Singer and songwriter JJ Cale, whose work became hits for a wide range of other artists including Eric Clapton and Lynyrd Skynyrd, died on Friday at the age of 74. According to the musician’s website, he died at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, California after suffering a heart attack.
Known for a relaxed blues style mixed with folk and jazz, Cale got his start playing in honky-tonks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before joining the Grand Ole Opry road company. In 1964, he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a recording engineer for Leon Russell and Snuff Garrett. He recorded his first single for Liberty Records in 1965, with “After Midnight” as the B-side.
Eric Clapton later scored his first solo hit with that song, and he went on to cover Cale’s “Cocaine.” Lynyrd Skynyrd found similar success with Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze.” Cale won a Grammy for his 2006 collaboration with Eric Clapton, The Road to Escondido.
Over a career that spans more than a dozen albums of his own, beginning with Naturally in 1972, Cale cultivated a quiet anonymity, doing few interviews, rarely performing live, and keeping his picture off his album covers in the first decade and a half of his career.
“I’m a background person,” Cale told the Chicago Sun Times in 1990. “I’m not a household name. People have heard my music, but all my famous songs were made famous by somebody else. . . . But that was my goal.”
In spite of the low profile, Cale continued to exert an influence on subsequent generations of musicians. “The effortlessness, that restraint and underplaying, under-singing – it was just very powerful,” Beck told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. “The power of doing less and holding back in a song, I’ve taken a lot of influence from that.”