Joe Cocker Mad Dogs & Englishmen Page 2

'The communal thing was real heavy at the beginning, everybody sticking together and doing everything together,' remembered drummer Jim Keltner. 'It was 1970 and we were still in the Love period… flowers and love and free sex and all that. The whole Mad Dogs thing was definitely one big, wild party.'

Keltner went further: 'Real decrepit things went on. Laying every chick in sight. Most were there for that purpose. The drugs were just as easy to get. I wasn't a stranger to them myself. Now I feel like I'm lucky to have survived them.'

The tour's rock 'n' roll decadence continued through Chicago, Cincinnati and other stops along the way, and Cocker's health began to suffer and the pressure told on him. As well as fronting the show, Cocker also had to cope with the additional burden of handling all of the media interviews. 'On that tour I didn't eat a lot and got skinnier and skinnier, ended up weighing about 150lbs,' he later stated. 'I wasn't feeling great. I kinda lost control.'


When they arrived in New York on March the 27th, there was a further complication to be faced, because the two shows at the Fillmore East were to be recorded for the soundtrack album. But even before entering the venue, the massive entourage was beset with a number of additional hassles.

'The logistics of it were pretty amazing,' revealed Russell. 'Just to arrive, for example, at The George Washington Hotel in Manhattan, with 45 people and find that the elevators were out… we had rooms as far up as the 40th floor.

'We had to walk up carrying all of our bags. Those kinds of things, with people spilling out onto the streets of Manhattan, became pretty much news events on their own.'

Psyched Up
The tour was indeed making news wherever it went, but its high public profile didn't cause any reining-in of the hedonistic behaviour. Jim Keltner, describing one scene in The Fillmore, declared, 'We all got into a big huddle, swaying back and forth, getting ready to go on. Everybody was psyching themselves up. And somehow, somebody had slipped some angel dust into something and all I remember is that I came to on the floor, in the hallway, among all kinds of garbage and cigarette butts. And somebody was tapping me on the shoulder, 'Jim, come on, we gotta play. It's time to go on.'

At the Seattle concert, Keltner was so blitzed on LSD that he had to abandon his drum kit and he was replaced by Chuck Blackwell. Another of the tour's drummers, Jim Gordon, was 'hearing voices' and is said at one point to have punched Rita Coolidge. Russell, meanwhile, was apparently assuming more and more control of the tour.


Pulling The Strings
'He'd make it obvious on stage,' said Cocker. 'I'd be singing and he'd go “Alright! Come on!”. He'd make it look to the audience as if he was pulling all the strings.' So, aggravated by the pressure, the drugs and the lack of proper nutrition, Cocker's normal easy-going demeanour changed. 'He was starting to become very evasive and not very communicative,' remembered A&M co-founder Jerry Moss. 'Joe was a guy that, especially during that tour, would never say “No” to anybody about anything.'

Coolidge, understandably, became desperate to get off the tour but when she tried to explain why to Cocker, 'He would sorta turn round and look at me with that face sweeter than Jesus Christ and say, “You can't leave me. You cannot leave this tour. You're the only friend I've got.” And I couldn't leave. I'm telling you – his heart was the only thing that kept him going.'

After the tour finally ground to a halt on May the 17th at Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino, Cocker reportedly collected a $10,000 payment but this was reduced to a meagre $862 after all the expenses required by his punitive contract were taken out.


Salvage Job
Contemporary reviews establish fairly conclusively that, despite the whirling maelstrom surrounding them, the stellar Mad Dogs band played some fantastic shows but, when it was all over, on listening to the tapes, Denny Cordell and Leon Russell were disappointed, feeling that they did not reflect the quality – not to mention the spirit and excitement – of the live shows.

The English engineer Glyn Johns, famed for his work with The Stones and Led Zep, was brought in to salvage whatever he could. It was only his ministrations that turned the tapes into an acceptable live album. Still, the huge media interest in the tour, and the success of the first single, 'The Letter', helped it to reach No 2 in the USA and No 16 in the UK.

'“The Letter” was the first hit for Joe [from this album] and provided a tremendous glimpse of his amazing musical force,' was Jerry Moss's assessment. 'The record went platinum, it also showed this incredible menagerie of musicians.'

Whatever the shortcomings of Mad Dogs & Englishmen, no other live album so accurately captures the distilled essence of how it was to be there and to experience the furthest extremes and excesses of the era.