Okay, so this post is me finally finishing something that I have been trying to do for blummin’ ages. Whilst compiling my Folk Funk & Trippy Troubadour series I listen to a lot of folk inspired music, one of my favourites is the artist I’m about to write about.
I first came across his music when his songs were covered by H.P. Lovecraft, and it was a few years later I found the beautiful back catalogue of music this artist left.
A big part of my musical journey was reading the magazine Straight No Chaser. I loved reading articles about music new and old and from a blend of genres. (Wax Poetics would fill the same hunger a little later) With my head filled with new names and albums I would spend hours in the local record shop (Spinadisc) listening and buying vinyl. I would also try and see as much live music as I could.
At the time I would drive down from Northampton in my Mini, or later my battered VW Beetle and visit the venues I was reading about; places like the short lived Rythmic in Chapel Market and of course the Jazz Cafe in Camden. I was lucky enough to see plenty of my favourite artists, present and past. From; Jimmy Smith to Marlena Shaw, Brian Auger to Richie Havens, Gil Scott‐Heron to Fred Wesley, Colosseum to Roy Ayers, Leon Russell to Mark Murphy, that name just a few I would get the chance to see up close at those great venues.
STFU during the performance
But by far my most cherished visits to Camden were those to see a spiritual folk singer, who in his woolly hat, John Coltrane T-shirt, battered jeans, hiking boots, and guitar in hand, just blew me away, time after time. His emotionally charged poetic lyrics, elaborately crafted songbook, and the velvet smooth voice that would fill my heart with joy every single time I had the honour to see him play.
As the gigs went on we started to sit upstairs in the restaurant to watch him play live from the great view being up a little higher offered. He would walk through the tables to get to the stairs that led down to the stage. And every time he would catch my eye and look at me in way of such spirituality that I was sure he remembered me each time. I’m not silly enough to think he actually did recognise me, but he just had that way about him, such presence.
I am of course talking about the one and only Terry Callier
I have searched the web for a full biography of the man and the artist, but it’s hard to find a single place where they talk about his life and career as a whole. I have taken chunks from interviews and obituaries to try my hardest to paint a fuller picture of one of musics almost lost greats.
Who only towards the the end of his life began to get the credit he deserved. He was taken far too soon. His writing was as wonderful as ever and meant just as much now as it had always done and his performances ever more intense.
There was a wonderful radio special about Terry that I think aired on Radio One, I do remember it was presented by Mica Paris. I wrote to the BBC a while back and asked for a copy, but alas, it no longer exists. The person who replied said they remembered it too and was gutted.
Any way I hope you enjoy the read and if you want some Terry Callier magic in your eargoggles then here is a mix I did to accompany the article. It features songs from all of Terry’s career and lot’s of live tracks too.
- Spin, Spin, Spin [The New Folk Sound Of Terry Callier 1964]
- 900 Miles [The New Folk Sound Of Terry Callier 1964]
- Drill Ye Tarriers [Live at Mother Blues, 1964]
- Ordinary Joe [Alive, Live at the Jazz Cafe, 2000]
- I Just Can’t Help Myself (I Don’t Want Nobody Else) [I Just Can’t Help Myself, 1973]
- Look At Me Now [Lookin’ Out,2004]
- Mrs. Beasley [Live in Washington, 1982, TC in DC, 1997]
- Lazarus Man [Alive, Live at the Jazz Cafe, 2000]
- Timepiece [Welcome Home, Live at the Jazz Cafe, 2008]
- Martin St. Martin [Fire On Ice, 1978]
- Dancing Girl [What Color Is Love, 1972]
- Monuments Of Mars [Speak Your Peace, 2002]
- I Don’t Wanna See Myself [Alive, Live at the Jazz Cafe, 2000]
Terrence Orlando Callier was born on May 24th, 1945, in Chicago, Illinois. The son of a modest working class Chicago family. He was raised on the notorious Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) at 848 N. Mohawk St, a public housing project, which was also known as North Side.
He was introduced to music at an early age through his mother’s love of jazz singers, especially Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
He showed an interest in music very early on and from the age of three Callier would visit his grandmother. She owned and ran a large boarding house on South Indiana Avenue.
She had an old piano there, and I would fool around on it. She rented to a variety of interesting transients — soldiers, musicians, drifters, anyone who was passing through town or needed a temporary place to stay. The musicians would sit down at the piano with me and give me tips. I sort of put these together into a kind of makeshift musical training at a very young age.
A little later Callier began studying piano in the local Chicago park field house.
On any summer night you could walk by and hear fantastic music – these guys could blow, and there were girl groups that sounded like angels . . .
His piano teacher was Sister Maria Theresa, who was a very strict teacher, and in his early teens he stopped attending lessons as he could no longer take her constant knuckle beatings when a mistake was made.
The Cabrini neighborhood of Chicago was a petri dish for all types of music, and a young Callier shared his musical playground with Major Lance, Jerry Butler, Ramsey Lewis and Curtis Mayfield.
Through his formative years Callier began to sing in doo-wop groups, liking the layered harmonies popular at the time.
Callier’s first groups were The Whippor-Wills, The Serenaders, and later The Saharas, which all featured the layered vocal harmonies of the doo-wop style popular at the time.
Callier, Mayflield and Butler would cover popular songs like Bang Goes Your Heart by the Moroccos and Crazy Little Mama by the Eldorados.
Terry was also beginning to get a feel for poetry and began experimenting to find an original angle to his own music.
He spent many lunch periods at high school singing in the bathrooms, he said this was principally down to the marble walls creating a nice echo.
Callier remembers . . .
. . . like it was yesterday the time the guys in the group let me sing This Is the Night by the Cool Jets, after a year of being in the background. Some guy stopped me half way and said: ‘Why are you trying to sound like somebody else? Just try and sound like you .’ That was the most influential thing anyone ever told me.
That neighborhood was home to Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield, Major Lance, Ramsey Lewis and a host of other people who were extremely talented
There was a fieldhouse over on Orleans near Division, and it had a series of meeting rooms, some of them with pianos, and they had great acoustics, so there would be four or five different vocal groups rehearsing
So I learned early on to listen to everything – classical music and ethnic music from Africa and Middle East, and it all comes out in your work
It was while attending college, he learned to play the guitar, and it was there he was also starting to experience the folk music explosion sweeping America.
Although a shy and introverted youth, Terry had begun writing his own songs and a guitar-owning friend set him on his musical path.
A guy in the dorm room had a guitar and he was always teaching me songs. So I went down to a coffee house in Chicago, and soon I was playing Wednesday through Sunday at that coffee house and having the time of my life
Callier and a borrowed guitar began making regular appearances at a coffee house called Fickle Pickle, which was one of Chicago’s numerous folk rooms. It was here he came to the attention of Chess Records arranger Charles Stepney.
So, in 1962, at the tender age of 17, Terry made a visit to Chess Records in South Michigan Avenue. He went in on a Monday, four tracks were recorded and one chosen to become Calliers debut single, this was Look At Me Now.
As far as I can tell it wasn’t released until sometime later on the Chess experimental imprint Cadet. Discographies list it as 1968. Don’t be fooled by the bootleg single with Etta James on the flip, it appeared in 2001 and was nothing to do with Chess. There was another single release in 2015, this time flipped with The Radiants Hold On, it states Geffen Records 1966 which confuses things even more.
He was asked by Leonard Chess to join Etta James and Muddy Waters on a Chess tour of America. He was overjoyed and went home to pack, but his Mother stepped in and stopped the young excited singer. She wanted him to finish his education and thought her young shy Terry wasn’t ready for the excesses of such a tour. So rather than become a superstar on the legendary Chess label, Terry stayed at home and revised for his exams. For a month after this show down, Terry and his Mother didn’t speak to one another, other than to say, “Pass the mustard”
Alongside the other folk singers, Callier was discovering John Coltrane, who had just released his free jazz album A Love Supreme.
It’s interesting to note that after seeing Coltrane live in 1964 Callier almost gave up music entirely. The intensity with which Coltrane and his band threw themselves into the music frightened him, because of these feelings Callier wouldn’t play again in public for a year.
Of seeing Coltrane live Callier said . . .
He was playing at a little club called McKees, and I got there early to see Elvin Jones nailing his drum kit to the floor. Then the quartet rocks on stage, and I wasn’t prepared for the intensity with which these guys threw themselves into the music – I had never seen men do that before in my life and it frightened me. It made me realise that everything in life was in this music: the beautiful and the ugly, the godly and ungodly. Not everybody wants to touch those places because there are things we have to forget in order to live with ourselves, and that music didn’t let you have any secrets
I’m not completely sure of the date here the info I have found is very foggy. But at some point in the late 1950s early 1960s Terry met and joined forces with a young cocky white folk singer.
David Crosby had briefly studied drama at Santa Barbara City College before dropping out to pursue a career in music. They met on the folk circuit and together the two troubadours headed off to NYC and the Greenwich Village scene in search a recording contract, but it seems that at that point America was not ready for a black and white folk duo.
Long Time Gone
There is a section in the wonderful David Crosby biography Long Time Gone, on pages 53 to 55, where Terry is mentioned. In the book Crosby spells the surname incorrectly as Collier, but in the rest of this section I will spell it Callier for ease.
It starts with a piece by Kevin Ryan remembering the Greenwich Village folk scene. David Crosby had arrived in New York and visited the studio in Cherry Lane. It states David moved into an unfurnished apartment and within a week he was joined by another folk singer, a black friend of David from Chicago, his name was Terry Callier. It goes on to describe a hip beatnic scene you’d expect from the Village at that time, it mentions some girls moving in. Kevin ending up on the couch, Terry on the floor with a girl called Renee, and Crosby had the only bed which he shared with another young lady.
David states in the book . . .
Terry Callier was a talented black musician from Chicago who came to Greenwich Village to break out of the ghetto blues trap, to be an intellectual, to confront issues of race and music. Kevin remembers that Callier would carry his guitar case whenever he went out, whether he was going to play or not, just so people would know he was a musician and not some black commuting from Harlem.
Back to David . . .
After I moved in with Kevin, I dragged Terry Callier home. Then we both dragged girls home until there were five of us living there. Terry was a slightly rotund, extremely talented young singer-songwriter. We met at the Bitter End, a new club that just opened on Bleecker Street. It used to be called the Cock ’N Bull. Terry and I liked each other’s style, more modern than folkie. We were folkies, but we were writing our own songs as well and we knew about jazz.
Terry impressed the shit out of me and I went up to him and said ‘Hey, man, you’re really good.’ He felt the same way about me. We started learning each other’s tunes and trying to sing with each other and it worked. We became an item.
Terry and David sang together as a team. In fact it was the first professional dates Crosby had played as a duo, not including the sibling partnership he had with his brother Ethan.
During the Monday night folk sessions the duo noticed a slight problem, the pair became conscious that there was some weird vibes coming from a few people. It was the fact one of them was white and one of them was black. A mixed racial duo was still a novelty back then, even in the bohemian setting of the Village.
The pair were well regarded and Crosby felt that if they had continued as a duo they would have won a recording contract. They had a definite thing happening. When Crosby traveled South later that year Callier remained in New York.
The next time the two met was a few years later, at a club on the South Side of Chicago, where Terry had gained a large following. I’m guessing this was probably Mother Blues, and around 1964.
In the book David states that he didn’t know what happened to his friend Terry Callier, not sure if he ever recorded because he lost track of him after that last meeting.
I read somewhere that this next scene happened back in Chicago. But I think, because of the timeline, it was more likely to have been in Greenwich Village.
It starts with the Chad Mitchell Trio, a North American vocal group, who Harry Belafonte had arranged to back Odetta and Miriam Makeba at Carnegie Hall on May 2, 1960.
The multi instrumentalist Jim McGuinn had become a member of the Chad Mitchell Trio’s backing band and consequently as they toured he also became part of Miriam Makeba’s musical set up.
Miriam Makeba performed at The Bitter End folk club in Greenwich Village in 1961 exactly the time Callier and Crosby are said to be in New York.
From 1962 McGuinn was working in the Brill Building writing tunes for Bobby Darin, he was also doing session work and playing folk gigs in the Village around this time.
So it has to be around 1961, at a Miriam Makeba gig, perhaps the one at The Bitter End, that Terry introduced his friend David Crosby to another musician friend of his Jim McGuinn. Callier had known McGuinn from the folk circuit and Jim’s time in the Limeliters folk band.
We know Crosby eventually left Terry in NYC to go south and this eventually led Crosby back to Los Angeles, California. In 1964 Crosby again met up with Jim McGuinn and as the stars aligned the other future members of the Byrds.
Jim changed his name to Roger, and the rest is their musical history.
In 1964, Terry Callier went on to meet Samuel Charters of Prestige Records at the nightclub, Mother Blues. Charters offered to release an album and of course this time the young Callier eagerly agreed.
It was on a Saturday afternoon in 1964, at Webb Recording in Chicago, that they set about recording what would become the stunning debut album; The New Folk Sound Of Terry Callier.
Terry got the idea of having two bassists after hearing John Coltrane perform with the same set up in the club next door to where he was performing. The only other instrument used on the recording is Callier’s acoustic guitar and this allowed his extraordinary rich and gentle voice to build and build.
The two bass players were; John Tweedle and Terbour Attenborough.
A live gig was also recorded at Mother Blues in June 1964. It wasn’t released commercially until thirty six years later when it appeared on the Premonition Records label.
Of the tracks played that evening (which I have listed below) only one made it onto the debut album release;
- Work Song
- Drill Ye Tarriers
- The Gambler Song
- Lizzy Mae
- Johnny Be Gay
- Be My Woman
- It Will Not Be Long Love, ’til Our Wedding Day
- It’s About Time
Mother Blues was a folk club at the south end of a strip of bars, clubs, and restaurants that sprang up on Wells Street in the Old Town area of Chicago in the early 1960s. Owned by the lovable Lorraine ‘Mother’ Blue, it was a narrow room with a large cathedral like ceiling. A portrait of Catherine the Great hung on the wall near the stage. The stairs to the balcony had mahogany rails which originated from the Everleigh Sister’s bordello.
Through the 60’s Mother Blues featured tonnes performances by the likes of Chad Mitchell, Bob Gibson, Josh White, Odetta, Oscar Brown. Spanky McFarlane, Brazil ’66, Jefferson Airplane, and Jose Feliciano. With Jo Vapes, Ginni Clemens, Dwain Story, Fred Holstein and Terry Callier were amongst the regulars on open mike night. The open night was run by John Brown and advertised as hootenanny monday.
Jeff Chouinard would record most of the acts on to Tandberg 7” reel-to-reel in the sound booth. The tracks that made the CD are not however the entire set. Due to a recording error and technical difficulties four of the songs Terry played that night didn’t make the cut.
The Vanishing Debut
In 1965 the album was finished. It featured 8 tracks;
- 900 Miles
- Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be
- Johnny Be Gay If You Can Be
- Cotton Eyed Joe
- It’s About Time
- Promenade In Green
- Spin, Spin, Spin
- I’m A Drifter
But producer Samuel Charters was said to be so moved by the music that he vanished, with the master tapes, into the Mexican dessert. It was rumoured that Charters had gone off to live among the Hopi Indians.
Callier would later say . . .
All I know was that I had recorded something for Prestige and it wasn’t released. About a year and a half later, I met with Samuel and I asked him what happened. He told me that he had gone to Mexico in a province where there were a lot of Indians and he just listened to the tapes and did mushrooms
Then, four years later, in 1968, Terry Callier learnt the album had finally been released. His younger brother Michael had seen a copy in a second hand book shop. At first Terry thought his brother was making it up but he soon found out that his album had finally hit the stores.
Two of the tracks from New Folk Sound, Spin, Spin, Spin written by Kent Foreman and It’s About Time again written by Foreman paired with Lydia Wood were later recorded by the psychedelic band H. P. Lovecraft. The band featured fellow Chicago folk club stalwart George Edwards. Edwards would later go on to co-produce several tracks for Callier in 1969.
The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier
So the album The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier had eventually appeared. But with little fanfare and no marketing push it soon disappeared again.
Undaunted, Callier remained a fixture of the Chicago and New York folk scene, and in 1970, Larry Wade, an old friend from High School, showed up.
Terry . . .
He came by my house one evening and told me about the Jerry Butler Songwriters Workshop, which was giving some writers an opportunity to receive an advance against royalties every week from Chappell Music. The only thing we had to do, after signing a contract of course, was show up and write songs, or even not show up and write songs, because it wasn’t a military type thing at all. Guys would come and stay all night, or you wouldn’t see guys for a week or so.
That wasn’t what was important. What was important was that every two or three months there would be a demo session, and the writers would either perform their own tunes or have other artists perform them. Everybody looked forward to that and wanted to be ready for it.
There were many gifted people in the workshop. Marvin Yancey and Chuck Jackson had early success. They had a group that recorded a couple of hits, and they also produced Natalie Cole’s first three albums, which all went gold.
There is a nice article written on newblackmaninexile.net which talks about the Legacy of Jerry Butler’s Songwriter’s Workshop – follow this link to read it.
The Callier / Wade duo scored a Top 20 hit for the Dells. It was called The Love We Had Stays On My Mind. Stepney was producing the Dells album Freedom Means and ended up using five Callier / Wade compositions.
Butler recalled . . .
Terry Callier and I were in grade school together. When he started at the Village Gate (in New York) and the Gate of Horn (in Chicago), we were about the same age. He was doing the folk thing and I was doing the doo-wop with Curtis.
After Vee-Jay records hit bankruptcy in 1966 Jerry Butler signed with Mercury Records. It was here that he had his biggest successes with 1969’s Only The Strong Survive”and 1968’s Hey Western Union Man.
Jerry Butler had earned the nickname ‘The Ice Man’ . . .
We formed Ice Man Music, a publishing house, right after I finished the ‘Ice Man Cometh’ album with (Kenny) Gamble and (Leon) Huff (in November, 1968), they decided they were going to start their own label.
But Jerry was still under contract with Mercury . . .
I knew I couldn’t write enough good songs in a year to make up four albums, which is what the Mercury contract called for, so I got the idea to start the workshop. We wanted to turn the workshop into a mini-Motown for Chicago. We got the publishing end of it right but never could get the music right in terms of records and distribution. I called Terry as one of the first guys because I knew what a great songwriter he was. He and Larry Wade came over to the workshop.
I wanted to take guys who were professional writers but who for some reason had never been recognized because they had to do other jobs. Terry was driving a cab at the time, trying to put his daughter through school at the University of Chicago. Then he became a computer analyst. He was always the egghead kind of guy. One of the smartest people I ever met.
With funding from North American Philips, Jerry’s workshop was brought together. Situated on the top floor of an old record distributor building at 1402 S. Michigan.
By 1972 Butler’s hothouse of musical talent was generating $4 million in record sales and had produced numerous chart singles recorded by the likes of Isaac Hayes, Aretha Franklin and The Dells. The smash hit The Love We Had Stays on My Mind was penned by the Callier / Wade partnership and became a huge hit for The Dells. It also teamed Terry with his old friend George Stepney, who was now working as a producer for the Chess subsidiary Cadet.
Unfortunately there is very little written about Terry Calliers song writing partner Larry Wade. He did spend some time in the vocal soul band Infinity. The band was formed in the late 60’s by Billy Butler and consisted of Larry Wade, Phyllis Knotts and Errol Bank. Find Larry Wade’s full discography here. If you have some information on Larry Wade please contact me, thank you in advance.
While working on the Dells album Stepney asked Terry if he had anything he wanted to record himself. This lead to Terry’s Occasional Rain album the first of the three he would cut for Cadet.
In 1973, the Callier / Stepney partnership worked on a sound that fused folk with jazz and produced three albums in quick succession: Occasional Rain (1972), What Color Is Love? (1972), and I Just Can’t Help Myself (1973).
These three albums remain the bedrock of the sweet spiritual sound that became synonymous with Callier and contain some of his greatest musical achievements including the tone poem Ordinary Joe and the passion play Dancing Girl.
No Ordinary Joe
If Terry Callier had a theme tune, it was Ordinary Joe, a slice of sunkissed, blue-eyed soul and a highlight of 1972’s self penned Occasional Rain album. It was again produced by Charles Stepney, and featured session musicians Leonard Pirani, Sydney Simms and Bob Crowder, plus backing singers Kitty Haywood, Shirley Wahls and the mighty Minnie Riperton.
What Color Is Love?
Callier and Stepney was working on the second album for Chess – What Colour Is Love? It was planned to be a double album and Terry was just adding the finishing touches when Chess was sold to pop oriented GRT, and the double album was shelved and just seven tracks were chosen.
What Color Is Love? was again blessed with some wonderful production by Stepney. The first three tracks set the scene, the kaleidoscopic Dancing Girl, followed by the soul-stirring title track and then the mighty You Goin’ Miss Your Candyman, a song which really comes into it’s own with astonishing percussion by Alfred Nalls, Fred Walker, Donny Simmons, Morris Jennings and Bobby Christian, backed with a horn section featuring Ethel Merker, Paul Tervelt, Donald Myrick, Arthur Hoyle, and John Howell, it also has Phil Upchurch on guitar.
For the 1973 release of I Just Can’t Help Myself Elektra proudly boasted Callier as the new Marvin Gaye. A jazz led album featuring two tracks that had been recorded in 1969, the John Coltrane tribute Can’t Catch The Trane, and Alley-Wind Song. Also featured a rendition of Duke Ellington’s Satin Doll.
Unfortunately the critical appreciation for Callier’s talent was not met with equal commercial success.
The Jerry Butler Songwriters Workshop disbanded in 1976, Terry had spent the best part of six years there, six years he described as the most instructive, beautiful, enlightening times of my life.
The workshop gave me a chance to really concentrate on writing and get inside the craft.
He left Cadet in 1977, and moved to Elektra to work with Don Mizell.
It was here Callier produced what people consider his soul period albums, Fire on Ice (1978) and Turn You To Love (1979). Neither achieved the commercial success his new label wanted.
The same year Mizell, the man who championed Callier, left the company, and Elektra abandoned Terry, he was released from the label. He was now without a contract.
Callier continued to work the circuits of Washington DC, Detroit and Philadelphia ann 1982 he recorded the single I Don’t Want to See Myself (Without You) / If I Could Make You (Change Your Mind) for Erect Records.
Nothing happened with the release and Terry disappeared from the music scene, a decision not born of frustration but precipitated by a desire to support his daughter.
In 1983 he received a phone call from his 12-year-old daughter, Sundiata, who every one called Sunny.
My daughter was starting high school, and there are certain things a young woman needs.
There was no way I was going to provide those things unless I went out on the road and stayed there, but then I wouldn’t have been around for her.
I felt I owed her that. When her mom and I originally got divorced, I was younger and dumber and I didn’t give much thought to Sundiata’s feelings. I felt, As an artist I’m due this and that, and all the rest of the load that you carry around with you in your late 20s.
So this gave me a chance to show her that she was important, and that her dad cared about her.
So Callier moved back home to live with his mother and with him was his daughter, Sunny.
Back to school
Terry walked away from the music business. He pursued a degree in sociology and took a computer programming course. He landed a job at the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center.
Callier was so busy with life, he didn’t have time to pick up a guitar, he was going to school and working full time, and looking after his daughter. But by 1988, he had completed his degree in sociology at North Park College, realigned his life and picked up his guitar again. Practicing in the bathroom at home.
Terry said of the bathroom acoustics . . .
It sounds good in there
A reminder of his days learning his craft and practicing in the college bathrooms.
I didn’t touch a guitar from 1983 until 1988 because I was just too busy. Then in 1991 I got a call from a guy in London called Eddie Pillar, who ran a label called Acid Jazz. He told me that he had been playing my records in clubs and he wanted to re-release them and get me playing in England again. So for the next few years, I came over to do gigs in London in my vacation time from my day job.
Like Lazarus Man
The last studio material by Terry was a twelve inch released in 1982 on small independent Indiana label called Erect Records. I Don’t Want To See Myself (Without You) was backed with If I Could Make You (Change Your Mind).
Eventually this twelve was picked up by the UK jazz dance scene. It was getting regular play and an incredible reaction when Dr Bob Jones starting dropping it at a club called Special Branch in 1986.
As an additional bit of info Dr Bob Jones became in-house DJ for Terry Callier on his comeback UK tours. So things went full circle.
Eddie Piller, of Acid Jazz records, decided he wanted to re-issue the twelve, so he decided to try and track Terry Callier down.
Acid Jazz Detective
On making enquiries Piller hit a brick wall. He tried Callier’s collaborator and first publisher, Jerry Butler, but by this time Cadet had moved from Chicago to LA. This was pre-internet so Piller persevered and spent a month ringing the different phone companies that made up American directory enquiries. An hour each day after work on the phone asking them to search for every Terrence Orlando Callier in their books. An address in a Chicago suburb looked promising. But when he phoned the number a young girl answered and said no one called Terry lived at that address. He phoned again the next day, and the day after that until eventually the teenage girl on the other end handed the phone to her father.
A very quiet, laid-back voice spoke . . .
I’m Terry Callier – and my daughter says that unless I speak to you, you are probably going to ring every day for the rest of our lives. What is it you want?
Finally the connection was made, but Callier was skeptical.
It’s important to note that at this point, Gilles Peterson had left Acid Jazz and set up a label of his own, Talkin’ Loud Records, which was a supported by the financial weight of PolyGram.
Eddie Piller spoke of the split . . .
It gave me a free hand to do more of what I wanted. Me and Gilles had brilliant chemistry, but we didn’t really agree on what we wanted to release. So I thought, ‘Well I’m going to have to make some kind of a splash now, cos Talkin’ Loud’s got massive budgets.
Piller’s pursuit of Callier gave Acid Jazz the break out hit it was looking for and in turn brought Terry to a much wider audience.
Piller . . .
Terry was the most spiritual person I’d ever come across. Very quiet, shy, humble. He had not had a good time in music, but once he came to the UK and saw the passion and obsession that British kids had for him – which he had no idea about, like so many black Americans who come here to perform totally unaware that they are cultural icons – it blew him away.
Terry remembers . . .
I got a call from Eddie Piller, chairman of Acid Jazz Records in the UK, who said it was getting played in the clubs and getting a fantastic reaction.
On the phone Piller tried to convince Callier to let him re-issue the tracks and to book some live performances to promote it. Terry explained that he had given up music in 1983 for family reasons. That he wanted to bring his daughter up properly, and that he felt being on the road was not the right way to do so.
Eddie Piller eventually persuaded Callier to come to the UK on holiday, and that Acid Jazz would get a band together and put on a small gig at the 100 Club in London. Terry reluctantly said yes. Piller then got him to agree that if he enjoyed it, he would allow Acid Jazz to re-issue the record.
Two legendary comeback gigs at the 100 Club and a performance at the Great Yarmouth Music Festival lit the fire under Callier’s career and it was time to hit the road again.
Acid Jazz had given Terry a new audience and a platform on which to move forward. Sales of the re-issue hit 10,000 copies, the original release had sold only 200 copies when it first came out.
Ever grateful to Piller for tracking him down, and kick starting this new phase in his career, Terry was keen to do more.
Terry eventually hooked up with the ex Acid Jazz partner Gilles Peterson, and Talkin’ Loud Records released the Terry Callier comeback album TimePeace.
Callier had to cut TimePeace on his weekends, due to his work obligations. Taking holiday time out of work, he travelled to London to record with his UK backing band.
Most of the songs on the album were new compositions. Java Sparrow, a song which was inspired by a colourful bird that Callier and his daughter used to visit at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. The lyrics of the album continue Calliers previous concerns with the human condition and as his own interaction with society.
United Nations’ Time For Peace Award
The album achieved great reviews and commercial success. In 1998 Timepeace received the United Nations’ Time For Peace Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement.
Due to receiving this accolade his employers at the University of Chicago finally learned about Calliers double life. After picking up the award in New York, he came into work only to discover that he had four hours to clear his desk, he had been fired.
Callier started dividing his time between his home in America and touring the UK.
Russ had been a big part of the UK Jazz scene with his popular clubs the Jazz Rooms and Jazz Bop.
His friend Gilles Peterson had set up BGP Records, with another longtime friend of Russ’ Baz Fe Jazz. The label was owned by Ace Records and through his connection with Baz Russ got to know the people from Ace. Russ had begun to hit the ceiling with where he could take Jazz Bop. When Baz decided to leave BGP they asked Russ take over the running of the label.
Russ Dewbury now had access to an incredible back catalogue of music that he could re issue.
Russ as BGP set about re issuing Terry Callier’s debut The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier. To celebrate the re issue they brought Terry back over to the UK.
It worked so well I actually put together an all star band of artists I’d worked with on BGP and we toured Europe for 2 weeks! It was the Make Way for the Originals tour of 1994 and it was an unforgettable experience. The band included Idris Muhammad, Pucho, Reuben Wilson, Johnny Lytle, Melvin Sparks and others.
Russ continues . . .
I financed the whole thing myself and we took a tour bus and went round Europe, it was like the Spinal Tap of the black music scene! Such a shame we didn’t take a camera crew.
There is an interesting article which features an interview with Terry Callier when he came over to play Russ Dewbury’s Jazz Bop at the Forum in Kentish Town. It was written by Susy Marriott for ukvibe issue 14 1995. http://ukvibe.org/archive
There is a lovely article published in the Independent – How We Met: Terry Callier & Beth Orton – Sunday 7 November 1999. This was around the time of the artists releasing their own albums;Central Reservation by Beth Orton and LifeTime by Terry Callier.
When they met Terry was 54, Beth Orton was 28, the same age as Callier’s daughter. Orton had almost become an actress but turned to folk music after a chance meeting with the producer William Orbit in 1993.
Terry talks about meeting Beth . . .
I met Beth in 1996 when she came up to me after one of my concerts. She told me she sang and that she would send me a copy of her CD. Sure enough it arrived, and I put it on. I was reading through the notes and I got to the part where she said she’d been listening to my album the New Folk Sound of Terry Callier. I thought, wow, because people often try to hide their influences. Listening to her, I knew that we had something in common. She had some heart that she was putting in the music. That’s all I ask from any artistic endeavour, whether it’s a novel or a movie or a song – as long as it’s got heart, I can deal with it.
Beth and I talked about recording the Fred Neill song “Dolphins”. When I ran away from home and went to New York, the first four people I met there were Fred Neill, Josh White Junior, David Crosby and Dino Valenti, who was later in the psychedelic band Quicksilver Messenger Service. Fred Neill had this big baritone voice but he had more feeling in his stuff than most of the folk singers and groups.
Beth Orton . . .
I first heard of Terry when someone gave me The New Folk Sound Of Terry Callier. I took it home and that was it – I listened to it constantly, it really captured what I was trying to do with acoustic music. Then a friend of mine took me to see him. The reason I got so close to that friend was because we both had this mission with Terry Callier. If you met someone who liked Terry Callier, you knew you’d get on.
The concert was at the Jazz Cafe and was completely uplifting and joyful. I met Terry afterwards and I said: “Hello, I’m Beth!” He gave me his autograph, and we started sending each other e-mails.
Then someone at my record label said that if I did a song with Terry, I should do “Dolphins”, by Fred Neill. It was all complete coincidence, just one of those mad things. I’m big into my little magic. Terry emulated Fred Neill when he was young, and I was emulating Terry and la di da, here we are.
When I put Terry’s music on, I’m grounded. That’s why I write songs, to feel connected to the earth, to something. I don’t like to be analysed but it’s a wonderful thing when you get things off your chest in a song. It’s a constant process of shedding, otherwise you go insane. My second album, Central Reservation, is like a floodgate. I can’t sing the songs I sing every night without addressing those questions to myself as much as they are to the audience. I’m also really hard on myself when I’m writing, I play with my own mind. I see strength in expressing how you feel, and I see strength in weakness, if weakness is being a decent person or having feelings, being alive. I feel that when I hear Terry’s music – his voice, his lyrics. It strikes a chord. His music and his friendship are like anchors in my life.
Read the full article on The Independents website by following this link https://www.independent.co.uk
Between 1999 and 2009 Terry Callier recorded 6 more albums:
- TimePeace (Verve Forecast/Talkin’ Loud/PolyGram, 1998)
- LifeTime (Blue Thumb/Talkin’ Loud, 1999)
- Alive (Mr Bongo, 2001) recorded live in London 2000
- Speak Your Peace (Mr Bongo, 2002)
- Lookin’ Out (Mr Bongo, 2004)
- Welcome Home (Mr Bongo, 2008) recorded live in London 2008
- Hidden Conversations (Mr Bongo, 2009)
Callier continued to play gigs in UK and in Europe, he also played the Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland in 2001. This was his first visit back since he played the Casino on Jul 21, 1979.
Here is the set list for both gigs :
- Ordinary Joe
- African Violet
- Can’t Catch The Train
- Be A Believer
- Turn You To Love
- Ordinary Joe
- Keep Your Heart Right
- C’est La Vie
- 4 Miles
- Fix The Blame
- No More Blues
- Theme From Spartacus
- When The Music Is Gone
- What Colour Is Love
- Nobody But Yourself
- Dancing Girl
His spiritually intense live performances moved people to tears. Callier himself could be overwhelmed while playing gigs, especially those at the Jazz Cafe, he told the New York Times in 1998 that a few times he had to stop shows because it was too ‘over the top emotionally’ to continue.
Any one who encountered Terry Callier in person or through his music, with it’s synthesis of folk, soul and jazz and superior song craftmanship, couldn’t help but be moved by his spirituality.
A long-time follower Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi Order of America, Callier tried to live his life by the purifying principles of Sufism. The mission of the Naqshbandiyya Nazimiyya Sufi Order is to spread the Sufi teachings of the brotherhood of mankind and the Unity of belief in God that is present in all religions and spiritual paths.
Terry Callier . . .
One of the Sufi masters once said that ‘the world shines so brightly that all the other lights seem dim.’ We have to constantly be reminded of the spiritual side of things because the material world is so in our face.
Callier continued to live in and around Chicago, living in Evanston for the last few years of his remarkable life. He continued to tour Europe regularly until he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He moved in with his daughter while he received treatment. But on Saturday October 27, 2012, in Saint Joseph Hospital, on North Lake Shore Drive, and just 18 months after his diagnosis, Terry Callier passed.
Sunny Callier said that her father was surrounded by family when he died.
He was 67.
He is survived by his daughter . . .
He was loved all over the world. People are saying it’s a loss for everyone.
Terry Callier never received the real acclaim he deserved, but nobody who heard him ever forgot the experience.
Chicago have now honoured Terry with naming a street after him. It was decided to name the 300-400 block of West Elm, which is a stones throw from N. Mohawk St, as Terrence Callier Way.
The wider musical audience was very slow to recognise his talent. But the lyrics to his debut Look At Me Now, which he recorded in 1963 at the tender age of just 17, do have a prophetic quality to them . . .
I’m going to make it some day,
I’m going to make it somehow,
Then I’ll be able to say,
People, look at me now, look at me now
- The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier (Prestige, 1965)
- Occasional Rain (Cadet, 1972)
- What Color Is Love (Cadet, 1972)
- I Just Can’t Help Myself (Cadet, 1973)
- Fire on Ice (Elektra, 1978)
- Turn You to Love (Elektra, 1979)
- Time Peace (Verve Forecast/Talkin’ Loud/PolyGram, 1998)
- Lifetime (Blue Thumb/Talkin’ Loud, 1999)
- Speak Your Peace (Mr Bongo, 2002)
- The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier (Prestige/BGP, 2003) Remastered with three additional tracks including Golden Apples of the Sun
- Lookin’ Out (Mr Bongo, 2004)
- Hidden Conversations (Mr Bongo, 2009)
- TC in DC (Premonition, 1996) recorded live in Washington D.C. 1982
- Live at Mother Blues, 1964 (Premonition, 2000) recorded live in Chicago 1964
- Alive (Mr Bongo, 2001) recorded live in London 2000
- Welcome Home (Mr Bongo, 2008) recorded live in London 2008
- You Goin’ Miss Your Candy Man / Look At Me Now (Cadet, 1968)
- Ordinary Joe / Golden Circle Of Your Love (Cadet, 1972)
- I Just Can’t Help Myself (I Don’t Want Nobody Else) / Gotta Get Closer To You (Cadet, 1973)
- Butterfly / Street Fever (Elektra, 1978)
- Sign of the Times / Occasional Rain (Elektra, 1979)
- I Don’t Want to See Myself (Without You) / If I Could Make You (Change Your Mind) (Erect, 1982)
- I Don’t Want to See Myself (Without You) / If I Could Make You (Change Your Mind) (Acid Jazz, 1990)
- Love Theme from Spartacus (Talkin’ Loud/(Verve Forecast), 1997)
- Beth Orton – Best Bit EP (Heavenly, 1997)
- I Don’t Want to See Myself (Without You) (Talkin’ Loud, 1999)
- Silent Night (Talkin’ Loud, 1999)
- Holdin’ On / When My Lady Danced (Talkin’ Loud, 1999)
- Tomorrow in Your Eyes – East West Connection featuring Terry Callier (Chillifunk, 2001)
- Brother to Brother – Terry Callier with Paul Weller (Mr Bongo 2002)
- Running Around / Monuments of Mars (Mr Bongo, 2002)
- In a Heartbeat – Koop feat. Terry Callier (Superstudio Grå/Sony Music, 2002)
- Lookin’ Out (Mr Bongo, 2004)
- Live with Me – Massive Attack with Terry Callier (Virgin, 2006)
- Advice – Hardkandy featuring Terry Callier (Catskills, 2006)
- Wings (Mr Bongo, 2009)
- Ordinary Joe / Music Is My Sanctuary – Terry Callier / Gary Bartz ( Mellow Mellow Right On, 2013)
- Look At Me Now / Ordinary Joe (Soul Tribe, 2014)
- Look At Me Now / Hold On – Terry Callier / The Radiants (Chess, 2015)
- オーディナリー・ジョー = Ordinary Joe / ルック・アット・ミー・ナウ = Look At Me Now (Universal Music Japan, 2017)
- The Best of Terry Callier on Cadet (Charly, 1992)
- Essential – The Very Best of Terry Callier (MCA, 1998)
- First Light: Chicago 1969-71 (1998)
- Total Recall (remixes) (Mr Bongo, 2003)
- Life Lessons: The Best Of Terry Callier (Music Club Deluxe, 2006)
- Terry Callier: Collected (Spectrum, 2007)
- About Time: The Terry Callier Story 1965-1982 (Beat Goes Public, 2009)
- Free Soul. The Classic of Terry Callier (Universal Japan, 2014)
- Tokyo Moon (Musicaänossa Gryps, 2018)
DVD & Video
- Lazarus Man (Jazz Cafe VHS, 1998) recorded live in London 1998
- Terry Callier – Live in Berlin DVD (Universal Music, 2005) recorded live in Berlin 2005
I hope I have been able to provide you with an enjoyable read, I have tried my hardest to find the truest account of Terry Callier’s life.
If you notice any errors please comment and I will do my best to rectify any mistakes.
A truly talented musician and it seems a wonderful man too. Rest in peace Mister Terrence Orlando Callier it is a pleasure to have your music in my life.
Music Is Love
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