I guess there are not many people who haven’t heard of Eric Clapton. One of the best known musicians around, considered one of the best guitarists ever and the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: once as a solo artist and separately as a member of the Yardbirds and Cream. Not bad, huh? I could write a huge text about his life, his drug addiction problems, friendship with Jimi Hendrix and so on, but that’d be rather boring. Plus, although I’m a fairly big fan of his music, I haven’t listened to quite a few of his CDs, and I only listen to others as “background music”. This is why, despite I’m writing about certain bands in a chronological order, I’ll only write about specific Clapton albums (I can think about five right now, but who knows).
Maybe not so many people know about J.J. Cale. One of Clapton’s biggest influences, something that becomes evident in Slowhand, and not only because Clapton covers Cale’s Cocaine there. Yes, I also thought the song was from Clapton at first, but a few years ago I found out about this guy who seemed to prefer solitude and stayed away from the spotlight. I’m not going to lie, I’m not Cale’s biggest fan, I like his music but I usually just let it play in the background while I concentrate on other stuff. However his chilled style is pleasant to the ear, and he was a big influence to other musicians, including, as I said, Clapton.
He was an interesting one, Cale. As I said, he preferred to stay away from the spotlight: he hardly ever toured (he got his main income from royalties) and he lived in a caravan for long periods of time. During his concerts, he would face the rest of the band, and not his fans, to improve the interaction with the other musicians. He also liked to record his music alone, as he could also handle all this sound software stuff. Musician, producer and engineer.
Another little story: in the 2005 documentary film To Tulsa and Back he recounts the story of being offered the opportunity to appear on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand to promote the song, which would have moved it higher on the charts. Cale declined when told he could not bring his band to the taping and would be required to lip-sync the words
It’s not hard to imagine Cale sitting on a chair just outside of a house next to an endless dusty road. His wife used to say that there was nothing better than sitting on the porch at sunset, opening a few beers and listening Cale’s guitar playing. Laid back blues at its best, a low voice that mingled with his smooth guitar playing and made both things almost become one. A huge influence for Clapton, Dire Straits, Joaquín Sabina (a well known Spanish songwriter) and some others, and yet he didn’t really acknowledge it. He joked and insisted that he didn’t feel special; once, he said he did the same thing as Britney Spears but without getting naked. Cale, m’boy, I get chills when I hear Britney Spears’ name and yours in the same sentence, and not in a good way... there’s a huge difference, it’s the night and the day.
It was exactly five years ago, when while visiting a friend in France I went to a CD shop and bought four of them, including a joint effort by Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale, The Road to Escondido. And I think now is a good time to write something about this album, as J.J. Cale sadly passed away almost a year ago of heart failure, the 26th of July 2013. Escondido, which means “hidden” in Spanish, is, by the way, a town near where Cale lived at that time.
The album was originally going to be just Clapton’s, with Cale as a producer, but it soon morphed into a joint effort. Again, Cale’s influence is so obvious here; it’s amazing to hear both sing and play in an almost identical way. Perfect music for a hot Saturday afternoon, or for a long roadtrip.
There’s not much more to say, really. Almost all the songs are Cale’s, except for Three Little Girls (sweet one, by the way), which is Clapton’s, Hard to Thrill, by Clapton and John Mayer, and Sporting Life Blues, by Brownie McGhee. My personal favourite may be Who Am I Telling You?, but the whole album is extremely solid, with very fine laid back blues which has almost the same speed throughout the whole thing (except maybe for the extremely slow Sporting Life Blues and the rather fast Dead End Road). Here’s the link for a playlist that contains the whole album, and also separate links for some of the songs... I hope you enjoy this masterpiece as much as I do. By the way, the album won the Grammy award for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2008.
Bonus track: for some reson I can't explain, this is my favourite J.J. Cale song, a perfect example of his laid back style. It just lifts my spirits. I would have loved to listen to him play this some hot dry afternoon in a quiet place. Rest In Peace, John Weldon Cale.
Actually, you may be interested in listening to the original version of Cocaine.
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