Mad Dogs & Englishmen at the Fillmore: March 27, 1970

Joe Cocker

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Mad Dogs & Englishmen at the Fillmore: March 27, 1970 Review

by Lindsay Planer

This triple-CD title gathers every note of Joe Cocker's March 27, 1970 appearance at Bill Graham's Fillmore East in New York City. The all-star tour was the indirect result of Joe Cocker's precipitation-evoking appearance at Woodstock. Cocker was shanghaied -- by publicists, promoters and managers wanting to make money off his success -- into what would become the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. The star had been on the road for over a year without a sizable break and had split with his backing combo, the Grease Band. With less than two weeks until opening night, Cocker called on studio musician/producer and multi-instrumentalist Leon Russell (guitar/bass/piano/vocals) to be his musical director of sorts. Russell would hunt down a band as well as provide a sizable portion of the playlist. Once the dust had settled, Chris Stainton (keyboards), Don Preston (rhythm guitar), Carl Radle (bass), Jim Gordon (drums), Jim Keltner (drums), Chuck Blackwell (percussion), Sandy Koninoff (percussion), Bobby Torres (congas), Jim Price (trumpet) and Bobby Keys (sax) were joined by a ten-person "choir" whose membership boasted Rita Coolidge (vocals), Claudia Lennear (vocals), Daniel Moore (vocals) and Nicole Barclay (vocals).

The band's repertoire stuck to covers of well-known concurrent or fairly recent rock songs. Namely, the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman," -- which Cocker chose to anoint with new lyrics -- the Beatles' "Something," Traffic's "Feelin' Alright," the Box Tops' "The Letter" and Leonard Cohen' s "Bird on a Wire." "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," "With a Little Help from My Friends," and the Russell solos "Hummingbird" and "Dixie Lullaby" were not played during the second set. However, at the conclusion of the first set one of the highlights of the two-night run occurs. That being the rare pairing of Cocker and Russell together on an update of Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country." Russell's influence can not be overemphasized with seminal readings of his own "Dixie Lullaby," while a then-unknown backing vocalist named Rita Coolidge takes the spotlight on his co-composition "Superstar." He also contributes the rousing full ensemble arrangement of the soulful rocker "Delta Lady." In terms of songs specifically suited to Cocker, his homage to "Brother" Ray Charles on "Let's Go Get Stoned," "Sticks and Stones," and "I'll Drown in My Own Tears" are all given incredible workouts. In the case of the latter, the tune is linked to "When Something Is Wrong with My Baby" and "I've Been Loving You Too Long" for a "Blue Medley."

As the contents were remixed from multi-track tapes, the sound is quite remarkable. The discs are housed in a specially-designed eight-panel fold-out digipack that has a brief liner essay and reproductions of the original album art. Complementing this collection is Mad Dogs & Englishmen at the Fillmore: March 28, 1970 (2006) anthologizing the following evening, as well as the Complete Mad Dogs & Englishmen at the Fillmore (2006), with both limited-edition releases in a single package.