Still rockin' after all these years

JJ Cale could well be called the grandfather of rock. At 70, he has just released his 16th album and is in the middle of a West Coast tour that will take him to Medford. High Sierra Music Festival will present the Cale concert at 8 p.m. Monday, April 13, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.

This is Cale's first set of live dates since 2004, following the release of his first solo CD of new material in nearly five years, "Roll On" (released on Rounder Records, Feb., 2009). Cale wrote and produced all 12 songs on "Roll On." The title track features a previously unreleased collaboration with Eric Clapton.

"I don't know why I did it," Cale said when asked why he decided to start touring again. Then he answered his own question. "We're playing the West Coast to make people know we've got a new record. Also I like to get out and play, meet the people." Cale admits that when you spend all of your time in the studio, you miss the human contact with your audience. "(When you tour) you meet people, get their opinions. You meet the people who buy your music."

People have been buying and recording Cale's music for a long time. Cale's influence on contemporary music has been massive. Two of Clapton's biggest hits, "After Midnight" and "Cocaine," were written by Cale. Clapton recorded "After Midnight" in 1970 after he had written it in the mid-60s.

Lynyrd Skynyrd also recorded Cale songs including "Call Me The Breeze" and "Bringing It Back." A small sampling of artists who've covered Cale include Johnny Cash, The Band, Chet Atkins, Captain Beefheart, Santana and The Allman Brothers, while Mark Knopfler, Neil Young, and Bryan Ferry have all cited his influence. Cale also has had a significant impact on a younger generation of artists who have covered his songs in recent years including Spiritualized, Beck, Band Of Horses, Widespread Panic and more.

"Rock 'n' roll kind of turned into rock," Cale said of the genre he has been involved with for more than 40 years. "Originally it was Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. After the '50s were over and into the '80s there were more 'rock' bands, (it) wasn't as boogie-woogie oriented. It's changed many times since then. That style of music went out with the guys who invented it. Music, like life, evolves, each generation has its own contribution to make."

Cale certainly has recognized that in his own work.

"When I was young, I wrote about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Now I'm older the world's changed, I've changed and the music's changed. Lyrics have the older man's point of view. When you get older you see things differently."

Cale made his first album, "Naturally" in 1972. He was in his early 30s and thought at the time that he was way too old to be doing that. At 70, he shows no signs of quitting.

Cale says that rock still draws big crowds and sells records. "Drums are a big reason," he says. "People like to move. Rap and hip-hop are very beat oriented. Who knows what the next generation will listen to?"

When he records, Cale ends up in the studio playing guitars, pedal steel, bass, drums, synthesizers, singing lead, backup, and harmony. He then gets to work using his skills as a recording engineer to produce and engineer the album himself.

Cale says that when he started, recording equipment and studio time was very expensive. "I was an engineer by trade, guitar player, singer/songwriter by night. New technology came about in the '60s. Nowadays you can buy a recording studio for $250. The new generation can do what I used to do. They can make demos. They can do it cheaply. Any band also can make an album really cheaply."

From his perspective of four decades in the business, Cale says, "Now everybody plays guitar. Everybody's in a band. Music doesn't hurt anybody. I've heard some kids who are astronomical. Nobody knows who they are. It takes a lot of luck. I wasn't any more talented than anybody else. If you quit, it's not going to come to you. You need a lot of help from Lady Luck. If you don't hang in there, you'll be doing something else (for a job).

Cale's backing band on this tour includes Bill Raffensperger (bass), Walt Richmond (keyboards), David Teegarden (drums and percussion) and James Cruce (drums and percussion). All but Cruce recorded with Cale on "Roll On," and all but Raffensperger played on "The Road To Escondido," the Grammy-winning 2006 gold-record collaboration by Cale and Clapton.

Opening the show will be the Rogue Valley-based duo of Alice DiMicele with Jeff Pevar.

All seven shows on the tour so far have sold out, but tickets were still available as of press time for the Craterian performance. Cale donates part of the proceeds to the local animal shelter in each town where he performs.

"I'm an animal lover,"Cale says. "So many people facing foreclosures are letting their animals go. Animal shelters are having a hard time like everyone else. People can't afford to feed their animals. It's really picked up my day (to be able to help)."

Tickets are $30.50 - $37.50 and are available at the Craterian box office, on line at, at the Music Coop in Ashland or by calling 779-3000.

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