Remembering Terry Callier and other lost heroes
You didn’t forget an encounter with the late Terry Callier’s work in a hurry. That quietly authorative baritone, those beautful blurs of song, that great combination of blues, jazz and folk: when Callier sang, you took note. The Chicago native …
You didn’t forget an encounter with the late Terry Callier’s work in a hurry. That quietly authorative baritone, those beautful blurs of song, that great combination of blues, jazz and folk: when Callier sang, you took note. The Chicago native released a slew of fantastic albums from the late 1960s onwards (“The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier” in 1968 started the run) and you’ll find that back-catalogue out there without too much trouble. The three albums he cut for Cadet – “Occasional Rain”, “What Color Is Love” and “I Just Can’t Help Myself” – are worth anyone’s time and attention.
But Callier’s music never quite got the time and attention it deserved the first time around. In the early 1980s, Callier decided to call a halt to full-time musical proceedings. He had a daughter to support and music wasn’t paying the bills so he got a job as a computer programmer in the University of Chicago and music took a back-seat. It’s a story you’ll probably hear over and over and over again.
In the case of Callier, though, there was a twist in the tale and a second coming thanks to the success of “I Don’t Wanna See Myself (Without You)” as a rare groove hit on the London Acid Jazz scene (here’s Eddie Piller talking about the search for the singer). Callier went from coding to gigging, Gilles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud label signed him up and suddenly, the quiet prince from Chicago found himself with an audience for new releases like “Time Peace”. I saw him playing in London’s Jazz Cafe and Dublin’s Vicar Street during that late 1990s’ comeback and both were joyful affairs. You could see an audience happy to salute someone who almost got away and, in the case of Callier, an artist who seemed to relish what was happening.
Of course, the comeback didn’t become a fairy-tale and Callier’s return only went so far. There were collabortions with Beth Orton, Paul Weller and Massive Attack. After a brace of solo albums for Talkin’ Loud (the 1998 comeback “TimePeace” followed by “Lifetime”), Callier went onto release a few albums for Mr Bongo, but these produced diminishing returns. The gigs, though, continued to spread the word, with Callier becoming a regular visitor to Europe. According to his obituary, he was diagnosed with throat cancer around 18 months ago and died last week.
Callier is one of many artists who found another lease of life the second time around. Like Vashti Bunyan, Bill Fay and Nic Jones (you could also add Nick Drake and Tim Buckley to this list, though their comebacks were posthumous ones), the Chicago soulman’s second act is proof that sometimes, there are no secrets anymore. People who were once mere names in the shadows find themselves standing centrestage again on comeback tours and with comeback records to sell. Yes, there are still a plethora of releases which fall between the cracks and don’t receive the coverage their makers probably think they deserve. There are hundreds – nay, thousands – of albums which will be released this year which won’t get an audience. To be blunt about it, many won’t deserve that attention, but some nuggets do get overlooked.
But it is worth remembering that it has always been like this. Every era will have releases and artists who never got their dues. Natural selection means there is only room for some acts in the spotlight. It’s unfair and it’s arbitrary, but that’s how it goes. Of course, thanks to reissue labels like Numero and Light In the Attic, many stories which would have got away have a chance to shine again. With these obsessives who want to tell the world about albums which got away – albums by the likes of Jim Sullivan and Willie Wright, to name two finds these labels have come up with in recent times – those acts would be lost forever in the ether. The internet may make everything accessible via a Google page, but you need to know where to go in the first place. In the case of Terry Callier, which is where we came in, there are many places to go to hear that amazing voice and those wonderful songs. RIP TC.