J.J. Jam

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.

B-List Band of the Week: Dave Mason

The B-List Band of the Week feature returns today after an extensive hiatus. Again, the point here is not to present second-rate writing about second-rate musicians, but rather to briefly highlight artists existing out of the spotlight, perhaps in an attempt to identify why they are so located. Last time, the focus was on The Outlaws, a group that, on paper, had all the makings of one Lynyrd Skynyrd but failed to materialize as such. Today, it’s on Dave Mason, a guitarist and singer frequently on the fringe of rock and roll’s main scene, particularly in the 1970s, and who continues to perform today.

In recanting Mason’s story, it should first be acknowledged that he’s unlikely to have gained the notoriety that he has without his association with the band Traffic. As it were, Mason actually came to work with Jim Capaldi before either became involved with Steve Winwood, when Mason and Capaldi became members of the same band in the mid-1960s. Mason would meet Winwood when the former became road manager for the latter’s Spencer Davis Group, eventually joining him, Capaldi, and Chris Wood as founding members of Traffic. Mason’s first hit would be the band’s second single, “Hole in My Shoe,” a Harrisonian-Indian pop-psychedelic bit that would eventually appear on the band’s self-titled release in 1968, its second album. Between Traffic’s first album, 1967′s Dear Mr. Fantasy, and Traffic, Mason would leave and rejoin the band, adding another Britpop-style song in “You Can All Join In” and his biggest hit, “Feelin’ Alright?”, to the ’68 effort.

Mason was out of Traffic for the second and final time in 1968, making his way to Los Angeles and into one of the greatest and most embryonically formative touring bands ever recorded, Delaney & Bonnie. Keep reading…

King James Approximately: A Summer Jam from Florida

Plenty of below average songs about Miami came to mind when I woke up this morning and learned that the Heat had won the NBA championship, but I thought it would be better for everyone to raise the level of geographic generality a little bit to broaden the options. Having done that, and recalling that the first day of summer was this week, the choice was pretty easy. Here’s “Mainline Florida,” the last cut off of the great early summer album, 461 Ocean Boulevard:

Please ignore the video uploader’s errant comma and make like Mike Miller and don’t let your troubles keep you from having a great weekend.

Up in smoke: Duck Dunn, dead at 70

On Sunday, Donald “Duck” Dunn, longtime bass player for legendary Stax Records house band Booker T. & the MG’s died in Tokyo at the age of seventy. As first reported by best friend, bandmate, and guitarist Steve Cropper, Dunn “died in his sleep . . . after finishing two shows at the Blue Note Night Club.”

Dunn grew up with Cropper in Memphis, and the two formed a band in the late 1950s before going to work for Stax, where they eventually became half of the house band, Booker T. & the MG’s, alongside Booker T. Jones (organ) and Al Jackson (drums). AllMusic lays out the essentials:

As the house band at Stax Records in Memphis, TN, Booker T. & the MG’s may have been the single greatest factor in the lasting value of that label’s soul music, not to mention Southern soul as a whole. Their tight, impeccable grooves could be heard on classic hits by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Carla Thomas, Albert King, and Sam & Dave, and for that reason alone, they would deserve their subsequent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But in addition to their formidable skills as a house band, on their own they were one of the top instrumental outfits of the rock era, cutting classics like “Green Onions,” “Time Is Tight,” and “Hang ‘em High.”

As a member of the MG’s and as a session musician, Dunn played with (hyperlinks to video evidence) Redding (also including the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival performance), Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Eric Clapton (with Phil Collins), Neil Young, and, famously, the Blues Brothers, among many others.. He, Cropper, and Jones also were part of the band backing Clapton, Young, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roger McGuinn, G.E. Smith, and other stars on the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration.

Also as a member of the MG’s, Dunn was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and received a lifetime achievement award in 2007.

At this point, I don’t find anything on the web beyond the basic AP-style report, but I’ll supplement this post with any engaging remembrances that appear later. My only additions are: 1) Blues Brothers is my favorite movie; 2) this is some great music; 3) dial up Otis and Duck from 1967′s Monterrey Pop Festival; and 4) there would seem to be something to be said for dying (basically) doing what you love.

Close with a clean-shaven, pipeless Dunn and his fellow MG’s performing their biggest hit, “Green Onions”:

Backwards down the springtime line: A reader-suggested Friday Jam

Reader, commenter, and master of the Monday Link Parade and Heli Free Sawatch domains Andy sends in this week’s Jam, and I went for it without hesitation, save the time it took to swap out the static video for this live-action version, which sacrifices nothing from the studio version, particularly as regards Charlie’s more energetic playing and Mick Taylor’s work on lead axe. Had the latter not left the Stones, one wonders who might have bourne Clapton’s nickname today.

A Thanksgiving tradition for over 30 years

If there’s one thing upon which all of us can agree, I think it’s The Last Waltz at Thanksgivingtime. The following is from an invitation I’ve sent to friends in years past when I was living elsewhere:

On Thanksgiving, 1976, at Winterland in San Francisco, the Band gave its final concert: The Last Waltz. The group was in top form, playing all of their best songs from their multi-decade lifespan with their best friends and influences there to help them. From early mentors and collaborators like Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan to Canadians Joni Mitchell and Neil Young to bluesmen Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton to songsmiths Neil Diamond and Van Morrison and many more, this was a one-of-a-kind event, captured and beautifully preserved by Martin Scorsese.

A true landmark, both in the worlds of music and cinematography, The Last Waltz has been a part of my Thanksgiving observation for years now, and I would like you to take it in with me. 

Wherever you find yourself this year, the 35th anniversary of the event, grab a copy of the movie, give thanks, wear something nice, and above all else, remember,