You may not have heard of J.J. Cale as he deliberately avoided the limelight, he spent his career as an “under-the-radar-giant” (New York Times). However he influenced musicians as wide-ranging as Neil Young (who wrote in his autobiography, “J. J.’s guitar playing is a huge influence on me. His touch is unspeakable. I am stunned by it.”); Beck (who, speaking to the L.A. Times, referred to his “effortlessness…restraint and underplaying” as “very powerful”); Eric Clapton (who, in his autobiography, called Cale “one of the most important artists in the history of rock, quietly representing the greatest asset his country has ever had”); and many, many others.
This is reason enough to check him out, but he is also considered to be one of the originators of the Tulsa Sound, a loose genre drawing on blues, rockabilly, country, and jazz. In the early 1970s his albums Naturally and Troubadour were always must haves for any guitar player.
Because Music will release Stay Around, the first posthumous album by beloved songwriter, guitarist on 26th April. Stay Around has been compiled by those closest to Cale, his widow and musician Christine Lakeland Cale and friend and longtime manager, Mike Kappus. Because Music has released the official video for the album’s debut single, Chasing You, featuring footage of Cale touring, which he seldom did, and performing across the U.S. The video is a breezily bittersweet glimpse at the life of the artist who died in 2013 and left behind a vital, resounding legacy.
All tracks on Stay Around are previously unreleased, a fact that’s not unusual considering Cale’s modus operandi: often Cale would reserve outtakes from one album for later release on another.
Mike Kappus, who managed Cale for 30 years and has worked with his estate since his passing, explains, “Roll On, the title track of Cale’s last studio album, was 34 years old. He would burn me CDs of demos, and one time I said, ‘You’ve got two good albums on here.’ Some of the tracks had detailed information, some of them had nothing. Some songs might be a full band of his buddies, others were him playing everything. These were songs he really did intend to do something with because they were carried to his typical level of production for release.”
On Stay Around, the only song not written by JJ Cale is Christine Lakeland Cale’s My Baby Blues the first song she and JJ cut as a four-piece combo in Bradley’s Barn studio in 1977, the year they met. She is not only his widow but was a member of his band for many years, she expresses that the song “brings everything full-circle” for her.
In compiling Stay Around, Christine Lakeland Cale pored over songs, both studio and home recordings that the public had never heard. She adds, “I wanted to find stuff that was completely unheard to max-out the ‘Cale factor’… as much that came from John’s ears and fingers and his choices as I could, so I stuck to John’s mixes…You can make things so sterile that you take the human feel out. But John left a lot of that human feel in. He left so much room for interpretation.”
Cale himself said, “I like a funkier sound. I really admire the people who get really good sound. That takes expensive studios, expensive musicians. I delved into that a couple of times, but it’s more fun when I create something to do it myself; it always has a unique sound. If I start doing it standard-wise, it becomes more polished and it doesn’t sound quite as unique; it sounds like everybody else.”
JJ Cale cut his teeth during the ’50s, playing guitar in bars in Oklahoma alongside fellow natives David Gates of Bread and Leon Russell, which is where he was credited with helping to develop the laid-back Tulsa sound, along with other native Tulsans.
He managed to gather a loyal fan following and the admiration of some of the most revered rock musicians while,in the unwavering desire to lead a normal life,eluding fame. It was via other artists recording and performing his songs that he became best known. Eric Clapton recorded After Midnight, Cocaine and several other Cale originals, his admiration culminating with the pair’s Road To Escondido collaboration in 2006, which earned Cale his first Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album and his first RIAA Certified Gold Award.
Among the many others who covered Cale’s songs are Jerry Garcia, Captain Beefheart, Spiritualized, Beck, Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Mayer, Bryan Ferry, Santana, Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, Lucinda Williams, The Band, Widespread Panic, Freddie King, Phish, Waylon Jennings, Maria Muldaur, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Hiss The Golden Messenger, Dan Auerbach and Lee Fields, to name just a few.
This goes to prove that even though you may not have heard of J.J.Cale, you have almost certainly heard his work and are, probably like me, unaware of the value of his legacy that this hugely talented but modest musician has given us.
JJ Cale died on 26th July 2013.