Terry Callier

22 Mar 95 Jazz: Terry Callier - Jazz Café

IT'S BEEN a long time coming for Terry Callier. After an unreleased first album on the back of the 1960s folk-roots boom, Callier produced a string of acclaimed and ignored albums in the 1970s before disappearing to work as a computer programmer. In 1991, a long way from the inner-city blues of his native Chicago, Callier's brand of melodic urban soul struck a chord here and dance label Acid Jazz released I Don't Want Nobody Else. A cult was born.

At the Jazz Cafe, Callier responded to the rapturous ovation he received from the packed audience with feigned, hand-on-heart surprise. As the evening progressed, the mock disbelief turned to true astonishment. Perhaps the audience was more astonished than Callier. He was dressed in white trousers and burgundy crew-neck sweater topped with a string of wooden beads - it felt as if time had stood still since the mid-seventies.

This was a nostalgic, reverent, almost loving occasion. Callier, backed by a six-piece band held together by Jim Mullen on guitar and Dave Barnard on bass, alternately powered and meandered his way through highlights of his back catalogue.

Callier's music, to coin a phrase, makes you wanna holler. Listening to his mellifluous soul, Marvin Gaye in early seventies guise, Bill Withers and Gil Scott Heron all spring to mind. A fine, chocolate-smooth voice on record gained an extra dimension live. At times little more than a whisper, Callier's voice is one of great subtlety, with an extraordinary range and considerable power. Eyes closed, a cherubic beam on his face as he sang, whatever music Callier was hearing was coming from deep inside.

Dedicating What Color Is Love to a fan who had come to him before the show with a copy of his first album, Callier recounted his reaction: 'Man, where did you get this? My momma don't even have this.' What Color Is Love, a gentle ballad, showed Callier's sensitive side, while hook-laden You Goin' Miss Your Candyman had him rocking out in true soul man style.

Just another one-off comeback gig? Maybe, but it was a special night. And as Callier said at the end, all anyone's got to do is say the word and he'll be back: 'I come every time they ask me.' Let's hope it's not too long before the next invitation.

The Guardian
Copyright (C) Guardian Newspapers Ltd, 1984-1996

15 Mar 95 Arts: Look at me now - Success took a long time to catch up with Terry Callier. Now he's making a comeback:

By GARRY MULHOLLAND The reason you can't find anything is because nobody's interested.' Terry Callier laughs softly. Finding information about the man many regard as the ultimate black singer/songwriter is not easy. Like the six albums he made between 1965 and 1979, his personal history has become the stuff of legends.

Why was he never a star? How could such talent go ignored? Did he retire because of drugs? Or just frustration at his lack of success? Terry Callier is wrong. A great many people are very interested.

Over the next few days, around 3,000 of these interested parties will cram into The Event in Brighton and the Camden Jazz Cafe to pay long-overdue respect to Terry Callier. The man who proved a major influence on the acid jazz scene and helped inspire Jamiroquai, Galliano and The Brand New Heavies, received little attention at his seventies peak. His deep and magical mixture of boho folk, romantic soul, melodic jazz and orchestral pop confused public and media alike, and confounded expectations of what a black artist should sound like. Only now is he finding an audience who feel comfortable, even educated, by his refusal to be labelled.

Terry Callier speaks much as he sings. His voice is warm, deep and measured, but with an edge of wistfulness, as he fills in the long forgotten details.

He was born in Chicago in 1945, and formed his first vocal group in the Eighth Grade 'because I was socially backward. I couldn't dance or anything hip like that.' Several talent contests later, he signed his first contract, with the classic rhythm-and-blues label Chess, at the age of 17. A single, Look At Me Now, was not a success, and Callier returned to his studies. He was caught up in the early sixties folk boom, spotted in a small club and recorded his first album, The New Folk Sound Of Terry Callier, on the jazz label Prestige in 1965. In the first of many disappointments, the album wasn't realeased for four years. Everyone, including Callier, had moved on from acoustic guitars, and the album disappeared.

In 1970, he joined the Chicago Songwriters Workshop and co-wrote a 1972 US top 20 hit, the Dells' The Love We Had Stays On My Mind. This led to a deal with the Cadet label, where he recorded his finest work. The three Cadet albums, Occasional Rain, What Colour Is Love? and I Just Can't Help Myself, saw him striving for a unique sound. His ability to blend the personal and the political over arrangements that grew from dreamy quiet to string-laden crescendo should have thrived in the wake of Gil Scott-Heron and Curtis Mayfield. But there was something rougher, more painful and difficult about Callier's magical realism and the albums failed to reach beyond critical acclaim.

Callier went into semi-retirement until admirer Don Mizell called and asked him to record for Elektra, where Mizell was head of jazz. Elektra was part of the giant Warner Brothers company and, with the charts in mind, Callier was given the disco loverman treatment. This made for uncomfortable listening, and, after two albums and his first tour of Europe, Callier again found himself without a label. When granted custody of his only daughter in 1983, Callier realised that music was unlikely to put her through school. He retired and became a computer programmer.

As Callier settled down to normality, London's burgeoning acid scene was beginning to rediscover his unsung genius. The three Cadet albums became essential collecters' items for the prospective beat-head, and demand for his music had to be satisfied. In 1991 Eddie Piller, head of the growing Acid Jazz label, tracked Callier down, re-released I Just Can't Help Myself on single and brought the cult hero to London for an emotional performance at 100 Club. The following year Charlie Records released a superb compilation culled from the Cadet years. Success had finally caught up with Terry Callier.

In his native land, though, he is still a complete unknown. He feels that this is par for the course. 'Black music has always been more appreciated in England and Europe,' he reckons. 'Even Louis Armstrong only became a star from touring the continent. It's been that way with most phases of black music. People take more time with the things they enjoy here, they're more interested in all kinds of things. America has always been afflicted with a kind of tunnel vision. Why? That's a day's conversation in itself.' He laughs quietly.

Terry Callier insists he is not bitter about the absence of his just deserts. he is thankful to computers for putting his daughter through college and is proud of his choice. 'She's studying to be a teacher now. I think I did okay.' But when he talks about performing, you can sense his feelings of loss. This is why he's coming back to play for an audience that arrived just a little too late. And why emotions will be running high as he performs.

'There's nothing quite like the rush of being on stage and being appreciated. The degree of excitement you get when finishing a piece of music that's really saying something beyond your own sphere of knowledge that touches people. There's nothing like that. Nothing at all.'

The Best Of Terry Callier is available on Charlie Records.

The Guardian
Copyright (C) Guardian Newspapers Ltd, 1984-1996