The Road To Escondido

J.J. Cale & Eric Clapton

Most music fans are not familiar with the name J.J. Cale, but they do know his music. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Deep Purple, Widespread Panic, Johnny Cash and many others have all covered a Cale song on one of their albums. The most memorable of all is, of course, Eric Clapton. Eric started doing his own takes on Cale songs back in 1970 with “After Midnight,” off Clapton’s self-titled debut album. On his epic Slowhand album, the guitar virtuoso rocked out on “Cocaine,” which has become one of the most popular rock songs of all time. Since that album, Clapton has covered several Cale songs throughout the decades. And now Clapton and Cale have united to record an album called The Road To Escondido.

So why have these two musical giants finally get together to record an album? "This was the realization of what may have been my last ambition — to work with the man who's music has inspired me for as long as I can remember, there are not enough words for me to describe what he represents to me, musically and personally, and anyway I wouldn't want to embarrass him by going overboard, for he is a truly humble man,” Eric Clapton has said, adding, “I think it's enough to say that we had fun, made a great record, and I for one already want to make another," The Road to Escondido is just that, a great album.

Recorded in Cale’s hometown of Escondido, CA, the disc has that relaxed feel and effortless guitar work Clapton is known for. The single “Ride the River” can be heard on every rock channel across America and is a superb collaboration by the duo. There is also an excellent cover of Brownie McGhee’s “Sporting Life Blues.” Clapton’s voice on this is so smooth. His vocals are like a fine bottle of wine — it truly does get better with age. The guitarist also pays tribute to his daughters on “Three Little Girls,” a thoughtful, father/daughter song drawn from the emotion of having children and how much he misses them when he’s on the road. It is not as heart-wrenching as “Tears in Heaven” (Clapton’s song about his son who died from a fatal fall out of a New York City apartment window), but it tugs at you just enough.

J.J. Cale does some excellent vocal work himself on a good portion of the album. He also wrote most of the record. After the whole recording experience, Cale said, "Eric and I have known each other for a long time and it was a great experience to finally make a record together. He's a great musician and it was a pleasure to work so closely on this project with him.”

There are some great musicians who joined the pair. John Mayer, Derek Trucks, Albert Lee and Doyle Bramhall all lent their unmistakable guitar work. As a special touch, we get to hear some of the last recorded material from organ master Billy Preston. Coinciding with the release of the album, Clapton has been deep into another world tour, which will come back to the States this winter. Along with Guitar Center, Clapton and Fender Guitars have released an exact replica of the guitarist’s famous Stratocaster, “Blackie.”. The guitar retails for $24,000 and is not easy to come across. Only 175 guitars were made for special order purchases — but it’s like playing the real thing.

They may not be Simon & Garfunkel or even Batman & Robin, but Clapton & Cale have had quite the history in the world of music over the last 30 years. “The Road to Escondido” is an excellent piece of work that really shows off the talent that J.J. Cale should be known for in his obscure career. Rumor has it that Clapton is trying to pull J.J. out to do some opening slots for the Southern California dates in February, but there is no confirmation yet. Here’s crossing your fingers, he joins Clapton for a few numbers of The Road To Escondido.

~ Shaun Hague

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