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Pat Piper has made a career learning something new. As a journalist in the news business, “something new” occurs every hour so he’s becoming an expert at understanding stuff he never thought about. Learning became a common word in “Future Talk: Conversations About Tomorrow” (Warner Books), the popular book he ghostwrote with Larry King as […]

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An Hour With Joe

By on December 23, 2014 in See It Here

Joe Cocker flew to New Orleans to be a guest on Larry King’s late night radio show which we broadcast from the top floor of the Marriott for one of 724 National Association of Broadcasters conventions held in that city. Broadcasters like New Orleans and we all know why.

You can spot Joe right away and I had been warned by his manager he didn’t like flying so have some hot coffee ready which, now that I think about it, was a subtle hint. Because he was the first guest and I had made sure the set was good to go and that Larry had the one-line rundown about each guest (Larry doesn’t want to know a lot before he talks to someone for an hour),  I stood outside and saw this limo pull up and a guy dressed in jeans and a blue shirt that had been buttoned wrong got out of the car.

“Hey mate,” he said and we walked into the lobby. I had never met Joe but everyone he saw was named “mate.” He wasn’t walking too well so I grabbed his arm as we got into the elevator.

“I really like the show,” he said. “We catch it after our show sometimes.”

“Everyone is excited you’re going to be here,” I told him, adding, “and they’re all broadcasters so many play your records.” Note: we used the word “records” back in 1986.

With just Joe and me in the elevator I suddenly realized why his manager suggested coffee. Joe was shit-faced. He drank because “he doesn’t like flying.”

A producer’s dilemma: Big Guest. Big Radio Show. It’s Live. Every broadcast owner/manager/suit in the United States is in the audience and the first hour guest is loaded. I did what any radio professional would do:

“Joe, what do you say we get some coffee and I can move you to the second hour so you can relax a little?”

“I’m good. Let’s do this.” The elevator door opened and I walked with Joe into the room with audience members standing around all with drinks in their hands because we had a full bar set up in the back.

“Oh shit,” I thought to myself.

“Oh. Shit!,” Joe said looking at the bar. “I’m gonna have a beverage.” He was off and the suits parted ways like the Red Sea as Joe placed his order.

By this time Larry was on the set, we had about two minutes to air, and people were gathered around him getting autographs and making conversation. I whispered in his ear, “Joe is here but we may have to cut it short.”

Larry looked at me and, of course spoke loudly enough so everyone could hear. “Why would we cut Joe Cocker short? He’s a great guest…”

Of course, every self-appointed broadcast expert heard that and started in with “What kind of clown producer are you?-do you have a pulse pal?-you sure wouldn’t work for me….”

Ignoring the “experts,” I put my hand up to slow Larry down and moved to kneel next to him to try and explain my fear. Larry leaned in and then there was commotion on the other side as people started raising their voices.

Joe had just sat down next to Larry.

Sometimes, you just have to let it go. That’s the beauty of live broadcasts.

Joe and Larry started and went for the entire hour. It was fast-moving, lots of laughs, good questions from listeners around the country and Joe answered each with depth.

When it was over, Joe and Larry shook hands, did the backslap routine and I started to take this now-fired-up hero of mine out of the room.

Larry tapped me on the shoulder before we left and whispered, “Keep an eye on Joe. I think he’s drunk.”

I looked at Larry and said, “Joe Cocker? Really?”

Larry didn’t miss a beat. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure.”

Joe and I went down the elevator and through the lobby, stopping from time to time for a quick autograph and made it to his driver standing outside.

Joe turned to me.

“That was fun. I’m feeling good.”

I shook his hand and said, “Have a good flight home, Joe.”

He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I hate F**^ing flying.”

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