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SoundTRAX: "Mad Dogs & Englishmen"

The cover of Joe Cocker's "Mad Dogs & Englishmen"

SoundTRAX is a dive into notable music from iconic films and TV shows every Monday-Thursday at 8:10.

53 years ago today the Joe Cocker concert documentary Mad Dogs & Englishmen premiered in London.

The film chronicles Cocker's 1970 U.S. tour, which was legendary for its participants as well as the drama that ensued.

Especially when you consider the fact that Cocker wanted no part of it. He had been in a post-Woodstock juggernaut and was exhausted, hoping to get some time off. But his management basically told him he had to do it or would blow any chance at real American success.

Leon Russell agreed to come on board as band leader, but only if he could call all the shots musically, handling all the arrangements himself, which initially sounded appealing to Cocker, a man running on fumes and forced to tour.

And Leon could assemble a band. Backing Cocker was a choir, a three-piece horn section, and multiple percussionists, including heavy-hitters like Rita Coolidge, Carl Radle, Jim Keltner, Claudia Lannear, Jim Price, Nicole Barclay of Fanny, Chris Stainton, Bobby Keys, and Jim Horn, to name but a few.

Naturally, there were tensions. While still a commanding presence when onstage, Cocker was drained, popping a lot of pills, and chafing at his lack of control.

But the film definitely captures Cocker at the height of his career, and Leon's masterful blending of blues, rock, gospel and soul is undeniably infectious, which led to the soundtrack— a double album— being a big success. Cocker's cover of a 1967 Box Tops classic, written by the great Alex Chilton, didn't hurt either.

So for today's SoundTRAX selection, from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, it's Joe Cocker with "The Letter."

Mel is the WFPK morning host. Email Mel at mfisher@lpm.org.

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