The door of the house on the top of the hill is open. Inside, there is no one. The living room, however , is decorated with empty whiskey bottles.

Joe Cocker is out back, overlooking a view that takes in the city of Santa Barbara and a lot of the Pacific Ocean.

"From here you can see . . . you can see . . . you can see - I forget, there's something down there, I don't remember what it is, must be the whiskey," Cocker says by way of greeting.

Cocker takes a swig from a bottle of beer and scratches his ample stomach. "Let's go, uh, back inside, gettin' cold out here, no warmer inside, but what the hell."

Joe Cocker, 34 now, is the English blues singer whose good-natured over-indulgence is a rock legend. He comes from Sheffield, the Pittsburgh of England, started out as a plumber, heard Ray Charles sing, dropped his wrench and went on the road. He's lived and recorded in America for most of his career.

Cocker's "mad-dogs-and-Englishmen" tour of America in 1970 will always be remembered as an example of the fallacy that you must live the blues in order to sing the blues.

In the year of the Joplin and Hendrix overdoses, audiences seemed to expect their heroes to be disorderly to the point of self-destruction. Cocker's arm-flailing, contorted stage style, which mirrored the tortured sounds his throat delivered, made many who saw him fear for his life.

He dropped out of sight, suffering from booze and heroine, but eventually got himself straight and now is recording and touring as often as performers who aren't still assaulting their bodies with foreign substances.

What about the voice? Perrier-sipping critics say Cocker can't cut it any more. They say Cocker threw his talent away, the way he threw his money away.

Cocker says, "I try, I really do. I can still sing in the same keys as originally, though there's more to it than that."

Cocker did 28 dates in America last year, and he'll tour in Europe and Australia this year. People still want to hear his way with the blues.

"I've gotten over that period when I used to kick up bile from my throat every morning. Every morning for three years. That's subsided now. Now I wake up in the morning and I don't feel ill. I feel so different, my first reaction is wonder what's wrong."

Cocker interrupts himself to howl, "Just a little loving!" It appears to be a line from a song. All afternoon, he periodically throws back his shaggy head and croaks out phrases of song.

Cocker's stashed away these days in a large, well-appointed cottage on the grounds of Jane Fonda's Laurel Springs Ranch on a mountaintop above Santa Barbara.

The place is stocked with guitars, a piano, a harmonica on the piano, a stereo, even books. Top of the stack is a biography of Ray Charles, Cocker's inspiration. Cocker's stereo is playing Marvin Gaye.

All afternoon, Cocker fades in and out. He often gives up on sentences half-way through, letting the rest of his thought dribble on down the mountain uncollected.

"Even now, I get echoes of the future," he says. That's an interesting statement. What does it mean? Cocker explains, "It's terrible junk - PCP. I took some in the other week. It makes you. . . .

". . . I'd never advocate . . . anyone who knows me would know why I'd be so daft . . . a rhinoceros tranquilizer!" Cocker shakes his head, rubs his underarm and takes a swig from a nearly-killed bottle of whiskey.

Why exactly would he take a drug specially formulated to subdue a rhino? Anything . . . anything that changes your angle on the music.

"I'm the same as most people. I like to turn on the television and sit there." Does Cocker mean that he needs drugs like PCP to avoid the curse of normality?

"You take a drug as alien as that, it bends your ear. Even though you recognize that it harms your brain, I mean, you hear machine guns going off in the back of your head.

Cocker, however, lived to tell the tale. With no prompting, he tells other tales. It's not often an interviewer hears what he came to hear, but wishes he weren't hearint it.

For years, the Cocker legend has entertained the music industry. One apocryphal story has it that he once turned up in London and called his record company. He mumbled something about needing his money right away. The company scrambled around and got together a check for 5,000 pounds. The executives handed it over to Cocker. Cocker looked puzzled. "What's this?" he asked. "I only wanted trainfare to Sheffield."

Cocker once generated millions of dollars in record and concert ticket sales. What's left from those days of glory are debts. The very lack of clarity with which Cocker recounts the story is a possible explanation of why it happened.

"It was 1972 or thereabouts. I was renewing my contract with A&M. The advance was $450,000 . . . which they now want back.

"This agreement . . . I needed money . . . I didn't care enough about the music. I was snorting a lot of smack. . . through the nose, not through the old needle.

"I went to a lot of these meetings. I remember one of them, they asked me, 'Do you want a lawyer, Joe?" The man made some pretend phone calls. All the lawyers were out to lunch.

"One time I was so smacked out . . . I can't remember which contract it was. I went in there . . . fell asleep . . . initialed the papers, JCR for John Robert Cocker. People were wakin' me up while I was doin' the initialing. "C'mon Joe, not many more to sign". . . ."

What happened to the money? "I gave it to some cloth-headed idiot. Now they tell me I owe tax money . . .$130,000, they say . . . 'Can you prove where you sent the money?'

"Somebody played a strange trick on me. Due to lethargy on my part, my name got transferred to some other company, instead of my company, I dunno. . . .

"Now it's semi-joke. The taxman asks me, 'How come you're claiming a $25,000-a-deduction for clothes, when everybody knows you never wear anything but jeans and a t-shirt?"

The semi-joke on the cover of his most recent album, "Luxury You Can Afford" (Elektra-Asylum), is that Cocker is pictured wearing a three-piece suit.

"My new record company . . . I get an advance of some kind, I'm sure . . . not a real heavy amount . . . is it $175,000? . . . which I never touched because it goes instantly to A&M.

"I always try and show some interest in my business affairs, but it isn't easy. The thing is, business people take their lives so seriously.

"Guys who are very good with numbers . . . you can't say they try to manipulate lives the same way, but they imagine themselves as father figures.

"They see musicians who don't show any interest toward money, and that makes them do strange things. Their justification is, 'I put out all this energy for him, and he can't even stay awake.'

"And that's the way it is. Most musicians don't want to know about the business, as long as they get enough of what they need to function on." CAPTION: Picture, Joe Cocker: "I'm the same as most people."