Acclaimed guitarist reminisces about touring with Joe Cocker and other rock legends
By Jane Keller Gordon, Assistant Editor
Worcester- For Worcester native and legendary rock guitarist Cliff Goodwin, there is no place like home. In 1988, after 12 years of touring the world with iconic rock singer Joe Cocker – it was time for Goodwin to go home, to his wife and two children, then 5 and 8.
“I remember my wife telling me that when our daughter saw a plane with its contrail, she would say, ‘Is that where daddy lives when he’s not here?’” he recalled.
But the music did not stop then for the guitarist; indeed, he continued playing for others and on his own, winning acclaim along the way.
Music invaded Goodwin’s life early on when the Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 9, 1964.
“I was 13 years old. The next day I had a band called Exit Left,” he said.
Other bands followed: The End, Appleton’s Journal, Albatross, and when he was 16, American Standard.
“After high school, American Standard broke up, but we got back together in 1974. Our manager knew Joe Cocker’s manager, Michael Lang, who was one of the co-creators of Woodstock… Lang was looking for kids who could play with Cocker who had no baggage, no drugs, and no drinking. That was us,” Goodwin said.
“I was raised by my Depression-era grandmother. She told me that if you make two bucks, you save it because you might not make it next week. I wasn’t about to waste it on something up my nose,” he added.
Along with two Rolling Stones’ sidemen, Bobby Keyes on saxophone and Nicky Hopkins on keyboard, in 1976 Goodwin and his buddies set out to see the world.
“Joe taught us that we exist to serve the song, and that we treat the song with respect,” he noted.
Cocker’s big hits then – “You Are So Beautiful,” “Up Where We Belong,” “Feeling Alright,” “With a Little Help from my Friends,” and “Leave Your Hat On” – were part of Goodwin’s regular gig.
“We started out in smaller clubs and eventually played in big stadiums… I’ve been all over: Australia, Tokyo, Europe, South, Central and North America, and Israel,” he said.
Goodwin played on a number of Cocker’s albums, as well as on the disc “Secrets” by Robert Palmer, including Palmer’s super hit “Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor Doctor)”.
He also played with Jon Butcher Axis, the popular early 1980s Boston-based rock band, fronted by musician Jon Butcher.
“Music is a very intimate thing. You are standing naked in the sun, with everybody watching you. After a while, the buzz isn’t there,” said Goodwin.
“Back then, before YouTube, I started to wonder if I imagined it all. There was no proof except in my mind… did I play in Berlin? In Sydney?”
With those thoughts, he returned home, eventually joining his uncle’s Worcester orthopedic shoe business.
“It was a good fit for me. We had a store that was open 36 hours a week. That meant 18 hours for me and 18 hours for him,” said Goodwin.
The business was closed six years ago. He now manages properties in Worcester.
Music continues to be part of Goodwin’s life, but mostly around the region. He plays with Christine Ohlman, who is the lead vocalist for the Saturday Night Live Band. He recently backed James Montgomery in Newport. He is part of several bands: The Mohegan Sun All Stars, The Silverbacks, and Mad Dogs Unchained – a Joe Cocker tribute band.
His album, “Cliff Goodwin: Rhythm and Blues Union,” was released in 2018. Goodwin plays lead, slide and acoustic guitars and sings lead vocals on half of the songs. A number of illustrious musicians also performing on the album include several Cocker band alum as well as Butcher and Montgomery. The album may be purchased at https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/cliffgoodwin.
On Sunday, Oct. 27, at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Goodwin will be part of Sound Fusion: Robots & Live Performers Creating Music Together. Goodwin and organist Will Sherwood will play with robots created by Worcester Polytechnic Institute Professor Scott Barton’s Music Perception and Robotics Lab.
And for this guitarist who has played all over the world, Worcester continues to still have his heart.
“I’m a Worcester booster,” he said. “I think it’s a great place to live.”
He now lives within two miles of where he was born. For Goodwin, there’s indeed no place like home.
Goodwin may be reached at [email protected].