HARD TIMES: Rocker Cocker brings his soulful charm and new songs to Riga.
RIGA - He’s been a major player in the music business for more than forty years. He’s released 21 studio and four live albums. His unmistakable bluesy soul voice is a musical trademark in its own right. He’s sold millions of records and has had massive hit singles all over the world. He is a Grammy, Golden Globe and Academy Award winning artist. Without any doubt, Joe Cocker is not only a true musical legend, but one of the most successful and popular singers of the last four decades.
This October will see the long awaited release of Joe Cocker’s first album for the Sony Music Label Columbia Records, entitled “Hard Knocks.” The album was produced by Matt Serletic (Matchbox Twenty, Rob Thomas, Collective Soul, Carlos Santana) and includes nine brand new songs plus Cocker’s version of the Dixie Chicks song “I Hope,” produced by Nashville legend Tony Brown.
“Fans who’ve been around long enough to remember me all those years ago will probably understand the album title.” But despite the rough theme and atmosphere that it suggests, Cocker devotees (who had to wait more than three years for new material from the singer) don’t have to be worried about a hard-edged new musical direction; far from it. “Hard Knocks” is much more pop than any of his releases in recent years – especially his last album. “With Ethan Jones, who I love and with whom I made ‘Hymn For My Soul,’ in 2007, we almost did it like a ‘demo record.’ We were using no electronics and no special effects,” explains Joe Cocker.
The ten new tracks on “Hard Knocks” were recorded with Matt Serletic at the helm. It’s the first collaboration between him and Cocker. “I met quite a few producers at the time I met Matt,” says Cocker. “We were just having a chat in his studio. I said that I wanted to make a modern record, but not too modern. I know I’ve got to compete with 25-year old kids here, but I’m not Green Day and all that! I felt the vibe from him that we could make something a little different together.”
Another producer Cocker had a go with was none other than Nashville legend Tony Brown, who once played piano for Elvis Presley. “Oddly enough, we have the same accountant,” laughs Cocker in reference to the link-up. “He’s quite a character. Actually, we also cut another track but it didn’t fit the bill for the kind of record I wanted to make.” The one that actually made the cut is also the only cover version on the album, the Dixie Chicks song “I Hope” (from their 2006 album “Taking the Long Way”). For a singer who is legendary for refining other people’s songs with his unique voice and interpretational style, the quantity of brand new original songs on “Hard Knocks” might be unexpected, even for long-standing die-hard Cocker fans.
“I used to take a lot of flak for doing covers, especially from younger people and the press,” he remembers. “And in mid-production everyone was saying: ‘Well, Joe, they are going to expect a couple of covers,’ and at one point we were talking about doing a duet with Joss Stone. I’d really like to sing with her, but for some reason we never got the right song. But when I finally delivered ten tunes they were happy enough and I thought: It makes a change.”
Unlike other bands and musicians who reliably praise their latest musical output as being their best ever, Joe Cocker pleasantly doesn’t believe in all the “next level” hype and rather lets the punters decide how “Hard Knocks” rates amongst his other works. “I guess it’s only about my 21st album in forty-odd years. That doesn’t seem a lot,” he muses. “I wait till I get feedback from the people. I haven’t even played it to them yet.” The singer will have to hold back his curiosity at least till late September. Then not only will the new album be released, but he will also be touring Europe – for the first time since 2007.
Playing live is and always has been an integral element of his job and one that Joe Cocker always enjoyed immensely. Apart from presenting the songs from “Hard Knocks” live for the first time, he prepared another little surprise for his fans. “There are some songs that were quite successful, but always have been neglected for the live shows,” he explains. “Of course we always do ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On’ and ‘Unchain My Heart,’ but now I want to do a little montage in the middle of the show that includes some old songs like ‘Simple Things’ and ‘Tonight.’”
The legendary singer will perform the only concert in the Baltic States on Sept. 30 at Arena Riga. Tickets are still available, so hurry up and get your pass to a “Hard Knocks” tour on time!