Ain't no change in the weather, ain't no change in me
-From "Call Me the Breeze"
It's quite possible that J.J. Cale's
first song from his first record, "Call Me The Breeze," is still the one that best describes him. Speaking with Cale
thirty-five years after he recorded "Call Me The Breeze" for his 1971 debut, Naturally, you get the sense that
time (and money) really haven't affected John Cale all that much. He's "just a regular guy" who digs music, loves
engineering music, and lives a simple existence. "I go into town, buy groceries, do the laundry. I'm just a regular
senior citizen," says the 67 year-old Cale. "I lived in trailers and stuff 'cause I was always busy, but now I have three
acres down here. Well I try to keep all that up, and I don't hire nobody. I don't hire any servants or none of that; I
do all my own yard work and house work."
Perhaps one of the few things that really have changed for Cale is the fact that he can now afford a few acres. J.J.
Cale's climb from humble roots to the top of the songwriting mountain followed a very unique, un-conventional
path, and it wasn't until his thirties that he began to get noticed. "The difference in me, the reason that [quitting
music] didn't happen to me, I really had a gypsy-lifestyle mentality," explains Cale. "It didn't matter to me whether I
had any money or not. I knew I could just get out a guitar and sit on the corner and play, whereas a lot of musicians
wanted something more from life; they wanted a new car or a new house or whatever. I never wanted anything
material; I was very satisfied sitting around noodling on the guitar, so I didn't really get caught up in that syndrome
of, 'I'm 30 years old, I got a wife and kids, and I need to quit this music and get a day job.' That happens to
most, but I had no desire to even do that. I was like, 'I can live in a trailer man,' and I didn't want a day job."
And that's pretty much what Cale did - lived in a trailer and noodled on the guitar. He took a shot in Los Angeles
but returned home to Tulsa, Oklahoma not too long after. He struggled financially and took an extreme, laissez-
faire attitude towards his career; he was always one-day-at-a-time. Ironically enough, it was Cale's lack of ambition
that allowed him the time he needed to get his break. Where most even relatively ambitious human beings
(musicians or otherwise) would have given in to pursue a more promising life, Cale had no interest. He was content
to just play some guitar, mix a few records, and get by. But let's be clear by what we mean when we say "play some
guitar," or as he puts it, "noodle on the guitar." Another thing that hasn't changed with J.J. Cale is his modesty.
Noodling on the guitar for Cale has accounted for some of the best and most lasting songs from the past fifty years.
Hits like "Call Me The Breeze" (made famous by Lynyrd Skynyrd), "Cocaine" (Clapton), "After Midnight" (Clapton), and
lesser-known gems like "Travelin' Light," "Cajun Moon," "I'm A Gypsy Man," "Money Talks," "Lies," "Ride Me High,"
and plenty more all come from the J.J. Cale canon. And although his rate of production has slowed, he's still turning
out quality songs. For evidence, look no further than 2004's To Tulsa and Back. In addition to financial
success, if anything else has in fact changed it may be Cale's acceptance of the press, fans, and all the little things
that go into being part of The Music World. It's this slight shift away from J.J. Cale "the recluse" that brings us the
first DVD of his career, To Tulsa and Back - On Tour with J.J. Cale (released on DVD June 13th via Time Life).
Recorded over four days at the end of his 2004 summer tour (his last tour), the DVD is an intimate look into the
notoriously reclusive J.J. Cale. Not only do we get live concert footage, but we get to travel on Cale's tour bus. We
sit in on interviews with Cale, his sister, and his band mates, and we receive extensive commentary by Eric Clapton. It was actually Clapton's 2004
Crossroads Festival that spawned Cale's entire tour. Honored by Clapton's invitation and wanting to sound his best,
Cale decided he better play some shows to warm up. And heck, if you're gonna go out on the road, you might as
well stretch it a little and do a few more gigs.
Clapton & Cale at Crossroads by
When asked why he finally decided to let a camera crew into his intimate, private space, Cale sorta laughed and said,
"I thought they were just gonna do a little promo, five-minute kind of a thing. When you're on tour, you're jacked up
and it's different than when you're home. And I didn't know that's what it was they were doing. I kinda did, but
when I'm on tour I have so many other things going on and this was just sort of a side-project kinda thing, and I
didn't know it was gonna turn into what it turned out to be."
J.J. Cale has always eluded the spotlight. He's made a point of lurking in the shadows and constantly deflecting
attention towards others. "I never was real crazy about doing the live thing," says Cale. "I was originally a guitar
player and played live all my life, but the J.J. Cale thing, which is a singer-songwriter thing, mainly a songwriter is
really what I do for a living, I was very reluctant. That's why they hung the 'recluse' thing on me, 'cause when Eric
Clapton and Lynyrd Skynyrd started cutting some of my songs back in the 70s, they went, 'Oh you need to go
out and promote yourself,' and I was very uncomfortable with that because I've always been a sideman,
background man, engineering kinda technical nerd. So I did the... the minimum, I'll put it that way, of promoting
whatever album it was I had out. As the years rolled by, I got a little more used to, 'Okay, you gotta get out and
perform.' I was always a guitar player in the band, so the thing [spotlight] was never on me, and now I'm a little
more of a 'Well, here I am folks' kind of a guy now. But 20, 30 years ago, I was very reluctant to actually get out and
be the patsy. I'm a little more used to it now, or maybe as the years went by I just accepted the fact that I'm semi-
well known and that's kinda the way it goes."
A highlight of the To Tulsa and Back - On Tour with J.J. Cale DVD is the back-and-forth commentary of
Clapton on Cale and Cale on Clapton. While Cale credits Clapton as "the reason I no longer have to work" (because
of the huge sums of money he's made through Clapton's covers of "Cocaine" and "After Midnight"), Clapton credits
Cale for "giving him" some of his most successful songs. "I'm very grateful to J.J.," says Clapton. "He's been an
incredible inspiration to me."