Man, it was sad hearing the news about JJ Cale over the weekend. Dead of a heart attack, 74.
JJ Cale was an early musical hero for me - I discovered his music quite by accident. And I know I wasn't the only person to at first have him confused with John Cale. I was just getting into the Velvet Underground at the time I heard a JJ Cale album (I'd not heard any of John Cale's solo work at this time). I couldn't believe the change in tone, clearly a change in lifestyle! But no, JJ Cale was his own man; his own musician.
I loved JJ Cale's music for the loping groove to it all. His guitar playing: economical, immaculate - clever ideas. The solos always seemed to probe, tunnelling inward, searching within the song then burrowing back out. And that voice. So cool. Iconic-meets-laconic/laconic-meets/iconic.
And again, for me, part of the appeal - and this might not be something you ever searched for - but it was music the whole family got along with. I liked that. I mean, I was 12 years old when I first heard JJ Cale, and those songs just blew my mind. That Travel-Log album was a new release. So cool. From there it was back to a greatest hits comp and to the early albums. I would have found out about JJ Cale eventually: being something of an Eric Clapton fan at the time I was just a week or two off noticing that the songs Cocaine and After Midnight were written by one JJ Cale; his (original) versions are better too. But I was hip to Cale already (even if I still thought he was also that other John Cale) because my grandmother had won the Travel-Log album via a radio station competition - and she hated it, instantly gifting it to my mother. I still have that LP. That particular copy. The whole family loved it. And I liked that a lot at the time. It was cool to share music across the whole family. It was also fine to like your own things. But hey, the family that plays (music) together...
I play a few JJ Cale songs now and then; I have a few of his albums on vinyl, a couple on the iPod, that trusty compilation (and in particular I always loved the Troubadour album; I remember buying the cassette tape from the World Record Club mail-order service on the back of loving the Special Edition compilation and needing to hear more). But days, weeks, months go by these days when I don't listen to JJ Cale.
Still I'd consider him one of the great heroes of my early life absorbing music. He was the first musician I got turned on to where it was so very clear that he'd had a level of success and was not remotely interested in being a pop-star. It just didn't figure, wasn't what it was about. Here was a songwriter, a very good writer, just having his way with a word and a line, a twitch of guitar, a hint of melody, that warm chug in the rhythm, a mellifluous solo, that lived-in and lovely voice.
Man, the first time I heard that song Magnolia. Boy, you just wilt. Everything is lovely about that song, the playing, the conception, the whole composition. JJ Cale songs always feel so very well framed.
So, Saturday night, I've just returned home from playing a DJ set at a wedding. Long night. Straight to Facebook - as is the way, sad but true. First thing I see, someone's shared the news with me that JJ Cale has gone.
Straight to the iPod to listen through to a few songs, up late for a nightcap, and trying to process this news - I don't even know why I say this, why I thought it, but I just always kinda figured he'd be around.
I heard so much in his songs - great space, these world-weary narratives, the forlorn made to sound so lovely, the loveliness of the world celebrated, some in-between genre created, a Tulsa-time that consisted of blues and jazz and rock and R'n'B and country tinges.
I always liked how Clapton did his best to celebrate JJ Cale, to lift his profile, he endorsed him - pushed him on, thanked him profusely for being an influence, a song source, a friend.
Most likely you at least knew Cale's songs through Clapton and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Perhaps you were a fan of his original tracks. I certainly was.
It was late on Saturday night, so late that it was creeping well on into Sunday morning. And I was up. With other things on my mind. Trying to unwind. But it hit me hard hearing the news about Cale. Such a cliché but he just seemed so nice.
Sylvie Simmons shared the story about interviewing him four years ago and how he "was dressed just like he was on stage the night before, like a man who's just been fixing the car. He said, in the same parched, unhurried voice he sings with, that he liked fixing things. He always took a tool kit on the road with him, he said, in case the toilet in his hotel room ran, and offered to come over and work on my house. Trust me, this does not happen often. This was JJ Cale, or as Eric Clapton says, one of the most important artists in the history of rock."
So I stayed up and wrote out some of my thoughts about JJ Cale. And then some more today. Here. Because I thought you might like to share your thoughts. Were you a fan? Did you have a favourite album - or albums? Favourite songs? One of the good guys, I reckon. I'm convinced of that. And we'll miss his kind. We always miss his kind.
R.I.P. JJ Cale.
You can also check out Off the Tracks for The Vinyl Countdown, reviews and other posts.