I would be remiss if I failed to note the recent passing of the great J.J. Cale, of which I learned while walking through the Potawot Health Village with my beloved, who had just finished a shift in the dunk tank. (Long story.) I heard J.J.’s dulcet tones wafting through the afternoon air, a pleasant surprise; then some DJ chatter that was hard to make out, but included more than one mention of his name; then another Cale song; and suddenly it dawned on me, bastard must have died.
Sure enough, says his web site, “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.” Whenever a musician has a heart attack, I assume there’s a good chance it’s lifestyle-related; and one of J.J.’s most famous songs is, of course, “Cocaine.” But he always seemed like more of a weed type guy to me — mellow to the nth degree — so who knows and what does it matter, in the end? He made it to 74, which is not a bad run for a rock star.
Only after his death did I learn that his real name was not “Jean-Jacques,” as I had erroneously been informed, but “John Weldon Cale.” He used “J.J.” to avoid being confused with the other John Cale, the Welshman who played in the Velvet Underground, but apparently some people still mixed them up. The Welsh John Cale went so far as to write a song called “Autobiography” in which he states, “Never wrote a song called ‘Cocaine’ / Never wrote a song called ‘After Midnight.’ ” (He did once write a song called “The Man Who Couldn’t Afford to Orgy”; but that is neither here nor there.)
And that’s about the extent of what I have to say on the topic. J.J. was a man of few words who preferred to let his music do the talking; so why not take a few minutes today to put your feet up, smoke ’em if you got ’em, and listen to a few of his tunes? I’m partial to “The Same Old Blues,” but really, it’s hard to go wrong.
Absolutely, age 74 is a good run for a rock star. Maybe Jagger will make it even longer?
How do you rank him as a guitarist?
He was a good, not great, guitarist – a stylist, not a technician. Clapton is a much better musician, but J.J. was 50 times the songwriter, and that counts for more in my book.