J.J. Cale, the Oklahoma-born singer-songwriter whose songs "After Midnight" and "Cocaine" were made into hits by Eric Clapton, died Friday, July 26 in Los Angeles after suffering a heart attack. He was 74.
Born John Weldon Cale, the singer grew up in Tulsa and played a fusion of jazz, blues, folk, and boogie while also dabbling in R&B and Americana, a languid mixture that became known as "The Tulsa Sound." He moved to Los Angeles in the '60s, working as a studio engineer while trying to find success as a solo artist. During that time, he also worked at the Whiskey a GoGo, where the owner, Elmer Valentine, gave him the nickname J.J. so he wouldn't be confused with the Velvet Underground's John Cale. Unable to gain attention as a musician, he eventually quit the business and moved back to Tulsa, but eventually one of his singles, 1966's shuffling "After Midnight," found its way to Eric Clapton, who at the time was performing with Delaney and Bonnie.
Clapton covered the song on his eponymous 1970 solo debut, with the single peaking at No. 18, and charting again in 1987 - this time at No. 4 - when the guitarist re-recorded it for a Michelob commercial. Cale then returned to music, recording his first album, Naturally, in 1971 without a label and redoing his version of "After Midnight" to capitalize on Clapton's success. Cale was then signed to Shelter Records, run by his friend and fellow Okie Leon Russell, who happened to play piano on Clapton's rendition of the track. Naturally's "Crazy Mama" went to No. 22 on the charts, the redo of "After Midnight" hit 42, and the album's lead track, "Call Me the Breeze," later became a hit for Lynyrd Skynyrd. In 1976, Cale released his fourth album, Troubadour, which featured "Cocaine." Clapton also made the anti-drug song a hit the following year on his Slowhand album, and covered another Troubador cut, "Travlin' Light," on 2001's Reptile.
Cale continued his recording career up until recently, with his last album being 2009's Roll On. He developed a friendship with Clapton, with the pair releasing a collaborative album, The Road to Escondido, in 2006. Cale also lent his guitar work to Clapton's song "Angel," which appeared on the album Old Sock, released earlier this year. His songs have also been covered by Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Captain Beefheart, Waylon Jennings, Carlos Santana, Kansas, and Widespread Panic.
Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced for Cale. The following message appeared on his website:
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.com, rosebudus.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.