Music DVD Reviews: Review of To Tulsa and Back: On Tour with J.J. Cale

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Buy your copy from To Tulsa and Back: On Tour with J.J. Cale starstarstarstarstarLabel: Time/Life
Released: 2006

You know J.J. Cale even if you think you don’t know J.J. Cale. Anyone who’s ever been wowed by Eric Clapton singing “After Midnight” and/or “Cocaine” digs two J.J. Cale tunes right off the bat. Anyway, the man’s been around for a long time, hitting his commercial successes in the ‘70s with albums like Naturally. He’s been able to keep a low profile during his entire career, which has often made getting any info direct from the source a bit of a daunting task. Well, thanks to filmmaker Jorg Bundschuh, Cale is now no longer quite as mysterious as he travels back to his hometown of Tulsa during a tour and, in To Tulsa and Back, allows the cameras and interviews to jump right in.

For fan’s of Cale’s, this film will certainly be a treasure trove of information and live performances. Cale describes how Tulsa was once known as the “oil capitol of the United States” and how the downtown area was once rife with night clubs, bars, live music, and its own skid row. He speaks of growing up and just playing guitar as a hobby, but not really having any seriously plans. “I was never a dreamer,” says Cale, pointing out the fact that he figured he’d just get married and have a few kids like everyone else eventually.

But eventually a need to get out of Tulsa’s local music scene beckoned, mainly because the local cops would come in and shut down shows routinely. So Cale, along with his friends and other soon-to-be well-knowns like Leon Russell headed out to Los Angeles. Soon enough, Cale was playing the Whiskey A Go-Go and had his first name changed from John to “J.J.” by his tour manager, as John Cale from the Velvet Underground was already getting known somewhat. So Cale toured and recorded some singles and finally struck with “After Midnight.” He was soon talked into making an album, but as Cale says “I only wrote singles.” He had never really had any solid intentions of becoming an album artist, but eventually an album was cut and Cale was on his way.

All this historical documentation and more are observed in this film, and it’s hard to imagine a more laid back dude than J.J. Cale. Eric Clapton is shown saying he was once asked in an interview who his favorite person was, and he instantly told the interviewer that it was J.J. Cale, just because the man was such an interesting personality and hadn’t ever succumbed to the demands of the life of the rock musician. And for what it’s worth, Cale’s versions of “After Midnight” and “Cocaine” here are a thousand times better than Clapton’s. Perhaps it’s because of how Cale likes to play behind the beat, something he says Billie Holliday did when she was popular, and it was something he enjoyed hearing, so he took to employing the technique himself.

There are plenty of live performances scattered throughout the film, and the bonus features include all of these and some others, as well as an interview in non-interrupted form. There’s a digital 5.1 surround and stereo mix to choose from, both of which sound fantastic. Apart from that, this is a gem of a movie for any J.J. Cale fan who has wanted to know more about the artist and his history. Already in his mid-sixties, this might be the only document the fans have for some time to come, as it will undoubtedly be quite a while again before Cale decides to have any more cameras around. But then, this is a pretty nifty documentary all on its own.

~Jason Thompson