x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Joe Cocker lining up for a new Dubai experience

When Joe Cocker lines up on stage next month, just two days after his 67th birthday, it will be a new experience for the 'old blues cat'.

British blues and rock singer Joe Cocker performs on stage during a concert in his Hard Knocks world tour.
British blues and rock singer Joe Cocker performs on stage during a concert in his Hard Knocks world tour.

DUBAI // As he prepares to turn 67, there are not many things Joe Cocker hasn't done. But when he gets on stage next month, just two days after his birthday, it will be for a new experience: the rock legend's first ever Dubai gig.

And he hopes, as is often the way at his concerts these days, to be playing for a new generation of fans whose parents were not ever born when he started playing.

"It's a certain breed of young people," he says of his fans. "I think a lot of kids wish they'd been alive in that time period, the sixties were a magic time."

But now that Cocker is well into his own 60s, does he not tire of life on the road?

"A lot of those old blues cats kept going," he said, speaking to The National from his Colorado ranch. "Over the years I've said to people I'm going to retire four or five times. In 2000 I said to my wife Pam, I want to be done with this.

"But it's a buzz, you get out with good musicians and I still think I've got something to play, it's not like we want you to just come along and clap.

"I think we put out some good music and I'll go on as long as I feel that and I don't feel exhausted. I do an hour and a half on stage then an encore, I'm not like the Eagles who did a four-hour show, I couldn't deal with that. But I enjoy it."

Famous for his nerve-shredding singing style, in recent years he has adapted his technique. "I sing almost like an opera singer, where you use your diaphragm and breathing technique. I just learned to sing that way, it's something I learned.

"I used to blow my voice out so often with sore throats, and it's one of these things that dawned on me, what I was doing wrong."

So what can fans expect to hear from Joe and his band at Al Badia Golf Club on May 22?

"It'll be pretty much head on," he added. "I only do two or three songs off the new album, Hard Knocks, but basically we go into 'Unchain My Heart', 'You Can Leave Your Hat On', 'You Are So Beautiful' - songs that I know have survived the test of time.

"It's a rock and roll set. We fine tune it with little additions here or there, but I've always pretty much finished with With a Little Help From My Friends, and that'll be in there."

Cocker, who grew up in the English steel town of Sheffield, shot to prominence in 1969 after performing that song at the Woodstock festival.

"I had a band, the Grease Band, we'd gone from Sheffield, we had a hit in England - and in the space of one year here we were walking out in front of 200,000-plus people.

"I don't think anyone knows to this day how many were there, it was a massive crowd, and we felt like we had a good day. The memory of it will always stay with me, there were so many people but they weren't there for a commercial reason, it was music. You didn't see any Pepsi signs or anything, it genuinely was free."

In recent years Joe has returned to the music he grew up with. "I'll listen to Lady Gaga or whatever when I'm driving in the car with my wife, but I find myself listening to the blues channels a lot, I've gone back to listening to the old guys. I can't sit here and say I honestly keep up to pace with the new acts.

"When rap came on the scene I knew there was talent there, but it's just that when you've grown up with Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles you've had some heavy teachers."

He has explored different styles over the years, perhaps most memorably in the Oscar-winning show-stopper Up Where We Belong, which he sang with Jennifer Warnes for the soundtrack of An Officer and a Gentleman. But he has no intention of changing his basic approach.

"People try to get you to reinvent," he said. "I am an R&B singer at heart and when people try to get me to go into some other realm it's not something I constantly want to do. I'm a white soul singer, that's my craft."

csimpson@thenational.ae