July 14, 1993
High Sierra Music Festival -- The third annual High Sierra Music Festival was held last weekend at Leland Meadows, near Pinecrest in the Stanislaus National Forest (ten minutes from Dodge Ridge Ski Resort, or about three hours from Fresno). Featured bands included Joe Ely, NRBQ, Danny Gratton, and the Austin Lounge Lizards. In all, over 30 acts appeared at this three-day festival.
The High Sierra Music Festival has the makings of a major outdoor musical event. Promoter Mike Johnson says his goal is to recruit a wide range of talent (acoustic, blues, folk, and rock), and to promote a safe, 1960s alternative-lifestyle atmosphere.
Long hair and much tie-dyed attire was evident. Coolers were permitted, while numerous vendors hawked food, clothing, and jewelry. Daily attendance numbered from 3,000 to 4,000: swimming, showers, and over-night camping was available. Mike reports that many people stay for the entire festival.
Mike is now semi-retired from the promoting business; he and his partners only put on this festival for the fun of it. With its diverse entertainment line-up and excellent accommodations, this is an event that should not be missed. Mark your calendar for next 4th of July weekend.
J.J. Cale, Number 10 (Silvertone 1993) -- Number 10 is, not surprisingly, the tenth album from singer/songwriter J.J. Cale. After a hiatus lasting several years, J.J. returned to the studio and released 1990's terrific Travel-log (Silvertone).
Number 10 is the follow-up album, and finds J.J. in more of a solo format (although long-time contributors Bill Boatman and Christine Lakeland also appear on a few tracks). J.J. plays better with a band; Travel-log is the stronger recording.
I've followed J.J. since I got hip to his fine album, Grasshopper, in college. J.J. is one of America's best-kept musical secrets, a true blues rocker and guitarman extraordinaire. Ry Cooder gets all the attention, but J.J. is more deserving of the accolades.
In Concert -- Gail and I saw J.J. Cale live on July 4th at the High Sierra Music Festival. In concert, J.J. is the quintessential bar band. Whereas his studio recordings tend towards tasteful blues/jazz productions, the live show is straight ahead rock, with an affectionate nod towards the delta blues. Steve Miller, eat your heart out. This is the best band you never saw.
J.J. performed for one and a half hours at High Sierra (including two encores) with his five-piece band (drums, bass, percussion, and two guitars). Unlike many other guitar virtuosos, J.J. didn't change axes during the show. His demeanor is unpretentious; his performance crowd-pleasing.
Standout numbers included "Cocaine" (a J.J. Cale tune made into a hit by Eric Clapton), "They Call Me the Breeze" (a J.J. Cale tune made into a hit by Lynyrd Skynyrd), "Sensitive Kind" (from his excellent 1979 release, Number 5), and "Tijuana" (a Spanish-influenced number from Travel-log).
After the show, I spoke with J.J. Cale for a few minutes. I found him approachable, understated, and with a dry sense of humor (much like his music). J.J. says he now lives in Southern California: he has neither wife and nor children.
In previous years, J.J. toured infrequently, but he has been on the road for the last four months to promote his new release. The night before the High Sierra gig, J.J. and band performed at the prestigious Montreal Jazz Festival.
I asked J.J. what he did between recording sessions (after all, Travel-log was some seven years in the making). In typical J.J. fashion, he replied "lay-up". When asked to elaborate, he said "Oh, you know, the usual. Mow the lawn, stuff like that."
When asked why he only performed on one guitar during his set, he remarked "Well, I never have developed a talent for playing two guitars at once." As to why most of his albums are simply given a number for a name, he answers, "It's not too original, but it helps me keep track of them."
This is great music by a seriously under-appreciated artist. J.J. plays a terrific bottleneck slide, and the crowd was warmly appreciative. We missed you. Be there next year.
-- Randy Krbechek
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