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.


  1. You can always rely on JJ Cale to help you through difficult moments, work, personal. financial. His meticulous langour could banish the moment and help put pressing matters into a proper perspective.
    For a man who called one album Troubador he didn't move around much, in the UK at least, so I never saw him play live, but his albums are ,rightly, timeless; they might have been cut last week, last year, 1973...
    His recent album with Eric Clapton reminds us that mutual respect can evolve into a whole lot more than back slapping and in-jokes and that the listener is the most important collaborator; it is inclusive and shared. And it makes you feel just, well, good.
    Thanks for your thoughts and enjoy France.

    John Axon

  2. The sad thing is how many obits have to mention the fact that Clapton covered so many of his songs in order to give him some credibility. I found that myself when trying to explain to a friend who hadn't heard of him - 'you know, those songs "Cocaine" & "After Midnight", Cale wrote those'. Still got blank looks.

    However, as Cale himself said, when the check came through the post, he didn't mind the anonymity.

  3. I remember that first gig well. We were all devotees but didn't know what he looked like. The roadies had been on stage for ages tuning up etc. they chairs were in a circle. Then the MC (bob Harris?) introduced 'JJ Cale', no one appeared and suddenly that voice appeared from one of the 'roadies'.
    I think Bill Boatman was the other guitar player