Recent selections in this space have featured the music of the lately departed (Ray Manzarek and Bobby “Blue” Bland), and today’s offering adheres to that trend. While trying to avoid engaging in any sort of comparative analyses, the passing of today’s featured artist feels like a pretty big deal. Eric Clapton’s site has the details:
The legendary American Singer / Songwriter, JJ Cale, died on Friday 26 July of a heart attack at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, California. The news was reported on his management company’s website and on the musician’s Facebook page.
JJ Cale (John W. Cale) was born on 5 December 1938, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. …
A composer, guitarist and vocalist, he was one of the innovators of the “Tulsa Sound.” It draws on blues, rockabilly, country, and jazz influences. In an interview, JJ once said, “I don’t think there is a Tulsa sound as such. It’s just individuals. But I know what you mean. In western Oklahoma you’ve got a lot of country music. Then in eastern Oklahoma, it’s closer to the Mississippi and you’ve got more blues musicians. In Tulsa we got influenced by both and there’s some jazz in there too. So I guess that’s what made my sound.”
JJ began playing guitar in the clubs around Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 1950s. He played in a variety of rock and western swing bands, including one with Leon Russell. In 1959, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he was hired by the Grand Ole Opry’s touring company. After a few years, he returned to Tulsa where he reunited with Russell and began playing in the local clubs. In 1964, JJ and Leon moved to Los Angeles with another musician from Oklahoma, Carl Radle. In Los Angeles, JJ worked as a studio engineer and played with Delaney and Bonnie for a brief time. He launched his solo career in 1965. That same year, he cut the first version of “After Midnight,” which would become his most famous song. …
He returned to Tulsa in 1967 and again embarked on the club circuit. Within a year, he had completed a set of demos. Carl Radle obtained a copy and sent them to Denny Cordell, who was launching Shelter Records with Leon Russell. Shelter signed Cale in 1969. JJ’s debut album, Naturally, was released in December 1971. It included the Top 40 hit “Crazy Mama,” a re-recorded version of “After Midnight” (which nearly reached the Top 40) and “Call Me the Breeze.” These remain some of his best known songs.
Following the release of his sophomore effort, JJ embarked a slow work schedule. Over the years, his aversion to stardom and extensive touring became well-known. He happily remained relatively obscure for decades. In an interview, JJ Cale said, “I’m a guitarist and a songwriter and I got lucky when Clapton heard one of my songs. I’m not a showbiz kind of guy. I had the passion to do music as much as anybody. But I never wanted to be the patsy up front. And I still don’t want to be famous.”
It took until 1983 for him to record his eighth album, 8. Then, there were no further albums until1990’s Travel Log. 10 was released in 1992, followed by Close to You (1994) and Guitar Man (1996). Those albums were followed by another long period of inactivity. JJ did not return to recording until 2003. The result was the critically acclaimed To Tulsa and Back (2004). His last CD was Roll On (2009). He embarked on his final tour in April 2009 to support it’s [sic] release.
Eric Clapton is one of many musicians who have noted J.J’s influence on their music. They include Mark Knopfler, Neil Young, Bryan Ferry, and “jam bands” like Widespread Panic. Clapton, when asked by Vanity Fair several years ago “What living person do you most admire?” replied simply “JJ Cale.” Neil Young has said, “Of all the players I ever heard, it’s gotta be Hendrix and JJ Cale who are the best electric guitar players.”
Over the years, Eric Clapton recorded several of JJ Cales’ compositions including “After Midnight”, “I’ll Make Love To You Anytime”, “Travelin’ Light”, “Angel” and “Cocaine” which remains a Clapton concert staple to this day.
… Later [in 2004], Eric invited JJ to produce an album for him. Work started in the summer of 2005, but it evolved into a collaborative effort. Their joint album, The Road To Escondido, was released to critical acclaim on 7 November 2006. Certified gold by the RIAA, it won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2008. … JJ can also be heard on EC’s 19th studio album, Clapton (2010) and Old Sock (2013).
Famous for songs others turned into hits, “After Midnight” and “Cocaine,” via Clapton, and “Call Me the Breeze,” via Skynyrd, J.J. Cale was far from a back-room, record company songwriter. He was, as the tribute from Clapton’s folks indicates, a true musician in his own right, and he would have been an important one even if those heavy commercial hitters hadn’t picked up a few of his tunes. (He didn’t mind the royalty checks, though, he acknowledged in a statement picked up by this nice Daily Beast retrospective.) That’s why it seems right to remember him not through the interpretive work of others, but through his own performances.
His 2004 release, To Tulsa and Back, has been in my regular rotation since it came out, so the first of the following three selections comes from that album:
[Video not available for embedding. Click here.]
A friend commended the next choice, from Cale’s 1972 album, Naturally, which features Carl Radle on bass:
Finally, a collaboration with fellow propagator of the Tulsa Sound, Leon Russell:
Ride on, J.J.