Remembering JJ Cale


It was with great sadness that I learned about that singer-songwriter JJ Cale died this weekend from a heart attack. He was 74.

Cale was known by many as the writer of songs made famous by other people. He was covered by the likes of Eric Clapton, the Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Captain Beefheart, Tom Petty and Santana. This was a testament to his greatness as a songwriter, but in my mind it was always a crime JJ Cale was not more celebrated as a musician too. Neil Young once said that of all the guitarists he’d ever heard, Jimi Hendrix and JJ Cale were the best.

Hailing from Oklahoma, Cale was apparently one the originators of the “Tulsa Sound,” which also includes another under-appreciated legend and personal favorite, Leon Russell. His first two records, Naturally and Really, have received too many plays to count on my turntable, and throughout his career he produced quality material with his characteristically laid back sound. A late-career nod to his greatness came when he won a Grammy for his collaborative LP with Eric Clapton, The Road to Escondido.

Perhaps part of the problem with his limited commercial success was his unique mix of folk, blues, country and jazz. This, along with his laconic attitude, made his hard to define and market. Despite an apparent antiquated feel, his music also has a timelessness to it that might have something to do with his early adoption of the drum machine. I would argue his sound is hybrid Americana at its best.

When it comes down to it, the mark of a true legend should not be monetary success, nor popular appeal; a true legend is the artist who earns to most respect from his contemporaries. JJ Cale had that.

Thanks for the music, JJ.

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