JJ Cale and Other Unknown Songwriters



The Associated Press and other media outlets have reported that J. J. Cale has passed away at the age of 74. He joins the list of prolific but largely unacknowledged songwriters.

Cale, born in 1938, wrote several hits for Eric Clapton, including “Cocaine” and “After Midnight.”  His album with Clapton, “The Road to Escondido,” won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2007. He was the source of a number of hits, especially in the 1970s.  Many artists have done covers of Cale’s songs, including Santana, the Allman Brothers, Johnny Cash and Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Call Me the Breeze”).

Cale was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and worked as a studio engineer in Los Angeles.  He moved back to Tulsa and was ready to quit the business until Clapton recorded “After Midnight” in 1970. (J. J. Cale Official Website.)

Los Angeles Times writer Richard Cromelin described his writing style as a “unique hybrid of blues, folk and jazz.”

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, both born in 1933, wrote countless legendary R&B tunes for Elvis Presley, the Drifters, the Coasters and others.  For Elvis they wrote such classics as “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock.” They also created “Stand by Me,” sung by Ben. E. King and featured in the film of the same name.

Stoller, who wrote the music, was classically trained but learned blues and boogie-woogie from black kids at summer camp in Queens.

Leiber, the lyricist, grew up in Baltimore on the edge of what was commonly referred to as the African-American “ghetto.”

They not only wrote the songs but arranged and produced many of the recordings.  They were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1985.  Jerry Leiber died in 2011.  (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum.)

Carl Perkins was born in Tennessee, the son of a white sharecropper on a cotton plantation.  He was brought up on country music, gospel, and blues, and performed one of his compositions at a local talent show when he was thirteen.  He won.

He toured with Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.  One night he heard someone on the dance floor warn his date to stay away from his blue suede shoes. “Blue Suede Shoes” went to third on the list of Elvis’s top 40 hits.  Perkins was on his way to rockabilly stardom when a serious accident left him with a fractured skull and a broken arm.  He lost his career momentum and never quite recovered it, although his legendary status as a writer and performer remains.

Perkins was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and passed away from cancer in 1998.  (History of Rock.com.)

Some of the most enduring popular music was created by artists, such as Cale, who have been insufficiently lauded.

Boudleaux Bryant, a musician from Georgia, met Matilda (later Felice) Scaduto on an elevator in Milwaukee, at a hotel for which Matilda was employed as an elevator operator.   Five days later, they ran off together.

For the next 30 years, they created music recorded by Tony Bennett, Eddy Arnold, Roy Orbison, Charley Pride, Buddy Holly and others.  They wrote some of the Everly Brothers’ most successful songs, including “Bye Bye Love,” “Bird Dog,” and “Wake Up Little Susie.”

Boudleaux died in 1987.  Felice resides in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Their songs have sold an estimated 30 million records.  (Rockabilly Legends Hall of Fame web site.)

Charles Aznavour was born in Paris in 1924, the son of Armenian refugees. He did his first poetry recital when he was a small child.

He has written more than 800 songs, and recorded more than 1,000 of them, in French, English, German and Spanish.  He was especially successful in the 1950s, writing for Édith Piaf and Juliette Gréco, with such songs as “Sur ma vie” (“In My Life”—his first No. 1 hit in 1956), “Parce que” (“Because”), the controversial “Après l’amour” (“Love after Love”), and the bittersweet “Je hais les dimanches” (“I Hate Sundays”).

He toured abroad in the 1960s and was sometimes described as the “Frank Sinatra of France.” He served as a composer and arranger for many films, and even had a successful career as an actor, most notably in Francois Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player” (1960). (imdb.com.)

Larry Stock was born in 1896, the son of a cellist with the New York Symphony Orchestra. He was playing piano before his eighth birthday.  He wrote many classics over nearly fifty years of composing, including “Blueberry Hill,” which became a hit for Fats Domino.  His song, “You’re Nobody ᾽Til Somebody Loves You,” is a favorite among nightclub singers.  Several of his tunes were recorded by Perry Como as well as by Nat King Cole.  The release of his “Umbrella Man” in 1938 was made famous by its association with the travels of Neville Chamberlain, prime minister of the United Kingdom, to Munich to sign a “peace accord” with the Nazis.

In addition, he had more than a thousand unpublished songs.   (Songwriters Hall of Fame.)

Other underappreciated songwriters include Alan White, the drummer for Yes who created some of its most well-remembered music.  Yip Harburg was the composer for the score of “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) and, in particular, “Over the Rainbow.” Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen were responsible for a number of the band’s mega-hits, including “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” (Home Recording.com and the Jewish Daily Forward.)

We should remember the debt we owe to the contributions of songwriters and composers like J. J. Cale—not only to American music, but to that of the world.

By:  Tom Ukinski

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