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Speak your peace: Terry Callier

Submitted by on October 29, 2012 – 4:29 pmNo Comment

Jazz and folk musician Terry Callier has died at the age of 67.
The Chicago-born singer-songwriter was found dead at his home in America on Sunday after suffering a long illness, according to reports.

Issue one of A Fine Lung carried the following article on him in August 2008:

“One of the problems that I had in the States was that I knew what I was trying to do; I was trying to combine gospel, jazz, folk and blues and make something original out of it. This caused a lot of trouble with the record companies I was with because they didn’t know what to call it.”

It’s a sad fact that many creative people aren’t given the recognition they deserve in their time.

Although it’s been a long time coming for this Chicago native, these days he can count Paul Weller (a duet on Terry’s Speak Your Peace album), Massive Attack (Live With Me from their Collected set), Beth Orton (two duets on her Best Bit EP), 4-Hero and Koop among his devoted following.

The European connection is continued with his debut release from 1963, Look at Me Now, which is a northern soul classic, and the frequent tours (including an appearance at Glastonbury in 1998) he undertakes. He’s a regular visitor to Manchester and I met up with him recently at Mint Lounge.

Following that debut single which was a regional hit in the Windy City, Terry was poised to go out on tour with his Chess stable mates Etta James and Muddy Waters, but his mother had other ideas and made the 17-year-old stay at home and revise for his exams.

The following year he recorded his first LP The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier which would have been better received if the producer hadn’t taken the tapes with him on a three year voyage of self-discovery living in the North American desert with Yaki Indians. Terry only learned of its release after his brother spotted it in an antiques store and he had to buy his own copy.

He re-signed with Cadet Records in 1971 and released three highly acclaimed LPs Occasional Rain, What Colour is Love and I Just Can’t Help Myself all of which have been reissued on CD and as a best of called Essential in 1998. Two further albums Fire on Ice and Turn You to Love followed and it was the former which first drew my attention to him in 1977.

After getting custody of his 12-year-old daughter in 1983, Terry decided to give up music to look after her and got a job at the University of Chicago as a computer programmer. This is where the story would have ended if his records hadn’t been played on the UK soul scene and gained huge popularity.

Subsequently he received a call from Acid Jazz Records who wanted to issue a 12” single and they brought him over for a few dates in 1991.

This led to return visits during holidays from his job culminating in him signing to Talkin’ Loud and the release of Timepeace in 1998.

A year later the title track was chosen by the United Nations as the theme song for their Peace Conference and won him their Time for Peace Award for outstanding artistic achievement contributing to world peace. However, this led to his employers learning of his other life and after picking up the award in New York, he came in to work to discover he had four hours to clear his desk.

As 2008 sees him celebrating 45 years as a recording artist it’s fitting that he will have two new albums released: Welcome Home – a live set released in June – and Hidden Conversations which is out in the autumn and contains Live with Me and two other tracks featuring Massive Attack.

Looking back on his career, Terry says, “I am often reminded that there are people listening to the music now who weren’t in this world when some of the songs were originally recorded. I just hope this circle remains unbroken and continues to grow.”

Terry is one of the most humble, gentle and spiritual souls it’s been my pleasure to meet and although he may not be understood in the Windy City, he will always be appreciated in the Rainy City.

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