A cult artist in his native United States, singer-songwriter Terry Callier was championed in the U.K., and remains a touchstone in modern folk-soul, acid jazz and downtempo circles. He also released a number of the finest albums most people have never heard.
A childhood friend of Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler, Callier grew up steeped in Chicago doo-wop and R&B, but by the early 1960s the influence of Bob Dylan as well as John Coltrane and other jazz modernists started seeping into his work. His highly personal songwriting and singing voice—which could be smoky and laidback, or intense and slightly shrill—made him closer in spirit to Richie Havens, Nick Drake, Nina Simone and Joni Mitchell than to his mainstream soul peers. A charismatic live performer, Callier's sometimes harrowing, heart-on-sleeve songs were often leavened with sly stage patter and a sharp sense of humor.
His uncommonly fine debut, The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier, sat in a can for four years but still sounded fresh and vital when finally released in 1968 (it's cited as a main influence by 2012 breakout star Michael Kiwanuka). Ever better were Callier's psychedelic-streaked Occasional Rain (1972) and the gorgeous What Color Is Love (1973)—fans of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece will want these in their permanent collections.
By the late '70s, Callier tried to fit into mainstream R&B (most successfully with 1979's Turn You to Love), but he soon turned his back on music completely to concentrate on being a single father after being awarded sole custody of his daughter.
Over in Britain, Terry Callier songs were embraced by the Northern Soul club scene and he was name-checked as an influence by (and would go on to record with) Beth Orton, Paul Weller, Massive Attack and many others. Callier returned to music full time for numerous sold-out concert stands in London and a series of highly-regarded albums that include the award-winning Timepeace (1998), Lifetime (1999) and Hidden Conversations (2009).
Terry Callier passed away in his Chicago home after an extended battle with cancer on October 29th, 2012. – Nick Dedina, Google Play