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August Feature: Allen Toussaint and J.J. Cale

Throughout August, Crossroads features music from legendary pianist, composer, producer and National Medal of Arts recipient Allen Toussaint and also Americana singer-songwriter J.J. Cale who passed away at the end of July.


Allen Toussaint talks about and plays music from his early influence, Professor Longhair:


In a career that has spanned over four decades, Allen Toussaint helped define the sound of New Orleans and worked with a who's who of rock and soul. He  was born in the Crescent City and by his teens had begun performing. He did some early recording, but began to really make his mark working for the Minit label, producing, writing (often as Naomi Neville, his mother's maiden name), arranging and performing on tracks by Ernie K-Doe, Irma Thomas, Art and Aaron Neville, Chris Kenner, Lee Dorsey, and Benny Spellman, to name a few. His songwriting credits from the era include "Ruler of My Heart," "Lipstick Traces," "Fortune Teller," and "Working in a Coal Mine," songs that helped define the sound of the Crescent City at that time.

Irma Thomas sings her Toussaint-penned hit, Ruler of My Heart (Toussaint on piano)


In the early '70s Toussaint teamed up with Marshall Sehorn to start their own label and open the famed Sea Saint Recording Studio. He also began to move from his earlier R&B style to more of a Crescent City funk sound, and added to his list of credits with writing and production work with the Meters, Dr. John, Wild Tchoupitoulas, Robert Palmer, Frankie Miller, Paul McCartney, Labelle, and many more. He also released two of his most successful albums in the '70s - From a Whisper to a Scream and Southern Nights.

Allen Toussaint with a live version of his song, Southern Nights


The '80s and '90s were relatively quiet decades for Toussaint professionally, but things began to pick up again when he was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 1998. He found even more interest in his work following Hurricane Katrina and his appearance in a number of benefit efforts.  Toussaint received Grammy nominations for an album with Elvis Costello (The River in Reverse) and his own set, Bright Mississippi. He has also been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame; received an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Tulane University along with Dr. John and his Holiness, the Dali Lama, earlier this year;  and was just awarded a National Medal of Arts in July.

Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello doing Toussaint's Yes We Can Can, originally recorded in the '70s by the Pointer Sisters:



J.J. Cale, who passed away on July 26th at the age of 74, had a career that spanned nearly five decades and a collection of great Americana songs that appeared on his own album and were recorded by scores of other artists over the years.

J.J. Cale and Leon Russell with their song "Going Down"


Cale grew up in Tulsa, OK at a time when the town sat at the crossroads of major currents in American music, including blues, jazz, classic country and western swing. Inspired by that and the early sounds of '50s rock, Cale took up the guitar, played in some early bands, and worked as a recording engineer. A friend from Tulsa, Leon Russell, convinced him to come west to Los Angeles where he did his first recordings. However, he met with little success. Cale was ready to give up on music, when Eric Clapton picked up one of his songs, "After Midnight," (the B-side of Cale's first single in 1965) and turned it into a hit. It would be the first of many Cale songs recorded by Clapton  and the two would team up for a Grammy-winning album, The Road to Escondido, in 2006.

Eric Clapton and J.J Cale sing Cale's songs "After Midnight" and "Call Me the Breeze"


Cale's next stop was Nashville, where he recorded his first and one of his most successful albums (the 1971 release, Naturally, that included the hit song, "Crazy Mama") and embarked on his new-found calling as a songwriter. Over the years, a host of artists would record his songs, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Maria Muldaur, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Carlos Santana, the Band, Roseanne Cash,  Candye Kane,  and more.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the 2012 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival with Cale's "Traveling Light"


Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers with a tribute to Cale


Cale's relaxed, loping style and understated, wry wit were his trademarks and peppered the songs he recorded on over a dozen albums that came out under his own name. Though he said he was happier in the background and only rarely included his own photo on his albums (or even titles for a stretch when his releases were just given numbers), his sound was unmistakable, a major influence on scores of artists, and a wonderful form of classic American roots music.

Join us throughout August at the Crossroads,  Fridays at 10p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. or anytime through the streaming archive player at the top of the page, for the music of Allen Toussaint - from his earliest recordings, songs, guest appearances, and productions to a new solo project, Songbook, that will be officially released later this month - and the music of J.J. Cale from his earliest albums in the 1970s to his last release, Roll On, which came out in 2009.