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Cale comes out of hiding

Kimberly Nicoletti

KEYSTONE – 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.

This year, 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 only appeared in Colorado twice in the past decade.

Promoter and Silverthorne resident Mike O’Brien has tried to bring Cale to Summit County for the last decade.

“I kept in touch with his agent over a 10-year period because it was always something I wanted to have in the mountains,” O’Brien said. “I just kept bugging him, and finally I got the call. (Cale’s show) sold out at the Boulder Theater in a matter of days, and they added a show (in Keystone).”

Cale originally planned to play solo at Keystone, but the gig created so much excitement among his peers, he ended up with a band of 10 musicians, including his wife, who plays guitar.

“I see him as one of the great American songwriters of the last 40 years,” 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 rarely talks 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 that 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.”

“When I first started getting money for music, I couldn’t believe you got paid for doing it,” Cale said in a 1982 interview by Mercury Records. “Music is not a commodity. I never really wanted to be too famous. It’s very uncomfortable.”

“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 Tusla 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, including his most recent – and first live – recording, “J.J. Cale Live.”

The live album reflects the feel of his shows, beginning with a stripped-down version of “After Midnight,” then adding one musician, then another until the whole band joins in throughout the course of a few tunes.

Tickets for Cale’s raw and rockin’ show are $24 in advance, $25 day of the show. Doors open at 7 p.m. Saturday for general, seated admission in the non-smoking Park Lane Pavilion. For more information, call (970) 496-4FUN.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at

knicoletti@summitdaily.com.

When and Where

– Event: J.J. Cale

– When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17

– Where: Park Lane Pavilion, Keystone


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