On the recently released album titled Eric Clapton and Friends: The Breeze, An Appreciation of JJ Cale, the legendary guitarist along with fellow musicians channel their inner Americana roots. The album is a tribute to singer and songwriter JJ Cale, who passed away at the age of seventy-four last year on July 26, 2013. After Clapton heard the news of Cale’s death via text message, he began mapping out the album while on a plane to his funeral.
Clapton’s connection to the music of Cale goes back to the 1970s. At the time, the guitarist was in need of breaking away from his “Clapton is God” persona. After the breakup of his trio Cream with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, and the fallout of super group Blind Faith with Steve Winwood, he began looking towards more melodic and mellow sounds instead of the hard rock blues music he had gotten popular for. It was also during this time that he had begun his struggles with drugs and alcoholism. What gave Clapton comfort was the music of JJ Cale, Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder.
It was fellow musician and friend Delaney Bramlett who first got the guitarist hooked on the music, by lending him a copy of the song After Midnight. Clapton liked the song so much that he decided to cover it on his first solo album, Eric Clapton in 1970. His version became one of his most popular singles. Cale himself did not know that Clapton was using his song until he heard it played on the radio in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he was born.
Six years later, while performing in London, England to support his Troubadour album, Cale got to meet Eric Clapton. The two got to perform together, and afterwards Clapton presented Cale with his studio version of the song Cocaine, another one of Cale’s compositions. That version would appear on Clapton’s album Slowhand in 1977 and again became a chart-topping success.
JJ Cale was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and was inspired to pick up the guitar by listening and trying to imitate the styles of Chet Atkins, Les Paul and Chuck Berry. Though he could not imitate their styles, he ended up coming up with his own way of playing guitar. After relocating to Los Angeles, California in the 1960s, he recorded the song After Midnight. His music could not be limited to one category, due to the fact that it was a hybrid of various genres such as blues, country and folk. Though he did not gain much fame as a solo artist, it was something he preferred. It would be years from then that Eric Clapton and friends would channel their inner JJ Cale on The Breeze.
Aside from Clapton, Cale’s music was also covered and recorded by other rock artists. Such as Southern Rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd with their now classic cover of Call Me the Breeze and legend Neil Young with his version of Crazy Mama. These songs as well as Clapton’s are now considered some of the biggest rock and roll songs of the 1970s.
It should be noted that many fans were not and possibly still not aware that these classic songs were written by Cale. This mainly has to do with the fact that the artists who covered them made them their own. A good example of this is the song After Midnight. Cale’s original version has a laid-back country-style groove, while Clapton’s cover is a fast-paced Gospel-like rendition with clean guitar licks. Clapton has said that even though he enjoys doing his versions of After Midnight and Cocaine for his fans, it is Cale’s versions that he enjoys playing for long periods of time.
In 2004, Clapton put together a guitar festival in Dallas, Texas called Crossroads, a three-day event that would feature performances by the world’s most elite guitar players. It was at this event that Clapton got to join Cale’s band for a few numbers. Then two years later, the two guitarists got to collaborate on the duet album Road to Escondido. This was the only time they worked together on an album.
For the new album Clapton is joined by country music icon Willie Nelson, rock artist Tom Petty and pop singer and guitarist John Mayer, to name a few of the artists featured on The Breeze. The title comes from the tune Call Me the Breeze, which was released back in 1972. The rhythm section consists of drummer Jim Keltner and longtime Clapton bassist Nathan East. Sixteen of Cale’s compositions are on the album and it was Clapton’s choice not to do the original versions of After Midnight and Cocaine.
The release of this tribute compilation serves as Clapton’s way of making listeners aware of who JJ Cale was and what he brought to American music. A documentary of the recording sessions was recently aired on the VH1 and Palladia networks. The documentary features interviews with Clapton, Mayer, guitarist Mark Knopfler and all the other artists who played a part in the tribute. For music lovers and Eric Clapton fans, The Breeze, An Appreciation of JJ Cale is a great opportunity to hear the guitarist and his friends channel into their inner American musical roots.
By Andrew Cerecedes