A. John Robert Cocker – known as Joe Cocker was born on 20 May 1944 at 38 Tasker Road, Crookes, Sheffield. He was the youngest son of a civil servant, Harold Cocker, and Madge Cocker, née Lee. According to differing family stories, Cocker received his nickname of Joe either from playing a childhood game called “Cowboy Joe”, or from a local window cleaner named Joe.
Cocker’s main musical influences growing up were Ray Charles and Lonnie Donegan. Cocker’s first experience singing in public was at age 12 when his elder brother Victor invited him on stage to sing during a gig of his skiffle group. In 1960, along with three friends, Cocker formed his first group, the Cavaliers. For the group’s first performance at a youth club, they were required to pay the price of admission before entering. The Cavaliers eventually broke up after a year and Cocker left school to become an apprentice gasfitter working for the East Midlands Gas Board, later British Gas, while simultaneously pursuing a career in music.
Cocker was not related to fellow Sheffield-born musician Jarvis Cocker, despite a rumour to this effect (particularly in Australia, where Jarvis Cocker’s father, radio presenter Mac Cocker, allowed listeners to believe that he was Cocker’s brother), although Joe was a friend of the family and even did some babysitting for Jarvis when he was an infant.