Happy Birthday Joe Cocker: Performing ‘Feelin’ Alright’ On ‘Ed Sullivan’ In 1969
Today marks what would have been Joe Cocker’s 77th birthday. The beloved singer sadly died on December 22, 2014 after a battle with lung cancer. John Robert Cocker was born on May 20, 1944 in Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire, England. Cocker would go on to develop one of rock’s most distinctive voices, not to mention one of its wildest stage presences: head cocked, arms akimbo and singing straight from the most unbridled part of his soul.
Cocker was influenced by Ray Charles early on and although Joe had a unique singing style, his gravely delivery and rock ‘n’ roll screams certainly reminds of Ray but also the howling of the blues, of which Cocker was also an avid fan. In 1963, Cocker, performing under the stage name Vance Arnold, opened up for another group of avid blues fans, The Rolling Stones.
But it was the music of The Beatles that helped Cocker find fame. In 1964, Joe signed a deal with Decca, the label that notoriously rejected the Fab Four. Cocker would record The Beatles’ “I’ll Cry Instead,” which featured young guitarist Jimmy Page among others. While the single didn’t do well, four years later Cocker would record another Beatles number, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” which also featured Page on guitar. Buoyed by the grittier arrangement, as well as Cocker’s rocking vocals (the scream in Joe’s version is one of the best in rock), “With A Little Help From My Friends” hit No. 1 in the UK in November 1968.
The success of “With A Little Help From My Friends” earned Cocker and his Grease Band a U.S. tour in spring 1969 which included a spot on The Ed Sullivan Show. Much like The Beatles, the Ed Sullivan play broke Joe to a much wider audience. But instead of performing “With A Little Help From My Friends,” Cocker chose to play the opening track on his upcoming, cover-filled album (also called With A Little Help From My Friends), the Dave Mason-penned Traffic song “Feelin’ Alright.” Although Traffic’s version is stellar, it’s Joe’s rendition that is ubiquitous on classic rock stations to this day.
In honor of Joe Cocker’s birthday, watch the renowned singer perform “Feelin’ Alright” on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969 below via the Jambase Live Video Archive for this edition of Throwback Thursday: