Dear John

Several years ago my pal Mississippi Slim played a couple of my songs for a blues-rock artist named Corey Stevens. Corey was preparing to do an album “Blue Drops of Rain” and decided to include my song “Head Shrinker.”

“Corey says he loved the two songs I played for him and he thinks you could be his J.J. Cale,” said Slim

“Who’s J.J. Cale?” I replied.

“You know,” said Slim, “he’s the guy who wrote all those songs for Eric Clapton.”

“Who’s Eric Clapton?”

I started paying attention to some of the songs on the radio and figured out who Eric Clapton was. One day I saw an article in the local newspaper that said J.J. Cale had moved to North San Diego County. That’s where I live. So I looked him up on Google and read his discography and biography. I’d only heard one of his songs, not one that I particularly cared for (by Clapton)…not that I really cared for anything I’d heard from Clapton. But the article said that Cale was reclusive and guarded his privacy fiercely. That was cool with me; I’m of a similar bent. More interesting to me was that he came from the Tulsa area (via Oklahoma City), where my people come from and was only a year or so older than me. One day I picked up the plumbing business phone and a voice said:

“I need some hay-elp…I way-en’t over t’Home Dee-poe Saturday and bought this damn faucet fer mah kitchen sank and ah spent most of the weekind tryin’ to keep the damn thang frum leakin’. Ya reckon yew could send someone over and fix that damn thang?”

I’d heard that voice and that brogue my whole life and figured it was one of my kinfolks “actin’ afool.”

I started to come back with my version of that Okie brogue…bear in mind, I AM an Okie, which means my parents migrated to California during the great depression and I was born prior to WW II. As a rule I don’t speak like that, but it’s there ifn I need it. I decided to play it straight and said:

“Where are you located?”

“I’m over here by the Circle R Golf Course, about a mall from the I-15.”

Well, I couldn’t hit a house over there with a rock from my place, but it’s only a mile or two away as the crow flies.

“I’ve got a truck going right by there,” I said, “I could probably get him over there in less than a half hour.”

“Thee-in send ‘im over,” the voice said, “I’ll see ‘im when he gets here.”

“What’s your name?” I asked

“Kale,” the voice says.

“OK, what’s your address?”

He gave it to me.

“Your phone number?”

He gave it to me.

“Do you spell your last name with a ‘K’, or with a ‘C’? I asked

“With a ‘C’.”

“What’s the first name?”

“John.”

I looked at the paper on which I was writing this down for a moment. Then I remembered what I had read in the paper.

“Are you a song writer?” I asked.

“Uh…naw, not really…er…well not…

“Yes you are,” I interrupted forcefully; “You’re J.J. Cale, aren’t you?”

“Waaay-el…”

“Yeah, you’re J. J. Cale and I’ve got your address and phone number. I’ll be puttin’ it up there on the Internet and people are gonna be drivin’ by your house and callin’ you night and day from now on.”

Dead silence.

“Hey man…I’m just kiddin’…I’ll get someone over there in a half hour.”

Mr. Cale did not laugh, but my son Lucky fixed his plumbing and talked with him for an hour or two. I would have brief conversations with him several times over the next few years whenever he needed his plumbing serviced. I enjoyed his rich Oklahoma brogue as much as anything we talked about. We never discussed music. John wasn’t an Okie, at least not by my definition. I call people from Oklahoma, Oklahomans. They may sometimes speak like us Okies, which John did, but they’re, for the most part, from a different cultural experience. Saturday, when my wife Daisy and I were driving down the freeway to wherever we were going, I said:

“Daisy, I just thought of something. We should send a copy of my book, ‘The Oklahoma Gamblin’ Man,’ to John Cale. I mean, he’s from where all that stuff happened…he’d probably really enjoy reading it.”

“Yes, that’s a good idea; we have his mailing address in our files.”

“Daisy, check the Internet on your cell phone and see if there’s a decent movie on nearby. Maybe we could eat and go to a movie.”

Daisy complied.

“Oh my God!” Daisy exclaimed. “It says John Cale just died in La Jolla of a heart attack.”

So I guess I won’t be hearin’ that rich Oklahoma country brogue anymore…but I’m sure I’ll think about him once in awhile, like when it’s real quiet…like…After Midnight.

Leave a Reply


three × 5 =