JJ Cale Has Passed Away
JJ Cale passed away at 8:00 pm on Friday July 26 at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, CA. The legendary singer / songwriter had suffered a heart attack. There are no immediate plans for services. His history is well documented at JJCale.com, rosebudus.com/cale, and in the documentary, To Tulsa And Back. Donations are not needed but he was a great lover of animals so, if you like, you can remember him with a donation to your favorite local animal shelter.
Just like the man himself, elegant in understatement, and closing with a suggestion to help a being other than himself. Truly, there's no way to soothe the loss that music fans everywhere feel on this day, so it's certainly best in the announcement of his passing to remain true to what the man was.
Some bio information: he was born John Weldon Cale on December 5, 1938 in Oklahoma City, though he was raised in Tulsa. While there is a musical urban legend that his real name was "Jean-Jacques Cale," the origin of his "JJ" designation was a lot more practical; Elmer Valentine, co-owner of the Sunset Strip nightclub in Los Angeles dubbed him "JJ" simply to avoid any confusion with John Cale of the then-more-famous Velvet Underground. He moved to Los Angeles in the early '60s and tried to break into the music business as a studio engineer. Discouraged at his lack of success, he moved back to Tulsa and strongly considered giving up on a career in music when in 1970 Eric Clapton recorded Cale's classic, "After Midnight."
Though he recorded more than fifteen studio albums during his career, he was probably better known for his songwriting abilities. The peak of his commercial success as a performing artist came early for him; "Crazy Mama" from his 1972 debut album Naturally peaked at #22 on the Billboard charts. While you wouldn't necessarily think of him as a singles sort of songwriter, many notable artists had success with Cale compositions; besides the already mentioned Eric Clapton, his songs were recorded by Waylon Jennings, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kansas, Tom Petty, Carlos Santana, Widespread Panic and even Captain Beefheart (among others). The broad spectrum of song stylists who found his songs outstanding is just another tribute to the timelessness of his writing.
Earlier, I used the word "elegant," and on the surface, it's almost comical to use that word about this man (and I bet even JJ would have gotten a chuckle out of it), but the first dictionary definition I found for the word says it means "characterized by or exhibiting refined, tasteful beauty of manner, form, or style." Cale had all of that and more in his music. One of the many things that characterized his distinct style when recording was the unassuming stance his own vocals took, often buried much lower in the mix than is customary. This all goes back to Cale's own vision of his place in the biz. According to quotes from the bio on his website, he always thought of himself as more of a songwriter than anything else. Said Cale, "I consciously do that. I actually have the vocals up more in my later years. They used to be really low. I never considered myself a singer. I always considered myself a songwriter, so my singing got on my nerves so I'd always pull my vocals back. I guess in the last ten or fifteen years I've pushed the vocals up a bit, but not to where it was uncomfortable for me." Still, in the over 35 years that Cale spent recording his own music, he developed a massive and very loyal legion of fans... myself included.
With an artist like JJ Cale, most fans appreciate him on a couple of levels. There's the obvious tracks that you can't live without; "Crazy Mama," "After Midnight," "Cajun Moon," "Call Me The Breeze;" all the obvious and undeniable classics. Then there's the secondary stuff that maybe didn't get as much airply or press... but from which every fan seems to have a personal favorite. For me, it was his 1994 album Closer To You. I'm not entirely sure I can explain why that one remains such a favorite; it's a really good JJ Cale album, but they all are in their own right. The songs are clever and catchy... but again, that's not unusual for him. It is, for me, one of those little private magical moments that touches a very special place inside me and to this day is probably still the Cale album I listen to the most. As a fan, I think the happiest I might have been was when, in 2006, he released The Road To Escondido with Eric Clapton. After all those years of being an "on the sidelines" kind of guy, his name was right there with equal billing along with one of the undeniable heavyweights of all time. Not surprisingly, it's a great album, a superb example of mutual admiration between two great artists and it really did a lot to get him some richly deserved attention from both media and fans.
So yeah, the music world has lost another legend. Why is it that so many talented artists become even bigger in their passing than they were while alive? Is it that the world gets the slap in the face and now has to realize what has been taken away? I'll never know, I'm sure. Today, of course, I'm doing the "fan thing." I've got a bunch of JJ Cale loaded up in an iTunes folder and I'll listen with a smile on my face. I'm having black coffee with my brunch of beans and rice, and later on today, I'll toss back a couple of cold ones. No fancy imports or anything, just a couple of Buds or PBRs. Had I ever had the pleasure of JJ Cale's company at my home for a little food and a lot of stories, I think I would have felt comfortable serving all of that to him. He was one of those people who made the lives of so many
Rest in peace, JJ Cale, and man... thanks for all the tunes!
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" (as J.J. Cale)
1966 - "In Our Time/Outside Looking In" (as J.J. Cale)
1966 - "After Midnight/Slow Motion" (as J.J. Cale)
Note: I personally was unaware of any of these recordings until I did a little research for this article. I can't TELL you how much I want to hear these tracks... particularly the early "After Midnight," and the idea of JJ Cale performing a song called "It's A Go Go Place" makes me grin stupid!
1972 - Naturally
1973 - Really
1974 - Okie
1976 - Troubadour
1979 - 5
1981 - Shades
1982 - Grasshopper
1983 - #8
1990 - Travel Log
1992 - Number 10
1994 - Closer To You
1996 - Guitar Man
2001 - Live
2004 - To Tulsa And Back
2006 - The Road To Escondido (with Eric Clapton)
2007 - Rewind (previously unreleased recordings)
2009 - Roll On
2013 - In Session At Paradise Studio (CD/DVD, with Leon Russell)