The End of Tulsa Jam

The Tulsa Sound is defined in large part by the work of its two principal pillars, J.J. Cale and Leon Russell. Cale passed three years ago, and, on Sunday, Russell too returned to the eternal dust bowl:

Russell, known as “The Master of Space and Time,” was a master of the blues, country, rock, gospel — whatever styles of music were put in front of him and whatever he could pull from his creative mind. With dozens of albums, hundreds of songs recorded by musicians at the top of their game and thousands of contributions to recordings from The Beach Boys to J.J. Cale, Russell’s influence on music in the last 50 years has been profound.

In 1969, Russell performed in the Delaney & Bonnie and Friends band, with several members of the band coming on with Joe Cocker for the Mad Dogs and Englishmen recordings and iconic tour. That tour put a spotlight on fellow Tulsa musicians, with Jim Keltner and Blackwell on drums and Carl Radle on bass performing on the tour and on the album.

Russell launched his solo career with the release of his self-titled album in 1970, an album that included one of his best-known songs, “A Song for You.”

Russell moved back to Tulsa in the early 1970s to establish Shelter Records and build recording studios in Tulsa and near Grand Lake. A memorial to Russell grew throughout the day Sunday on the steps of his old Tulsa studio, The Church Studio on Third Street, which the city renamed Leon Russell Road in 2010.

His solo career produced multiple hit albums and songs, including “A Song for You,” “Tight Rope,” “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “Lady Blue.” His work spanned genres from the rock sounds of his self-titled 1970 album to the honky-tonk of “Hank Wilson’s Back,” incorporating blues, gospel and soul across his albums.

“He played and recorded with the heavyweights of country music — George Jones and Willie Nelson — and of course rock ‘n’ roll royalty — George Harrison and Eric Clapton,” said Jeff Moore, director of the forthcoming Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture, to which Russell donated a large part of his work for future display.

Relix adds this note from Russell’s appearance at the 2015 Lockn’ Festival:

But when it came down to brass tacks, he was straight business—playing and singing with all his might, giving tips to the musicians, beaming with joy as Derek [Trucks] ripped a solo or Susan [Tedeschi] wailed on the mic, and even leading the troupe through some surreal improvised jams. He was fully engaged with everyone in that rehearsal room, even though it must’ve been an overwhelming experience for him (he was working with dozens of people he hadn’t seen in over 45 years). He was like the elder statesman of the experience and treated everyone with love, respect and humility, which ultimately guided that massive collective to deliver one of the finest and most memorable shows any of us had ever seen or any of the musicians had been a part of.

Enough chatter. I’ve featured the exact same take of this first jam in this space before, but its opening makes it too perfect to omit this time around:

Russell also played a featured role in Ravi Shankar and George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, and this spotlight medley is a highlight of the night:

I’m not sure what’s going to happen now to the Tulsa Sound and scene without these two, and I’m hardly in a position to say, but I know that they made something special, authentic, and perfectly delivered. We don’t deserve more, and we probably don’t even deserve that.

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Previously
J.J. Jam
Stranger in Town Jam

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Halloween Friday Jam

I still don’t like Halloween, but I still can’t let the day pass without sharing this jam, all the more salient in this space today as the holiday falls on a Friday. Enjoy this new (to me) version of Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s canonical feature, now with the new (to me, as of today) knowledge that Pickett’s band for the special occasion, the Crypt-Kickers, featured the great Leon Russell on the B side. Enjoy the A side now before heading out for an evening of tricks and/or treats, and say hello to Bobby, Leon, and Dick if you happen to spot them in the great crypt tonight:

J.J. Jam

Recent selections in this space have featured the music of the lately departed (Ray Manzarek and Bobby “Blue” Bland), and today’s offering adheres to that trend. While trying to avoid engaging in any sort of comparative analyses, the passing of today’s featured artist feels like a pretty big deal. Eric Clapton’s site has the details:

The legendary American Singer / Songwriter, JJ Cale, died on Friday 26 July of a heart attack at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, California. The news was reported on his management company’s website and on the musician’s Facebook page.

JJ Cale (John W. Cale) was born on 5 December 1938, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. …

A composer, guitarist and vocalist, he was one of the innovators of the “Tulsa Sound.” It draws on blues, rockabilly, country, and jazz influences. In an interview, JJ once said, “I don’t think there is a Tulsa sound as such. It’s just individuals. But I know what you mean. In western Oklahoma you’ve got a lot of country music. Then in eastern Oklahoma, it’s closer to the Mississippi and you’ve got more blues musicians. In Tulsa we got influenced by both and there’s some jazz in there too. So I guess that’s what made my sound.”

JJ began playing guitar in the clubs around Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 1950s. He played in a variety of rock and western swing bands, including one with Leon Russell. In 1959, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he was hired by the Grand Ole Opry’s touring company. After a few years, he returned to Tulsa where he reunited with Russell and began playing in the local clubs. In 1964, JJ and Leon moved to Los Angeles with another musician from Oklahoma, Carl Radle. In Los Angeles, JJ worked as a studio engineer and played with Delaney and Bonnie for a brief time. He launched his solo career in 1965. That same year, he cut the first version of “After Midnight,” which would become his most famous song. …

He returned to Tulsa in 1967 and again embarked on the club circuit. Within a year, he had completed a set of demos. Carl Radle obtained a copy and sent them to Denny Cordell, who was launching Shelter Records with Leon Russell. Shelter signed Cale in 1969. JJ’s debut album, Naturally, was released in December 1971. It included the Top 40 hit “Crazy Mama,” a re-recorded version of “After Midnight” (which nearly reached the Top 40) and “Call Me the Breeze.” These remain some of his best known songs.

Following the release of his sophomore effort, JJ embarked a slow work schedule. Over the years, his aversion to stardom and extensive touring became well-known. He happily remained relatively obscure for decades. In an interview, JJ Cale said, “I’m a guitarist and a songwriter and I got lucky when Clapton heard one of my songs. I’m not a showbiz kind of guy. I had the passion to do music as much as anybody. But I never wanted to be the patsy up front. And I still don’t want to be famous.”

It took until 1983 for him to record his eighth album, 8. Then, there were no further albums until1990’s Travel Log. 10 was released in 1992, followed by Close to You (1994) and Guitar Man (1996). Those albums were followed by another long period of inactivity. JJ did not return to recording until 2003. The result was the critically acclaimed To Tulsa and Back (2004). His last CD was Roll On (2009). He embarked on his final tour in April 2009 to support it’s [sic] release.

Eric Clapton is one of many musicians who have noted J.J’s influence on their music. They include Mark Knopfler, Neil Young, Bryan Ferry, and “jam bands” like Widespread Panic. Clapton, when asked by Vanity Fair several years ago “What living person do you most admire?” replied simply “JJ Cale.” Neil Young has said, “Of all the players I ever heard, it’s gotta be Hendrix and JJ Cale who are the best electric guitar players.”

Over the years, Eric Clapton recorded several of JJ Cales’ compositions including “After Midnight”, “I’ll Make Love To You Anytime”, “Travelin’ Light”, “Angel” and “Cocaine” which remains a Clapton concert staple to this day.

… Later [in 2004], Eric invited JJ to produce an album for him. Work started in the summer of 2005, but it evolved into a collaborative effort. Their joint album, The Road To Escondido, was released to critical acclaim on 7 November 2006. Certified gold by the RIAA, it won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2008. … JJ can also be heard on EC’s 19th studio album, Clapton (2010) and Old Sock (2013).

Famous for songs others turned into hits, “After Midnight” and “Cocaine,” via Clapton, and “Call Me the Breeze,” via Skynyrd, J.J. Cale was far from a back-room, record company songwriter. He was, as the tribute from Clapton’s folks indicates, a true musician in his own right, and he would have been an important one even if those heavy commercial hitters hadn’t picked up a few of his tunes. (He didn’t mind the royalty checks, though, he acknowledged in a statement picked up by this nice Daily Beast retrospective.) That’s why it seems right to remember him not through the interpretive work of others, but through his own performances.

His 2004 release, To Tulsa and Back, has been in my regular rotation since it came out, so the first of the following three selections comes from that album:

[Video not available for embedding. Click here.]

A friend commended the next choice, from Cale’s 1972 album, Naturally, which features Carl Radle on bass:

Finally, a collaboration with fellow propagator of the Tulsa Sound, Leon Russell:

Ride on, J.J.