By Jeremy Gaunt
LONDON (Reuters) - A year after the death of American cult singer-songwriter JJ Cale, his close friend Eric Clapton has launched a tribute with an album and documentary featuring the likes of Willie Nelson and Mark Knopfler.
"The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale" features 16 interpretations of Cale's typically laid-back repertoire and is named after a 1972 release "Call Me The Breeze". The documentary is being shown on U.S. cable networks.
Cale, who died on July 26, 2013 at the age of 74, was one of those musicians who, although not a household name, was highly influential with his peers and closely followed by groups of aficionados.
Two of his best-known songs - "After Midnight" and "Cocaine" - were covered by Clapton on the latter's 1970 eponymous debut album and his 1977 album "Slowhand", although neither appears on the latest offering.
The two men's musical collaboration, stretching back to the 1970s, included recording a studio album together - the 2006 "Road to Escondido" - and Cale performing at the first Crossroads Guitar Festival, Clapton's showcase for some of the world's top guitarists.
Clapton, among the most acclaimed and high-profile rock guitarists since the mid-1960s, reckons Cale was underrated by the public. "I would like people to tap into what JJ Cale did – that's the point (of the new album)," he said in a statement.
"I try to interpret things so that the public at large, or at least the people who listen to what I do, will become intrigued about where I got it from."
As well as by Clapton, Cale's work has been covered in some form over the years by musicians as diverse as "outlaw" country singer Waylon Jennings, southern hard rockers Lynryd Skynryd, and the neo-psychaedelic Spiritualized.
The new album is reminiscent of Clapton's early days as a solo artist after his work with 1960s supergroups Cream and Blind Faith. It is less traditionally bluesy than the 69-year-old Briton's more recent fare.
It harks back to the Tulsa Sound, a mix of lighter blues, country, rock and jazz that hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the state where Cale was born. Others notables of the genre are Leon Russell and Elvin Bishop.
"The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale" features Clapton, Nelson, Knopfler, Tom Petty, Albert Lee, John Mayer, Don White and Jim Keltner among others.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)