The legendary singer, songwriter and guitarist, JJ Cale passed away on July 26, 2013 but the legacy he left behind is a treasured one for fans that has and no doubt will continue to inspire upcoming artists as well as rock icons around the world. Rolling Stone has stated that "his influence is immeasurable," a point reinforced by the fact that a genre-spanning list of stars including Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Mayer, Johnny Cash, Captain Beefheart, Santana, The Allman Brothers, Jerry Garcia, The Band, Chet Atkins, Freddie King, Beck, Band of Horses, Jose Feliciano, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Waylon Jennings, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Lee Fields, Deep Purple, Widespread Panic, John Mayall and many more have covered his timeless music.
JJ Cale had every opportunity to be a much bigger worldwide star, but he was notorious for declining the greatest of those opportunities. He baffled many in the industry who weren't accustomed to such a determination to stay grounded and real, disregarding the fame and fortune that most artists crave. His philosophy allowed him to live more than comfortably on his own terms, avoiding so many of the superficial trappings of stardom and enabling him to focus on what really mattered to him - the music.
Eric Clapton has proclaimed that JJ Cale is one of the single most important figures in rock history. Cale's influence on Clapton has been profound and, after years admiring Cale's work and covering several of his songs such as "After Midnight" and "Cocaine", the two guitar giants finally collaborated for the first time in their careers on the 2006 original album, The Road to Escondido. That project earned Cale his first Grammy® for Best Contemporary Blues Album and his first RIAA Certified Gold Award. At the time, Clapton said, "This is the realization of what may have been my last ambition, to work with the man whose music has inspired me for as long as I can remember."
After Cale passed away in 2013, to honor his legacy, Clapton gathered a group of like-minded friends and musicians for The Breeze, An Appreciation of JJ Cale, released July 29, 2014 (three days after the anniversary of Cale's passing). With performances by Clapton, Mark Knopfler, John Mayer, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, Derek Trucks and Don White as well as David Lindley, David Teegarden, Jamie Oldaker, Greg Leisz, Nathan East, Albert Lee, Jim Keltner and Cale's wife, Christine Lakeland Cale, the album is named for Cale's 1972 single "Call Me The Breeze". The album features fifteen Cale originals, including three previously unreleased tracks, plus a cover of Ray Price's "I'll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)", which Cale had recorded on his Okie album. Eric also created a very special tribute within a tribute by starting the new album with "Call Me The Breeze", which was also the first track on Cale's debut record. Eric then made it that much more special by using Cale's original 1972 recording of the count-in to the song before Eric and Albert Lee segue into their new version.
In a July 2014 NPR interview about The Breeze, Clapton discussed his own playing when drawing on Cale's unique style:
I wanted to... try to find a way to make it minimal, but still have a great deal of substance. That was the essence of JJ's music to me, apart from the fact that he summed up so many of the different essences of American music: rock and jazz and folk and blues. He just seemed to have an understanding of it all... I regard him as one of the roots of the tree of American folklore... Making this record was a way for me to say thank you for all the inspiration over the years. I suppose at some point I started to feel mildly outraged that he hadn't got the recognition that, at least I thought, he should have had.Since its release, the tribute album has received immense media attention and worldwide commercial success, entering the charts at #1 in The Netherlands, #1 Denmark, #2 in the US, #2 in Germany, #2 in Canada, #3 in the UK and #4 in Belgium. Clapton also produced a behind-the-scenes documentary for the tribute, which had multiple TV airings on both VH1 Classic and Palladia, and features interviews with Clapton, John Mayer, Mark Knopfler, Derek Trucks, Don White and Christine Lakeland Cale.
Most of the songs and the riffs - the way he plays the f...ing guitar is so... great. And he doesn't play very loud, either - I really like that about him. He's so sensitive. Of all the players I ever heard, it's gotta be Hendrix and JJ Cale who are the best electric guitar players... musically, he's actually more than my peer, because he's got that thing. I don't know what it is.Cale began playing local Tulsa clubs in the 1950's surrounded by other natives like David Gates (Bread) and Leon Russell. After moving to Los Angeles in the mid-60's, he recorded his iconic song, "After Midnight", that would later be made famous by Eric Clapton. In 1970, Clapton's version of "After Midnight" reached #18 on the Billboard charts and became a catalyst for Cale's career. Cale stated about that crucial event, "I had already given up on the business part of the record business and had moved back to Tulsa and had gotten me a job playing with some friends of mine. When Eric cut that song it opened up a bunch of doors and I drove over to Nashville and that's when Naturally was done." Naturally was Cale's debut album released in 1972, and it achieved commercial success with one single, "Crazy Mama", breaking into the Billboard Top 25 while the tracks "Call Me the Breeze", "Bringing It Back", "Crazy Mama" and "Clyde" were covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kansas, The Band and Waylon Jennings, respectively. Since Naturally, Cale has recorded fifteen albums, including the Clapton collaboration, The Road to Escondido.