One of the most underrated singer, songwriter and guitarists is J.J. Cale, whose career began back in the late fifties as Johnny Cale. However, it wasn’t until 1972 that J.J. Cale released his debut album Naturally. Naturally featured a track that would become synonymous with J.J. and would introduce his music to a much wider audience. This track was After Midnight, which Eric Clapton had covered in 1970. At the time Eric Clapton covered After Midnight, J.J. Cale was struggling to pay his bills working as a musician, so the royalties from After Midnight were like manna from heaven. Unknown to him, Eric had covered After Midnight. When it gave Eric one of the biggest hits of his career, J.J. Cale’s problems were suddenly solved. The royalties he received from After Midnight allowed J.J. Cale to pay his bills and somewhat belatedly, record his 1972 debut album Naturally. It’s one of five albums that feature in the recently released J.J. Cale-Classic Album Selection. Other albums include 1976s Troubadour, 1981s Shades, 1982s Grasshopper and 1983s Number 8. Are these five album sthe perfect introduction to one of the most enigmatic, languid and laid-back musicians of a generation… J.J. Cale? That’s what I’ll now tell you.


Following the success of Eric Clapton’s cover of After Midnight, J.J. Cale decided to use some of the royalties to record his debut album Naturally. It was released on Shelter Records and produced by Audie Ashworth. By that time, J.J. had been trying to make a living as a musician for fourteen years. He was a talented songwriter, who wrote eleven of the tracks on Naturally and cowrote Clyde with C.W. Beavers. Recording of Naturally took place in Nashville, with the musicians payed demo feels. This is quite fitting, as the drum machine that features on several tracks, including the classic Call Me The Breeze, gives the track a demo sound.

Two singles were released from Naturally. Crazy Mama gave J.J. the biggest hit of his career, reaching number twenty-two in the US Billboard 100. After Midnight then reached number forty-two in the US Billboard 100. When Naturally was released in 1972, it reached number fifty-one in the US Billboard 200. Featuring tracks like Call Me The Breeze, Don’t Go To Strangers, Crazy Mama and After Midnight J.J. Cale’s understated fusion of blues, boogie, Americana and J.J’s Tulsa sound proved immediately popular. Indeed, Naturally has since become seen as one of J.J. Cale’s classic albums. Why was that?

Well, the music on Naturally was understated, and crossed musical genres. J.J’s playing was very different from other guitar players, including Eric Clapton. They tended to me much more showy and impressive guitarists. However, J.J.’s playing were subtle and understated, leading to him gaining a reputation as a guitarist’s guitarist, whose debut album Naturally, was something of a classic.



When compiling a five-disc box set of any artist’s career, it makes sense to compile them in chronological order. Sadly, that isn’t the case with J.J. Cale-Classic Album Selection. From his 1972 debut album Naturally, we skip J.J’s 1973 sophomore album Really and 1974s Okie. So next stop is 1976s Troubadour. It was released on Shelter Records and produced by Audie Ashworth.

Troubadour was recorded on Nashville during 1976. J.J. wrote eleven of the twelve tracks. One of these tracks was Cocaine, which Eric Clapton covered on his 1977 album Slowhand, giving Eric another huge hit single. Along with tracks like Ride Me High, Travellin’ Light and Hold On, Troubadour was filled full of quality music.

On the release of Troubadour in 1976, it stalled at number eighty-four in the US Billboard 200. When Hey Baby was released as a single, it crept into the US Billboard 100 at number ninety-six. Despite Troubadour’s relative commercial failure, it remains one of J.J. Cale’s best albums of the mid to late seventies. The other three albums from J.J. Cale-Classic Album Selection are from the period between 1981 and 1983.




J.J. Cale’s sixth album was Shades, which was released on MCA Records in February 1981.  It was released on Shelter Records and produced by Audie Ashworth. All the ten tracks on Shades were written by J.J. and recorded in Hollywood and Nashville. As was the musical fashion, the use of synths was creeping into the recording of albums by artists like J.J. Cale. Given his usual rootsy, bluesy sound this was something of a surprise. Some people would say, an unwelcome surprise. One thing stayed the same, J.J’s fusion of an eclectic selection of influences, including blues, Americana, rock, jazz and country. He was accompanied by a tight, talented band, who would try to help J.J. rejuvenate his career. 

On the release of Shades, it was neither critically acclaimed nor commercially successful. Stalling at number 110 in the US Billboard 200, this proved a huge disappointment. So too was the critic’s reaction. They weren’t as enthusiastic as before. Usually, the critics were almost cheerleaders for J.J. Cale. Not this time. Although the band and J.J. got into a groove and remained there throughout Shades, the laid-back, languid sound of the album didn’t convince critics as to its merits. Their shortsighted approach meant tracks like Carry On, If You Leave Her and Cloudy Day didn’t receive the credit they deserved. If you revisit Shades, you’ll discover one of J.J. Cale’s most underrated albums of his six album career.



Grasshopper marked the tenth anniversary of J.J. Cale’s debut album. SInce 1972s Naturally, success had been sporadic. His shuffling boogie sound won him friends among critics and record buyers. With record sales dwindling, he’d moved from Shelter Records to MCA for the release of Shades. It was his only release for MCA and was produced by Audie Ashworth.. Next stop was Mercury Records, where J.J. would release Grasshopper, an album that marked a change in style from J.J.

For Grasshopper, J.J. wrote eleven of the fourteen tracks and cowrote the other three tracks. Grasshopper has a more poppy sound as the opening track City Girls demonstrates. Having said that, Grasshopper doesn’t eschew the usual fusion of blues, country, Americana, boogie and rock. Still J.J. is usual languid and laid-back self, although the production has a sharper sound. Among the highlights are Devil In Disguise, Downtown L.A. and Can’t Live Here. Would Grasshopper replicate the success of J.J. Cale’s early albums.

When Grasshopper was released in 1982, neither critics nor record buyers took to the album. Critics were disappointed, and argued that despite a change in sound, J.J. Cale’s luck hadn’t changed. Worse still, was that Grasshopper only reached number 149 in the US Billboard 200. Sadly, Grasshopper didn’t mark a happy tenth anniversary for J.J. Cale’s recording career. Maybe the last album featured in J.J. Cale-Classic Album Selection, 1983s Number 8, will see a change in luck for J.J.?




Number 8 is the last album featured in J.J. Cale-Classic Album Selection. Released in 1983, eleven years after his debut album Naturally, J.J. Cale wasn’t going to radically change his way of working. His groove driven songs provided the backdrop for his complex and intricate guitar playing. The nearest he came to changing his sound, was the addition of female vocalist and sometime co-writer, Christine Lakeland. Christine and J.J. contributed the best tracks on Number 8, Money Talks and Losers. Many of the songs on Number 8 were laden with social comment, as if attempting to tap into America’s economic and social woes. For American people, J.J. would be their spokesman, with songs like Hard Times, Reality, Unemployment and Trouble In The City.

Sadly, Number 8 didn’t mark a change in fortune for J.J. Cale. Number 8 failed to chart. Critics didn’t enthuse about Number 8, and J.J’s music was seen as belonging in another musical era. Despite that, Number 8 remains something of a hidden gem in J.J. Cale’s back-catalogue. It seemed while music was constantly evolving, J.J. Cale’s music was almost standing still. While this appealed to long-term fans, it didn’t win him any new fans. That sadly, meant J.J’s career was at a crossroads.


After seven albums that had charted, Number 8 marked the end of era for J.J. Cale. He was still one of the most underrated singer, songwriter and guitarists of his generation, and seen as the guitarists guitarist. However, his unwillingness to change his music meant he failed to attract the critical acclaim and commercial success his undeniable talent deserved. The five albums that comprise J.J. Cale-Classic Album Selection are proof, if any is needed of this. Quite simply, They’re also proof that the laid-back, languid and understated sound of J.J. Cale matches and often, surpasses many guitarists his era. During the five album in J.J. Cale-Classic Album Selection, J.J. demonstrates that he’s both one of the greatest and most underrated guitarists of a generation. 


1 Comment

  1. Uk fan

    Excellent reviews. Thanks (from a big JJ Cale fan)

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