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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Thinking about J.J. Cale

The news of the death of J.J. Cale reaches me in rural France, where I have very little music to listen to. It doesn't matter because his is the kind of music I hold every detail of in my memory.

We went to see him the first time he came to London. The curtain rose on a bunch of musicians sitting in a semi-circle, looking at their feet and playing an instrumental. "Which one's him?" asked my wife. "He hasn't come on yet," I assured her. As soon as the words were out of my mouth the figure second from the right started to sing "Call Me The Breeze".

It's funny how people talk about him as the heir to the old tradition of sitting and picking on the back porch. Although there are elements in his music that remind you of Slim Harpo and even Hoagy Carmichael nobody had previously put things together in the way he put them together. In that sense he wasn't a traditionalist so much as the originator of one beautiful new trick, a trick he had the good sense to never try to surpass.