It's not really blues, it's not really folk or country or rock'n'roll. It's somewhere in the middle.
For those that aren’t familiar with J.J. Cale, he’s one of the most covered artists of the 20th century.
The Oklahoma-born, Grammy award-winning singer & songwriter, famous for his loose & laidback musical style and way of life, is responsible for Eric Clapton’s hit covers of ‘After Mignight’ and ‘Cocaine’, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Call Me The Breeze’ and was covered by quintessential artists : Johnny Cash, Santana, The Allman Brothers, Captain Beefheart, The Band, Bryan Ferry & many more.
He’s a recurring reference for blues and country icons -Eric Clapton being his most expressive supporter- but also amongst contemporary musicians.
..one of the most important artists in the history of rock..
Of all the players I ever heard, it’s gotta be Hendrix and JJ Cale who are the best electric guitar players. JJ's guitar playing is a huge influence on me. His touch is unspeakable
The coolest music around.
J.J. Cale is my hero.
Probably the greatest respect a musician can be paid is to be termed “a stylist.” Be it Ray Charles or Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday or Merle Haggard, their sound is indelibly stamped on everything they ever touched. The same is inarguably the case with the late John “JJ” Cale.
Though he cut his teeth during the ’50s, playing guitar in bars in Oklahoma alongside fellow natives David Gates of Bread and Leon Russell, and is credited with developing the laid-back “Tulsa sound,” it was via other artists recording and performing his songs that Cale became best known. Eric Clapton recorded “After Midnight,” “Cocaine,” and several other Cale originals, his admiration culminating with the pair’s Road To Escondido collaboration in 2006, which earned Cale his first Grammy, for Best Contemporary Blues Album, and his first RIAA Certified Gold Award. Among the many others who covered Cale’s songs are Jerry Garcia, Captain Beefheart, Spiritualized, Beck, Lynyrd Skynyrd John Mayer, Bryan Ferry, Santana, Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, Lucinda Williams, The Band, Widespread Panic, Freddie King, Phish, Waylon Jennings, Maria Muldaur, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Hiss The Golden Messenger, Dan Auerbach, and Lee Fields, to name just a few.
In spite of Cale's appeal to musicians and fans worldwide, he consistently passed on the many opportunities he had to pursue a higher profile, always preferring to avoid the spotlight and to lead the most normal life that he could. And he was grateful that his songwriting royalties allowed him to lead a comfortable life without any need to compete for wealth or fame.
For Stay Around, Cale’s wife, Christine Lakeland Cale, acted as the compilation producer, poring over songs, both studio and home recordings, that the public had never heard. “I wanted to find stuff that was completely unheard,” she says.
The fact that the songs were previously unreleased is not unusual considering Cale’s modus operandi. In a 1994 interview he explained, “All of the albums I make generally have a song, what I call an outtake, that didn’t make it to [a previous] album. So I keep the tapes and maybe will modify them a little bit. Sometimes I’ll write a song and I’ll make a demo of it, and maybe five or six or seven years later I’ll pull the demo back out and say, ‘Yeah, that’s a good song.’ I’ll re-record it or sometimes I’ll just take that original demo and mess with that original track. But generally on an album I put out, I’ll have two or three older songs on there.”
Cale’s manager Mike Kappus concurs: “‘Roll On,’ the title track of Cale’s last studio album, was 34 years old. He would burn me CDs of demos, and one time I said, ‘You’ve got two good albums on here.’ Some of the tracks had detailed information, some of them had nothing. Some songs might be a full band of his buddies, others were him playing everything. These were songs he really did intend to do something with because they were carried to his typical level of production for release.”
“I wanted to max-out the ‘Cale factor,’” Christine stresses, “do as much that came from John’s ears and fingers and his choices as I could, so I stuck to John’s mixes.”
That approach to recording was as distinctively Cale as his economical guitar style or whispery vocals. “I like a little funkier sound,” JJ said. “I really admire the people who get really good sound. That takes expensive studios, expensive musicians. I delved into that a couple of times, but it’s more fun when I create something to do it myself; it always has a unique sound. If I start doing it standard-wise, it becomes more polished and it doesn’t sound quite as unique; it sounds like everybody else.”
Hence, Cale would “muddy it up” if it sounded too polished. “They’re not real crystal, bright and clear,” he smiled.
“You can make things so sterile that you take the human feel out,” Christine adds, “but John left a lot of that human feel in. He left so much room for interpretation. He gave people the license to be creative and do things their way.”
“John liked his home setup. It was effortless and familiar, so he could completely focus on the music, really get lost in the making of music tracks,” Christine details. “Recording and making demos wasn’t stressful; it was a pleasure. Even though his records didn’t sell big numbers, making his demos and writing songs were how he chose to spend his time.”
She continues, “He was always curious, that never waned. Reading about and shopping for new toys. The DigiTech Whammy guitar foot pedal used on ‘Stay Around,’ ‘Lights Down Low,’ and ‘Long About Sundown’ gave him such delight when he first started fooling with it. ‘Man, I sound like a steel guitar player!’ Sometimes a demo was set aside as ‘done’ without a lot of instrumentation. He wasn’t going to overdub to it. The song sounded fine. Other tunes had tracks and tracks of creativity added.”
The only song not written by JJ is Christine’s “My Baby Blues.” “It brings everything full-circle for me,” she says. “It was the first song John and I cut as a four-piece combo in Bradley’s Barn studio, when we met in 1977. He cut his version in 1980 at Capitol Studio in Nashville. I found he had overdubbed to his unused outtake and mixed it and placed it with some other songs he liked. It’s finally released here.”
She refers to it as “my bit of self-indulgence.”
While the myth was that JJ Cale sat on his porch and casually turned on a recorder, he actually put more time and work into his music than anyone might realize and that is reflected here in the quality of every song. As he used to say, ‘Well, my name’s on there; I’ve gotta like it.’”
Cale fans, longtime and brand-new, are sure to like Stay Around too.