R.I.P. JJ Cale
There is something intangible about a great song. Whether its the simple melody, meaningful lyrics, or the heart and soul that the songwriter pours into his work listeners can’t help but feel as if it was written just for them.
JJ Cale was such a songwriter. Working in a laid back way that ran counter to the hard rock and breezy country sounds of classic 70’s FM radio Cale made albums for himself that exemplified simplicity and cool. Meanwhile Clapton (After Midnight and Cocaine) and Skynard (Call Me The Breeze) recorded vastly built up versions of his tunes that dominated the airwaves. These were the big hits, but somehow Cale’s versions stand the test of time better. That’s the thing about a great song: it always works.
When Widespread Panic recorded Travelin’ Light for our first album I was unaware of Cale’s version. JB played me the original recording and I was shocked at how different it was from our reading. Cale’s was light and nimble and ours was bombastic and ponderous. Yet it somehow still worked. That’s another thing about a great song: it can be dressed in any costume and still be effective.
Nearly a decade later we released Light Fuse Get Away and the live version of Travelin’ Light got a decent amount of airplay. Around Christmas a case of whiskey arrived at our office from JJ as a thank you for recording his tune. An unexpected gesture from a real class act.
We should have sent him a case of whiskey for writing one of the tunes that helped put Widespread Panic on the map. Maybe a couple of cases for Ride Me High as well….
So if you are looking for something to listen to this afternoon I suggest one of JJ’s albums like Naturally or Troubador. Listen to the vinyl or dial up a playlist. Just listen to the music of a man who spent 50 years writing songs that will always mean something to everyone.
Have a laid back journey JJ and thank you for the music.