There are many factors that go into forming a band---shared musical tastes and family members becoming official after years of singing and playing together are just two of the many ways. For Joe Cocker, the impetus behind forming Mad Dogs and Englishmen was contractual obligations…..hey, whatever it takes. From 1966 through 1969, Joe Cocker had released two albums with The Grease Band. After grueling tours in support of the albums, and a stint at Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, Joe and the band split amicably. Joe set up camp in L.A. to get some rest in 1970. The most popular legend is that Joe's manager, Dee Anthony, had booked a seven-week (48 nights in 52 cities) tour set to kick off in one week. He further dropped the bomb that should Mr. Cocker choose not to tour, the Musicians' Union, immigration authorities and concert promoters would not allow him back in the U.S. for future touring.
Local L.A. musician, composer, and producer, Leon Russell, saw a way to help his friend and his own career and, acting as band leader, guitarist, pianist and musical director, he pieced together a group. Using former Grease Band members and various musical friends from Russell’s native Oklahoma and nearby Texas, Mad Dogs and Englishmen were born, the title coming from a 1931 Noel Coward song. Logging in a few ten-hour rehearsals, the band hit the road, gaining both momentum and members as they stretched from opening night in Detroit and tours end two months later in San Bernardino.
The live recording of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen is plucked from a four-show, two-night run at New York City’s Fillmore East on March 27 and 28, 1970. Leon Russell took some knocks from period press about using Joe Cocker as a stepping stone for his career but looking at the band members, it is tough to cite many that did not go on to more after then they had before. A few immediately joined up with The Rolling Stones and Derek and the Dominoes when the tour ended. The musicians and band members for the traveling show featured additional vocals by Don Preston, Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, Donna Washburn, Claudia Lennear, Denny Cordell, Daniel Moore, Pamela Polland, Matthew Moore, Nicole Barclay and Bobby Jones. Leon joined Don Preston on guitar and Chris Stainton on keyboards. Drummers included Jim Gordon, Chuck Blackwell, Jim Keltner and Sandy Konikoff, saxophones from Bobby Keys and Jim Price on trumpet.
Mad Dogs and Englishmen gathered a few songs from Joe Cocker albums but let the remainder of the 61 tracks from the Fillmore East spread equally over rock (The Rolling Stones, Traffic, The Beatles, Leonard Cohen) and soul (Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes). The collective hit a chord on many levels beside music. The tone of the times was freedom and Mad Dogs and Englishmen went beyond the traditional touring. In some ways, they were taking what artists like Delaney, Bonnie and Friends had been working on with big rock and soul shows for a white audience. Mad Dogs and Englishmen is the sound of community. It is top shelf playing from musicians that were a part of a family as much as they were part of a band.
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