Under the Influence: J.J. Cale

Monday, December 5, 2016
Under the Influence: J.J. Cale

We’re kicking off a new feature on Rhino.com, one where we explore the artists who have been influenced by other artists, and since today would’ve been J.J. Cale’s 78th birthday, it seems only appropriate to begin by spotlighting Mr. Cale and arguably the most famous of the musicians to have been influenced by his work: Eric Clapton.

J.J. Cale is one of those singer/songwriters whose work is familiar whether you realize it is or not, and that’s due in no small part to Clapton, who brought considerable attention to Cale with his covers of “After Midnight” and “Cocaine.” Yep, that’s right: two of Clapton’s most notable numbers were actually Cale compositions.

Indeed, Clapton famously described Cale as “one of the most important artists in the history of rock” in a 2015 interview with The Telegraph, attributing his return from the abyss of drug addiction and personal traumas in the ‘70s to his fellow musician:

"I went into that dark period in my life and was just absent, and about that time some of JJ's early stuff was coming out. I definitely was trying to shake off this guitar legend thing, which I thought was so plebeian. It was such a pedestrian way of looking at things. I didn't want anything to do with that. I didn't want anything to do with this heavy metal shit- that was going on. I can't stand the noise. I wanted to kind of see the virtuosity, I wanted to get back to fundamentals, and he was a fundamentalist for sure. And so he was my beacon."

While others have covered Cale to great success over the years, including Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Call Me the Breeze”) and Waylon Jennings (“Clyde”), it’s unquestionably Clapton who’s the most associated with him. Beyond those two key hits, Clapton continued to cover Cale’s material, turning in a take on “Travelin’ Light” on 2001’s REPTILE and a version of “Everything Will Be Alright” on 2010’s CLAPTON, and between those bookends, Clapton and Cale finally got around to recording an album together: 2006’s THE ROAD TO ESCONDIDO.

Although Cale died in 2013, Clapton managed to release a posthumous tribute to his old friend only a few months ago: LIVE IN SAN DIEGO WITH SPECIAL GUEST JJ CALE includes five songs where Clapton and Cale share the stage and have a ball doing it. Yes, this was a relationship that transcended inspiration to become a friendship, but it’s still no less true that Clapton’s music – and, indeed, his life – might not have been the same were it not for J.J. Cale.