Remembering J.J. Cale, Virtuoso Guitarist and Author of ‘Cocaine’ and ‘After Midnight,’ with a 1979 Concert

J.J. Cale died on Fri­day. Cale was one of the great­est and most influ­en­tial gui­tar play­ers of the rock and roll era. “Of all the play­ers I ever heard,” said Neil Young, “it’s got­ta be Hen­drix and J.J. Cale who are the best elec­tric gui­tar play­ers.”

It’s hard to imag­ine a musi­cian more dia­met­ri­cal­ly opposed to Jimi Hen­drix than Cale, who was the mas­ter of nuance and under­state­ment. Per­haps the best word to describe his coun­try swing-inflect­ed gui­tar play­ing would be “cool.” The restrained dynam­ics, the del­i­cate touch — Cale’s play­ing demand­ed close atten­tion and sen­si­tiv­i­ty in a lis­ten­er. His vocals, too, were kept way down in the mix, a reflec­tion of his intro­vert­ed per­son­al­i­ty. “The effort­less­ness, that restraint and under­play­ing, under-singing — it was just very pow­er­ful,” said pop musi­cian Beck to the Los Ange­les Times in 2009. “The pow­er of doing less and hold­ing back in a song, I’ve tak­en a lot of influ­ence from that.”

Per­haps the great­est exem­plar of Cale’s wide influ­ence was Eric Clap­ton, who made hits out of two pre­vi­ous­ly obscure songs writ­ten by Cale — “After Mid­night” and “Cocaine” — and pat­terned much of his ’70s music after the Tul­sa Sound Cale helped cre­ate. When asked by Van­i­ty Fair to name the liv­ing per­son he most admired, Clap­ton was unequiv­o­cal: J.J. Cale. “In my hum­ble opin­ion,” Clap­ton wrote in his 2007 auto­bi­og­ra­phy, “he is one of the most impor­tant artists in the his­to­ry of rock, qui­et­ly rep­re­sent­ing the great­est asset his coun­try has ever had.”

To remem­ber Cale and his artistry, we bring you a 1979 video (above) of Cale and his band play­ing live at Rain­bow Stu­dios in Los Ange­les with his old friend and fel­low Okla­homan Leon Rus­sell. Here’s the set list:

  1. “T‑Bone Shuf­fle” (pro­logue)
  2. “Nowhere to Run”
  3. “Cocaine”
  4. “Ten Easy Lessons”
  5. “Sen­si­tive kind”
  6. “Hands Off Her”
  7. “Lou-Easy-Ann”
  8. “Going Down”
  9. “Cori­na Cori­na”
  10. “Roll On”
  11. “No Sweat”
  12. “Crazy Mama”
  13. “Fate of a Fool”
  14. “Boilin’ Pot”
  15. “After Mid­night”
  16. “T‑Bone Shuf­fle”
  17. “T‑Bone Back­wards”
  18. “Same Old Blues”
  19. “Don’t Cry Sis­ter”
  20. “Set Your Soul Free (Tell Me Who You Care)”
  21. “24 Hours a Day”

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Comments (7)
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  • Dave says:

    In one of his songs, Way­lon Jen­nings wrote/sang this:

    JJ Cale’s my hero,
    the best I’ve ever heard.
    Got­ta sing a lit­tle loud­er, hoss,
    ‘cuz I can’t hear the words.
    Some folks call it rock n’ roll,
    oth­ers call it blues.
    But I detect a coun­try soul
    when I seen his cow­boy shoes.

  • thememoriumllc says:

    JJ Cale was a great man with tons of tal­ent. Thanky­ou for your con­tri­bu­tions in music. You will be missed. #JJCale #After­Mid­night #Call­MeThe­Breeze Made an online memo­r­i­al in your hon­or:

  • Ricki says:

    Been lis­ten­ing to JJ Cale since the 70s,a sound of his own a true innovator/songwriter/guitarist/singer and char­ac­ter. Must be the most laid back gui­tarist ever.Farewell to an under­stat­ed and unas­sum­ing genius.R.I.P gyp­sy man

  • Geoff Scott says:

    JJ Cale has been a part of my life for as long as I can remem­ber (That’s a long time)His effort­less style is beyond com­pare, yet there’s this under­ly­ing ener­gy too. The ear­ly songs tend­ed to be sub two min­utes yet the lis­ten­er is trans­port­ed through a ride that seems time­less. I remem­ber clear­ly when I first heard his music, it was like a rev­e­la­tion. I feel sad to know he’s no longer with us. My thoughts go out to Chris­tine.
    Geoff Scott

  • jay cooper says:

    i worked free form radio in den­ver in the 70’s when fey­line booked jj for a con­cert at red rocks, i was the one who named the tour “rocks reluc­tant leg­end” true his whole career. what a loss, he was as easy to talk to as to lis­ten to. as eric said his music was some­thing in-between. lis­ten to his song “rio” from “to tul­sa and back” whew

  • Ray says:

    Missed this news in real time … Saw this today. The arti­cle explained to me why JJ Cale’s first album is the first media I buy when play­ers change, record, cas­sette, 8 track and cd. Intro­duced to his music in mid 70’s in Chico. You could hear JJ’s melodies in the warm Chico evenings com­ing from porch­es all over Chico… Sit­ting on the porch with out no shoes.…. Thanks JJ you were a big part of the sound­track of my life!!

    Ps nice to see the Mas­ter Of Space and Time

  • Jwetaski says:

    Total­ly loved JJ and watch his videos with such enjoy­ment. Miss him and that won­der­ful music!!!n

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