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"Mad Dogs and Englishmen" is the account of Joe Cocker's 1970 American
There is lots of great music, but the impression the film left me is what
joy there is when good music is being made.
It was made in the same vein as "Woodstock" the 1970 Oscar winner for Best Documentary. "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" is even better than "Woodstock". I don't want to sound like a spoiled sport, but the best parts of "Woodstock" were the musical sequences and "MDAE" is loaded with songs, 21 to be exact.
Cocker exudes a kind of kinetic energy rarely seen anymore. His body moves with the music. He isn't just singing; he feels it. And when the band finishes up with an exceptional take, we see the joy they feel. It was a highlight in "Woodstock" and here, with a 2 hour running time, you can't help but feel exhilarated after it ends. I know I did.
Sadly, "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" is not as well known as "Woodstock", mostly due to the rights being in limbo for so long. Now, A&M Video preserves the film on tape, with the multi-image widescreen images intact and the result is a unearthed treasure. The album only covers some of the bases. The film covers them all.
**** out of 4 stars
Charming, messy documentary of Joe Cocker's 1970 American tour. Some really fun performances are captured here (and, gratefully songs are allowed to pay out at their full length). At the same time, we get a pretty fascinating voyeur's peek into the odd, wild commune like life of Cocker's tour; a huge number of musicians, girlfriends, wives, babies, roadies and the occasional groupie. And, perhaps funniest of all, the off-screen Cocker who's on stage energy and almost spastic movements famously make him look like a man possessed off-stage seems like a quiet, likable, thoughtful, even somewhat shy fellow. Not a particularly deep film, but an enjoyable two hours if you're at all interested in Cocker and his hard edged rock-blues-gospel approach to some great classic rock tunes.
MAD DOGS & ENGLISHMAN: A great film and is a statement of Rock History because of the people involved. Joe Cocker asked Leon to get some mates together as this tour was to get off the ground right away. For the most part Leon just pulled Delaney & Bonnie's Band right out from under them. Jim (not John) Price, Bobbie Keys, (who both later went with the Rolling Stones and then the Blues Brothers), Rita Coolidge,(who did a solo "SUPERSTAR" which was cut from the first video issue because of A&M problems) She has since recorded out of Japan and Canada and sings with her sister Priscilla and her niece Laura Satterfield in a group called Walela. Jim Gordon, (who co-wrote LAYLA) Carl Radle and of course sometimes Leon. All were with Delaney and Bonnie. There group just fell apart after that. Bonnie did play Bonnie the waitress on the Roseanne Show and sometimes sang on that show with David Crosby. I might add at this time that Claudia Linnear who solo's on Let It Be is the girl who Mick Jagger wrote Brown Sugar about. If you listen to the sound of Delaney & Bonnie's albums you will here the Mad Dogs sound. Donna Wiess is a great writer of music and has worked with Rita Coolidge off and on over the years.
First off, if you're looking for some good music and classic concert footage, this movie is a hit. I'm sorry that I'm too young to have made it to this show. Unfortunately, I think the movie falters is in its storytelling. This was a band of some 30 people put together for a tour with Joe Cocker. It would have been nice to get a glimpse of how it all came together. The movie does drag from time to time, and I found it difficult to make it all the way through the 2 hours. Now with that said, there are still some great scenes, including one that I swear Rob Reiner flat out stole for "Spinal Tap". I'd say it's worth a look. The music alone is worth it, but keep your finger close to the fast forward button.
Joe Cocker was a spastic, possessed singer who had so much soul. Mad
Dogs and Englishmen is a documentary about the singer and his band
composed of many rock and roll greats including Leon Russell, Bobby
Keys, Claudia Lennear, Rita Collidge, Chris Stanton and Bobby Jones, to
name a few. The film is a creation of its time, capturing the hair and
the clothing of 1970 when it was filmed in Berlin.
The hard whiskey and cigarette voice lost some pitch over the years, but he continued to tour. This documentary shows Cocker and his best.
The stage is filled with singers and musicians and I wanted so much to be with them then.
Mad Dogs and Englishmen cover soul and R&B classics and some Beatles music. The covers depart from the originals and become unique interpretations of the songs we thought we knew well already.
Cocker's hard-edged voice and his spell-binding movements made him the brightest light of that moment in Rock and Roll. The songs are still among my favorites.
JOE COCKER: MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN (1971) Few films capture the grimy, jazzy feel of what it was like to be in a rock and roll band than this documentary gem. One particularly revealing scene shows what a recording session was like: ten people crammed in a smoke-filled room playing loudly and in one take. No over dubbing or fancy equipment. Just some men and women (or, as the final song shows, hermaphrodites) with passion and raw musical talent. The famous performance of "The Letter" with Joe Cocker in a lei is the one you hear on the radio today. The Mad Dogs, headed by Cocker and Leon Russell, rework several well-known songs to fit their own groovy, down and dirty style. "With a Little Help from My Friends" becomes a choir backed extravaganza, while The Box Tops' "The Letter" is fashioned into a R/B piece with an immortal horns riff; You know the "da da da dadada" when you hear it. The technical aspects are solid as well, with split screens, frame coloration, and the like. The film doesn't tell you in voice over what the road was like, it shows you. In a camp out scene, Joe can be seen looking at his contemporaries embracing while he sits off-kilter by himself. It's always suggesting, never telling. I saw this with my grandpa and he had lots to say about what he remembered about those days. He enjoyed it thoroughly and I was surprised how much I did as well; more so than even "Woodstock". "Woodstock" was too sprawling, too colossal to love. This one is a brief, piercing look at a band that wasn't necessarily the best, but had a hell of a time trying to be.
This movie is rated as one of the top 10 music documentaries of all
time. All About Jazz wrote this: In 1971, the movie Mad Dogs &
Englishmen was the first of a new class of concert films which
documented an artist over a single tour. It was big and brash, and full
of the excess and hedonism of the 1970s. Because of its split- screen
production, frank depiction of drug use and philandering, and its
generally rebellious vibe, the movie might be seen as harsh and crude
by today's standards.
That's not the angle from which to view Mad Dogs. A period piece it may be, but it's a defining period piece. In early 1970, the United States was in the last quarter of the British beat group invasion. Up to this time, the greatest thing the British invasion did was to re-introduce American music to its blues roots. The Animals, The Rolling Stones, John Mayall & The Blues Breakers and The Yardbirds all repackaged the blues of the Deep South and Chicago and made America pay attention.
What Joe Cocker did was a next step. He repackaged the music of Stax-Volt and Atlantic-Muscles Shoals and showed America that she did indeed possess musical divinity in Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes...the entire Southern r&b/soul axis.
Released in 1971, Mad Dogs & Englishmen has thankfully not aged gracefully. Compared to the antiseptically prepared concert films of the past several years (The Eagles' Hell Freezes Over and Fleetwood Mac's The Dance), Mad Dogs is a glorious messfull of contemporary energy generated by playing a sexy, funky, rocking version of Southern-fried soul strained through British sensibilities. This is not note perfect music; it couldn't be because of early 1970s' technology. The performances are loose and fun, drunken and transcendent- -the soul of rock & roll.
Mad Dogs is superior to Woodstock in that it is more tightly focused in theme and form. However, there would have been no Mad dogs without Woodstock first. This is true if for no other reason than Joe Cocker's incendiary performance of the Beatles' "With A Little Help From My Friends that not so much jump- started his career as radioactively detonated it. Woodstock was a celebration of the musical counter- culture and Mad Dogs & Englishmen was the perfect realization of it.
One of the first things striking the viewer of this newly remastered DVD release is the plethora of regional accents one is pummeled with. First, of course, is Cocker's boggy Sheffield brogue, thick and mossy with a slight interdental lisp. Next there were Okies Leon Russell, Carl Radle and Kim Keltner. Russell's dry, Lawton, Oklahoma twang is as astringent as moonshine and authentic as the dust bowl.
Then there were the Texans: Bobby Keys from Lubbock and Jim Price from Fort Worth, both speaking with the sweet light crude of the Southwest. Rita Coolidge and Bobby Jones lent their Tennessee tongue togs to the swirling mix, along with other band members from parts known and unknown.
The concert film is a very human endeavor. Cocker's "choir consists of various professionals and non- professionals including wives, girlfriends, friends and acquaintances, and as backup singers they sound so. They provide that big wet kiss of sound behind Cocker's plaintive wailing. Nowhere does the power of this group reveal itself better than the choruses of "The Letter, "Feelin' Alright, and "With A Little Help From My Friends. They made history as if they did it every day. The great humanity of the tour is evident in the tour mascot, a dachshund-terrier mix that is on stage with the band during its performances.
The lynchpin of the tour was Russell, whose presence on the recordings almost equals that of Cocker's. Russell acted as musical director, arranger, lead guitarist, pianist, lead vocalist and all around glue to the tour.
Contemporary criticism of the tour likes to accuse Russell of having taken advantage of Cocker, using the singer to advance his career. If that is true, then the whole band is guilty, as they almost all went on to bigger things. That is what makes this brief two-month tour a touchstone in music history. It was the moment when these musicians came together to play before they left for the Rolling Stones, Derek & The Dominoes and many of the defining recordings of the 1970s, and indeed of rock music itself.
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