Influential but overlooked jazz-folk singer Terry Callier died Saturday at a Chicago hospital after a lengthy battle with throat cancer. He was 67.
Described by the Chicago Sun-Times as a “man of many moods, a musician of varied colors,” Callier fused jazz, soul, folk and a bit of funk throughout a 50-year career.
Signed to Chess Records as a teen, Callier cut his debut single, “Look at Me Now,” in 1962, but a full album did not emerge until 1968 when “The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier” was released to little notice. He was prolific in the 1970s, releasing a trio of acclaimed (but ignored) albums that inspired the term “jazz-folk,” “Occasional Rain” (1972), “What Color Is Love” (1973) and “I Just Can’t Help Myself” (1974).
He resurfaced in 1978 with Elektra, releasing “Fire on Ice” and “Turn You to Love” a year later. The latter contained the minor hit “Sign of the Times,” which cracked the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 1979 at No. 78.
In the early 1980s Callier put his music career on hold, becoming a computer programmer while focusing on raising his daughter. “When I got custody of my daughter I had to give up music to raise her properly, she needed me and the music business just didn’t seem like a viable option at that point,” he said, according to BBC News.
It was during this hiatus that a self-funded 1983 single by Callier, called “I Don’t Want to See Myself (Without You),” became a major hit on the British nightclub circuit. The uptempo song, with its shades of funk and disco, led to numerous concerts on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1997, Callier contributed to singer-songwriter Beth Orton’s “Best Bit EP” and two years later sang on her BRIT Awards-winning album “Central Reservation.” On Twitter, Orton paid tribute by pointing fans to a video of her and Callier performing the Tim Buckley classic, “Dolphins.”
“This was one of the best nights of my life. Such a privilege and joy – RIP dear Terry Callier,” she noted.
Callier also sang vocals on Massive Attack’s 2006 single, “Live With Me.”
Callier’s record label Mr. Bongo, which released six of his albums from 2001 to 2009, said on its website that a memorial in London will be announced.
“He was by far the most moving performer I have ever seen and could make a crowded room fall silent with a breath,” the label’s Jane Dudworth said. “The guaranteed queue of love-struck women after the gigs was a testament to his charm.”