Joe Cocker - vocals; Neal Hubbard - rhythm guitar; Henry McCullough - lead guitar, background vocals; Chris Stainton - piano, organ, background vocals; Alan Spenner - bass, background vocals; Bruce Rowland - drums
1969 had been a monumentally successful year for Joe Cocker, who, along with the Grease Band, had engaged in a grueling tour schedule in support of his first two albums. Initially formed in 1966, the Grease Band had evolved over the previous three years and Cocker's touring lineup featured Henry McCullough on lead guitar, Chris Stainton on keyboards (a future mainstay of Eric Clapton's touring bands), rhythm guitarist Neal Hubbard and bassist Alan Spenner (both of whom would join the British soul combo Kokomo), and future Fairport Convention drummer Bruce Rowland.
That same year found Cocker and the Grease Band performing at several large festivals during the US tour, including the Newport Rock Festival and Denver Pop Festival. Catching wind of the Woodstock Festival then being planned, Cocker's manager, Denny Cordell, convinced the organizers to book Cocker, which would become the most celebrated performance of his career. Following his devastatingly intense performance of the Beatles' "With A Little Help From My Friends" and its subsequent inclusion in the Woodstock theatrical release and album, Cocker's career would take a meteoric trajectory. Before year's end, he would appear on high profile television shows like The Ed Sullivan Show and This Is Tom Jones and his second album (containing two more outstanding Beatles covers) would become a substantial hit.
Presented here is Joe Cocker and the Grease Band live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West just two months after their Woodstock performance. Relentlessly touring since spring of that year, this is Cocker and his original band near their peak, headlining a four-night run that included the Move and Little Richard opening. This recording, from opening night of that run, captures Cocker and the Grease Band in all their glory and proving that Cocker is possibly the greatest interpreter of Beatles' songs. This set features half a dozen covers, and despite not including "With A Little Help From My Friends," contains no less than three Beatles covers, all of them captivating and full of originality.
Things begin with Cocker and The Grease Band covering Pete Dello's achingly soulful "Do I Still Figure In Your Life?" The tape feed, which initially has Cocker's vocal low in the mix, leaves more vocal to be desired, but one can still enjoy a fine bluesy performance nonetheless. The vocal situation is corrected during the next number, a hard rocking cover of the Beatles' "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window," one of two new Beatles covers featured on Cocker's new self-titled album at the time. This is followed by Cocker belting out another Beatles classic, with his deeply soulful reading of "Let It Be." Cocker and the Grease Band give the song more gospel flavoring than the original, and at a time when the Beatles version was still fresh and new, Cocker's reading brings a whole new intensity level to the song.
The centerpiece of the set is an expansive jam on the Box Tops hit, "The Letter." Again, Cocker fuels the song with a vocal intensity few others could rival and the song serves as a launching point for the Grease Band to stretch out a bit and jam, which they do most admirably. This is followed by Cocker delivering a dazzlingly soulful read on George Harrison's "Something," the second of the new Beatles tunes featured on his new album. The recording concludes with Cocker and the Grease Band's high spirited interpretation of Traffic guitarist Dave Mason's "Feelin' Alright." Like all the previous numbers, Cocker's vocal breathes new life into an already great song, taking it to unexpected places much to the delight of the discerning San Francisco audience.
Relentless touring would continue through the early months of 1970 at which point Cocker and the Grease Band would go their separate ways. Cocker would soon team up with Leon Russell to form the massive Mad Dogs & Englishmen entourage and achieve even greater recognition. Here in 1969, when many high profile singers were heading in the direction of tightly choreographed performances lacking in spontaneity, Cocker was clearly heading in the opposite direction, embracing a loose, raw approach that was thoroughly in the moment and all the more potent for it.