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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