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Tom Petty Guitarist Mike Campbell Remembers J.J. Cale

'He has been, and always will be, a huge inspiration to me'

J.J. Cale performs in Amsterdam.
Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns
July 29, 2013 3:10 PM ET

Mike Campbell, longtime guitarist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, has posted a tribute online to J.J. Cale, the Grammy-winning guitarist-songwriter who died of a heart-attack last week.

"Losing J.J. Cale is losing an American musical treasure," Campbell writes. "Always under the radar, he has been, and always will be, a huge inspiration to me and the band."

Readers' Poll: Tom Petty's 10 Best Songs

Campbell notes his admiration for Cale's "magical" guitar tone and "understated" lyrics, while also reflecting on his personal kindness and warmth: "He was always gracious and treated me like a friend."

The Heartbreakers have always been vocal about their appreciation for Cale's music. At last year's Jazz Fest in New Orleans, the band honored Cale by covering his classic track "Travelin' Light," while Petty called him one of his favorite songwriters.

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Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

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