'Beyond the Pale' was founded in 1997 on 8 October, and today is the fifth time that we have used that special date to commemorate the work of Procol Harum's magical drummer, Barrie Wilson. In this new BtP interview Cliff Goodwin, former guitarist and MD with the Joe Cocker Band, looks back on his time playing with BJ.
Cliff, you're noted as a guitarists' guitarist and you had the very good fortune to work in the Joe Cocker Band with the post-Procol Barrie Wilson, very much a drummers' drummer. What are your prime memories of Barrie as a musician?
Barrie is (not was – as long as we remember and celebrate him, he is) an incredible drummer as you know. BUT to play with him is quite different. He has the very rare ability to – as we used to say – 'play the music symphonically'. He doesn't so much drive the music, but rides in and on it, much like a drummer in an orchestra. We all pretty much (at that time and still do) come from a R&B foundation. Even when we were rocking we tended to rely on a heavy back beat. BJ kind of made us look deeper into the parts. I remember on one of the many (it now seems) radio recordings we did, we felt a given tune was not rooted or was somewhat unsteady ... well let me tell you it was quite a revelation to hear the play-back and realise it was spot on both in tempo AND feel. That was the beauty of it ... playing with Barrie was music, not wanking around a subliminal drum track.
Nice phrase, 'subliminal drum track'.
That's what BJ used to call the sound coming from someone's walkman headphones ... you know, that high-pitched sizzle.
What was Barrie's forte in the Cocker Band?
His phrasing ... no-one, yes I believe NO-ONE, could play a ballad like Barrie.
Joe and I always used to talk about the ballad being the singer's medium. As a matter of fact once during my time with Joe we had enough ballads to do a whole set. I think Joe loved BJ especially for his total control of the essence of the ballad. I know I did.
Your current live album, Powerful Stuff, (website here) ends with a storming version of the Cockerised Little Help, but I notice that one of the features of the original record that is NOT followed closely is BJ's brilliant drum entry.
It's funny that you ask about it, as I intentionally talked with our drummer about it. I wanted Floyd to do something there, but as Barrie did, it should be his own. BJ's fill is classic ... Floyd is more of a pocket drummer but I think he did the song justice.
Do you think contemporary drummers are aware of Barrie's brilliance ?
I would say Yes, if the drummer is a student of the specific genre. Keep in mind BJ is a very special drummer. As I said earlier he played almost symphonically ... he played the music ... NOT some pre-ordained sequence of hits and smashes ... or subliminal tracks. The fill at the beginning of the first chorus is a signature one.
What drummers currently working (outside your own band) do you feel have the power and subtlety of a latter-day BJ?
There is no-one out there – other than maybe Charlie Watts – that really comes close to Barrie. I'm sure in the whole world there are some, but I'd like to meet 'em ...
Since Barrie had provided Joe with such a classic, signature moment, is it puzzling that he didn't use Barrie on his studio albums?
Remember at that time there was one studio album, With a Little Help. By the next record (the one with Delta Lady et al) he already had the 'Grease Band' pretty much intact. Also I believe that BJ was a Denny Cordell recommendation, from the Procol connection as you know.
Later on the records didn't involve much of the English input, they were made in LA with that gang.
You're American …
Yes, I was born in Worcester Massachusetts in 1953, and I continue to live here now … It's about 38 miles from Boston, two-and-a-half hours from NYC by car. Very centrally located, that is why I'm still here. Not until I got Joe hooked up (again) with Chris Blackwell and Island was there a British component. You're right though: that drum fill is Classic Barrie.
When you toured with Joe, what sort of attention did Barrie get from Procol fans coming up afterwards? And did you get the feeling from him that he expected to play Procol Harum music again in the future?
It did not seem to me that there was not a lot of Procol fan interest ... I mean not more than you would expect. I don't know the plans that he had ... if they included Procol or not ... Gary Brooker did come to see us at the Hammersmith ... .
That must have been gratifying, if you were a Procol Harum fan yourself. Did you and Barrie get to play together in any context other than Cocker shows?
Yes I was and still am a Procol fan. I only played live with Barrie but we did get some good live recordings, I think you'll agree.
Maybe I could slip in a couple of questions from a 'Paler' who is a great champion of yours (thanks, Joan). There are two unreleased video concerts of the Cocker band, one that was released in Japan on laser disk and entitled Spirit of Live, and one that was shown on Canadian and American TV - probably recorded in Montreal in 1981. Do you happen to know the exact venues and dates of these and if they could possibly be released on VHS &/or DVD in the future?
Spirit of Live was done in Tokyo, in a typhoon as a matter of fact. The Japanese didn't want to cancel just because of torrential downpours. The Canadian gig was not done in Montreal ... maybe Calgary or Edmonton, but I don't think Montreal. There was no gig that year in Montreal... we did one in the Forum with Offenbach, but that was not our gig. We warmed up for them. So I would think Calgary or Edmonton. The 'new' CD called Standing There is the same band around the same time (Spring '81)
That gorgeous arrangement of You Are So Beautiful – with the guitar solo – is unique in Joe's history; but in the studio version and other Live line-ups Joe performed the song primarily with piano accompaniment and no soloing. You and BJ work together with such great synergy, especially during the solo: did the two of you have a hand in creating that arrangement?
The solo in You Are So Beautiful came about long before BJ's tenure ... around 1977 ... I asked Joe if he'd mind maybe 'rock ballad-ing up the song a bit' … he said 'sure' and it stuck. We used to do that tune later in the set sometimes as an encore so we needed some more 'drama' if you will.
Did Cocker's waltz-time A Whiter Shade of Pale predate Barrie's involvement with Joe? It would be interesting to know how BJ regarded this very different, R&B treatment of a song he must have played hundreds and hundreds of times in its original, Procol Harum arrangement.
Yes, the Whiter Shade that Joe did came about just before Barrie. He loved the waltz: keep in mind it serves the singer very well, and BJ really could play within the framework of 6/8 time.
Did he like to reminisce about playing the song with its original creators?
BJ didn't talk too much 'bout the Procol times, except he did say that they would try to end their tour of Europe and Germany in particular in Hamburg, so they could enjoy an area called the 'Reeperbahn'. He of course told me of this as he and I were in the middle of our own 'tour' of the famed Hamburg Neighbourhood … quite a wild little place.
Everyone will have read the comments in the Cocker book which make BJ out to have had some fairly eccentric moments. It would be nice to add a humane, fellow-muso's 'take' on that.
Yes, he was a little short of stamina from time to time ... reminded me of Keith Moon in the waning days, but not as severe. BJ did remind me of Moon in other good ways … his hands were blisteringly fast when needed ... it was a thrill to be right there and to hear and see that. As I said earlier, potentially explosive in a Who-type way. Especially on the fade of With a Little Help.
With a Little Help is a very special song to me. Every time we played it with Joe Cocker (always a set closer) it was a little different ... but at the same time comfortable, like coming home after a long day. Playing it with Barrie of course was a true highlight of my life ... again because it was the perfect vehicle for him … totally ballad one minute (and remember no-one played ballads like BJ) and the next utterly explosive ... as a rock guitarist one could not ask for more ...
Cliff, finally can you bring us up to date: whom are you playing with at present, and where can Procol Harum fans get to hear you?
I still play and record quite regularly with others of my 'vintage', with other former Cockerites as well. Mitch Chakour (who was with me in the early years with Joe and is on the Standing There CD ) remains one of my best friends, and we are together, as you know, in the Mohegan Sun All-Stars. The CD we just recorded is live, and we're quite proud of it [order it from here only]. Along with Mitch and myself we have a bit of an impressive line-up including Mike Finnagan (touring with Crosby Stills and Nash, and has been for years) Jeff Pevar (a member of CPR with David Crosby). Jeff also played with Joe Cocker in the early '90s and has played with many, many artists. Also Maceo Parker is with us on this record, you know him. We have a horn section comprised of former Tower of Power veterans and NY session dudes … I could go on but you get the idea …
The All-Stars is a band of friends and great musicians ... I am honored and blessed to be where I am at this stage of my life ... And it is a true pleasure to share with you and your readers a bit of my experience with Barrie ...
BJ's page at BtP