Legendary British rock and soul singer Joe Cocker may have passed away in 2014 – but his intense, impassioned performance style still has resonance, even with generations too young to have experienced such ’70s and ’80s hits as With A Little Help From My Friends and Up Where We Belong the first time around.
Little surprise, then, that local singer/front-man Terry Raible – adept at channelling the legend’s gravelly voice and persona – has been able to sell out two performances at White Rock’s Blue Frog Studios on March 11 with his 10-piece tribute act, Feelin’ Alright.
So quickly were tickets snapped up, that Blue Frog has added another performance on Friday, March 10, at 7 p.m. – but those interested should act fast before tickets for this show sell out, too.
It’s a passion project, admits Raible, who is well known to local audiences for his dynamic vocals with Big City Soul, a regular attraction for years at the Club 240 dances at the Crescent Legion Branch.
Featured in the powerhouse Feelin’ Alright band are Kevin Lee (trumpet and arranger), co-leader Ken Abel (baritone sax), Brian Engstrom (tenor sax), Bill Brooks (keyboards), Johan Worst (bass), Michael Toth (guitar), Steve Webb (drums), and back-up singers Angela Draude and Carol Mason.
“We have a full horn section and a very tight band sound and two fabulous female vocalists,” Raible said.
“Even though we’re not quite as big as the band Joe put together for his Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour in ’70, we still get a very full sound.
“Kevin, our trumpet player, does a lot of the charts for us – he’s a great musician and he’s been invaluable. He’s taken over the musical direction part, which is very important – there’s a lot of dynamics with any kind of music, but particularly with Joe’s stuff.”
The term “cover artist” has acquired a dismissive connotation over decades in which an over-emphasis has been placed on every singer writing their own material – but, in reality, ever since the beginnings of popular music in the 1920s, there have always been performers (Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley among them) whose primary gift has been in providing their own distinctive interpretations of songs written by others.
And that was certainly true of Joe Cocker, Raible said, who might have been the only one capable of taking a fairly inconsequential song – like Lennon and McCartney’s With A Little Help From My Friends – and reimagining it as a soul anthem.
“I think what drew me to him was that he was one of the best cover artists in the world,” Raible said.
”Leon Russell and Chris Stainton did a lot of his arrangements. I think there was one album where Joe and Stainton wrote about seven or eight of the songs.
“But usually he’d take other people’s tunes – he did a lot of Beatles numbers – but when you hear the song, it’s completely Joe.”
As keen a student of Cocker’s work as he has become, Raible acknowledges that, ironically, the first time he saw him perform live he was not swayed.
“That was just after ‘Mad Dogs’ – ’71 or maybe ’72 at the Agridome in Vancouver. He was the headliner and the Eagles were the opening act. I don’t want to say it was disappointing, but, in the ’70s, Joe was quite involved in the drug scene…his whole set that evening was 12-bar blues, all slow stuff.”
But the next time he saw Cocker, in 1989 at the Pacific Coliseum, the singer, then touring with Stevie Ray Vaughn (they took turns headlining), was in good form, and Raible was completely won over by his powerful and dramatic presentation.
He saw him live six or seven times after that, he said, and became familiar with all of his music – so much so that he has already been performing at least half a dozen Cocker covers as part of Big City Soul’s playlist.
Feelin’ Alright is a natural outgrowth of that, he notes.
While the idea came up in 2021, it took a while to put the act together – but now it’s gathering momentum, as the Blue Frog shows demonstrate.
“We’ve had a couple of agents come out and see us and they’ve made good suggestions,” he said.
His tribute to Cocker stops short of the kind of costumed impersonation that other tribute acts practice, he said.
“When we first started, one of the guys in the band suggested I should come out dressed for Joe’s ‘Mad Dogs’ era – with all the big hair. Even if I got a wig, I think I’d have to lose about 100 pounds to do that!”
Instead he prefers the way Cocker presented himself in the last few years of his life – in black pants and shirt, but in a fancy sports jacket that was inevitably shed during the course of the evening.
More important than costume tricks, he said, is psyching himself up before the show to the intense level of performance that Cocker’s approach to the songs demands – something he learned was necessary covering the singer’s material with Big City Soul. For this, he said, he benefits from some of his experience in theatre, going back to when he was in musicals in high school in New Westminster.
“It’s trying to immerse yourself into what he you believe he would be like on stage – you want to do the best you can.
“It’s a pretty tough job to duplicate his voice – I do my best. But I’m happy there are people who enjoy it and like the way we present it.
“We really enjoy doing this and trying to make it as authentic as we can.”
For tickets to the Blue Frog show, visit www.bluefrogstudios.ca. For more information on Feelin’ Alright and other shows visit classiccockerlive.ca
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