Woodstock was Cocker’s big break in the United States. He had a minor hit here in 1968 with “Marjorinne,” but his 1969 US tour in support of his latest album is what landed him on music’s most legendary stage. I can’t find the citation, but I swear that I remember hearing Woodstock producer Michael Lange say that he’d only heard Cocker prior to the show, and thus was surprised to be introduced to a 25 year-old Brit rather than an old black soul singer. Forgive my shoddy journalism on that point, and if you find that reference somewhere please let me know.
Regardless, that story is easy to believe. Even at that young age Cocker’s voice was pure, weathered soul. Joe’s take on “With A Little Help From My Friends” is easily one of the most iconic moments from the festival, but his whole set is brilliant. Some of the songs haven’t held up too well (“Something’s Coming On,” “Let’s Go Get Stoned”), but even where the material is dated the performance is timeless.
So that’s the good news. On the downside, Joe’s disheveled appearance and spastic air guitar led to decades of jokes and parodies, most famously by John Belushi in the early days of Saturday Night Live. Not every singer can be a bronzed, ripped golden god like Roger Daltrey, cut the guy a break.
Cocker was supposed to be the first performer on Sunday’s bill, but time management and Woodstock are not two terms that go together well. By the time Joe and the Grease Band finally hit the stage around two in the afternoon, Creedence, Joplin, Sly, and The Who already had put in time on Sunday, August 17.
The Grease Band – why don’t these guys get any love in Woodstock lore? Even on the day of the event announcer John Morris added them as an afterthought: “Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Joe Cocker – let’s go for Sunday! (pause) And the Grease Band!”
But they were no afterthought. The Grease Band was a tight, bluesy unit as good as they come. They put together two albums post-Cocker — 1971’s The Grease Band and 1975’s Amazing Grease that are must-listens. Here’s a taste:
The most complete version of Cocker’s Woodstock set can be found on the CD Joe Cocker: Live at Woodstock, though sadly it does not include the two Grease Band-only tracks. Here’s Joe’s and the Grease Band’s complete Woodstock set list, all available on the aforementioned CD except where indicated:
- Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring (Grease Band only, unavailable)
- 40,000 Headmen (Grease Band only, unavailable)
- Dear Landlord
- Something’s Coming On
- Do I Still Figure In Your Life
- Feelin’ Alright
- Just Like A Woman
- Let’s Go Get Stoned
- I Don’t Need No Doctor
- I Shall Be Released
- Hitchcock Railway
- Something to Say
- With A Little Help From My Friends
Your official Woodstock soundtrack song count to date: 147
Next week: Country Joe and the Fish