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Remembering Joe Cocker, One Of Rock's Most Distinctive Voices


British soul singer Joe Cocker died last week. He was 70 years old. He belted out songs for more than 40 years. Some of his biggest hits included his take on the Beatles "With A Little Help From My Friends," "Up Where We Belong" and The Letter."


JOE COCKER: (Singing). Oh, the lonely days are gone. I'm coming home. And my baby, she wrote me a letter.

WERTHEIMER: Joe Cocker spoke with Rachel Martin on this program back in 2012 when he released his album "Hard Knocks." Here's a portion of that interview in memory of Joe Cocker.


RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: When did you know that you could sing? Who was the person who said, Joe Cocker, you got something going on there?

COCKER: Rock and roll came into my life when I was about 12, 13, when Little Richard and Chuck Berry had just started hitting the shores of England. My brother had a skiffle band, as they called them back then.

MARTIN: I don't know what a skiffle band is.

COCKER: Well, it was when people couldn't afford instruments after the war and they started - you had a washboard and a tea chest upright bass and just a few acoustic guitars. I had a very high voice, and then suddenly my voice overnight did what voices do and found a new level.


COCKER: (Singing) Didn't take nothing that I didn't need, 'cause they didn't offer classes in what I want to be. They didn't offer manhood, responsibility. Had to learn it the hard way - earn my degree in the streets. Graduated from the hard knocks. I got my education from the hard knocks.

MARTIN: I think it's fair to say that you are one of the greatest interpreters of songs. What is the key to making a song your own?

COCKER: Well, sometimes it works. And, you know, I've done other times - I tried doing songs that I didn't really think happened. I did a version of "Whiter Shade Of Pale" one time that when you listen to it, you probably say, well, that's Joe Cocker singing a Procol Harum song. But like when you hear me doing "Little Help From My Friends," you know it's a whole different thing completely. When I did "Unchain My Heart," the Ray Charles (humming), we completely changed the rhythm and gave it a different attack. And it made it like a new song.


COCKER: (Singing) Unchain my heart, baby let me go. Unchain my heart, 'cause you don't love me no more.

MARTIN: I wonder when you're by yourself, when you're alone, is there a particular song that you have sung at some point in your career that comes to you that you end up singing to yourself?

COCKER: "You Are So Beautiful" I think is probably the, you know, the strongest tune I ever did in just the simplicity in it. It was originally a gospel song, and Billy Preston rewrote the lyrics that made it a bit - I don't know what he was thinking of - making more of a love song. But originally, it was a song to Jesus. There's a little thing at the end goes (singing) to me. You know the note?

MARTIN: I know it, yeah.

COCKER: Which when I sang it in the studio, I remember everyone pricking up their ears. You know, it kind of woke up something in me, that softer side that I have going for me. It comes into my mind a lot, that tune.


COCKER: (Singing) You are so beautiful...

WERTHEIMER: That was Rachel Martin's interview with Joe Cocker. You can hear their entire conversation from 2012 at npr.org.


COCKER: (Singing) Can't you see? You're everything I hoped for. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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