English rock singer Joe Cocker, best known for his iconic covers of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” and Billy Preston, Bruce Fisher, and Dennis Wilson’s “You Are So Beautiful,” passed away today following a battle with lung cancer. Born on May 20, 1944, in Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire, he was 70 years old.
Twin Cities music fans will recall that Cocker was the first act to ever play at First Avenue, then known as the Depot. He played two back-to-back nights on April 3 and 4, 1970 to rave reviews. “Cocker, with his mad dog hippies and musicians was sensational,” wrote music critic Connie Hechter in his magazine Connie’s Insider.
Here’s an excerpt from the review of that show:
And here’s a photo of Joe Cocker playing the Depot that first night, shot by Connie’s Insider staffer Mike Barich:
Cocker played the Depot with his backing band Mad Dogs and Englishmen during what many consider the peak of his career; his cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends” had skyrocketed to #1 on the UK charts and he delivered a blazing performance at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. He would later go on to chart-topping success with his 1975 single “You Are So Beautiful,” and would win a Grammy in 1983 for his duet with Jennifer Warnes on “Up Where We Belong.”
In addition to his gravelly, soulful voice—a style that he said was influenced by his love for Ray Charles and Lonnie Donegan—Cocker was also known for his writhing, uninhibited stage presence. The late John Belushi famously impersonated his performing style in a 1975 sketch on Saturday Night Live, and later joined Cocker on stage during a 1976 performance on the show.
Here’s a look at Belushi impersonating Joe Cocker on SNL:
And here’s some footage from Cocker’s 1970 tour, which gives you an idea of what his shows were like at the Depot: