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Hit songwriter, singer JJ Cale dead at 74

If musicians were measured not by the number of records they sold but by the number of peers they influenced, JJ Cale would have been a towering figure in 1970s rock and roll.

His best songs, like "After Midnight," "Cocaine" and "Call Me the Breeze," were towering hits -- for other artists. Eric Clapton took "After Midnight" and "Cocaine" and turned them into the kind of hard-party anthems that defined rock for a long period of time. And Lynyrd Skynyrd took the easy-shuffling "Breeze" and supercharged it with a three-guitar attack that made it a hit.

Cale, the singer-songwriter and producer known as the main architect of the Tulsa Sound, died Friday in La Jolla, Calif. His manager, Mike Kappus, said Cale died of a heart attack. He was 74.

While his best known songs remain in heavy rotation on the radio nearly 40 years later, most folks wouldn't be able to name Cale as their author. That was a role he had no problem with.

"No, it doesn't bother me," Cale once said. "What's really nice is when you get a check in the mail."

The list of artists who covered his music or cite him as a direct influence includes Clapton, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Mark Knopfler, The Allman Brothers, Carlos Santana, Captain Beefheart and Bryan Ferry.

Young said Cale's "Crazy Mama" -- his biggest hit, at No. 22 on the Billboard singles chart -- was one of the five songs that most influenced him as a songwriter.

But it was Clapton who forged the closest relationship with Cale. They were in sync musically and personally. Clapton once said Cale was the living person he most admired, and Cale weighed the impact Clapton had on his life in a 2006 interview: "I'd probably be selling shoes today if it wasn't for Eric."-- AP

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