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With J. J. Cale It Was His Music That Mattered, Not His Image

Back Porch Music / Narada
Cover of the the J.J. Cale Live album released in 2001. The album is made up of recordings made between April 20, 1990 - March 29, 1996

J. J. Cale was laid back. Some people said the same of his musical style. That's easier than trying to sift through his mix of Blues, Rockabilly, Country, Jazz and more than to come up with an established genre to identify him with.

Cale was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the same as Elvin Bishop and Leon Russell (the latter one of his bandmates in the late 1950s). As a teenager he played in a number of local bands ranging from Rock and Roll to Western Swing.

It was in 1959 that Cale moved to Nashville, getting a gig with the touring company of the Grand Ole Opry. He returned to the clubs of the Tulsa area a few years later in a group that included Russell.


In 1964 J. J. Cale, Leon Russell and fellow Tulsa native Carl Radle moved to Los Angeles. Cale was briefly in the backup band for Delaney and Bonnie before starting his solo career in that same year.

A short stay in a psychedelic band called Leathercoated Minds may have helped J. J. decide that LA was not the place for him and he returned to Tulsa and the club scene. Soon after he did a recording that came to the attention of Shelter Records, which was a co-creation of Leon Russell and Denny Cordell. They signed him in 1969.


Cale's work with Shelter led to his being discovered by Eric Clapton, whose massive hit with his song "After Midnight" was the real break for Cale. Clapton also had a hit with Cale's Cocaine. Many more well know artists recorded Cale compositions over the years including Waylon Jennings, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Johnny Cash, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Poco, Dr. Hook, and even Kansas.


Cale's own recording career was rather casual, recording new albums much less frequently than most. His attitude towards the world of pop stardom is illustrated by his refusal to do Dick Clark's American Bandstand after he found out he was expected to come without his band and to lip sync one of his hits. He played shows with a bare minimum of stage lighting which may be the reason that video clips of him are rare.

Those are among the reasons why I liked him so much…it was about the music, not about him. We lost J. J. Cale in 2013 due to a heart attack, but I have no doubt that many top artists will record his songs in the years to come.

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