JJ Cale, the singer-songwriter who penned such hits as “After Midnight,” “Call Me the Breeze” and “Cocaine,” died Friday in a La Jolla, CA hospital after suffering a heart attack. He was 74.
Born in Oklahoma City in 1938 and raised in Tulsa, as a young musician Cale was part of a group of musicians who were instrumental in developing what is known as the “Tulsa Sound,” a blending of rockabilly, blues, jazz and country in the 1950s. Neil Young once compared Cale’s electric guitar chops to those of Jimi Hendrix, claiming the two were the best guitarists he’d ever heard, though the playing styles between the two were very different.
Remembered for his laid back style, Cale recorded numerous albums as a solo artist, typically engineered and produced himself, thanks to his audio engineering experience. However, he found his greatest success in having his songs recorded by others. He was at a low ebb in his career and was considering quitting music when Eric Clapton picked up “After Midnight” and turned it into a hit in 1970. A few years later, Lynrd Skynrd turned “Call Me the Breeze” (a song Cale recorded himself in 1972) into another monster hit. Clapton recorded numerous other tunes by Cale, and the two performed together regularly over the years. They collaborated on 2008’s The Road to Escondido, which won the Grammy for Best Blues Album. Cale’s last appearance on a recording was earlier this year on Clapton’s Old Sock, in which he plays guitar and sings on the track “Angel.”
JJ Cale is one of those artists who will be best remembered, not for his personal fame, but for the noteworthy artists who have claimed him as an influence—including Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler, Carlos Santana, and of course Neil Young and Eric Clapton. He will be greatly missed.
(Photo: Jane Richey via jjcale.com.)