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True Blue from Ellis Kell
Argus/Dispatch blues columnist


In recognition of The Blues ongoing impact on music and cultural history, both in America and around the world, the United States Congress has proclaimed the year 2003 as the "Year of the Blues". For more information, visit: on the web.



On July 20th we took a little road trip west to see one of my all-time favorites, Joe Cocker, in concert at the historic Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines. The trials and tribulations of this musical icon have long been recorded in the rock history books. From early days in Sheffield, England and his early blues band efforts in the pubs of Britain, on to Woodstock, the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour that left him totally burnt out and battered by the music business, the battles with the personal demons and beyond - Joe Cocker is a survivor. All this will unfold for Cocker fans young and old, in the new biography by J. P. Bean due out from Virgin Books sometime next month. The title of the new biography is, of course (what else could it be?), "Joe Cocker: The Authorised Biography"

Early in his career, Joe Cocker's power as a vocalist and song stylist was described by LIFE Magazine in the following quote: (Joe Cocker is.) "The voice of all those blind criers and crazy beggars and maimed men who summon up a strength we'll never know to bawl out their souls in the streets." I personally don't think anyone has ever characterized what it is that Joe Cocker does any better than that. Whether he's roaring through a rocker, belting out an R&B classic like the tour title track "Respect Yourself," or whispering a tender ballad - the passions are every bit as intense.

In concert today, Joe Cocker is in complete control of his music, his presentation, and at the top of his game. In his current ninety minutes plus set, Cocker delivered a mix of a few new numbers and virtually all the favorites any Joe Cocker fan would want to hear. Backed by a killer five-piece band along with two of the hottest female back-up singers I've ever heard (or seen), Joe sang each song with the purpose and power of a debut performance. The flaying arms and twisting gyrations that John Belushi once parodied on Saturday Night Live have subsided into graceful hand gestures, refined to now more closely resemble a conductor's movements. This fine wine continues to improve with age - fifty-nine this year, to be exact.

From early favorites like "The Letter," "Hitchcock Railway," "Feelin' Alright," to more recent years' tracks such as "When the Night Comes" and "You Can Leave Your Hat On," the legendary vocalist delivered one Cocker classic after another, smiling with sincere appreciation to the packed Val Air Ballroom. In a tender moment, Joe gave a passionate rendition of Randy Newman's "Everytime It Rains." In another instant, he absolutely exploded into the opening lines of Lennon & McCartney's "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window." The classic rock anthem "With A Little Help From My Friends" transported us all backstage, via dream helicopter, to that magic and manic Grease Band performance at Max Yasgur's farm in August of 1969. Thirty-five years later - it still warms the heart and stirs the soul.

Very special thanks to Music Circuit Presentations and Clear Channel for presenting "An Evening With Joe Cocker" at the Val Air, and to Mr. Cocker's personal management for the media courtesies provided to us. For more information on the new Joe Cocker biography from Virgin Books of London, visit on the web. J. P. Bean's new book promises to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, in the legendary rock epic of this true blue survivor.

New Blues Fer Youz.

"Time Will Tell," Robert Cray (Sanctuary Records) 'Young Bob' is back with a fresh new collection that also features Sly & The Family Stone Horns, the Turtle Island String Quartet, and Luis Conte as guests. Cray explores bold new horizons on this disk, introducing an electric sitar to the mix - in addition to his signature, sweet stinging Stratocaster licks. For more on the web, visit:

"Shout, Sister, Shout - A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe," Various Artists (M. C. Records) An all-star tribute to the legendary Sister Rosetta Tharpe features tracks from Joan Osborne, Maria Muldaur, Bonnie Raitt, Michelle Shocked, Sweet Honey In The Rock, Odetta, Phoebe Snow, Janis Ian, Marcia Ball, Victoria Williams, Tracy Nelson, Angela Strehli, Marie Knight, and our old friend Joanna Connor. Joanna was quoted as saying, "Sister Rosetta is a woman who walked with Jesus, and you can feel that reaching out to you, the listener, through time and space, through her sweet voice and sparkling guitar work." This very special collection brings out some the finest ladies and top shelf talent in the blues business today, and one of the most inspired new disks we've heard yet this year! For more on the web, visit:

"Blues Kingpins Series" - Fats Domino, Ike Turner, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin ' Hopkins, Elmore James and B. B. King (The Right Stuff/EMI) This classic collection of reissues features six 'best of' packages. A portion of the proceeds will be designated to benefit the Blues Foundation. These classic post-war releases have been reissued in conjunction with The Year of the Blues. This is the first time that many of these historic blues recordings have been released in CD format. The project was the brainchild and passion of The Right Stuff's president Tom Cartwright. The Right Stuff label introduces this collection as, hopefully, only 'the first batch in the series!" We hope so, too - as these are legendary tracks to add to any blues collection. For more on the web, visit:

That's plenty for you all to chew on for this month, so I'm headin' on down the road. Until we meet again at this crossroads, peace, love & blessings to all and.

Blues to 'ya!

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