The songman born John Robert Cocker has always possessed a grittier, more soulful voice than anyone would expect from a northern Brit. But Cocker, a fan of Ray Charles and company since childhood, honed his own vocal instrument with an authentic bluesy grit only enhanced, over time, by his own hard living. In the early 1960s, he hit the pub circuit of his native land, playing under various aliases; later that decade he struck out with his own Grease Band, setting himself apart as a top-notch reinterpreter of others' tunes. His hell-raising, call-and-response rendition of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends," captured best in raw form on the Woodstock soundtrack, eclipsed the original in popularity. Then in the 1970s, he scored major stateside chart success with versions of Dave Mason's "Feelin' Alright," the Box Tops' "The Letter" and, of course, Houston native Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful." And while he's best known as an icon of that time period, Cocker has gotten active again in the past couple of years. That was him, for instance, singing the opening strains of "Come Together" in 2007's Beatles-themed musical film Across the Universe. That same year, he released another covers album, Hymn for My Soul, which featured reworkings of deeper cuts from greats like Bob Dylan ("Ring Them Bells") and Stevie Wonder ("You Haven't Done Nothin'"). Arielle Castillo
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