Terry Callier iTunes Tracks Terry Callier Official Website

Terry Callier

Born May 24, 1945, Chicago, Illinois, Terry grew up in the city’s notorious north side listening and singing along to doo-wop records; one of his friends at time was none other than the legendary CURTIS MAYFIELD.
A vocalist of astonishing gifts, CALLIER initially emerged on the troubadour scene in the mid-60s, although one soulful Chess Records single, `Look At Me Now’, appeared on the flipside of an ETTA JAMES platter in ’63. With his producer going awol, the somewhat belated release of his debut, 1964-recorded THE NEW FOLK SOUND OF TERRY CALLIER (1968) {*7}, was understandably mis-timed. His brand of mystical jazz-folk stylings had little impact at a time when folk music was in a transitional singer-songwriter period; all of the eight tracks here were sourced from public domain (`900 Miles’ and a snail-paced `Cotton Eyed Joe’) or ploughed from the likes of TRAVIS EDMONSON (`I’m A Drifter’) and Kent Foreman (`Spin, Spin, Spin’ and `It’s About Time’).
Over the course of several years, Terry’s sound had been variously described as soul-folk, folk-jazz, soul-jazz, hell, even operatic-soul! While a lazy comparison could be made with fellow Afro-American songsmith RICHIE HAVENS, CALLIER remains an oddity, until very recently a criminally overlooked oddity at that. While the man achieved a nominal amount of fame via the apocalyptic rumblings of his debut set, subsequent early-70s releases languished in obscurity despite moments of stellar inspiration.
If CALLIER had a theme tune, it’d surely be `Ordinary Joe’, ironically the most charismatic slice of sun-kissed, blue-eyed soul this side of STEVIE WONDER. A highlight of 1972’s self-penned OCCASIONAL RAIN {*8}, alongside the downcast beauty of `Golden Circle’, the set was augmented by producer Charles Stepney, musicians Leonard Pirani, Sydney Simms and Bob Crowder, plus backing singers MINNIE RIPERTON, Kitty Haywood and Shirley Wahls.
It remains a mystery as to why the aforementioned songs failed to capture the imagination of the record-buying public first time round. No doubt part of the problem was marketing; there really is no classification for the likes of `You Goin’ Miss Your Candyman’ (from 1973’s WHAT COLOR IS LOVE {*9}), the kind of sparse, foreboding harangue in which CALLIER really comes into his own; check out too, the kaleidoscopic `Dancing Girl’, `Ho Tsing Mee (A Song Of The Sun)’ and the soul-stirring title track.
I JUST CAN’T HELP MYSELF (1974) {*8} proudly boasted CALLIER as the new MARVIN GAYE, with his soul and energy reaching far out to folk-jazz fans, unlike the Motown man himself. A JOHN COLTRANE tribute, `Can’t Catch The Trane’, and a rendition of Duke Ellington’s `Satin Doll’, were obviously procured from his jazz leanings, while there were only glimmers of blues-folk through `Bowlin’ Green’ and `Alley-Wind Song’ (the latter, like the tribute, recorded in ’69).
After a further extended break, the ochre-voiced singer returned for another ill-fated crack at success, this time signed to Elektra Records. CALLIER’s soul-period albums FIRE ON ICE (1978) {*5} and TURN YOU TO LOVE (1979) {*6}, signalled the end of the singer’s recording career, his small but loyal band of fans left with a relatively slim legacy as he turned his hand to computer programming (no kidding!) for most of the next 15 years. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise, given the amount of musical abortions churned out in the 80s; whatever, CALLIER was eventually rehabilitated from being the sole preserve of chin-stroking jazz buffs/soul weekender types after a collaboration with nu-folk chanteuse BETH ORTON.
Released in late ‘97, the `The Best Bit’ EP featured goose-bump duets on a cover of TIM BUCKLEY’s `Dolphins’ and a revamped `Lean On Me’ (a track originally recorded for his 1972 set), its success encouraging CALLIER to plough ahead with a whole new album of original material for the Talking Loud imprint. The result was TIMEPEACE {*7}, one of 1998’s warmest, most stress-defying and altogether most satisfyingly contented albums, the sound of a man who quietly knew all along that his talent was too strong to be kept down indefinitely. CALLIER’s rich, sage tones against ORTON’s girlish folk-iness may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but their double act was arguably one of the highlights of the man’s long-overdue tour, an event that was almost akin to the second coming among his more enthusiastic fans.
If 1999’s LIFETIME {*5} wasn’t quite up to the standard of its predecessor, it was still touched by its author’s low-key genius, something which shone like a beacon on ALIVE (2001) {*7}, a gig recorded at London’s Jazz Cafe. There’s perhaps no more natural an environment for CALLIER and together with sidemen Bosco De Oliveira and Gary Plumley he wove a magical spell over a rapt and often ecstatic audience, combing his back catalogue as well as mining more recent work and covering MAYFIELD’s `People Get Ready’ with more empathy than any artist save perhaps Curtis himself.
With SPEAK YOUR PEACE (2002) {*8}, meanwhile, CALLIER reached an artistic peak unmatched since the resumption of his career, and maybe in his career as a whole. In Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick and 4 HERO’s Marc Mac (TC had already guested on the latter’s 2001 set, `Creating Patterns’), the venerated singer-songwriter had found sympathetic, perceptive collaborators who were able to inhabit and furnish the unique musical space he occupies with such easy grace and clarity of vision. Highlights included the duet with long-time admirer PAUL WELLER, `Brother To Brother’, and a transcendent cover of ISLEY-Jasper-ISLEY’s `Caravan Of Love’; 2003’s TOTAL RECALL {*4} employed the same team on an album of remixed makeovers and covers, complete with spoken-word interludes by the man himself.
From jazz to folk, and everything in between, LOOKIN’ OUT (2005) {*7}, was another splendid CALLIER set. With several tracks co-penned alongside organist Chris Kibble (including vignette `Truth In Tears’), Terry also slipped in the odd cover, namely LENNON-McCARTNEY’s `And I Love Her’ and QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE’s `What About Me (What You Gonna Do About Me)’.
Bypassing the obligatory live statement, WELCOME HOME (2008) {*6}, CALLIER was back in studio land for his umpteenth long-player, HIDDEN CONVERSATIONS (2009) {*5}, another moody and passionate delivery, and highlighting his recent “2008 Meltdown” chums, MASSIVE ATTACK; they repaid the compliment with CALLIER’s credits on their Top 20 UK hit, `Live With Me’.
Sadly, after a long illness, Terry was to die of cancer in Chicago on October 27, 2012.
© MC Strong 2000-2010/BG/MCS // rev-up MCS Oct2013

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