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Cale comes out of hiding

KIMBERLY NICOLETTI

COPPER MOUNTAIN – When “Mojo” magazine asked Eric Clapton which musician, other than himself, he had ever wanted to be, Clapton named J.J. Cale.Cale scored his first hit as a songwriter with “After Midnight,” which became Clapton’s first worldwide smash as a solo artist. Clapton recorded several other tunes by Cale, including “Cocaine.” Additionally, musicians such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Deep Purple, Johnny Cash, Santana, The Allman Brothers Band and Widespread Panic have interpreted Cale’s songs.Two years ago, Cale, a living legend who regularly refuses interviews and has shunned publicity and stardom for decades, set tour dates for the first time in more than five years. In previous tours, he has played no more than 50 gigs a year and has rarely appeared in Colorado in the past decade.

But now Cale’s back. He released his first studio album, “To Tulsa and Back,” after an eight-year dry spell.Cale moved from the Southern California desert to his hometown of Tulsa, Okla., to look up friends he played with 40 years ago and lay down some tracks.”I don’t think there’s anyone on this record who’s under 60 years old,” Cale said in a press release.His connection with the musicians shows on the album, resulting in warm, rhythmic tracks that preserve the down-home flavor most associated with Cale’s sound.On the album, he addresses political and environmental concerns.

“I see him as one of the great American songwriters of the last 40 years,” local music promoter Mike O’Brien said. “He had a powerful impact on music in the ’70s and the ’80s. “There’s just something simplistic and beautiful about his songs. It’s just striking when you look at some of the lyrics … a hit song doesn’t have to be an intricate song. When you look at the lyrics, it just catches you off guard that it’s sparse, but that’s what his whole image seems to be, speaking about simplicity. He seems to be an enigmatic character, and I think that comes across in his music.”Cale doesn’t talk about his songs, saying in a 1996 interview for Carnegie Hall Stagebill the songs speak for themselves. He focuses on the technical aspect of creating a lasting tune other musicians respect.”It’s always kind of nice when people cut my songs and turn them into something that people really like,” Cale said in an interview by Colin Escott for “The Very Best of J.J. Cale” songbook. “For a lot of people, it’s hard to listen to my version because it’s very raw, kinda rough around the edges, and they may sound unfinished, but that’s the way I like it – not too slick.”

Cale never wanted to be “too famous” because it’s uncomfortable, he said in a 1982 interview by Mercury Records.”I stopped a lot of people who wanted to shove me into the real big time,” he said in Escott’s interview. “Your ego wants to say, ‘Hey, I’m somebody, man,’ but I knew there were many days when I just wanted to be John Cale.”Raised in Tulsa, Okla., Cale began playing in clubs at age 17. He moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and began working as a studio engineer and performing with fellow Tulsa cohort Leon Russell, originating the Tulsa sound – a subtle mix of blues, country and old-time rock ‘n’ roll. When “After Midnight” hit the charts, Cale spent a few months gathering and writing songs and released his debut album, “Naturally,” in 1971. Since then he has released more than a dozen albums.Lately, Cale has earned new fans with Widespread Panic and other jam bands’ covers of his songs.


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