The Truth Behind Joe Cocker's Unique Singing Style

Rock 'n' roll singer Joe Cocker rose to fame in the 1960s. Though he released multiple albums and had some original songs, his versions of songs by other artists helped him gain fame. He received a stamp of approval from Paul McCartney when he unveiled his version of "With a Little Help from My Friends" at Woodstock in 1969 (per Cheatsheet). Cocker's version is memorable because of his signature raspy voice and bombastic movements that were a part of all of his performances. It was under the mentorship of Ray Charles that he created this unique singing and performing style (per The Washington Post).

As is the case for many other famous celebrities, people imitated Cocker's voice and movements. John Belushi did a well-known impersonation of Cocker on "Saturday Night Live" in the 1970s. Cocker even joined Belushi on the show for a duet. He found the impression "amusing," per Ultimate Classic Rock. The movements and vocal skills that Belushi imitated came about in a surprising way.

Joe Cocker once explained his onstage movements

In Broward-Palm Beach New TImes in 2012, Joe Cocker explained the origins of his jerky flailing onstage, how they changed over time, and people's perceptions of him. "I never played organ or piano or guitar, so it was more out of frustration and me just trying to impersonate in a way," Cocker explained. "I did it subconsciously. People mistook for me being ill, like I had palsy. I'm not nearly so demonstrative now, but I still have my own way of feeling the rhythm." He was not trying to act strangely, but perhaps him doing so contributed to the success of his live album and concert film in the early 1970s (per KTLA).

His physicality may have been accidental, but his vocal talents were not. Ray Charles believed that Cocker was among the greatest soul signers in the world. According to The Washington Post, critic Steven X. Rea once said, "Few singers are as readily identifiable; fewer interpreters are as adept at making outside material sound like their own creation."

He seemingly followed his own advice when performing

Joe Cocker is not the only famous music artist whose onstage antics were uncalculated. Elvis Presley's infamous hip and leg shaking came about due to stage fright. According to Women's World, Presley's legs shook from nerves at his first paid gig. The crowd loved it, even though many criticized him for being vulgar as he gained more fame. In Oprah Winfrey's interview with Michael Jackson, she asked him why he often grabbed his nether regions onstage. "It happens subliminally," Jackson replied.

Cocker was not criticized for vulgarity as much as Presley and Jackson, but shocked crowds nonetheless. Cocker clearly did not care about what others thought of him, as shown by his willingness to perform alongside John Belushi after seeing Belushi's impersonation of him. Cocker followed his own advice, per Far Out Magazine: "Stay true to your heart, believe in yourself, and work hard."