J.J. Cale, a singer-songwriter-musician whose songs have been covered by artists ranging from Eric Clapton to Deep Purple, died on Friday of a heart attack.
Cale was one of the architects of ‘The Tulsa Sound’, a loose mix of rock n roll, blues, rockabilly, country, jazz and blues that emerged from the area in the late 50s and early 60s. Notable alumni to come out of that scene included Cale, Leon Russell, Elvin Bishop, David Gates and Dwight Twilley. Cale moved to in L.A. in the early 60’s and released a handful of singles, but found little success. He ended up working as a studio engineer just to have some money in his pocket. Cale was ready to give up on the music business when Eric Clapton scored a hit with ‘After Midnight’, a song Cale wrote and recorded as a demo in 1966. The song’s success encouraged Cale to record his first album Naturally, which was released in 1972 on Leon Russell’s Shelter Records. It was a modest hit – ‘Crazy Mama’ was his only Top 40 hit, reaching #22 and his version of ‘After Midnight’ just missed cracking the Top 40 – but the album started to make the rounds among other musicians. A couple of songs from the album become hits for other artists: ‘Call Me The Breeze’ for Lynyrd Skynyrd and ‘Clyde’ for Waylon Jennings.
Cale would record fourteen albums between 1972 and 2009, but maintained a low profile. He rarely did interviews, rarely toured and purposely kept his picture off album covers for the first 15 years of his recording career. He would resume a modest touring schedule in the late 90s-early 2000’s, releasing a live album in 2001, and the documentary To Tulsa And Back was a look back at his career and his 2004 tour. But his laid back recordings and productions had an enormous influence on musicians for nearly 40 years. Clapton adopted the Cale sound for several albums and scored another hit with the Cale-written ‘Cocaine’ in 1977. The two would later pair up for the Grammy winning album The Road To Escondido in 2006. Neil Young, Mark Knopfler, Bryan Ferry and Beck have all cited Cale as a major influence on their approach to songwriting and performing. The number of artists of who have been influenced and/or covered Cale material ranges from classic rock (Tom Petty, Santana. Deep Purple, Kansas), blues (Freddie King, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland), jam bands (Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band, and Widespread Panic) country (Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins and Waylon Jennings), the avant-garde (Captain Beefheart) and British neo-sou (Jai covered ‘Magnolia’ on his 1997 debut album Heaven).
A songwriter and musician of the highest order, J.J. Cale leaves behind a legacy that very few can match.
Rest easy Mr. Cale…