With a Little Help

One of the best blue-eyed soul voices of the ‘60s and ‘70s was Joe Cocker. The Englishman was known for taking popular songs by other artists and making his own hit version with a gritty edge.

The Beatles were a favorite of his to cover, and his first major breakthrough came with his version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” off his debut album of the same name, released in 1969. Cocker’s arrangement would later become the theme song to the TV series “The Wonder Years” (1988-1993).

Cocker gained some attention for the song and he landed a spot at the Woodstock music festival in New York. Following the festival, he released his second album, “Joe Cocker!” It contained two more Beatles covers, “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” and “Something.”

In 1970, Cocker put together a new band called Mad Dogs & The Englishmen for a U.S. tour and coinciding live album. His cover of the Box Tops’ hit “The Letter,” which appeared on the live album, became his first U.S. Top 10 hit.

Four years later, he landed another big hit on the charts with his cover of “You Are So Beautiful” by Billy Preston. Cocker’s version went to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is perhaps his most recognized tune.

Cocker received a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo for his 1982 duet with Jennifer Warnes, “Up Where We Belong,” which was a No. 1 Billboard hit. The song was on the soundtrack to “An Officer and a Gentlemen” and also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

He toured internationally for the next 30 years and released a total of 22 studio albums over his career. After his passing in 2014, several artists, including Paul McCartney, got together to pay tribute to the singer.

Another man, from the same stomping grounds as Cocker, put together a tribute to the artist four years ago and tours with his show, Mad Dogs and The Englishman. Jason Feddy is from Leeds, England, about 40 miles north of Cocker’s hometown of Sheffield. With a similar raspy singing voice and the same Yorkshire accent, it was a perfect fit for Feddy to play Cocker.

“I can sing the songs, I sound a bit like him and I’ve got kind of the look of him,” Feddy said. “Part of it is my phrasing. He’s a Yorkshire man like me. Even though he kind of has an American accent when he sings, as do I, the phrasing is that of a Yorkshire man. When you start to examine it, that’s part of his sound.”

Feddy began singing as a child and learned to play guitar chords from a Beatles’ songbook. The Beatles were a favorite of Feddy’s, and he also took notice of Cocker’s covers later on.

“I was born in ‘66, but I loved music from the early ‘70s,” he said. “That whole Woodstock thing was fascinating to me, the whole hippy thing. I loved the aesthetic and the idea of it and the music was passionate. Joe was like some kind of angel, but rough around the edges. I really loved him as a singer.”

From his teenage years on, Feddy always found work as a musician, sometimes playing originals and sometimes covers.

“I began putting bands together, playing cover tunes when I was in my late teens,” he said. “Then I had a career in England as a sort of folk troubadour, playing big and small venues. I opened for Neil Young, Tears For Fears — so many artists. I played at Wembley Arena and Royal Albert Hall and all of the big venues in England. I toured in Europe and put out a couple of albums, but my career as a singer/songwriter never really took off in that way. It was the ‘80s, and frankly, guys with acoustic guitars and long hair weren’t very trendy, not when Flock of Seagulls were at the top of the charts. But I carried on, I didn’t really know what else to do. So I just kept going and managed to make a living during that time.”

He moved to the U.S. in 2000 and continued to work the professional circuits. When tributes became popular, Feddy decided to give it a try.

“I never thought of myself as being that kind of musician, but I have a friend, John Troy, who played with Joe Cocker in the ‘80s and John and I had a Beatles tribute band originally,” Feddy said. “Then one day I said to John, ‘I bet I could do Joe Cocker.’ So I put together a few musicians and we had a rehearsal and it just clicked.

“We put this band together and when it was clear that it was great, we were able to employ really fabulous musicians. Aside from me pretending to be Joe, it’s the ensemble of the band that is really mindblowing to people.”

To begin assembling his all-star band, Feddy called upon his friend Pat Hawk, a backup vocalist for Michael Bolton.

“I knew we needed three backing singers and she (Hawk) brought herself, and the other two girls that were with her with Michael Bolton, Janice Liebhart and Lori Mark,” Feddy said. “Of course they’re amazing, and they’ve been singing together for 30 years, so they sound like a family. Pat suggested we call Dave Witham, who was playing piano with Barbra Streisand. Then I’ve got my friend Richard Bredice who has played guitar with Quincy Jones and many different bands. We managed to get Alan Deremo, who played bass with John Denver and so many people. Ray Weston was in the room when I had the idea — he’s my friend and drummer. He’s a Scotsmen and he’s played with Tom Jones and Iron Butterfly. Then there’s Jimmy Zavala, who played with Tom Petty at Live Aid. He’s a sax player, and he was with Etta James for years and the Eurythmics. So we’re bringing the ‘A’ team to Laughlin. They’re really an all-star band.”

Catch Mad Dogs and The Englishman when they stop at the Riverside Resort for four nights, Thursday-Sunday, June 16-19.

“You can expect to be taken on an emotional journey through the songs of the ‘70s,” Feddy said. “In a way, Joe was a tribute band himself. Most of his songs are from artists that you’re familiar with, like ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ from the Beatles, which was a huge hit. Also the Rolling Stones, Lovin’ Spoonful and Ray Charles. Joe did his own kind of take on those songs — his sort of ‘70s festival psychedelia in his own way. So you can expect hit after hit and plenty of audience interaction and fun, and just top-notch musicians.”