September 26, 2021

Roll on (2009), by JJ Cale


“A unique creator, visible head of an entire genre and with a decisive weight in the education of later generations”

Manel Celeiro proposes us to re-listen to the album Roll on by JJ Cale, a shadow genius champion of the laid back both respected in the guild and commercially undervalued.

Roll on


On July 26, 2013, a heart attack took John Weldon Cale, JJ Cale, from the building as discreetly as his existence had elapsed. A calm guy and dedicated body and soul to his profession who had a modest hit back in the year 72, “Crazy mama”, released as a single a year before, and which received popular recognition through the versions that others artists made their songs, the case of Lynyrd Skynyrd with “Call me the breeze” and, above all, by Eric Clapton, who endorsed some of his compositions and took them to a wider audience, case of “Cocaine” or “After midnight”. In fact, it is said in the rock lies that Clapton’s adaptation of the latter made him reconsider the decision to abandon his musical career, due to the little repercussion he had reaped until then. If it is true, thank goodness he decided to continue, since we would have lost a unique creator, visible head of an entire genre and who had a decisive weight in the education of later generations of musicians and, obviously, guitarists. A person who knew how to preserve his life and his privacy away from the spotlight, who recorded records when he thought he had something to say and who fled the wheel of long and exhausting tours, staying away from the merciless routine of the music business in the same way that his prestige and consideration among his fellow professionals grew.

We wrote a few lines above that it was the standard-bearer of a genre, laid back, a musical mixture that combined rock, blues, folk, jazz and country played almost in slow motion, in a lazy way. Music as relaxed as it is hypnotic that creates a rhythmic loop from which it is very difficult to escape once it imprisons you in its networks. And not only that: he was in love with studios and recording techniques, capable of spending hours and hours messing around with trinkets and trying out effects and tracks that he could fit. In fact, it is one of the precursors of the use of electronic drum machines, a resource that he included in some of the songs included in his first album, Naturally, which was published at the end of 1971. So there is no doubt that we are facing a true genius in the shadows, belonging to the club of the chosen ones, of those who can boast of being pioneers, of having been a key piece for the creation of a style and whose legacy has been admired and recreated by a huge legion of interpreters who have incorporated his songs into their repertoire. To the aforementioned Lynyrd Skynyrd and Eric Clapton we can add, among others, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Bobby Bare, Kansas, Freddie King, Bryan Ferry, Bobby Bland, Pish, John Mayer, Jerry Garcia, Waylon Jennings or the unclassifiable Captain Beefheart.

Roll on, son of the storm

Roll on He arrived after a very hectic period of time for what could be expected of him. His disk Tulsa and back (2004) was presented in one of the most extensive tours that he had done, he participated in the media Crossroad Festival, where the project was conceived The Road to escondido, an album made by hand with his devoted admirer Clapton, released at the end of 2006 and awarded the Grammy for best contemporary blues album. Much frenzy for good old Cale. So he put on the ubiquitous cap, rubbed his beard, and went back to the studio to check in.n new work, which turned out to be the last published in life and which made it very clear that he was still a musician of great weight.

Jazzy tones take the reins on the first two tracks, “Who Knew” and “Former me” feed off the choppy rhythms and counterpoint pianos of the genre, and seem to herald an album in a certain way, but it doesn’t. . “Where the sun don’t shine” rescues the rhythm boxes in its introduction and is already walking along well-known paths, those of those seductive mid-times that it made its designation of origin. And with “Strange days” he raises the bar, guitar notes reminiscent of Balkan gypsy music and a sweeping vocal melody keep you glued to the speakers for its fleeting three minutes.

Compositions like “Down to Memphis”, “Cherry Street”, “Oh Mary” or “Old friend” clarify where all types as overrated – in my opinion – as Mark Knopfler have learned it from, and confirm that their influence on Clapton was decisive in the early years of his solo career. Which, on the other hand, is where his best works are. And as the last present he leaves us a pair of songs that exude beauty and sensitivity, “Leaving in the morning” and “Bring down the curtain”. Simplicity made art.

Manuel Beteta, editor of Route 66 and one of the greatest experts in the work of JJ Cale within our borders, said this in his review of the album: «Songs nuanced, luminous and warm … Good return from the extraordinary To Tulsa and back… An endangered species ». Postrera phrase that reflects the reality we live in. There are extraordinary contemporary musicians, there is no debate about it, but they lack the charisma, the personality and the ability to go down in history that this line of artists possesses who, by the inexorable law of life, increasingly leave us alone.

Previous installment of Catalog Fund: Mule variations (1999), de Tom Waits.