It was March of 1970. The ’60s were barely over. The Beatles were still officially together. And Joe Cocker was looking forward to taking some time off from the road before going out again in the summer.
No such luck. A tour had been booked without his knowledge, and the shows had to go on. He entrusted Leon Russell with the task of putting together a band, and Russell did it, quickly. It was a big, scruffy powerhouse of a band, with three drummers, three horn players and 10 backing vocalists. Counting the small film crew and the rest of the entourage, 43 people hit the road together. They called themselves Mad Dogs & Englishmen.
Cocker’s live double album, Mad Dogs & Englishmen (recorded at the Fillmore East in New York), was released later that year, and became his only U.S. Top 10 album (rising to No. 2). With hard-chugging songs such as “The Letter,” “Delta Lady” and “Feelin’ Alright,” it remains an exciting listen to this day; you can feel the onstage chaos, as well as the inspiration, in every note.
On Aug. 27, Remember Jones — who recently presented a concert version of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black album at Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park — will perform the songs of Mad Dogs & Englishmen (including material from the 2005 deluxe edition of the album) at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal. Tickets are $28 in advance, $32 at the door; visit axelrodartscenter.com.
Remember Jones (the stage name of Anthony D’Amato) has assembled a 20-piece band for the show, including Tom Brislin (who has led the Jersey band Spiraling in addition to performing with Yes and Meat Loaf) as Russell. The show will feature eight backing vocalists, including Brielle Von Hugel and JaQuita — known for competing on “America Idol” and “Oprah’s Pop Star Challenge,” respectively — as Rita Coolidge and Claudia Lennear. John Isley of Southside Johnny’s Asbury Jukes will play sax. Jones will sing most of the Cocker leads; Constantine Maroulis is scheduled to make a cameo. (Aug. 24 update: Bobby Bandiera has been added as a guest performer as well.)
Jones is just 31, but his parents were fans of Cocker (who died last year), and he remembers “going just nuts” when he heard the album for the first time.
“I don’t think I had ever heard horns really sing like that, until I heard this album, and then I’ve heard that from a lot of people who listened to that album, or were there at the Fillmore: ‘I’ve never heard horn players perform like that.’ I’ve always loved that part of bands. Of course, being a vocalist, to hear eight of my friends screaming their hearts out is like a dream come true, too.
“So to put all this together … it’s just awesome. It’s always what I wanted from music.”
The Remember Jones band has always been big.
“It’s because I’m used to those sounds: The big backups, and the harmonies, the double guitars, and the B-3 (organ),” he says. ” That’s just always how I’ve put together a band.”
He says he may repeat the Mad Dogs show at other venues, at some point.
“We have some people who want to look at it, to promote it at different venues and stuff,” he says. “But the Axelrod is a great venue, and they’re sort of new to presenting rock shows, so this is kind of a trial for them. They’ve been booking a lot of cabaret or jazz kind of things, Broadway guest stars and things like that. I was in ‘Evita’ there last year. And the producers there were like, let’s give Remember Jones a chance. And my first thought was Mad Dogs.”
In addition to performing as Remember Jones, D’Amato recently was named producing artistic director at the Strand Center for the Arts in Lakewood. He predicts “radical changes” and “a lot of musical events” in his tenure there.
And if the Mad Dogs show goes well, maybe he can book himself.
Here are the songs on the original Mad Dogs & Englishmen double album. Lead vocals are by Cocker unless otherwise noted.
“Honky Tonk Women”
“Sticks and Stones”
“Cry Me a River”
“Bird on the Wire”
“Superstar” (sung by Rita Coolidge)
“Let’s Go Get Stoned”
Blue Medley: “I’ll Drown in My Own Tears,” “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby” (duet with by Bobby Jones), “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”
“Girl From the North Country” (Cocker/Russell duet)
“Give Peace a Chance”
“She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”
The 2005 deluxe edition added the following songs:
“Darlin’ Be Home Soon”
“Let It Be” (sung by Claudia Lennear)
“Further on up the Road” (sung by Don Preston)
“Hummingbird” (sung by Russell)
“Dixie Lullaby” (sung by Russell)
“With a Little Help From My Friends”
Warm-up jam including “Under My Thumb”
“The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen” (sung by Russell, studio version)