used Joe Cocker as a springboard to a solo career that eclipsed Cocker’s and flamed out in a fit of hubris, most famously with the interminable, execrable "Leon Live".
And Joe Cocker never recovered. He became an alcoholic, he got fat, and the follow-up to Mad Dogs & Englishmen was the disappointing "High Time We Went". Eventually he cleaned up and had some MTV hits, but his glory days were behind him. He was a superstar and couldn’t handle it. You think you want to be famous, that you want to own the world, but you have no idea how lonely and disconcerting it is.
But at least Joe’s still here, unlike his famous imitator John Belushi.
One great thing about records is they never change. You can’t return to 1970, but if you listen to this album you’ll get the idea. It was an era when music ruled the world, and the son of a civil servant from Sheffield, England could become internationally famous, and respected.
Listen to this album, you’ll see why.