Fall Arts Guide 2016: Mad Dog & Englishman

Eric Lyttle
Stev Guyer (front) with members of the Joe Cocker tribute troupe (from left) Leah Haviland, Lukas Tomasacci, Nikki Fagin and Noelle Grandison

Shadowbox pays tribute to Joe Cocker, an inspiration for sound and stage

If you're a fan of Shadowbox, the iconic Columbus sketch comedy troupe, you owe a debt of gratitude to Joe Cocker.

Cocker is the quirky British rocker with the gravelly voice and the odd stage contortions mocked brilliantly by John Belushi in old Saturday Night Live skits. Cocker's hits included 1974's top-10 "You Are So Beautiful" and his tie-dyed performance of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends" on the Woodstock stage.

But it was another of Cocker's works that grabbed Stev Guyer, the Shadowbox founder. In 1971, a teenaged Guyer walked into a South Carolina movie theater and watched a documentary film, dubbed Mad Dogs & Englishmen, that followed Cocker's rambling, rambunctious 40-person musical commune from city to city. The tour, and the ensuing album and film, would become part of the fabric of rock lore.

"It was a defining time and a defining concept, this band of gypsies," Guyer says. "I was impressionable and young when I saw it. It paved the way for how I thought about the music industry and gave rise to stage, performing and, ultimately, Shadowbox."

Joe Cocker died just before Christmas, 2014. That same month, Guyer broke his hip. "I was laying in the hospital when I thought of doing a tribute show," he says. Guyer created "A Tribute to Joe Cocker: Mad Dog & Englishman," a two-hour concert of Cocker's greatest hits in full costume, featuring two guitars, two keyboards, two drummers, a bass, two percussionists and a four-person horn section, in addition to a 12-person choir.

He and the band performed it for the first time last spring, and a few other shows followed to great reception.

On Sept. 4, Guyer's "Mad Dog & Englishman" will be performed for the first time on the Columbus Commons stage. For that event, Guyer intends to invite the community to bid auction-style for one of 38 additional choir spots, the proceeds of which will go to help support Shadowbox's educational programs for kids.