J.J.Cale: the Lost Session, (Classic Pictures, 2002)


The modern rock video has become a monster. It is now about image and sex, and the music is secondary. When The Beatles created what might arguably be the first rock videos ("Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever") they were attempting to maximize their availability for television. They couldn't be everywhere...but if you leased the films...there they were. These slightly surrealistic, jump cut images were basically promos for the new record, designed to keep their faces in front of their audience. The live concert film came next, with close up shots of the groups actually playing their songs. When MTV crawled out of this primordial ooze, and became a repository for the rock video...the monster had wings. Then everyone with a camcorder and a half naked woman thought they could place a song on the MTV playlist. Interpretation became the theme, and the weirder the better. The big news today is that Christina Aguilera's new video is more shocking than anything we've seen yet! But what about the music? Thank you J.J. Cale!

The Lost Session is just what it says, a session in a studio, the musicians in a circle, drums, bass, piano, organ, a couple of guitarists, playing songs. Grooves mainly. A beat, a riff, and some mumbling vocals. But it rocks. J.J. Cale, who has influenced everyone from Eric Clapton to Mark Knopfler is the most laid back performer I have ever seen. He sits, through most of this 80 minute video, with one or another guitar on his lap. He mumbles some instructions, "This one starts in A, and then it stays in A," and starts to play. On his records dozens of lead guitarists are listed, but on this DVD he plays all the solos himself, and he is smoking!

The band is good too, finding a solid rhythm, like bedrock, and going til J.J. says stop. And they look like they're having a good time. Nothing fancy, just some Okey musicians getting together for a pickin' session! Then, off to the side, sits a white haired gent with a long white beard. He is behind the organ, and every once in a while, he plays one of those stunning little organ solos that makes you go, "Wow!" His expression doesn't change. He looks out, inscrutably, over the proceedings. He is Leon Russell. Funky.

The program was recorded at Leon Russell's request, in the Paradise Studio in Los Angeles in 1979. It features typical 1979 values: the color is a bit washed, the editing a bit stodgy when compared to what we're used to now but, when someone is playing a solo, you can see who it is and what they're doing. No fancy jump cuts, no symbolism, just a solid hour and a half of a band having fun, playing some blues and r&b. It is so refreshing!

They work their way through a representative selection of Cale's tunes:"Cocaine", "Nowhere to Run", "Sensitive Kind", "Crazy Mama", "After Midnight" and more. Each one is fairly similar... a beat, a riff, a groove, a mumble, a solo, but each one is presented as if it was the most important song in the world. These guys are pros. And the interview material, in which J.J. Cale describes his customized guitar, is hilarious and fascinating. Watch closely to see how a nickel and a dime can be used for neck adjustment, and the importance of tie rods for added strength! Marvelous!

The DVD includes five bonus tracks, music only, of other Cale songs, a discography, biographies and a fully animated menu. The main program offers none of the glitz and glamor that is available on MTV. It has none of the sex and skin we see in video after video these days. The film doesn't even pretend to make concessions to the audience and, in ignoring the viewer, Cale just adds to his own mystique. Thanks go to Classic Pictures for finding and restoring this lost footage and making it available for J.J.Cale fans everywhere.

[David Kidney]

For more on J.J. Cale, go here