Sunday, July 28, 2013

After midnight, we're gonna chug-a-lug and shout and thank JJ Cale for his music and style

I knew JJ Cale slightly. So when Reuters News Service asked me to take care of his obit, I was honored. Of course, it had to be cut down for the wire service, but they still ran a good bit of it. Here is the full, untrimmed and unedited story I filed July 27, 2013.

 Grammy award winning singer and songwriter JJ Cale, one of the most versatile musicians of his era who played everything from rock ‘n’ roll to blues and jazz, has died after suffering a heart attack, his official website said on Saturday.

Guitarists today talked not just of his success – the 74-year-old Cale won a Grammy award in 2008 for "The Road to Escondido," which he recorded with singer-songwriter Eric Clapton – but of his wide-ranging influence.

“I know that you should probably talk with Eric Clapton because he benefited greatly from imitating his success,” said Kenny Vaughan, Nashville-based guitarist for The Fabulous Superlatives, who was reached in Maine, where that band – fronted by Marty Stuart – is performing.

 Clapton himself has been quoted in the past on the influence Cale, who spent an early part of his career trying to make it in Nashville, but who became known more for his “Tulsa Sound” and his laid-back approach to songwriting and playing.

 “I consider myself a songwriter … I guess the business end is my songs and the fun part is playing the guitar,” Cale said in a video that showcases his performance with Clapton at the 2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival.

For his part, Clapton gives Cale his due. “A lot of people think I wrote ‘After Midnight’ and ‘Cocaine’ … I made them my own, but (Cale’s)  are the versions I really like. I could play like that till the cows come home,” Clapton says in the video, just before he and Cale take the stage at that event. That 2004 Crossroads festival was the first in a series of guitar fests that benefit Crossroads Centre, a drug treatment facility Clapton founded in Antigua.

“He was very unassuming,” said Vaughan. “His way of playing was extremely unique in that it was understated and always groove-oriented and very cool.”

Cale was born in Oklahoma City and moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s, where his career flourished.  The Nashville stop was a small chapter in his career.

But it was filled with good music, according to Mac Gayden, of iconic groups Barefoot Jerry and Area Code 615.

Gayden, also a renowned singer and session musician, met Cale at a recording session around 1970.  

 “J.J. was a perfect example of how a humble but extremely talented musician should live his life,” said Gayden. “I was in the  studio for no more than 10 minutes when we finished the first hit that JJ had on ‘Crazy Mama.’

“I was playing the slide guitar and it was the first song to have the slide ‘Wah’ sound. He trusted my instincts. His music will last for many years. “

Cale’s style still heavily influences guitarists in Music City.

“I respect his music,” says Brent Mason, a performer as well as one of the most in-demand- session guys in Nashville.

“I look at him for that easy, laid-back rock’n’roll style. He wasn’t a flashy guitar player. He was real soulful. He played with his fingers, not picks. I always like his sound.”

 “He didn’t seem to follow the pack or chase styles,” adds Vaughan. “He never seemed to be a guy that put a lot of effort into being trendy or commercially viable at any given moment. He certainly lasted a long time.”

Dave Pomeroy, renowned bassist and head of the musicians union in Nashville, said that Cale “was one of the first genre-defining artists with a Nashville connection. If you look at the mid-career period of Eric Clapton, you can see a direct connection with JJ Cale….

“I feel like he has had a huge influence on what everybody now would call Americana,” he says, referring to a rootsy blend of country and folk music that is practiced by many of Nashville’s younger music crowd.

But his personal style influenced more than guitar players. Nashville trumpet player George Tidwell posted a personal remembrance on his Facebook page: “Over a number of years I had the great musical and personal pleasure of recording, playing clubs and concerts and writing horn arrangements for him, and think of those times as some of my happiest musical experiences. John was so easy to work with, amazingly gifted yet completely modest and self-effacing.

Rock legend Neil Young once described Cale as the best electric guitar player he had ever seen other than the late Jimi Hendrix.

Cale's official website said he died on Friday night at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, California. There were no immediate plans for memorial services, the website said.

The obituary notes that “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.”


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