For the greater portion of four decades, singer/songwriter Terry Callier has been sidestepping the mainstream. His timeless style and compositions, captured on releases for a number of prestigious record companies, have created a fanatical following and caught the attention and praise of a new generation of artists. He has most recently appeared on Arista Recording artist Beth Orton’s latest two recordings (combined sales in excess of 200,000 copies) and has now returned the favor by having Orton guest on his new Blue Thumb recording, Lifetime, due out February 29th.
Last year, Premonition Records was able to unearth a previously unavailable live recording of Terry Callier from 1964. The recording, entitled, Terry Callier, Live At Mother Blues 1964, serves as an intimate bookend to Terry’s prolific career. Live At Mother Blues not only represents the earliest recorded full-length documentation of Callier, but also showcases him in a rare, stripped down ensemble of voice, guitar and two acoustic basses. It mirrors a time and place that could only have existed in the early 60s. The collection of eight folk songs work as a bare-bones platform for young Terry Callier’s larger then life voice.
Terry Callier (born May 24, 1945) grew up in the same Northside Chicago neighborhood as Jerry Butler, Major Lance, and Curtis Mayfield. “That was a dynamite neighborhood. All of us were doo-whopping at the time in different groups,” says Callier. While still in high school, Callier could be found walking down South Michigan Ave., home to such labels as Vee Jay, Brunswick, One-Wonderful, and Chess Records, among others, singing his songs for anyone who would listen. At the age of seventeen, one of his visits to Chess Records paid off and Callier signed his first record contract. “They thought it was funny that a young kid could be so serious,” recalls Callier. The session was produced by Esmond Edwards and arranged by Charles Stepney. Four tracks were recorded and only one released, a single entitled Look At Me Now (1963).
In 1964, Callier signed to do an album for Prestige Records. The resulting record, The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier, was recorded in 1965 and produced by the legendary Samuel Charters. Beginning a long history of near misses in the record industry, The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier wasn’t released until 1968, long after the peak of the folk-boom. “Unfortunately, by the time New Folk Sound came out, times had changed,” says Callier. “Everyone, including me, had moved on from acoustic guitars.” Between the New Folk Sound recording and 1970, Callier was a fixture in Chicago clubs playing solo or with people such as David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, among others. In 1970 he joined the Chicago Songwriters Workshop, Jerry Butler’s famed songwriters cooperative which yielded such talents as Chuck Jackson & Marvin Yancy, Grey & Hanks, Charles Bevel and Calvin Carter, and another phase of his career began. Soon after joining the workshop, Callier, with Larry Wade, wrote a US Top 20 hit, the Dell’s The Love We Had Stays On My Mind. He continued to pursue a recording career and, as a leading member of the thriving Chicago Soul scene, was signed to the Cadet Records label, a subsidiary of Chess Records. Over the next five years, he recorded what would become his signature group of albums. Three records, Occasional Rain (1972), What Color Is Love? (1973) and I Just Can’t Help Myself (1975), cemented his reputation and created a legacy. They were each produced by Charles Stepney, who would go on to be credited with creating the sound of Earth, Wind & Fire. Despite receiving almost unanimous critical acclaim (5-stars DownBeat) and strong support from audiences nationwide, the label could not come up a marketing approach to match Callier’s eclectic Folk/Jazz/Soul sound. Callier’s association with Cadet ended in 1976.
About a year later, Don Mizell, then head of Elektra Record’s fusion department, signed Callier. Two releases, Fire On Ice (1977) and Turn You To Love (1978), followed. During this time, Callier is applauded by critics as one of the few black artists not succumbing to Disco Delirium. In 1979, Don Mizell left Elektra. As one of Mizell’s signings, Callier was dropped. After two albums and his first tour of Europe, he again found himself without a label deal.
1981 found Callier in early musical retirement. After being granted custody of his only daughter, Sundiata, he found work as a computer programmer for a social service organization connected to the University of Chicago. “When I got custody of my daughter I had to give up music to raise her properly. The music business did not seem like a viable option at that point,” says Callier. He continued to perform, however, and TC in D.C., the first of three Premonition Records releases, resulted from a Washington, D.C. concert date late in 1982. Between 1982 and 1995, his performances became fewer and farther between as he settled into his day job.
Miraculously, after nearly a decade of being off the scene, a 1992 London club hit landed Callier a record deal with Verve/Talkin’ Loud. The song that sparked Callier’s re-introduction into the record business, was a remix of Callier’s I Don’t Want To See Myself (Without You), which was originally done for the Erect Records label in 1982.
The signing turned out to be good timing. Callier had intense underground support to build from and Sundiata had just graduated college, ready to set off on her own. In 1997, Verve released the critically acclaimed TimePeace, which sold in excess of 75,000 copies worldwide. In 1998, Premonition Records released Terry Callier First Light 1969-71, a collection of previously unavailable material from the period just prior to Callier’s joining the Cadet label.
Terry has recently left his day job to pursue music full time again. If the early radio success (#1 most added at AAA commercial and noncommercial) for his second release under the original Verve/Talkin’ Loud contract, entitled Lifetime (Blue Thumb), is any indication, he won’t need to concern himself with the latest computer software program for quite some time. With the release of Terry Callier, Live At Mother Blues, Premonition Records is excited to introduce new and old fans to the original sounds of the young and gifted artist, Terry Callier.