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John Robert "Joe" Cocker OBE (born 20 May 1944) is an English rock and blues singer, who came to popularity in the 1960s, and is known for his gritty voice, his idiosyncratic arm movements while performing, and his cover versions of popular songs, particularly those of the Beatles.
He is the recipient of several awards, including a 1983 Grammy Award for his #1 hit "Up Where We Belong", a duet he performed with Jennifer Warnes. He was ranked #97 on Rolling Stone's 100 greatest singers list.
Cocker was born on 20 May 1944 at 38 Tasker Road, Crookes, Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire. He is the youngest son of a civil servant, Harold Cocker, and Madge Cocker. According to differing family stories, Cocker received his nickname of Joe either from playing a childhood game called "Cowboy Joe"
Cocker's main musical influences growing up were Ray Charles and Lonnie Donegan. Cocker's first experience singing in public was at age 12 when his elder brother Victor invited him on stage to sing during a gig of his skiffle group. In 1960, along with three friends, Cocker formed his first group, the Cavaliers. For the group's first performance at a youth club, they were required to pay the price of admission before entering. The Cavaliers eventually broke up after a year and Cocker left school to become an apprentice gasfitter while he pursued a career in music.
In 1961, under the stage name Vance Arnold, Cocker continued his career with a new group, Vance Arnold and the Avengers. The name was a combination of Vince Everett, Elvis Presley's character in Jailhouse Rock, (which Cocker misheard as Vance) and country singer Eddy Arnold. The group mostly played in the pubs of Sheffield, performing covers of Chuck Berry and Ray Charles songs. In 1963, they booked their first significant gig when they supported the Rolling Stones at Sheffield City Hall. In 1964, Cocker signed a recording contract as a solo act with Decca and released his first single, a cover of the Beatles' "I'll Cry Instead" (with Big Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page playing guitars). Despite extensive promotion from Decca lauding his youth and working class roots, the record was a flop and his recording contract with Decca lapsed at the end of 1964. After Cocker recorded the single, he dropped his stage name and formed a new group, Joe Cocker's Big Blues. There is only one known recording of Joe Cocker's and Big Blues on an EP given out by Sheffield College during Rag Week and called Rag Goes Mad at the Mojo. It contained a cover of Curtis Mayfield's "I've Been Trying" and a track of "Saved".
In 1966, after a year-long hiatus from music, Cocker teamed up with Chris Stainton, whom he had met several years before, to form the Grease Band. The Grease Band was named after Cocker read an interview with jazz musician Jimmy Smith, where Smith described another musician as "having a lot of grease". Like the Avengers, Cocker's group mostly played in pubs in and around Sheffield. The Grease Band came to the attention of Denny Cordell, the producer of Procol Harum, the Moody Blues and Georgie Fame. Cocker recorded the single "Marjorine" without the Grease Band for Cordell in a London studio. He then moved to London with Chris Stainton, and the Grease Band was dissolved. Cordell set Cocker up with a residency at the Marquee Club in London, and a "new" Grease Band was formed with Stainton and keyboardist Tommy Eyre.After minor success in the US with the single "Marjorine", Cocker entered the big time with a groundbreaking rearrangement of "With a Little Help from My Friends", another Beatles cover, which, many years later, was used as the opening theme for The Wonder Years.