Cale, J.J.

San Diego 2007 with JJ Ned Newhouse2

Cale, J.J.

J.J. Cale (John W. Cale) was born on 5 December 1938, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Some sources incorrectly report his given name as “Jean Jacques Cale”. The truth is that a nightclub owner in California who was employing Cale in the mid-1960’s came up with the “J.J.” moniker to avoid confusion with the Velvet Underground’s John Cale.

A composer, guitarist and vocalist, he is one of the innovators of the “Tulsa Sound.” It draws on blues, rockabilly, country, and jazz influences. In an interview, J.J. 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.”

J.J. began playing guitar in the clubs around Tulsa 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, where he was hired by the Grand Ole Opry’s touring company. After a few years, he returned to Tulsa. There, he reunited with Russell and began playing in the local clubs. In 1964, J.J. and Leon moved to Los Angeles with another musician from Oklahoma, Carl Radle. In Los Angeles, J.J. worked as a studio engineer and began playing with Delaney and Bonnie. He only played with the duo for a brief time to launch his solo career in 1965. That same year, he cut the first version of “After Midnight,” which would become his most famous song. A year later, Cale formed the Leathercoated Minds with songwriter Roger Tillison and recorded A Trip Down Sunset Strip.

He returned to Tulsa in 1967 and again embarked on the local club circuit. Within a year, he had completed a set of demos. Carl Radle obtained a copy and sent them on to Denny Cordell, who was launching Shelter Records with Leon Russell. Shelter signed Cale in 1969. J.J.’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, Really, J.J. embarked a slow work schedule. It took until 1983 for him to record his eighth album, 8. There were no further albums until late 1990 (Travel Log). 10 was released in 1992, followed by Close to You (1994) and Guitar Man (1996). A long period of inactivity ensued. J.J. did not return to recording until 2003. The result was the critically acclaimed To Tulsa and Back (2004). His most recent CD is Roll On (2009).

Many artists, in addition to Eric Clapton have noted J.J’s influence on their music. They include Mark Knopfler, Neil Young, Bryan Ferry, and “jam bands” like Widespread Panic.

J.J. is also well known for his longstanding aversion to stardom and extensive touring. He has happily remained relatively obscure for decades. In an interview, J.J. 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.” However, he did engage in a short tour in April 2009 to support the release of Roll On.

Besides “After Midnight” and “Cocaine,” Eric Clapton has also recorded “I’ll Make Love To You Anytime” and “Travelin’ Light”. In 2008, Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood performed three J.J. Cale songs at their Madison Square Concerts (“Low Down,” “After Midnight,” and “Cocaine”).

In 2004, J.J. was one of the invited performers at Eric’s Dallas Crossroads Guitar Festival. Eric joined J.J. and his band on stage for a few songs. Later that year, Eric invited J.J. 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 on 7 November 2006. On 15 March 2007, J.J. joined Eric Clapton on stage during Eric’s tour stop in San Diego, California. In addition to performing “After Midnight” and “Cocaine”, they treated the audience to three songs from The Road To Escondido. J.J. can also be heard on one track on EC’s 19th studio album, Clapton (2010).

J.J. passed away on 26 July 2013 at age 74.

Following his death, Eric Clapton organized the recording of a tribute album. Released on 28 July 2014, it features performances by EC, Mark Knopfler, John Mayer, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, Derek Trucks and Don White performing 16 JJ Cale songs.

For more information, visit J.J. Cale’s Official Website

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