Five years ago, High Notes published my interview with Joe Cocker. Earlier that year, WellSpring co-founder, Jennifer Mandaville (and her three children) and I traveled to The Mad Dog Ranch in Crawford, Colorado, to interview Joe, followed by Jennifer’s conversation with his wife Pam for her story about the Cocker Kids Foundation – the couple’s benevolent organization dedicated to the children of Delta County.
It was to turn out to be Joe’s last in-depth interview.
It is hard to overstate what the story meant to High Notes. It immediately delivered a notable bump to our cred. But as I look back on the day, it is equally hard to describe what it meant to me – a man, yet always a boy who graduated high school a year after Woodstock, during the year Mad Dogs and Englishmen was released – to share that time with Joe, person-to-person, eye-to-eye. To have a conversation with him, in which he said our names, in which he softly sang the line ‟You are so beautiful” during a story he told about playing with his mentor Ray Charles.
I struggle with it as I write this, now. Is it nothing more than hubris to want to share the experience with you? To want to pause and describe the power and weight that it carried for this small-town boy from the bowels of flyover country?
Most of us have met celebrities and had to remind ourselves they are just people – ‟one leg at a time” and all that. But that is the point. Cocker was candidly human. He seemed at ease as he talked about his struggle with substance abuse during the Mad Dog days. About hoping that one day – ‟when they give up on me as a pop star” – he would be allowed to make the one blues album he wanted to make so badly but never did.
Joe seemed to show up ready to talk Perhaps it was because what he found when he came downstairs at the appointed time was a contemporary, someone who knew his work on personal level from back in the the day – not some 20-something who had to do his research before composing one relevant question. I don’t know, but talk he did; and not at us – to us, with us. Listening as I described seeing him in 1972 at the Shrine Mosque in Springfield, Missouri, a bottle at the base of the mic stand – his unease with the rapt audience between songs. The way the unease dissolved when the music started and he crawled back inside the song.
Interviews have always been an important element of High Notes. Jennifer interviewed Little Feat’s Fred Tackett for our very first issue. Most often, quotes from our conversations are laced with fact and information and our own take on the time and place, and we have a story. But when Jennifer and I returned to the car, and after we had both said “Oh, my God!” a couple of times each, we agreed that this was going to have to be a Playboy type Q&A. A brief set-up, some decent questions and let the man talk.
During the course of his conversation with Jennifer and me, Joe became our six degrees of separation from Ray Charles, Leon Russell, Jimmy Page, James Brown, Adele, Paul McCartney and more. Not because he knew them, but because he shared them with us.
When I mentioned ‟A Little Help from My Friends,” Cocker said McCartney had more or less conceded the song to him. He added: “I saw Paul at an event and he said – and here Joe’s voice and mannerisms changed as he mimicked McCartney – ‛So. Yours is the definitive version of ‛A Little Help’ is it?’”
The three of us burst out laughing.
If you were to ask me what in the world I am doing in the treacherous world of print journalism on purpose – at an age that I should be floating a river, drowning some worms and enjoying my ‟golden years” – I might just answer:
“Well, there was that day me’n Joe Cocker hung out and he told me about his life in music.
“That was pretty cool.”