Joe Cocker – who passed away in December 2014, was once billed on a tour poster as the “rotating rocker” because of that frenzied…disjointed air guitar thing he did with his arms back in the Woodstock era. He also possessed a grizzled voice that not only complemented his roughshod appearance but also went down like a glass of really fine port. Cocker was not a songwriter, but an incredible interpreter of other people’s songs. He recorded some 23 albums’ worth. One of which is the rock- reggae influenced “Sheffield Steel”, released in 1982 to a resounding thud. Too bad,because it’s one of Cocker’s finest album and my personal favorite.
Compass Point Allstars
Titled after the British industrial steel city where Cocker was born in 1944, “Sheffield Steel” stands apart from all his other albums thanks the Island Records house studio band that backed him up – The Compass Point Allstars. This was then, ultra hot Jamaican progressive rhythm section anchored by Sly and Robbie on drums and bass with Wally Badarou on keyboards and under the radar, English rock guitarist, Barry Reynolds. (By the way, he still tours with Marianne these days!) These are the same guys who made monumental albums for Black Uhuru, Marianne Faithful, Grace Jones back in the early 80’s.
“Sheffield Steel” marked a new direction for Cocker – intended to revitalize his career, which was in a bit of a lull, to say the least, in the late 70’s. Although the album failed miserably to chart the top 100, Cocker’s 10 grit sandpaper of a voice carried the album along in top form. Fighting his own demons at the time, Cocker delivered ten emotionally charged, perfect tracks about the ups and downs of relationships and the struggle to make it through to the other side.. songs all written by other people. Listen to the pure pain in Cockers voice on “Shocked” and you’ll see what I mean.
His version of “Many Rivers To Cross” is beyond inspiring and stands right along side Jimmy Cliff.
It’s Bob Dylan’s “7 Days” that may be the real reason to own this album. No explanation needed. Just listen to it.
“Sheffield Steel”, is a gem of an album by the late Joe Cocker and one of his best. It’s well worth revisiting. Long out of print, Island Records issued an expanded cd version in 2002 with a four extra bonus tracks. –Eric Berg
Video : Joe Cocker singing a short version of “Seven Days” live, 8/20/1983 minus the Compass Point Allstars