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Musician JJ Cale dies; wrote Clapton, Skynyrd hits

  • In this June 5, 2004 file photo, singer-songwriter J.J. Cale plays during the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas, Texas. Cale, whose best-known songs became hits for Eric Clapton with "After Midnight" and Lynyrd Skynyrd with "Call Me the Breeze," has died. He was 74. Cale's manager Mike Kappus said the architect of the Tulsa Sound died Friday, July 26, 2013 of a heart attack at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

LA JOLLA — If musicians were measured not by the number of records they sold but by the number of peers they influenced, JJ Cale would have been a towering figure in 1970s rock 'n' roll.

His best songs like "After Midnight," ''Cocaine" and "Call Me the Breeze" were towering hits — for other artists. Eric Clapton took "After Midnight" and "Cocaine" and turned them into the kind of hard-party anthems that defined rock for a long period of time. And Lynyrd Skynyrd took the easy-shuffling "Breeze" and supercharged it with a three-guitar attack that made it a hit.

Cale, the singer-songwriter and producer known as the main architect of the Tulsa Sound, passed away Friday night at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, Calif. His manager, Mike Kappus, said Cale died of a heart attack. He was 74.

While his best known songs remain in heavy rotation on the radio nearly 40 years later, most folks wouldn't be able to name Cale as their author. That was a role he had no problem with.

"No, it doesn't bother me," Cale said with a laugh in an interview posted on his website. "What's really nice is when you get a check in the mail."

And the checks rolled in for decades. The list of artists who covered his music or cite him as a direct influence reads like a who's who of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — Clapton, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Mark Knopfler, The Allman Brothers, Carlos Santana, Captain Beefheart and Bryan Ferry among many others.

Young said in Jimmy McDonough's biography "Shakey" that Cale and Jimi Hendrix were the best guitar players he had ever heard. And in his recent memoir "Waging Heavy Peace," Young said Cale's "Crazy Mama" — his biggest hit, rising to No. 22 on the Billboard singles chart — was one of the five songs that most influenced him as a songwriter: "The song is true, simple, and direct, and the delivery is very natural. JJ's guitar playing is a huge influence on me. His touch is unspeakable."

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