musicology #409


Terry Callier #1

(Terry Callier – What Colour Is Love)

“After the storm say there must be a calm” and as much as the process of catharsis continues for me I feel like the, (metaphorical), dark clouds are lifting and the sun is beginning to break through. Intense and passionate, (whatever the situation), I tend to immerse myself in the joy and the pain of existence and am always looking to engage with the project of living rather than watch it pass me by. I don’t believe in the afterlife and have witnessed how short our time on this beautiful rock can be. Not for me to look back and wonder what might have been so the “what if” question is never asked. Music for me doesn’t imitate life it opens a dialogue and last weeks theme has delivered a space for reflection and resolution.

Today’s cut kicks off a week long tribute to a Cat who has been an important and valued guide over the past few months the inspirational Terry Callier whose qualities are beyond doubt and question. A poet who stands tall in an age where it seems to me many are retreating to Plato’s ‘cave’ of illusion and appearance.

Highlighted from his 1973 set ‘What Colour Is Love’

Listen Tune. 

“Is it wrong or is it right,
Is it black or is it white,
What colour is love,
Is it here or is it there,
Is it really everywhere,
What colour is love,
Is it strong like the mountains
Or deep like a fountain,that’s flowing free
And what about me,
How can you receive,
If youre not a believer
Is it blue like the sky,
And does it really reach that high,
What colour is love,
Is it near or is it far,
Is it distant like a star,
What colour is love,
Does it glow like an ember,
And do you you remember,
If love doesn’t last,
Does it live in the past,
And a heart cannot live,
If a heart isn’t giving,
When it’s over does it show,
Does it leave an afterglow
And I really want to know,
What colour is love?

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5 thoughts on “musicology #409

  1. I’ve mentioned before on here my ignorance of The Man and Poet Terry Callier.

    You introduced me to him… thanks. Keep it coming from the heart (and saddle!).

    I’ve been meaning to post this for a while but every time I thought about it you’d “beat me to the punch” and lay another slice/piece of The Man’s magic on us.

    Should I have posted this on the more recent #421 or #429? Well, I considered it but then decided not to because your accompanying texts to both were – to say the least – too “raw”: the one (#421) was too poignant; the other (#429) too bleak. To comment would have been… well, if not disrespectful, then…..

    So, in case other vistors to themusicologist out there are as unaware as I…. take this…….

    Terry Callier made one of the great 60s soul albums – but a series of bad breaks meant it remained obscure until the 1990s. He tells Will Hodgkinson about his double life

    If a back catalogue of heartbreak and misery are the credentials for a soul singer, Terry Callier is well qualified for the job. Born in the Chicago projects, Callier has had a lifetime of broken dreams.

    His 1965 debut, The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier, with its tinges of folk and jazz and state-of-the-nation lyrics, is one of the great 60s soul albums, but a series of bad breaks meant that it remained obscure until the early 1990s when Callier, by then working as a computer programmer at the University of Chicago, was discovered by a new generation.

    The setbacks began at the age of 17 when his mother told him that, rather than become a superstar on the legendary Chess label, he had to stay at home and revise for his exams.

    “I started in doo-wop groups when I was about 12,” says Callier, who seems to have used the experiences of his troubled life to build wisdom rather than bitterness. ”

    And what set the best ones apart was that they wrote their own material. Some of the poetry was fantastic: the Moroccos had a song called Bang Goes Your Heart and the Eldorados had Crazy Little Mama, and they’re just beautiful; I still listen to them today. They made me realise that you have to be original.”

    Callier spent his lunch periods at high school singing in the bathrooms, principally because the marble walls created a nice echo. “I remember like it was yesterday the time the guys in the group let me sing This Is the Night by the Cool Jets, after a year of being in the background. Some guy stopped me half way and said: ‘Why are you trying to sound like somebody else? Just try and sound like you .’ That was the most influential thing anyone ever told me.”

    By the time he was 17, Callier joined Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters at Chess records after taking an audition. He went in the following Monday to make a recording and by Saturday his debut single was a hit. Leonard Chess asked Callier to join Etta James and Muddy Waters on a Chess tour of America, so he went home to pack his suitcase. That was when his mother stepped in. “I didn’t say anything to her apart from ‘pass the mustard’ for a week or two, but in retrospect she made the right decision. At that age, I would have done everything to excess.”

    Three years later Callier was at college, where he was exposed to the folk music explosion that hit America in the early 60s. “A guy in the dorm room had a guitar and he was always teaching me songs. So I went down to a coffee house in Chicago, and soon I was playing Wednesday through Sunday at that coffee house and having the time of my life. So I had to go to my mum again and say: ‘Now I’m really not going back to school.’ This time she said OK.”

    Alongside Bob Dylan, Fred Neil and a local folk singer called Bob Gibson, Callier was discovering John Coltrane, who had just released his free jazz album A Love Supreme. “He was playing at a little club called McKees, and I got there early to see Elvin Jones nailing his drum kit to the floor. Then the quartet rocks on stage, and I wasn’t prepared for the intensity with which these guys threw themselves into the music – I had never seen men do that before in my life and it frightened me. It made me realise that everything in life was in this music: the beautiful and the ugly, the godly and ungodly. Not everybody wants to touch those places because there are things we have to forget in order to live with ourselves, and that music didn’t let you have any secrets.”

    Callier recorded his album, The New Folk Sound, under the influence of Coltrane, using two upright basses and two acoustic guitars to create a unique sound. The record would probably have been a hit but for the fact that its producer, Samuel Charters, took the tapes of The New Folk Sound on a voyage of self-discovery into the North American desert, where he lived with the Yaki Indians for the next three years. The album was finally released on Prestige in 1968, and Callier only knew about it after his brother saw it in a Chicago antiques store. “I went in, bought the album, and took it home. Then I decided to make another go of it.”

    Callier kept making records and touring until 1983, when he received a call from his 12-year-old daughter. She told him that she was coming to live with him in Chicago, so he gave up showbusiness for the job with the University of Chicago. “I didn’t touch a guitar from 1983 until 1988 because I was just too busy. Then in 1991 I got a call from a guy in London called Eddie Pillar, who ran a label called Acid Jazz. He told me that he had been playing my records in clubs and he wanted to re-release them and get me playing in England again. So for the next few years, I came over to do gigs in London in my vacation time from my day job.”

    In 1998 Callier’s album Timepeace won a United Nations award, which meant that his employers at the University of Chicago finally learned about his double life. After picking up the award in New York, he came into work to discover that he had four hours to clear his desk.

    His new album, Lookin’ Out, marks the latest stage in what has happened in his life since then. “After all that had happened over the years, I wasn’t looking to be a musician again because I had got used to having that pay cheque every two weeks. I’ve been inspired by Billie Holiday and Miles Davis, and I think that Hank Williams was a genius, but those people were never going to do anything but make music and live that life. That’s not me. If I hadn’t lost my job, I wouldn’t be here now.”

    This geezer’s up there with the likes of Gil Scott-Heron in my book!

    This is for you today!

    “Does it glow like an ember,
    And do you you remember,
    If love doesn’t last,
    Does it live in the past,
    And a heart cannot live,
    If a heart isn’t giving,
    When it’s over does it show,
    Does it leave an afterglow
    And I really want to know,
    What colour is love?
    Does it glow like an ember,
    And do you you remember,
    If love doesn’t last,
    Does it live in the past,
    And a heart cannot live,
    If a heart isn’t giving,
    When it’s over does it show,
    Does it leave an afterglow
    And I really want to know,
    What colour is love?”

    Acknowledgements/thanks to Will Hodgkinson’s tribute to Terry Callier printed in The Guardian.

    Like

    1. Yep..Terry Callier..
      no mention there of his childhood friend..Curtis Mayfield…Although the John Coltrane experience crops up…and having had the profound and deeply moving transcendental experience of ‘A Love Supreme’ I know EXACTLY how he felt. In fact I would go as far as to say that for me no-one has reached the Trane’s heights..the communicator supreme who can and does turn the soul inside out.

      Like

  2. crops up?

    “I had never seen men do that before in my life and it frightened me. It made me realise that everything in life was in this music: the beautiful and the ugly, the godly and ungodly. Not everybody wants to touch those places because there are things we have to forget in order to live with ourselves, and that music didn’t let you have any secrets.”

    …… bit of an understatement there sir!

    Like

    1. understatement?

      “and having had the profound and deeply moving transcendental experience of ‘A Love Supreme’ I know EXACTLY how he felt. In fact I would go as far as to say that for me no-one has reached the Trane’s heights..the communicator supreme who can and does turn the soul inside out”.

      Like

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