JJ Cale was one of the greatest session players, performers and songwriters in the history of American music — and yet few people know the full stretch and depth of his influence on the songs we love and adore.

JJ Cale died unexpectedly this Summer at the age of 74.  Here’s how his website told the world the news of his passing:

JJ Cale Has Passed Away

JJ Cale passed away at 8:00 pm on Friday July 26
at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, CA.

The legendary singer / songwriter had suffered a heart attack.
There are no immediate plans for services.
His history is well documented at JJCale.comrosebudus.com/cale,
and in the documentary, To Tulsa And Back.

Donations are not needed but he was a great lover of animals so, if you like,
you can remember him with a donation to your favorite local animal shelter.

While Eric Clapton probably did the most to bring Cale’s music to the millionaire mainstream forefront in the songs — “After Midnight” and “Cocaine” — it was Cale’s friendship with Leon Russell that was the deepest and richest and the longest collaboration in each of their lives:

Here’s an hour of JJ Cale and Leon together — taped in Leon’s Los Angeles studio in 1979 — and you really get the sense of just how much these two meant to each other in this performance gem from 34 years ago:

You learn the measure of a man’s music when he performs it.  You think you know what “After Midnight” sounds like?  You may know the song in Eric Clapton’s hands, but here’s Cale’s take on his own song — much more cagey and crafty than Clapton’s straight-on version:

While we’re at it, here’s JJ’s anti-drug anthem, Cocaine, as he originally intended — and the live performance is much more jaunty, and less dangerous, than Clapton’s eager rendition:

You cannot continue to live beyond the grave by groveling in the past, and today I argue JJ Cale’s influence on modern, mainstream, music is still alive and thriving.

Just listen to Avicii’s massive hit — “Wake Me Up” — and it’s like hearing JJ Cale live in concert again.  The antsy energy, and thump of the melody are just like “After Midnight” —

Want a modern-day anti-anthem like JJ’s Cocaine, but freshly wrapped in social disease and wannabee?

Listen no further than Lorde’s mega-hit — “Royals” — from her “Pure Heroine” album, and sing the first few lines of “Cocaine” over the start of Royals and the rhythm and syncopation match, natch!

We will miss new music from JJ Cale’s mind, but he’s already still among us, right there in the mist of us, and shooting straight solid in the midst of a modern music that will never die.


  1. JJ Cale was a wonderful talent and will be missed. Comparing the old beats and melodies to what is new is revealing. Nothing new under the backbeat.

    1. Yes, influencing the future — and what has yet to be written — is truly the greatest gift from the grave.

      There’s another modern song — Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” — that steals the melody riff from “People Get Ready” and every time I hear the new song’s piano, I sing right along… with the original… and not the current imitation!


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