Eric Clapton on J.J. Cale

Since becoming active here on Audiogon, I’ve occasionally attempted within discussions on musicians to explain to those who aren’t yet aware that, though the Rock ’n’ Roll players most often thought of as being "the best" are almost all from the school of musicianship that I refer to as "Look at me. Aren’t I good?" (in an interview later in life, Keith Moon said his goal when he started out was to have his audience think he was the best drummer they had ever seen). I have then said that there is another school of musicianship, the players of which approach the making music from an entirely different perspective, referred to as ensemble playing. Preferred by songwriters and singers, they play in a way so as to make the song and/or singer, not themselves, sound good. They are most commonly heard in recording studios, not on stages.

Now, if your taste in, say, drummers, runs to Neil Peart, Alex Van Halen, Ginger Baker, or good ’ol Keith Moon, I am going to assume that you don’t listen to music primarily for the song, or the singer, or ensemble playing. If I am over-generalizing and over-simplifying, forgive me.

I bring the subject up because I just watched a video on You Tube---an interview with Eric Clapton (by Dan something of Guitar Player magazine) on the making of the tribute album Clapton did to celebrate J.J Cale. I highly recommend watching the video to get an understanding of the kind of musicianship Clapton values in another player---his abilities as an ensemble player (which Clapton first became aware of when he heard The Band). Clapton admits that when he first was told of Cale and heard his playing, he wasn’t that impressed, thinking that Cale didn’t seem to be doing much. As he got older, and matured as a musician, he came to appreciate the subtlety and taste in J.J.’s playing, singing, and song writing.

J.J. Cale is from Tulsa, Oklahoma, as are some of my favorite drummers, who have a feel unique to the area. Many of the musicians on the album are from Tulsa, including drumming great Jimmy Karstein (T Bone Burnett, Dylan, Cale). Never heard of Karstein? A much, much better musician than Pearl, Van Halen, Baker, or Moon---honest!

Speaking of Tulsa, the reason Tom Petty ended up on Shelter Records is that when he and the rest of Mudcrunch drove from Florida to L.A. to get a record deal, they stopped in the town to hook up with The Dwight Twilley Band, whose first album (on Shelter) Petty was extremely impressed by. Leon Russell had an office in Tulsa, and Twilley took Petty in to introduce him. Petty was told to go to the studio Shelter had in L.A. when he got there, and it was in that studio where the first few TP albums were recorded, right on Sunset Blvd., not far from The Whiskey and The Roxy. By the way, the first DTB album---Sincerely---is astounding, one of the three or so best debut albums (along with Music From Big Pink and the first Moby Grape) of all time, imo. Far, far superior to anything Petty ever did. You may not agree.

While you're on You Tube, watch the video of Clapton inducting The Band into The Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame. After hearing Music From Big Pink, Eric told Jack and Ginger he was done with Cream, and went to Woodstock to hang with The Band, intending to ask them if he could join. He never got up the nerve, and finally realized they neither needed for desired his services ;-). He went home, joined forces with Steve Winwood in Blind Faith, who went on the road with Delaney & Bonnie, whose band members (all from the Tulsa area) became Derek & The Dominoes. Their drummer was the incredible Jim Gordon, perhaps the greatest of all the Tulsa drummers.

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bdp24great RNR stories my friend.  Happy Listening!
Yup. Totally agree. 

The best musicians understand that it is just as important (if not more important) what you don’t play.

ACDC rhythm section was amazing. Very tasteful. Very clever playing by their bassist Cliff Williams. He plays root of the chord mostly but knows exactly when to play the odd semi tone higher to give a different sound. Back in Black is a great example.
Like you, I prefer ensemble playing to flash, but you’ve picked the wrong players to make your point. The Who was an ensemble consisting of four players, none of whom were replaceable. Keith Moon’s style of drumming was perfect for The Who and was an integral part of their sound. Could you imagine someone on the drums tapping on his snare and tom toms, unobtrusively keeping time, adding an accent or fill from time to time? It wouldn’t be The Who, IMHO.

The Who continued on without Moon, but they weren’t The Who after he was gone, no matter how enjoyable the shows they put on with other line ups were.

Here is a quote from Jorma Kaukonen, an acoustic fingerpicker of some reknown, about Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in Cream that I came across on the No Depression website:

He (Jorma) saw Cream at Winterland in San Francisco when the British power trio was recording its historic Wheels of Fire double album in 1968.

“I never saw anything like it,” he says. “The whole show was mind-boggling.” Cream was “just powerful, and no one was more animated than Ginger,” Kaukonen says, referring to drummer Ginger Baker, whom many say was the best drummer in rock and roll history.

Kaukonen says he had seen Cream once before, during their first U.S. tour at The Fillmore in San Francisco, after the group released its debut album, Fresh Cream. During the late 1960s, a lot of people were raving about Jimi Hendrix, Kaukonen says, but "I personally just dug what Eric Clapton was doing with traditional blues more.

"In my opinion, no one transliterated the music of the masters into the power trio format better than Eric and his pals. Hendrix was monumental. I just dug Clapton more. What Eric was doing was important to me. He was probably the first person to make me want to use a wah-wah pedal.”

So there are different kinds of ensemble playing, some of which require extreme displays of personality to make the ensemble work, again in my non musician humble opinion.

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Rock 'n Roll and good taste is an oxymoron.  Well, at least some of the time.  I'm all for laid back restraint, superb sense of timing and telepathic interplay, but it's not necessarily better than over the top virtuosity.  It takes all kind and there are times when too much ain't enough.

Was there ever a guitarist who actually needed a wall of Marshall stacks?  Not really, but it looked so cool.  Even the Eagles wrote about takin' it to the

I was at the Fillmore and Winterland Cream shows along with Jorma (whose acoustic guitar playing is not bad, unlike his dreadfully bad playing on electric in The Airplane), and at the time loved them. I also saw The Who at The Carousel Ballroom performing the entire "A Quick One While He’s Away" suite, and the following year playing the Tommy album. Keith Moon was a RIOT, playing with astounding kinetic energy, humour, an absolute madman. But it was the bass playing of John Entwistle that astounded me. Amongst the three greatest bassists I’ve ever seen and heard live (along with Joey Spampinato of NRBQ and Rick Danko of The Band).

Keith Moon was quoted as saying he couldn’t have played in The Buddy Rich big band, and Buddy couldn’t have played in The Who. Horses for courses. And there couldn’t have been a Cream without Ginger’s playing. But as far as developing a playing style, an approach to a lifetime of making music, there are other considerations. John Hiatt chose Jim Keltner to play on his Bring The Family album, not Ginger Baker. And he chose Ry Cooder to play guitar, not Jeff Beck. For me, the song comes first, the singer second, the band third, and the individual musicians last. But I’m a song guy; a great song sung or played by even a mediocre singer or musician is much more musically satisfying for me than the opposite. Others disagree, which is as it should be.

Clapton in The Last Waltz said "Music had been going in the wrong direction for a long time. When I heard Music From Big Pink, I thought to myself, well, someone has finally gone and done it right". I had to relearn how to play drums after eventually "getting" ensemble playing (while hearing Dewey Martin of Buffalo Springfield play live in the Summer of ’69, in his post-Springfield band). But I love AC/DC! While just about all the other British Bands at least try to play Blues (Sonny Boy Williamson telling The Hawks in 1965 about the bands he had been provided with for his recent British tour, where he was backed by The Yardbirds---of which Clapton was at the time a member---and others: "They wanna play the Blues so bad. And that’s just how they play it" ;-), AC/DC is pure, American, Chuck Berry-derived Rock ’n’ Roll, my first love. Long live Rockpile!

As for amps, after my "awakening", nothing was less cool than a Marshall or Orange or HiWatt stack. All the good guitarists I’ve met and/or played with (and seen live for that matter) long ago switched to small combo amps, especially the Fender Deluxe Reverb and Vox AC30. Mike Campbell buys every old Vox he finds, they say. A Gibson Les Paul Jr. into a Deluxe (on 10 ;-) is the bomb! That’s what Jonny Kaplan played when I was with him. When I recorded with Evan Johns, he played a Tele into a Super Reverb (4-10’s) on 10, which was pretty rockus. That was Stevie Ray Vaughan’s favorite amp. Twin Reverb’s (early Jerry Garcia and Santana) are too brittle and piercing for me. Combo Bassman’s are great.

JJ Cale: one of the least known great ones in American popular music.
Totally concur mapman. I got into JJ Cale recently and can't get enough of his laid-back shuffle groove sound. "Naturally" and "Grasshopper" are two of my favorite albums at the moment. It was considerate of EC to throw some attention JJ's way (and get some royalties JJ's way to help him through the lean years). 
Speaking of drummers...I am from Rochester,NY. As is a drummer named Steve Gadd. Ever hear of him? Probably easier to list people he hasn't played with than with those he has.
I agree with you about Jorma's electric playing on anything later than "Surrealistic Pillow."

I can also name a drummer who proves your point.  Antonio Sanchez with Pat Metheny.  The guy ruins the music by constantly bashing and crashing away, just making a lot of noise, making the music unlistenable to me.
Ac/dc is pure Aussie rock. Aussie Aussie Aussie! 

@onhwy61, I understand what you’re saying. But it’s not simply a matter of taste, it’s playing what is required to achieve a desired effect. A couple of examples: A lot of people know the song "Shakin’ All Over" from The Who’s version on the Live At Leeds album. I heard that version when it came out, but unfortunately for The Who (;-) had already heard the 1965 version by-----ready for it?-----The Guess Who! Their version absolutely smokes The Who’s version, hard as that may be to believe. That Guess Who line-up was the original, pre-Burton Cummings one, and they create the most intense level of tension-and-release I’ve ever heard, from any band. The Who’s version is all release, without the requisite tension first created, tension which makes the release so, ahem, satisfying. And then there are Daltry’s vocals, which are just so hoary. To the point of corniness. Really embarrassing.

Another example is the playing of Booker T & The MG’s on "Green Onions". The deep, deep groove they create on that song is just incredibly cool. It’s done by doing just as shadorne stated above---using timing---when to play each note, "creating space", just as painters do with "negative space". It’s not just what they paint, it’s what they don’t. The MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper wasn’t merely tasteful, he knew how to create an intense level of anticipation, of kinetic energy, the likes of which Pete Townsend couldn’t approach. The tone Cropper got out of a Tele was also superb, a sound still sought after by guitarists. Almost as good as that of James Burton, creator of the solo in "Young World" by Ricky Nelson, obviously the model (in both construction and guitar tone) for George Harrison's solo in "Nowhere Man". The only other ensemble that played at that level (apart from The Band, of course ;-) were The Swampers, the house band at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals. Drummer Roger Hawkins (whom Jim Keltner has stated he wished he played more like!), bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, pianist Barry Beckett, and organist Spooner Oldham are absolutely revered by all the best musicians in the world.

Steve Gadd is just a ridiculously good drummer, and has played with Clapton for years. In addition to J.J. Cale, another guitarist not too well known to most is Danny Gatton, also R.I.P. Danny is known for not just virtuosity, but musicality. Vince Gill nicknamed him "The Humbler". The best guitarist you’ve never heard. There is a double-CD best-of available on WB Records. My favorite story to tell fans of purely virtuoso drumming:

Danny Gatton, to his new drummer after the first set of their first live gig together: "You know all that fancy stuff you play?"

The drummer: "Yeah"

Danny: "Don’t"

Danny was a guitar virtuoso, but didn’t want his rhythm section playing virtuoso-style. I came to realize THAT’S what was wrong with Cream. So did Clapton, after hearing The Hawks/Band. In another video on You Tube, Clapton says he knows that people rave about his guitar playing on the Wheels Of Fire album, but that he thinks it’s dreadful. He grew to hate that kind of playing, and to love J.J.’s kind of playing. Each to his own! My guy is Ry Cooder, whose playing on John Hiatt’s "Lipstick Sunset" is as good as it gets.

@bdp24 - you are speaking from deep knowledge of the art of drumming. I think, for the era, given what Cream were doing, GB was actually ahead of a lot of "rock" drummers- he hung with the jazz players, dug the African polyrhythms and together and in spite of themselves, Cream made some serious music. Sadly the studio stuff doesn’t reflect what they were apparently capable of --I never saw them live in the day-- their peak was probably that Grande Ballroom show in Oct, 1967.
I figured you’d pick on poor, dead John Bonham, a powerhouse, who wasn’t really about finesse or technique.
I’m largely untutored in drumming--- I know that somebody like Brian Blade brings a lot more to the table in rock as a jazz drummer than most guys who were simply power house showmen. I actually mentioned Roy Haynes to somebody today--heard him at Carnegie Hall a decade ago with Sonny Rollins. So much for aging out.....Guy still had it.
Clapton lost the thread for me when he went country. I find him a tad boring. (Those early tracks live from the Flamingo during the Beano era were a cool exercise in riding an electrified fence- he sizzled).
There are still plenty of technically great musicians, young and old. As you said, it’s ’taste’ that makes the difference. That’s why I can listen to Leslie West during his prime and not be bothered by his lack of technique. As to drums, I dunno. You know a lot more about that subject than me. I’m still trying to figure out Gene Krupa.

whart, I realize different people want different things from their musicians, even from music itself. That’s fine with me, I am just making the case for my taste. I have come to realize people generally judge musicianship more as an athletic event than an artistic one.

I was raving to my sister’s husband (at the time blind, now dead ;-) about the two little drum breaks (especially the second) Don Lamond plays in Bobby Darin’s "Beyond The Sea", my favorite drum "solo". I played the song for him, and afterwards he dissected the drum breaks in terms of the difficulty in performing them---how hard the part was to play. I was once again reminded that I listen for something completely different than do some others. I don’t judge a part in terms of how easy or hard it is to play, but by how good it SOUNDS. Who cares whether it’s easy or hard to play?! The point is, Lamond’s solo is incredibly clever (with a delicious sense of humour, rare in drumming, early Keith Moon excluded), very original, and ultracool. And highly musical, ta boot. Isn’t THAT what’s it’s all about?

@bdp24 - preach it, brother. Yes.


That Bobby Darn track is fun. I agree the drummer has a twinkle in his eye when he played that humourous fill.

Reminds me of the Bernard Purdue Psht psht style punction with two open hits to a half open high hat on the 1 and the &. First he gets you focussed on back beat, then the 1 (open hi hat) and the he plays the off 1 and the & open hat (which again the accent shifts the sense of time).

Jamal Thomas uses the same technique in his tasty drum solo at 6 minutes in on this video of Maceo Parker

Stewart Copeland did a lot of tasty things on his hi-hat - some explained here by the awesome Rob Brown

None of this is difficult technically but oh sooooo taaaasssssttttttyyyyyy!!!
Bdp24, we don't really disagree.  All I'm saying is that anything Steve Cropper played would be better if he played it in a gold lame suit with the guitar behind his neck as he duck walked across the stage.

Cropper's guitar hero was Lowman Pauling of the 5 Royales.

I did not know that onhwy61, good to hear. I have a collection of The 5 Royales, I’ll have to give it a fresh listen. Another influence on all the Tele players is Paul Burlinson of The Rock ’n’ Roll Trio (Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, along with Paul). His playing is SO wicked, and their version of "Train Kept A-Rollin" is absolutely incendiary! Jeff Beck is a big fan of him and them.

I like and appreciate showmanship, and really like musicians who "make it look easy". When I saw The Collins Kids at The Palomino in the 90’s, Larry Collins unfortunately took it too far, putting on a contrived, calculated, "Vegas"-style performance. Corny. I played one show with Don & Dewey (label-mates with Little Richard on Specialty Records) in the late 90’s in L.A., and Dewey was a great performer, sort of Chuck Berry-ish. Good singer too, and Don (Sugarcane Harris) was a riot, stoned out-of-his-mind!

Wow. Lowman Pauling is behind the beat - stretching that pocket to breaking point, IMHO.
Thanks for the background and story bdp24. Great topic and thread!
Cropper did a tribute album to the 5 Royales and that how I became acquainted with Pauling's playing.  I wonder if Cropper was a driving force in getting them inducted to the Rock Hall of Fame?

JJ Cale, man, not a lot of people know him, he is one of my fav artists. Love him.
For bdp24, just in case you missed this one, it’s the only record that can follow Bring The Family~And yes, the cassette version is jaw dropping...
Oh man vinylvision1, Little Village! Not only did I not miss their sole album (I have it on LP and CD, along with a couple of bootlegs of shows), I was fortunate enough to see and hear them live, on a soundstage in Burbank to an industry-only audience. Listening to Ry play his solo on "Lipstick Sunset", accompanied by the song’s writer John Hiatt, drummer Jim Keltner, and bassist Nick Lowe, was the single greatest musical experience of my life (the second was playing a live show with Emitt Rhodes, and then recording with him), and I’ve seen and heard a lot. I’ve told people it felt like time had stopped; I became deliriously high, weak in the knees, unable to speak. Music just doesn’t get any better! Masters, one and all.
+1 on Danny Gatton!My older brother (who pretty much got me into music, period, full stop) turned me on to DG with the album he did with Joey DeFrancesco titled "Relentless".  I got it as a Christmas present.
You want a "deserted island" disc for your list?
That's it. 
Some really, really great songs, phenomenal B3 playing, and of course Danny Gatton's truly unique, one-of-a-kind technique and tone on the Telecaster (that happens to grace the cover of the album/CD). 
TRULY the best guitarist you've never heard. 
To hear another really great ensemble, there's a video viewable on You Tube of Joan Osborne and her road band in a radio station performing Slim Harpo's "Shake Your Hips", and they (and she) are smokin'!
first what a great great awesome thread.......ya I left flash way behind long ago...Joe B is unlistenable.....IMO.....I do mobile recording for fun with a few world class players...when they congeal into music for the sake of the whole...magic happens.....anyway..back to people we know...

Hiatt is absolutely this way, ditto Cooder, no way Clapton would visit Escondido long term to visit JJ If he didnt love him... ( my jnlaws are I tell myself If it’s good enough for JJ you can stand another day there....)
as an absolute hack bass player, I never understood flash drummers...
and .....our guitarist had a massive stack of Ampeg...the poor mans Marshall....ugh....
the LiL Fender bassman w tubes and 2 x 10” my fave.....

dig this thread...
just listen to the Basment tapes.....the Band and Bob at the near wonder EC wanted in.....
BTW this is exactly the kind of rare but gold thread that I will mine for new to me or revisit indeed..thanks to all civil contributions 
Hiya tomic601! If you haven't yet discovered him, check out Buddy Miller. He's Emmylou Harris' guitarist and bandleader, and also a solo artist with a bunch of albums, both with and without his wife Julie, herself a great songwriter and singer.
@bdp24 greetings...yes have some Buddy and I think everything Julie has done..adore her for sure.....consumate players with soul....
Eric - I should mention the Nakamichi is working great - going thru trove of old tapes in

I looked on Server and I have Buddy and the Majestic Silver Strings...what additional do you recommend ???? Analog or Digital...
ensemble musicians, sharing the spotlight, making ORIGINAL music???
There's no going back after Little Feat!

LIttle Feat and The Band shared a mutual admiration for each other. When Levon Helm came through Los Angeles in 2000 and played at The House Of Blues, Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward joined him on stage. Levon was recovering from throat surgery that removed a cancer (big smoker, he later died from lung cancer), and wasn’t singing, but had daughter Amy Helm along to provide vocals for the mainly-Chicago Blues he was playing on that tour. Levon and Richie obviously loved each other as musical brothers.

When Levon’s autobiography was released, he did an in-store book signing appearance at Book Soup, directly across the street from Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. Ringo Starr, a huge Levon Helm fan, was there, getting his copy autographed.

Best thread I've read in ages. Thanks for some great reading. BTW jj has always rocked my world since the first time I heard.