“I’m a background person. I’m not a household name. People have heard my music, but all my famous songs were made famous by somebody else. . . . But that was my goal.” J. J. Cale”
One of the finest, most influential unknowns of music died yesterday at the age of 74 at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, California after suffering a heart attack. John Weldon Cale, known to all as J. J., was the originator of what came to be called the Tulsa sound, which was an amalgam of blues, jazz, and a laid-back intimacy that rendered a dreamy, unforgettable groove. On his debut album back, Naturally, released in 1971 were several tunes that were destined to become big hits for others, the most notable being ‘After Midnight’. This was the track that Eric Clapton copped, lick for lick so that his version was not just a cover but a copy.
In fact, it could and should be said that Clapton owed his entire success of the 70s to Cale, for the Tulsa man’s catalogue ran deep and fruitfully for Clapton on several occasions. Not that Eric was ungrateful. Their collaboration on the 2008 album, The Road To Escondido, won the duo a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
Born in Oklahoma City, Cale migrated to Los Angeles in the 1960s and flourished. He began to call himself “J. J. ” so as not to be confused with other John Cale who had been a seminal member of The Velvet Underground. J.J. was a musician’s musician, a guitar wizard who was imitated, but never equalled, by countless rockers and bluesmen for his velvet tone and smooth style that played soft but swung hard. Rock legend Neil Young once described Cale as the best electric guitar player he had ever seen other than the late Jimmy Hendrix.
Key tracks from Cale’s extensive songwriting career include: ‘Cocaine’, ‘Crazy Mama’, ‘They Call Me The Breeze’, and the afore-mentioned ‘After Midnight’. Notable albums include Naturally, Okie, Troubadour, and his final release Roll On from 2009. He can also be seen in a couple of noteworthy films, 10 Days Out (Blues From the Backroads), and To Tulsa and Back: On Tour with J. J. Cale.
Brian Miller is the Publisher and co-Editor of Vivascene. A former record store owner and business writer, his interests range from vinyl records and high performance audio to design, photography, and succinct writing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org