b. Jean Jacques Cale, 5 December 1938, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA. This mercurial artist began performing professionally in the '50s as guitarist in a western swing group. With the advent of rock ‘n’ roll he led his own group, Johnnie Cale And The Valentines, before moving to Nashville late in the decade for an unsuccessful career in country music. He subsequently settled in Los Angeles, thereby joining fellow Tulsa ex-patriots Leon Russell, Carl Radle and Chuck Blackwell. Cale played in bar-bands, worked as a studio engineer and recorded several low-key singles before collaborating with songwriter Roger Tillison on a psychedelic album, A TRIP DOWN SUNSET STRIP. Credited to the Leathercoated Minds, this tongue-in-cheek selection has since become a cult favourite.
An impoverished Cale returned to Tulsa in 1967. He remained an obscure, local talent for three years but his fortunes changed dramatically when Eric Clapton recorded After Midnight, a song Cale had written and released as a single in 1965. ‘It was like discovering oil in your own backyard’, he later commented. Producer Audie Ashworth then invited him to Nashville where he completed the excellent NATURALLY. The completed tape was then forwarded to Leon Russell, who released it on his fledgling Shelter label. The concise, self-confident album, arguably Cale's best, featured a re-recording of After Midnight, as well as several equally enchanting compositions, including Call Me The Breeze, Magnolia and Crazy Mama, which became a US Top 30 hit. His laconic, almost lachrymose delivery quickly became a trademark, while the sympathetically light instrumental support from veterans David Briggs (keyboards), Norbert Putnam (bass) and Tim Drummond (drums), previously members of Area Code 615, enhanced its intimate atmosphere. NATURALLY created a style from which Cale has rarely strayed and while some critics detected a paucity of ideas, others enthuse over its hypnotic charm.
REALLY confirmed the high quality of the artist's compositions. Marginally tougher than its predecessor, it included the R&B-flavoured Lies and featured contributions from the Muscle Shoals team of Barry Beckett (keyboards), David Hood (bass) and Roger Hawkins (drums). While OKIE and TROUBADOUR lacked its immediacy, the latter contained the singer's own version of Cocaine, another song popularized by Clapton, who also recorded I'll Make Love To You Anytime from FIVE. Although Cale has remained a somewhat shy and reticent figure, his influence on other musicians has been considerable. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits appropriated much of his delivery from Cale's self-effacing style, yet while such devotees enjoyed massive commercial success, the originator entered a period of semi-retirement following an ill-fated dalliance with a major label. Despite the inclusion of the popular Money Talks and the acquisition of Cale's back-catalogue, Cale's two albums for Phonogram, GRASSHOPPER and 8, failed to sell in the quantities anticipated and he asked to be released from his contract. The artist re-emerged in 1989 with TRAVEL LOG, which was issued on Silvertone, a British independent label. Devotees were relieved to hear little had changed, the songs were still largely based on 12-bar structures, his guitar style retained its rhythmic, yet relaxed pulse while Cale's warm, growling voice was as distinctive as ever.
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