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Singer-songwriter JJ Cale dead at 74 after heart attack

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter JJ Cale, one of the most versatile musicians of his era who played guitar and spanned music genres from rock 'n' roll to blues and jazz, has died after suffering a heart attack, his official website said on Saturday.

Cale, 74, won a Grammy in 2008 for "The Road to Escondido," which he recorded with singer-songwriter Eric Clapton.

While he never attained Clapton's level of stardom, he had a wide-ranging influence, particularly his style of playing the guitar and the songs he wrote for music legends.

Singer-songwriter Neil Young once described Cale as the best electric guitar player he had ever seen other than the late Jimi Hendrix.

"He wasn't a flashy guitar player. He was real soulful. He played with his fingers, not picks," said Brent Mason, a performer in Nashville who admired Cale.

He wrote many hit songs performed by some of the top musicians of the era, including "After Midnight" for Clapton, "Call Me The Breeze" for Lynyrd Skynyrd and "Louisiana Women" for Waylon Jennings.

Cale was one of the originators of the Tulsa sound, a type of music that drew from rock, blues, country and jazz.

"I consider myself a songwriter. ... I guess the business end is my songs and the fun part is playing the guitar," Cale said in a 2004 video that showcased his performance with Clapton at the Crossroads Guitar Festival.

Born in Oklahoma City as John Weldon Cale, he spent the early part of his career in Nashville before moving to Los Angeles in the 1960s, where he flourished.

He was known for an easy, laid-back style of music.

"He didn't seem to follow the pack or chase styles," said Kenny Vaughan, Nashville-based guitar player for the Fabulous Superlatives group. "He never seemed to be a guy who put a lot of effort into being trendy or commercially viable."

Dave Pomeroy, a bassist and head of the musicians' union in Nashville, said Cale had a huge influence on what is now referred to as "Americana" - a blend of country and folk music that is popular with some younger fans.

Cale's official website said he died on Friday night at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, California. There were no immediate plans for memorial services.

"JJ was a perfect example of how a humble but extremely talented musician should live his life," said musician and songwriter Mac Gayden.

(Reporting by Tim Ghianni; Editing by Greg McCune and Peter Cooney)

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