Eric Clapton, JJ Cale & The Tulsa Sound
by Justin Farrar | July 31, 2014
Eric Clapton's love for the late, great JJ Cale is nothing short of hero worship. In addition to scoring two of his biggest hits with Cale-penned tunes "After Midnight" and "Cocaine," Clapton largely modeled his post-"Layla" sound (laid-back blues rock with a slightly jazzy feel) after Cale. Compare his '70s titles (Eric Clapton, 461 Ocean Boulevard, There's One in Every Crowd, No Reason to Cry, Slowhand, et al.) to Cale's own (Naturally, Really, Okie, Troubadour and so on), and you'll spot more than a few similarities. Not surprisingly, these likenesses extend to Clapton's latest release, a collection of Cale covers titled The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale. Featuring a handful of guest musicians, including Tom Petty, John Mayer, Willie Nelson and Derek Trucks, the set finds him actually coaxing his band to sound like Cale as much as possible. It's almost as if the only way for Clapton to pay tribute to his hero is by trying to become him; that's how much he loves the guy.
But Clapton wasn't just a fan of Cale. He also became obsessed with the Tulsa scene from which he emerged. It's a scene that, in addition to Cale, counted among its impressive ranks Leon Russell, Bread cofounder David Gates, The Gap Band, Dwight Twilley, Elvin Bishop, Roger Tillison and many others. On top of making the Oklahoma city his unofficial second home in the mid-'70s, Clapton featured no less than three Tulsa musicians in his backing band throughout much of the decade: organ player Dick Sims, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jamie Oldaker. Indeed, the dude was so gung ho for Oklahoma in the mid-'70s that one could argue that he actually became one of the architects of what was popularly referred to as the "Tulsa Sound."
Cale -- always the anti-spotlight outsider who preferred to live life in a decidedly low-key manner -- tended to dismiss the Tulsa Sound as a figment of the music press' collective imagination. He had a point: The sheer stylistic diversity of artists saddled with the label very nearly negates it. After all, upon first blush, there's not a whole lot of common ground found among the boisterous funk of The Gap Band, Dwight Twilley's rootsy power pop and Cale's own pulsating blues rock. But dig into our playlist enough and certain shared ideas certainly do emerge. Most notably, there has always existed a profound love for rhythm, groove and sound-as-shuffle among the Tulsa Sound's chief proponents. The city, sitting at the crossroads of the Plains States, the South and the Midwest, soaked up jazzy Western swing, Buddy Holly-style rockabilly and the Delta's country blues with equal enthusiasm, all of which echo throughout the best Tulsa music. This is even true of a cut like The Gap Band's "Baby Baba Boogie," shimmering disco-funk laid across a shuffle (jazzy yet also totally metronomic) that easily can be recognized by any JJ Cale fan. To fully explore the Tulsa Sound, please check out our playlist.