The Sippin’ Whiskey of the Blues: J.J. Cale

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Eric Clapton and friends have put together a loving tribute to J.J. Cale with 2014’s The Breeze(An Appreciation of JJ Cale).  Clapton has had a long association with Cale, including hits with Cale’s “Cocaine” and “After Midnight.” The Cale-Clapton relationship went well beyond the covering of songs, however, and they put out a shared release in 2006 called The Road to Escondido—the very last album to have Billy Preston’s keyboard magic. There were many other musicians at work on that album, from John Mayer to Taj Mahjal, and The Breeze has the same range of talent.

The First Eight and the Last Two

The Breeze has many of J.J. Cale’s best tunes lovingly reinterpreted by amazing musicians. There’s Clapton, of course, Tom Petty, Jim Keltner, Albert Lee, Mark Knopfler, Nathan East, John Mayer, Willie Nelson, Simon Climie, and too many others to properly list here. Don White, who figures large on the album, may not be as well known as he should be—as was the case with Cale himself, a fellow Tulsa native. The Breeze led to unlikely collaborations, just as the song itself has, and the result is a great celebration of the Sippin’ Whiskey of the Blues, JJ Cale.

Most listeners who hear “Cocaine” think it’s Clapton’s tune...and it is in many ways. Only the Cale purists who heard his version first, and those are few in comparison, know Cale’s as the real thing. Only Cale could associate that shuffling sound with cocaine.  All of Cale’s tunes have that sound regardless of their subject and some critics suggest this shows a lack of development, what Stephen Thomas Erlewine calls “a steady simmer.” If you listen to The Breeze and hear the range of these songs, that criticism soon withers. It’s like calling honky-tonk static to dismiss some of the best of The Stones.

As Best as Can Be,  Without Cale That Is

Many songs, such as “The Breeze” and “Cajun Moon,” are faithful reproductions on the surface. In fact the first eight songs are the greatest of the greatest hits, but for those of us who wore out some of our Cale albums, this is no rehash. In other eras “Cajun Moon,” for example, would be a hit for Clapton and friends.  The songs are lovingly reworked with that clear-toned guitar and unmistakable Cale sound. Knopfler and Nelson can never sound like Cale though, and neither can Clapton—as kin as they are.

This is for Cale fans, Clapton fans, and fans of all the other musicians featured here. It’s a sleeper, an underestimated gem that will grow in popularity over the years.


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