Lightweight but likable, “To Tulsa and Back: On Tour with J.J. Cale” has all the charms and limitations of a biographical rockumentary made by and for fans. Helmer Jorg Bundschuh’s unabashedly worshipful approach to his subject could be a turn-off for some auds. But pic could click as homevid fare with anyone who might share Bundschuh’s obvious delight in being aboard a cross-country tour bus with the legendary guitarist-singer-songwriter. DVD release is slated for June 13.
Arguably best known for the classics “Cocaine” and “After Midnight,” the Tulsa-born Cale has developed a rep as a publicity-shy enigma. Despite his aversion to the spotlight, however, guitar greats such as Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler repeatedly acknowledge Cale’s profound influence. Interviewed extensively for “To Tulsa and Back,” Clapton describes his landmark “461 Ocean Boulevard” album as “a homage to Cale’s Tulsa sound.”
Belying his standoffish reputation, Cale is surprisingly forthcoming — if a tad feisty — during discussions with Bundschuh between gigs. He seems mildly surprised that, after years of various excesses, he made it to 65. But he insists he’s not losing his edge. And he doesn’t want anyone to draw faulty conclusions from his relaxed singing style. “I’m not laid back,” he warns, only half-jokingly.
Well-shot performance sequences — including a duet with Clapton during the latter’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas — are satisfying showcases for Cale’s trademark fusion of blues, jazz and country. Pic is most amusing as Cale and long-time bandmates acknowledge the demands (including early morning radio interviews) of a concert tour. They pointedly note that the night after they performed for 60,000 at the Crossroads Festival, they appeared at a Houston club for an audience of 125. Even so, judging from the concert footage, they played for keeps at both venues.