JJ Cale Call Me the Breeze

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Submitted by Don Graham

JJ Cale, singer-songwriter and producer, called by many the architect of the Tulsa Sound, has passed away. He succumbed to a heart attack  on  Friday July 26th, 2013 at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, California.  He was 74.

Cale isn’t, and never was , a household name, although I guess that depends on the household. But some his songs remain in heavy rotation on the radio nearly 40 years later. Most folks have no idea that  Cale is their author. That was a role he had no problem with.

"No, it doesn't bother me," Cale said  in an interview posted on his website. "What's really nice is when you get a cheque in the mail."And for decades the cheques rolled in. The  artists who covered his music or credit  him as a direct influence reads like a who's who of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — Clapton, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Mark Knopfler, The Allman Brothers, Carlos Santana, Captain Beefheart and Bryan Ferry among many others.

It was Eric Clapton who perhaps forged the closest relationship with Cale. They were like brothers, musically and personally. Clapton also recorded Cale songs ‘Travelin' Light’ and ‘I'll Make Love To You Anytime’ and included the Cale composition ‘Angel’ on his most recent album, Old Sock. Other songs like ‘Layla’ didn't involve Cale directly, but clearly owe him a debt. The two also collaborated together on The Road to Escondido, which won the Grammy Award for best contemporary blues album in 2008.

Clapton once told Vanity Fair that Cale was ‘the living person he most admired’, and Cale weighed the impact Clapton had on his life in a 2006 interview with The Associated Press: "I'd probably be selling shoes today if it wasn't for Eric." That quote was typical of the always humble Cale. But while Clapton was already a star when he began mining Cale's catalogue, there's no doubt the music they shared cemented his "Clapton is God" status and defined the second half of his career.

JJ Cale and Eric ClaptonJJ Cale and Eric Clapton"As hard as I've tried I've never really succeeded in getting a record to sound like him and that's what I want," Clapton said in a "Fast Focus" video interview to promote Escondido. "Before I go under the ground, I want to make a JJ Cale album with him at the helm." Unfortunately that will now never come to pass.

Clapton described Cale's music as "a strange hybrid. It's not really blues, it's not really folk or country or rock `n' roll. It's somewhere in the middle."

His best songs like ‘After Midnight’ ‘Magnolia’,‘Cocaine’and ‘Call Me the Breeze’ were towering hits - for other artists. Eric Clapton took ‘After Midnight’ and ‘Cocaine’ and turned them into party anthems that defined rock for a long period of time. And Lynyrd Skynyrd took the easy-shuffling ‘Call Me The Breeze’ and amped  it  up with their patented  three-guitar sound  that turned it into an enduring hit.

Cale was born John Weldon Cale in Oklahoma City, but  he was raised in Tulsa. Influenced by country and western on one side and the blues on the other, Oklahoma offered a melting pot of styles.

Cale drew from these roots as he was learning  his craft in his formative years in Los Angeles and Nashville. He would often bury his own whispery vocals in the mix, making  the listener need to lean in and focus.

"I think it goes back to me being a recording mixer and engineer," Cale said in a 2009 biography on his website. "Because of all the technology now you can make music yourself and a lot 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.”

It has been written that JJ stood for Jean Jacques but that is an urban myth. The truth is a co-owner of the Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset Strip, where Cale played, gave him the monicker JJ  to avoid confusion with John Cale of the Velvet Underground.

Cale’s  biggest U.S. hit single, ‘Crazy Mama’, peaked at #22  in 1972. During the 2006 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 ‘Crazy Mama’, which probably would have made  it skyrocket up the charts, but he declined when he was told he could not bring his band to the taping and would have  to lip-sync the words.

They don’t make ‘em like JJ Cale anymore and he will be missed but his songs will live on forever and his memory will be in every breeze. Rest in peace JJ your work on earth is done.