J. J. Cale

John Weldon "J. J." Cale[1] (December 5, 1938 – July 26, 2013) was an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Though he avoided the limelight,[2] his influence as a musical artist has been widely acknowledged by figures such as Mark Knopfler, Neil Young and Eric Clapton, who described him as "one of the most important artists in the history of rock".[3] He is considered to be one of the originators of the Tulsa Sound, a loose genre drawing on blues, rockabilly, country, and jazz.

J. J. Cale
Cale in 2007
Cale in 2007
Background information
Birth nameJohn Weldon Cale
Born(1938-12-05)December 5, 1938
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S.
DiedJuly 26, 2013(2013-07-26) (aged 74)
San Diego, California, U.S.
GenresAmericana, Cajun, blues, swamp rock, country rock, Red Dirt, Tulsa Sound
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter, producer
InstrumentsGuitar, vocals, piano, flute, bass, drums
Years active1958–2013
LabelsShelter, Mercury, PolyGram, Virgin, Rounder, Silvertone
Associated actsEric Clapton, Leon Russell

In 2008, Cale and Clapton received a Grammy Award for their album The Road to Escondido.

Life and careerEdit

Early yearsEdit

John Cale was born on December 5, 1938, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.[1] He was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and graduated from Tulsa Central High School in 1956. As well as learning to play the guitar he began studying the principles of sound engineering while still living with his parents in Tulsa, where he built himself a recording studio.[4] After graduation he was drafted into military service, studying at the Air Force Air Training Command in Rantoul, Illinois. Cale recalled, "I didn't really want to carry a gun and do all that stuff so I joined the Air Force and what I did is I took technical training and that's kind of where I learned a little bit about electronics."[5] Cale's knowledge of mixing and sound recording turned out to play an important role in creating the distinctive sound of his studio albums.[6]

Cale in concert in Munich, Germany, 1975

Early musical careerEdit

Along with a number of other young Tulsa musicians, Cale moved to Los Angeles in late 1964, where he found employment as a studio engineer as well as playing at bars and clubs. He managed to land a regular gig at the increasingly popular Whisky a Go Go in March 1965.[7][8] In 1966, while living in the city, he cut a demo single (in those days professional demos were actual 45 rpm vinyl singles) with Liberty Records of his composition "After Midnight".[9] He distributed copies of the single to his Tulsa musician friends living in Los Angeles, many of whom were successfully finding work as session musicians. He found little success as a recording artist and, not being able to make enough money as a studio engineer, he sold his guitar and returned to Tulsa in late 1967, where he joined a band with Tulsa musician Don White.

Rise to fameEdit

In 1970 it came to his attention that Eric Clapton had recorded a cover of "After Midnight" on his debut album. It was suggested to Cale that he should take advantage of this publicity and cut a record of his own. His first album, Naturally, released on 25 October 1971, established his style, described by Los Angeles Times writer Richard Cromelin as a "unique hybrid of blues, folk and jazz, marked by relaxed grooves and Cale's fluid guitar and iconic vocals. His early use of drum machines and his unconventional mixes lend a distinctive and timeless quality to his work and set him apart from the pack of Americana roots music purists."[10]

In his 2003 biography Shakey, Neil Young remarked, "Of all the players I ever heard, it's gotta be [Jimi] Hendrix and J. J. Cale who are the best electric guitar players."[11] In the 2005 documentary To Tulsa and Back: On Tour with J.J. Cale, Cale's guitar style is characterized by Eric Clapton as "really, really minimal", adding "it's all about finesse".

His biggest U.S. hit single, "Crazy Mama", peaked at No. 22 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1972. In the 2005 documentary film To Tulsa and Back, Cale recounts the story of being offered the opportunity to appear on Dick Clark's American Bandstand to promote the song, which would have moved it higher on the charts. Cale declined when told he could not bring his band to the recording and would be required to lip-sync the words.[12]

Cale moved to California in 1980 and became a recluse, living in a trailer without a telephone. His 1983 album #8 was poorly received, and he asked to be released from his contract with PolyGram. When later asked how he had spent the 1980s he replied: "Mowing the lawn and listening to Van Halen and rap."[13]

Cale often acted as his own producer / engineer / session player. His vocals, sometimes whispery, would be buried in the mix. He attributed his unique sound to being a recording mixer and engineer, saying, "Because of all the technology now you can make music yourself and a lot of people are doing that now. I started out doing that a long time ago and I found when I did that I came up with a unique sound."[14]

His catalogue is published by independent music publishers Fairwood Music International.[15]


Cale died at the age of 74 in San Diego, California, on July 26, 2013, after suffering a heart attack. He was survived by his wife Christine Lakeland, whom he married in 1995.[16][17][18][19]

Posthumous albumEdit

On August 10, 2018, it was announced on his official website and on his page on Facebook page that a posthumous album of previously unreleased material would be released later in the year. On what would have been Cale's 80th birthday on December 5, his Facebook page announced that the album would be released in the spring of 2019. The new album, called Stay Around, was released on April 26, 2019.


  • "Angel" was covered by Eric Clapton on his 2013 album Old Sock.
  • "Bringing It Back" was covered by Kansas, and by funk supergroup Cameo (as "Bringing It Back, Baby").
  • "Cajun Moon" was covered by jazz singer Randy Crawford for her 1995 LP Naked And True.[20]
  • "Can't Let You Do It" was covered by Eric Clapton on his 2016 album I Still Do.
  • "Clyde" was covered by Waylon Jennings and Dr. Hook; Swedish singer-songwriter Cornelis Vreeswijk translated the song into Swedish as "Lill-Klas' elektriska bas" on his 1974 studio album Getinghonung; Jason Eady also covered the song on his 2018 album I Travel On.
  • "Don't Go to Strangers" was covered by Johnny Rivers on his 1974 album Rockin' Rivers.[22]
  • "Everything Will Be Alright" was covered by Eric Clapton on his 2010 self-titled album Clapton.
  • "I'll Make Love To You Anytime" was covered by Eric Clapton on his 1978 album Backless.
  • "River Runs Deep" was covered by Eric Clapton on his 2010 self-titled album Clapton.
  • "Somebody's Knockin'" was covered by Eric Clapton on his 2016 album I Still Do.
  • "The Sensitive Kind" was covered by Santana on their 1981 album Zebop!, and by John Mayall on his 1990 album A Sense of Place.


  • Kevin Brown's 2015 album, Grit, contained a track called "The Ballad of J. J. Cale", in tribute to Brown's musical inspiration.[24]
  • Hungarian alternative rock band Quimby's 2009 album, Lármagyűjtögető, contained a track called "Haverom a J. J. Cale" ("My Buddy J. J. Cale").[25][26]




  • 1958 "Shock Hop"/"Sneaky" (as Johnny Cale)[28]
  • 1960 "Troubles, Troubles"/"Purple Onion" (as Johnny Cale Quintet)[28]
  • 1961 "Ain't That Lovin You Baby"/"She's My Desire" (as Johnny Cale Quintet)[28]
  • 1965 "It's A Go Go Place"/"Dick Tracy", Liberty 55840
  • 1966 "In Our Time"/"Outside Looking In", Liberty 55881
  • 1966 "Slow Motion"/"After Midnight", Liberty 55931
  • 1971 "Crazy Mama", Shelter 7314 (from the album Naturally, peaked at No. 22 on the US single charts on April 8, 1972, No. 21 in Canada on April 15, and No. 10 in Australia)[29]
  • 1972 "After Midnight", Shelter 7321 (reached No. 42 on the US single charts in July 1972 and No. 60 in Australia)[29]
  • 1972 "Lies"/"Riding Home", Shelter 7326 (from the album "Really", peaked at No. 42 on the US singles chart in December 1972 and No. 10 in Australia)[29]
  • 1974 "Cajun Moon"/"Starbound", Shelter 40238 (from the album "Okie", peaked at No. 118 on the US Record World singles chart in July 1974)[30]
  • 1976 "Hey Baby"/"Cocaine", Shelter (released December 1976, peaking at No. 96 in the US singles chart and No. 75 in Australia)[29]
  • 1979 "Mama Don't" (peaked at and No. 70 in Australia)[29]
  • 1979 "Katy Kool Lady"/"Juarez Blues", Shelter WIP 6521 (peaked at and No. 91 in Australia[29])

Studio albumsEdit

Live albumEdit

  • 1998 Live (2CD)

Collaborative albumsEdit

Albums with other artistsEdit

  • 1966 A Trip Down The Sunset Strip (as part of the Leathercoated Minds)
  • 1973 Back in '72 - Bob Seger - Cale plays guitar on his song "Midnight Rider"
  • 1973 "Hank Wilson's back" - Leon Russell - Cale plays guitar on most songs
  • 1990 The Rhythm of the Saints - Paul Simon - Cale appears on guitar
  • 2006 Uncovered - Tony Joe White - Cale co-wrote, sings and plays guitar on the song "Louvelda"
  • 2010 Clapton - Eric Clapton - Cale sings and plays guitar on his songs "River Runs Deep" and "Everything Will Be Alright"
  • 2013 Old Sock – Eric Clapton – Cale plays guitar and sings on his song, "Angel"


  • 1984 Special Edition (a compilation of hits from previous albums)
  • 1997 Anyway the Wind Blows: The Anthology
  • 1997 The Very Best of J. J. Cale (Mercury Records)
  • 2000 Universal Masters Collection
  • 2003 After Midnight (German release)
  • 2006 The Definitive Collection
  • 2006 Collected (with bonus tracks, Dutch release only)
  • 2007 Rewind (Universal) *2011 The Silvertone Years (a collection chronicling Cale's music released by Silvertone 1989–1992)


  • 1979 In Session At The Paradise Studios - Los Angeles, 1979 – Cale featuring Leon Russell (DVD)
  • 1981 Cale and Company - 30-minute documentary following Cale's Western United States and Canada tour
  • 2004 Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival (DVD) (Eric Clapton's 2004 US tour) (incl. Cale playing two songs with Eric Clapton: "After Midnight" & "Call Me The Breeze")
  • 2005 To Tulsa And Back – On Tour With J. J. Cale (DVD) – Documentary filmed during Cale's 2004 US tour with Christine Lakeland, Jimmy Karstein, Bill Raffensperger, Rocky Frisco


  1. ^ a b "Biography". JJ Cale official website. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  2. ^ "I was always a background person. It took me a while to adjust to the fact that people were looking at me 'cause I always just wanted to be part of the show. I didn't want to be the show." To Tulsa and Back: On Tour with J.J. Cale (2005)
  3. ^ Martin Chilton (25 July 2014). "Eric Clapton: JJ Cale got me through my darkest days". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2015-11-04.
  4. ^ To Tulsa and Back: On Tour with J.J. Cale, 2005
  5. ^ Ibid
  6. ^ Long-time collaborator drummer Jim Karstein remarked, 'You'll cut tracks with him and you'll listen to it and you'll think, "Well, I don't know about that one" and then he'll take the tapes away and he puts his secret sauce on 'em, you know, that nobody but he knows what it is that he does in the dark of night and then he'll come back out and you'll go "Wow!". Ibid
  7. ^ Lewis, Randy (10 January 2009). "Musicians will honor Whisky founder Elmer Valentine". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ Friedman, Barry. "Three Who Knew John". Daily Kos. Retrieved 9 August 2013., long-time friend and drummer Jimmy Karstein reflects on the early LA days
  9. ^ Hoekstra, Dave (15 April 1990). "Songwriter J. J. Cale prefers to remain in the background". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 3 June 2013. – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  10. ^ Cromelin, Richard (24 February 2009). "J.J. Cale rolls on". Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ McDonough, Jimmy (2013). Shakey: Neil Young's Biography. ISBN 9781446414545.
  12. ^ "J. J. Cale Biography". Sing 365.com. Archived from the original on 2013-01-18. Retrieved 2013-01-06.
  13. ^ "JJ Cale". The Telegraph. 2013-07-28. Retrieved 2017-04-05.
  14. ^ "Obituary: JJ Cale was music's towering figure". gulfnews.com. July 28, 2013. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  15. ^ "Fairwood Music - Roster". Fairwoodmusic.com. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  16. ^ Gripper, Ann (July 27, 2013). "JJ Cale dead at 74: Tributes paid to singer songwriter after his death from a heart attack". Daily Mirror. Retrieved April 9, 2015.
  17. ^ "JJ Cale passed away at 8:00 pm on Friday July 26 at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, CA". JJ Cale official website. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  18. ^ Castillo, Mariano (27 July 2013). "Writer of hits JJ Cale dead at 74". CNN. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  19. ^ "Cale's agent confirms his death". The Rosebud Agency.
  20. ^ "Randy Crawford - Naked And True". Discogs.com. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  21. ^ "Johnny Rivers - L.A. Reggae". discogs.com. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  22. ^ "Johnny Rivers - Rockin' Rivers". discogs.com. Retrieved 7 October 2016.
  23. ^ ""Call Me The Breeze" - Eric Clapton Videos". Ericclapton.com. Archived from the original on 2014-11-29. Retrieved 2014-11-19.
  24. ^ "Kevin Brown Trio - Kevin Brown Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Kings Arms, Abergavenny, 25/10/2015. | Review". The Jazz Mann. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  25. ^ "Quimby, Lemezek". Quimby. Retrieved 2020-02-06.
  26. ^ "Songbook, Haverom a J. J. Cale" (in Hungarian). Songbook. Retrieved 2020-02-06.
  27. ^ "Music". JJ Cale official website. Archived from the original on 31 December 2014. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  28. ^ a b c "Cale, Johnny". Archived from the original on April 26, 2007. Retrieved 2009-12-21.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link). law.emory.edu
  29. ^ a b c d e f Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 52. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  30. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2015). The Comparison Book Billboard/Cash Box/Record World 1954-1982. Sheridan Books. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-89820-213-7.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Whitburn, Joel (2018). Top Pop Albums 1955-2016. Prometheus Global Media. ISBN 978-0-89820-226-7.

External linksEdit