British-born John Robert Cocker got the nickname “Joe” as a child while playing a game called “Cowboy Joe.” A fan of soul singer Ray Charles and skiffle master Lonnie Donegan, Cocker first sang in public at the age of 12 with his brother’s amateur group. He moved through several small-time bands before beginning to record in 1964. Four years later Joe scored his first major UK hit with his distinctive version of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help >From My Friends.”
After an appearance at Woodstock in 1969, Joe’s fame soared – especially when his acclaimed “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour the following year resulted in two live-in-concert U.S. hits: “The Letter” (his remake of The Box Tops’ 1967 classic) and “Cry Me A River” (originally a Top 10 tune for Julie London in 1955) Cocker then toured the world multiple times over the next few decades, racking up more hits like “Midnight Rider,” “When The Night Comes,” “High Time We Went” and “You Are So Beautiful.” In 1982, he topped the charts with his Grammy and Oscar-winning “Up Where We Belong” — a duet with Jennifer Warnes from the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
Joe performed at President George Bush’s inauguration concert in 1989 and at Buckingham Palace in commemoration of the Holden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2002. In a 2010 interview, he talked about his expressive language disorder and how he turned that spastic-like handicap into a useful tool he used to shape his truly unusual blues-rock sound and style.