JOE COCKER’S MAD DOGS & ENGLISHMEN: Began recording March 27, 1970
Originally published March 27, 2015.
My wife and I have been talking for awhile now about the purpose that creating art plays in the role of the artist. From one perspective, it seems as though creativity is merely an outpouring of feelings; we feel something, and it manifests into a work of art. But another perspective ascribes an intentionality to it. That we follow this process with the intent of connecting with an audience. And when others understand our art, they understand that part of us that needed to be expressed, and collectively we all understand each other. It's a beautiful thought, and feeling it play out is almost irresistible. When a stranger tells you how much your art had affected them, it makes an artist feel connected to more than the stranger. It feels connected to a greater truth, an inter-connectedness among the universe. All art has a touch of this, and great art has a large helping of it. And some work is almost entirely made up of those connections. On March 27, 1970 Joe Cocker began a string of concerts at the Fillmore East in New York City which would later become the Mad Dogs & Englishmen album. It was an album unlike any rock album before it. It was strange and mysterious and not widely appreciated by critics. But it was a masterpiece, nonetheless.
To call Mad Dogs & Englishmen a "mistake" is a massive understatement. Cocker had been touring with his back-up band, The Grease Band, almost non-stop for over a year. The tour was brutal enough, but the hard-drinking, hard-partying musicians wore themselves down physically. Creatively, however, the band had gelled enough that musicians felt empowered and excited to try new things. As the tour ended, Cocker and The Grease Band parted ways, and the band itself broke up. It was an amicable split, but the members were simply too physically and mentally exhausted to try to figure out how to incorporate the different creative directions each member was drawn towards. The center simply could not hold. And so on March 11, 1970, Cocker hopped a fight to Los Angeles, where he planned to dry out, sleep plenty, and just enjoy spending time with musician friends. His recuperation lasted one day. On March 12, his manager informed him that he had booked a 52-city tour that the record label was requiring to fulfill contractual obligations. If Cocker refused, not only would he be in violation of his contract, he would be deported, his visa would likely be revoked, and he would be sued by the musician's union. Exhausted and without options, Cocker made a bunch of calls to L.A. musician friends and assembled the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour.
- 14 videos from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen concerts