Tedeschi Trucks Band and his friends
Learning to Live Together – The Return of Mad Dogs and the English
3.5 out of 5 stars
“Cocker Power” read the words on the side of the private plane that shuttled the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour on a 50 date run. And it wasn’t a lie.
“For his spring 1970 tour, Joe hired producer Leon Russell to bring together a group of renowned musicians, lovers, kids, a film crew and a dog for an epic journey across the United States. They would forever be known as Mad Dogs & Englishmen.
This is the first graphic line appearing on this new film documenting both the first MD&E tour and the reuniting of some of these attendees with the Tedeschi Trucks Band to piece together the setlist and the overall feeling of camaraderie at a 45-year-old concert. later. It took six years to create this hour and 50 minute film, some of that time spent acquiring song licenses and artist approvals. But it’s finally here.
The show celebrating the gigantic tour took place at Virginia’s Lockn ‘Festival in 2015. Cocker was in discussions to be included, but he passed away a year before it happened. Still, a weak game, so generally Leon Russell signed. He died a year later but with his presence the floodgates opened. A dozen members of the original Mad Dogs aggregation of over 30, mostly session musicians, signed, including drummer Jim Keltner, keyboardist Chris Stainton, backing vocalists Claudia Lennear, Pamela Polland and Rita Coolidge whose in-depth interviews play a major role in the story.
This project is intended both to inform an audience that may not be familiar with the tour of 50 years ago (by selecting clips from the film made about it) and to cover the new recreation of this rock and sprawling roll as some of these musicians join TTB for Lockn’s concert. Leon Russell, the musical director (some called him the ringmaster) and co-star with Cocker of the first MD&E, is the key to the success of this film since his involvement was an integral part of the concept. The interview clips with him are the last he made on camera before his death, which in itself adds gravity to the proceedings.
Director Jesse Lauter is clearly infatuated with the subject matter but tries to do too much in the allotted time. There are archival interviews and music videos from five decades ago mixed with footage of the now aged twelve musicians saluting and rehearsing with the TTD. But Lockn’s final concert which is the highlight of the trip is strangely and frustratingly underrepresented. Teases of the show occur throughout the last 20 minutes capturing three songs. They include Russell performing a solo “Ballad of Mad Dogs & Englishmen” and a catchy climax of “With a Little Help from My Friends” with Chris Robinson and Tedeschi sharing the vocal part of Cocker. But the other two hours are disappointing MIA.
Learning to live together is nonetheless a fascinating and gripping film. This will stimulate audiences to dig up the raw but gripping 1970 original documentary, about a quarter of which is sampled here in various split-screen formats (think Woodstock), and search for the associated CD, both of which are readily available. Another missed opportunity is that the music from the Lockn ‘concert, which is at the heart of this film, is not available, at least for the time being.
The pressure of being the leader and carrying the Mad Dogs & Englishmen cross country trailer on his shoulders, mixed with a cocktail of drug and alcohol abuse, ultimately sent Joe Cocker into a downward career spiral that some claim he never recovered. Conversely, it propelled Leon Russell to superstar status.
Rita Coolidge sums up the experience with “The fact that this was never meant to last gave her a sense of urgency.” This sentiment emerges from the 1970s and 2015 shows and is clearly communicated in a movie that, even with its limitations, is recommended to watch.