‘I Cried A River For You . . .’

Originally posted July 12, 2007

The Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour by Joe Cocker in the spring of 1970 provided a record and film that chronicled the insanity and the sheer draining effort of being on the road with a large rock ’n’ roll band. It also provided some of the best music put out by any band at the time and quite likely the best performances – in concert and on record – by a big rock band ever.

Organized by Leon Russell after a tour was sprung on Cocker without much warning, the Mad Dogs & Englishmen band practiced for five days before leaving Los Angeles on March 18 for the tour’s first date the next day in Detroit. The tour ended May 16 in San Bernardino, California. Along the way, counting musicians, clerical staff, roadies, managers, essential partners and children, a sound crew and a film crew, the touring company totaled forty-three people.

Rambunctious and raucous, the enterprise was filmed and recorded for two nights during its performances at the Fillmore East in New York City, providing rock with one of its classic concert albums, a double LP package that gave a thrilling look at what I believe to be one of the best bands put together in the history of rock. The double album hit No. 2 on the charts in the fall of 1970.

A couple of years ago, A&M Records and its parent company, Universal, released a Deluxe Edition of the album on two CDs, with several additional tracks from the Fillmore East performances, a few from performances in Santa Monica, California, and a few studio sessions tracks, including those released as a single featuring “The Letter” and ”Space Captain.”

Along with Russell on piano and guitar, some of the stalwarts on the tour were Chris Stainton on keyboards, Jim Keltner and Jim Gordon on drums, Bobby Keys and Jim Price on horns, Carl Radle on bass, Don Preston on guitar, Chuck Blackwell on drums and percussion, Sandy Konikoff on percussion and Bobby Torres on congas. The backup singers – who were superlative throughout – were Don Preston, Rita Coolidge, Claudia Lennear, Daniel Moore, Donna Weiss, Pamela Pollard, Matthew Moore, Donna Washburn, Nicole Barclay and Bobby Jones.

Cocker’s estrangement from Russell at the end of the tour is a well-known story. Whether Russell in essence highjacked the tour for his own promotion is a question I can’t answer; I wasn’t there. That seems to have been Cocker’s feeling at the time, from many things I have read.

Today’s video is from those filmed sessions at the Fillmore East, I believe, a performance of “Cry Me A River” that did not make it into the final cut of the film. (The film is available through Amazon.com, as is the CD.) Enjoy!

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