J.J. Cale moves to the beat of his own drummer, and invariably it's a blues shuffle, the laid-back snare snap mirroring his laconic vocal delivery. Just as Cale takes his time musically, the ethos extends to his career. It was more than a dozen years between the young Tulsa native's first gigs with, among others, Leon Russell, and his first solo album, 1971's Naturally. Now it's been another eight between this, his 13th album, To Tulsa and Back, and his prior release, Guitar Man.
While Cale's built a cult following, far more have heard his songs and felt his influence than are aware of it. His soft-spoken vocals and smooth, light-touch solos were an enormous influence on Mark Knopfler, making it impossible to hear Cale and not be reminded of Dire Straits. Eric Clapton also drew on Cale's vocal style when he went solo, but even more, Cale's songs buoyed Clapton, as he graciously rode "After Midnight" and "Cocaine" to far greater acclaim than Cale is ever likely to see. And Lynyrd Skynyrd made a hit out of "Call Me the Breeze," just one of a list of literally dozens of artists -- from Bryan Ferry to Spiritualized to Johnny Cash -- who have covered Cale. Undoubtedly the royalty checks are nice, but it's a shame more people haven't caught on to Cale's supple, low-key folk-blues style.