After honing his musicality in Tulsa, the guitar player moved to La, where he created himself as a singer songwriter. Cale was never in the limelight; other performers covered his tunes, most notably Eric Clapton. His signature “Tulsa Sound” affected musicians like Neil Young. He expired on July 26, 2013, at age 74.
He was raised in Tulsa, and started playing guitar in the age of 10. In 1959, he toured together with the Grand Ole Opry road business. In 1964, he moved to La, where, as well as performing, he was employed as a songwriter and producer. It was during this interval he switched his stage name to J.J. Cale from Johnny Cale, to prevent being confused for the Velvet Underground’s John Cale. A year after, he recorded his first release, “After Midnight,” a tune which was destined to change his profession and life.
The very first time Cale heard the cover was in the radio of his automobile. Years after, Cale shared with NPR that upon hearing the melody, he thought to himself, “Oh, boy, I am a songwriter now. I am not an engineer or an elevator operator.”
Cale took songwriting seriously; he composed and performed all his own tunes, combined the records and played multiple instruments. His cooperation with Clapton continued to be productive; Clapton recorded “Cocaine” in 1977, a radio success he would continue to perform for a long time in the future. Cale’s 2006 record with Clapton, The Road to Escondido, won a Grammy Award for the best contemporary blues record.
Cale’s design includes elements from myriad genres, including blues, nation, rock, jazz and folk. The end result is an genuine music genre that is dubbed “Tulsa Sound.” Along with fellow Oklahoman Leon Russell, Cale was co-credited for developing this trademark brand. Cale, who credited his exceptional sound to his origins, played covers of records released ahead of the rock ‘n’ roll development of the 1960s. Musical juggernauts have mentioned Cale as an influence, for instance, Dire Straits’s Mark Knopfler and Neil Young, who said that Cale and Jimi Hendrix were the greatest electrical guitar musicians he had ever heard.
Even with the tremendous success of his tunes, Cale never became a household name. He recorded solo albums, but his best look on the graphs was in 1972, when his tune “Crazy Mama” hit No. 22. He toured throughout the 1970s and did an annual tour through the majority of the ’80s.
He was mostly unfazed about his dearth of name recognition, choosing to call himself a “musician” as against a “performer.” He was known as a recluse, living in his trailer without a phone for a long time at a time. His record covers seldom featured his image.