John Weldon Cale (December 5, 1938 – July 26, 2013), known as JJ Cale or J.J. Cale, was an American singer-songwriter and musician who was one of the originators of the Tulsa Sound, a loose genre drawing on blues, rockabilly, country, and jazz influences. Cale's personal style has often been described as "laid back".
Songs written by Cale that have been covered by other musicians include "After Midnight" by Eric Clapton, Phish and Jerry Garcia, "Cocaine" by Eric Clapton, "Clyde" by Waylon Jennings and Dr. Hook, and "Call Me the Breeze" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Mayer and Bobby Bare. In 2008 he was a Grammy Award winner, jointly with Clapton.
Life and career
Cale was born on December 5, 1938, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and graduated from Tulsa Central High School in 1956. Along with a number of other young Tulsa musicians, Cale moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, where he first worked as a studio engineer. Finding little success as a recording artist, he later returned to Tulsa and was considering giving up the music business until Clapton recorded Cale's "After Midnight" in 1970. His first album, Naturally, established his style, described by Los Angeles Times writer Richard Cromelin as a "unique hybrid of blues, folk and jazz, marked by relaxed grooves and Cale's fluid guitar and laconic vocals. His early use of drum machines and his unconventional mixes lend a distinctive and timeless quality to his work and set him apart from the pack of Americana roots music purists." In 2013 Neil Young remarked that of all the musicians he had ever heard, J.J. Cale and Jimi Hendrix were the two best electric guitar players.
Some sources incorrectly give his real name as "Jean-Jacques Cale". In the 2005 documentary, To Tulsa and Back: On Tour with J.J. Cale, Cale talks about Elmer Valentine, co-owner of the Sunset Strip nightclub Whisky a Go Go, who employed him in the mid-1960s, being the one that came up with the "JJ" moniker to avoid confusion with the Velvet Underground's John Cale. Rocky Frisco tells the same version of the story mentioning the other John Cale but without further detail.
In this 2005 documentary J.J. Cale's style is also characterized by Eric Clapton as "...really, really minimal..." and he states precisely: "...it's all about finesse".
His biggest U.S. hit single, "Crazy Mama", peaked at #22 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1972. In the 2005 documentary film To Tulsa and Back Cale recounts the story of being offered the opportunity to appear on Dick Clark's American Bandstand to promote the song, which would have moved it higher on the charts. Cale declined when told he could not bring his band to the taping and would be required to lip-sync the words.
Cale often acted as his own producer, engineer and session player. His vocals, sometimes whispery, would be buried in the mix. He attributed his unique sound to being a recording mixer and engineer, saying; "Because of all the technology now you can make music yourself and a lot of people are doing that now. I started out doing that a long time ago and I found when I did that I came up with a unique sound."
Cale died of heart failure in July 2013, at the age of 74, in La Jolla, California.
Songs written by Cale that have been covered by other musicians include "After Midnight" and "Cocaine" by Eric Clapton (Cocaine also was covered by Nazareth), "Clyde" by Waylon Jennings and Dr. Hook, "Call Me the Breeze" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Mayer and Bobby Bare, "Ride Me High" and "Travelin' Light" by Widespread Panic, "Bringing It Back" by Kansas, and "Magnolia" by Poco.
In 1974 Captain Beefheart covered the song "Same Old Blues" on his album Bluejeans & Moonbeams.
The 1992 track "Run" on Spiritualized's debut album, Lazer Guided Melodies, is essentially a cover of Cale's "Call Me the Breeze" with some additional lyrics. Cale is given songwriting credit on the album.
As well as "After Midnight" on his self-titled debut album in 1970 and "Cocaine" on Slowhand in 1977, Eric Clapton has covered Cale's "I'll Make Love To You Anytime" on his 1978 album Backless. Other Clapton covers of Cale originals include "Travelin' Light" on his 2001 album Reptile, "River Runs Deep" and "Everything Will Be Alright" on his 2010 self-titled album Clapton, and "Angel" on his 2013 album Old Sock.
- 1958 "Shock Hop"/"Sneaky" (as Johnny Cale)
- 1960 "Troubles, Troubles"/"Purple Onion" (as Johnny Cale Quintet)
- 1961 "Ain't That Lovin You Baby"/"She's My Desire" (as Johnny Cale Quintet)
- 1965 "It's A Go Go Place"/"Dick Tracy", Liberty 55840
- 1966 "In Our Time"/"Outside Looking In", Liberty 55881
- 1966 "After Midnight"/"Slow Motion", Liberty 55931
- 1971 "Crazy Mama", Shelter 7314 (from the album Naturally, peaked at #22 on the US single charts on April 8, 1972, and #21 in Canada on April 15)
- 1972 "Lies"/"Riding Home", Shelter 7326
- 1979 "Katy Kool Lady"/"Juarez Blues", Shelter WIP 6521
- 1972 Naturally (A&M/Shelter)
- 1973 Really (A&M/Shelter)
- 1974 Okie (A&M/Shelter)
- 1976 Troubadour (Shelter)
- 1979 5 (Island/MCA)
- 1981 Shades (Island/MCA)
- 1982 Grasshopper (Island/Mercury)
- 1983 #8 (Mercury)
- 1990 Travel Log (Silvertone/BMG)
- 1992 Number 10
- 1994 Closer to You
- 1996 Guitar Man
- 2004 To Tulsa and Back (Blue Note)
- 2009 Roll On (Rounder)
- 2001 Live
- 2006 The Road to Escondido (with Eric Clapton; won 2008 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album)
Albums featuring JJ Cale
- 1966 A Trip Down The Sunset Strip (as part of the Leathercoated Minds)
- 2013 Old Sock – Eric Clapton – Cale plays guitar and sings on his song, "Angel"
- 1984 Special Edition (a compilation of hits from previous albums)
- 1997 Anyway the Wind Blows: The Anthology
- 1998 The Very Best of J.J. Cale
- 2000 Universal Masters Collection
- 2003 After Midnight (German release)
- 2006 The Definitive Collection
- 2006 Collected (with bonus tracks, Dutch release only)
- 2007 Rewind: The Unreleased Recordings
- 2011 The Silvertone Years (a collection chronicling Cale's music released by Silvertone 1989–1992)
- 1979 In Session At The Paradise Studios - Los Angeles, J.J.Cale featuring Leon Russell
- 2004 Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festval Cale with band from 2004 US tour (below) play a set with Clapton.
- 2005 on tour with J J Cale - to Tulsa and back 2005 documentary filmed during a 2004 US tour with Cale, Christine Lakeland, Jimmy Karstein, Bill Raffensperger, Rocky Frisco
- "To Tulsa and back – On Tour with J.J. Cale" 2005 documentary about J.J. Cale
- VH1: Biography
- Laid Back – Thirty years under the influence of "Cocaine"
- NPR: June 2004 story
- On his Casio 360 guitar
- JJ Cale at discogs.com
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Image from Discogs