Joe Cocker didn’t want to hit the road in 1970, but a tour of the United States was put together on his behalf and he was directed to undertake it. He turned to Leon Russell to put the band together. Russell created an instrumental supergroup drawn from the Los Angeles studio scene. He compiled an assemblage of 21 musicians including three drummers, two percussionists, a horn section, and a ten-member backing chorus.
Excess was the order of the day, and not just in the instrumental order of battle. “Drugs, alcohol, love, jealousy, phenomenal talent and massive egos,” to quote J.P. Bean’s liner notes, also factored in to the equation. Somebody with a sense of humor thought to call the assemblage Mad Dogs & Englishmen, in tribute to the great Noel Coward song. The 1970 album documents the launch of the tour that March at the Fillmore East in New York. Cocker and Russell did not part from the tour as friends.
Today Cocker defies the odds and turns 67. In the video below, the Mad Dogs & Englishmen assemblage backs Cocker on “The Letter,” the Wayne Carson Thompson song that producer Dan Penn and the Box Tops turned into a hit in 1967. Cocker demonstrates how the song should be sung. Russell demonstrates how to smoke and play killer rock piano at the same time. It’s a great three-minute ride.