Larry Brennan clearly remembers the first time he heard Joe Cocker sing. He was a teenager living in Toronto and he went to a movie theatre to see a new concert documentary called Woodstock.
"It was in the summer of 1970," recalls Brennan on the phone from Surrey. "I saw Joe do 'With a Little Help from My Friends' and I went, 'Whoa, man, listen to this guy!'"
Over half a century later the impression Cocker first made on Brennan is still there. He now fronts the Joe Cocker Experience, which is currently touring around B.C. with several gigs on Vancouver Island and one in New West.
Brennan says that the JCE strives to imitate the sound Cocker's band was making in April of 2013, when it played a show in Cologne, Germany that became the Fire It Up Live DVD. The instrumentation is similar, with singer Brennan backed by an eight-piece ensemble composed of guitarist Daryl Marklinger, bassist Ron McKee, saxophonist Claudio Fantinato, trombonist/keyboardist Earle Gibson, keyboardist Rick McDonough, drummer Gerry Pool, and backup vocalists Cindy Goebel and Kristi Kell.
"They're a good buncha players," says Brennan, "good people."
He's only been a member of the group for seven or eight months, having replaced previous Cocker impersonator Danny Bee, but Brennan claims the band is sounding "fantastic" during rehearsals. He hasn't played a gig with them yet, but has been honing his Cocker chops for many years in Vancouver karaoke bars. He has a pretty good idea which Cocker tunes are the real crowd-pleasers.
"The one that goes over best in the clubs is 'With a Little Help from My Friends'," he says, referring to Cocker's famous cover of the Beatles song, "that's pretty well the number one. And some of the older stuff that he did I really like. 'You Are So Beautiful' goes over very well. And anything that was in the movies goes over well, because it's something that the younger people recognize because of the movie that they saw.
"People that are 25, 30 years old, I say to them, 'Do you know Joe Cocker?', and they go, 'No, never heard of him.' And I'll say, 'Well, have you ever heard of a song that goes, [sings].' You are so beautiful, to me', and they're like, 'Oh yeah, I know that song!' And another one is 'You Can Leave Your Hat On', from 9 1/2 Weeks or whatever. And there's 'Up Where We Belong', which was in An Officer and a Gentleman. So when we do that duet—I do it with one of the backup singers—that's gonna go over well."
Brennan only saw Joe Cocker perform live once, a few years before his 2014 passing, at a show at Richmond's River Rock Show Theatre. One word comes to mind when asked what he thought was so great about the guy.
"Uniqueness, I would have to say. He's one of those people that, as soon as that voice comes out, there's no guessing who that might be. It's like listening to Willie Nelson. When Willie opens his mouth, you know it's Willie Nelson."
Joe Cocker passed away at the age of 70, but he was still doing shows at the age of 69. Brennan is 65.
"I'm in the right age range," he quips, "and balding, so that works."
The Joe Cocker Experience performs at New Westminster's Massey Theatre on March 19. It also plays the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River on March 12, the McPherson Theatre in Victoria on March 26, the Cowichan Centre in Duncan on April 9, and the Port Theatre in Nanaimo on April 16.