I missed good old fashioned American rock and roll during my trip to Africa. I was hoping that I would hear some fabulous zydeco music, but my Music Wife informs me that zydeco is Creole in origin. Okay, then how about some of Paul Simon’s African music discoveries. No such luck. It turns out that African music that we know here in the US was founded in the music of enslaved Africans.
Instead, I am treated to the dulcet tones of two guys with rather dubious voice quality, Huey Lewis (and the News), and Joe Cocker. Neither one will ever be confused with Elvis, or even an Elvis impersonator. But both are appearing on the same bill here in my backyard.
Huey Lewis has enjoyed great popularity here in the Bay Area. I think much of it is attributed to his relationship with the Bay Area sports teams. He and his News sang many a national anthem during the glory days of Joe Montana and the Super Bowl Forty Niners (football) teams. While his voice is quite gravelly (is that a word?), someone supplied him with decent lyrics and a good beat.
Huey and keyboardist Sean Hopper started out with the group, Clover. Then, a short stint as backup to Elvis Costello, on to Thin Lizzy, and finally as Huey Lewis and the American Express. I imagine the card people were not too happy about that! Sure enough, in 1980, after threat of bodily harm, he changed to “The News”, which is quite catchy.
“The Power of Love” was his big claim to fame, as it became a No. 1 hit. Huey’s real name is Hugh Anthony Cregg III, originally from NYC. They won their only Grammy in 1986 for Best Music Video (long form), “The Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” He also participated in another 1986 Grammy winner, the “We Are the World” of the incomparable Quincy Jones.
Another rather “gritty” voice is owned by Joe Cocker, a popular Brit rock and blues singer from the 60s. He started in 1961 using the stage name of Vince Arnold (and the Avengers). In 1966, he formed the Grease Band with Chris Stainton, moved from Yorkshire to London, and stumbled onto the big time with “A Little Help From My Friends,” a re-arrangement of the Beatles song. Most of you might remember it as the opening theme from the TV show, “The Wonder Years” with Fred Savage.
So far, you are wondering why I am going to this concert of “hardly knowns” and wannabees. So am I. Somehow, Cocker and his Grease band got booked into Woodstock, and were flown in to perform by helicopter. They performed, and became instant sensations, released an album (Joe Cocker!), reaching No. 11 on the charts, appearing on Ed Sullivan, then dissolved Grease (unfortunate pun).
He started a new band, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” that included over 30 musicians, including Rita Coolidge, Leon Russell, and Claudia Lennear. They toured 48 cities, recorded a live album, and received positive reviews. Around 1970, he began to drink heavily, and returned to his native England. He came back to tour again, tunneled through various controversies (like heroin and alcohol).
A couple highlights were his Saturday Night Live appearance with John Belushi in 1976, and the 1979 “Woodstock in Europe” tour with Arlo Guthrie, and Richie Havens. In 1982, he recorded “Up Where We Belong” with Jennifer Warnes, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and won the Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo.
He continued to tour through the 80s, and maintained great popularity (somehow). In 1988, he appeared at London’s Royal Albert Hall, as well as the “Tonight Show.” In 2002, he performed “With A Little Help From My Friends” for the Queen, along with Phil Collins on drums, and Brian May (of Queen) on guitar. He last toured the US in 2009.
So here I am. Wondering. We shall see. Am I that desperate to hear good old American rock and roll. Yes!