Joe Cocker tends tomatoes to unwind after tours, recording
A life on the road presents a lot of challenges for those who make their living in music, and Joe Cocker has been making his living in music for decades.
Not only does it mean time away from his Mad Dog Ranch above Crawford when he’s in the recording studio, it also means time away when he’s on tour, which is a necessity for a working musician.
Some road warrior challenges are typical and shared by thousands. But Cocker has developed a passion that keeps him grounded when he’s not on tour, but makes it harder when he’s gone.
“As an entertainer, going on tour interferes with gardening,” Cocker says. Gardening?
Cocker, the crazy hippy who thrilled audiences at Woodstock more than four decades ago, is also Cocker, the man who is at peace in a mountaintop greenhouse where he pursues his hobby.
“I love growing tomatoes,” he said. Cocker has fond memories of his dad receiving an allotment to grow tomatoes in England after World War II. People used to ask Cocker to help them get their share of his dad’s tomatoes.
“It was the main thing in Dad’s greenhouse,” he said.
When Cocker and his wife, Pam, bought their property above Crawford in 1992, they built a small greenhouse near their home after it was completed in 1994. The small greenhouse enabled him to pursue his interest in gardening and start his tomato journey.
“I knew there wasn’t a lot to do in the mountains,” he said, trying to explain how his tomato hobby began. “They’re pretty dreadful in the supermarkets.”
Although he was able to grow tomatoes that rivaled the memories of his dad’s, Cocker’s small greenhouse didn’t provide the total escape many gardeners look for when their hands are at home in the dirt. So the Cockers ignored the advice that says to build a greenhouse near the home, and Pam gave Cocker a greenhouse on a hill as a birthday gift last year.
“I can walk from the house with the dogs, and it’s blissful,” he said.
Cocker’s greenhouse gives him two things that are in short supply when he’s touring: solitude and peace. “I see a lot of people when I’m touring,” he said. “I love it in here. There’s no one in here at all. I sat in here one day and watched the snow melt.”
In addition to watching snow melt, Cocker also managed to plant several types of tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and some cucumbers. He got the tomatoes started right after Christmas, and he’s picking big, gorgeous specimens at a time when most Colorado gardeners are just putting their plants in the ground outside.
Like other tomato growers across the Western Slope, Cocker is concerned about curly leaf virus and annoying pests such as the white fly, which wiped out his crop in the small greenhouse one year. His hilltop greenhouse is producing a bounty crop so far this year.
“They never get past Pam’s loving arms,” he joked, adding that his wife freezes the tomatoes for use in pasta sauces and soups.
Cocker’s reputation as a man who loves growing tomatoes has grown in the past few years. When he travels, people often give him seeds of local varietals.
“The Lord Mayor of a village in Europe came with a bag of seeds,” he said. “I got some great seeds from Australia.”
While most Western Slope gardeners don’t have the privilege of collecting tomato seeds from worldwide fans, they are able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Cocker starts touring with Tom Petty at the end of May and won’t be home until the “Home Again” benefit concert for the Cocker Kids’ Foundation in July.
Someone else will have to tend his garden, pick the produce and enjoy the tomatoes.
Cocker wants to put in a large outdoor garden next to the greenhouse later this summer, where he’ll try to tackle the challenges of trying to coax something out of the ground at Mad Dog Ranches’ 7,000-foot elevation.
For a man who makes his living performing in front of thousands, Cocker seemed remarkably relaxed and content puttering around a greenhouse in the middle of nowhere.
But then again, he’s a gardener, which means that even though he’s putting finishing touches on his newest album and recording tracks with Carlos Santana, he’s also discovered the quiet joy and satisfaction of planting a seed in the dirt and watching it grow.