Have you ever heard of the soul singer who gave up music for fifteen years to become a computer programmer? This isn’t a joke, this is what happened to Terry Callier back in 1983. Before this, the two albums Terry recorded for Elektra in 1977 and 1978 hadn’t been a commercial success, although they’d been well received by critics. The second of these albums Turn You To Love, had been released in 1978, and was the last album Terry released for twenty years, until Timepeace in 1998. 

Before Terry Callier recorded what would become Turn You To Love, he’d released some highly regarded albums for both Cadet and Elektra. Terry’s career started at Cadet Records, a subsidiary company of the legendary Chess Records, where he released a trio of critically acclaimed albums. The first of these Charles Stepney produced albums was Occasional Rain released in 1972. What Color Is Love followed in 1973 and I Just Can’t Help Myself in 1974. Sadly, the albums weren’t a commercial success, and Terry was dropped by Cadet. Adding to Terry’s woes was the closure of the Chicago Songwriters Workshop in 1976. This had been set up by Jerry Butler and Terry had joined in 1970. However, Terry’s luck changed in 1977, when he signed for a new label, Elektra.

During his time at Elektra, Terry only recorded two albums, however, they were two great albums. The first was Fire On Ice, released in 1977 and produced by Richard Evans. On the album Terry wrote four of the nine tracks himself, and four others with songwriting partner Larry Wade. With an all-star band backing him that included Philip Upchurch, Larry Wade, George Bohannon and Eddie Harris, and with Minnie Ripperton singing backing vocals, Fire On Ice was a great sounding album. Although critics loved the album, it failed commercially, and was a disappointing start to Terry’s Elektra career. Would things improve with his next album, Turn You To Love?

Like Fire On Ice, Terry managed to assemble a hugely talented group of musicians to accompany him. Looking through the sleeve-notes, it’s like a list of the great and the good of jazz, soul and funk music. Fred Wesley, James Brown’s bandleader and trombonist features on the album, guitarist Wah-Wah Watson, bassist Keni Burke, saxophonist Ernie Watts and keyboard player Earl Van Dyke, are just a few of the names that played on the album. The album was produced, arranged and conducted by Reginald “Sonny” Burke, while Dr. Don Mizell was executive producer and Larry Wade associate producer. 

Again, the Terry Callier and Larry Wade songwriting partnership contributed four tracks for Turn You To Love, one of them with producer Reginald “Sonny” Burke. Terry contributed two tracks, Occasional Rain and Ordinary Joe, both of which had featured on his debut album for Cadet, Occasional Rain. There were two covers versions on the album, one was of Steely Dan’s Do It Again. The other was Still Water (Love) co-written by Smokey Robinson and Frank Wilson. Overall, it was mixture of something new, something borrowed and something blue. However, would Turn You To Love be more successful than its predecessor Fire On Ice?

Sadly, when Turn You To Love was released in 1979, it was a familiar story for Terry, the critics loved the album, but it wasn’t a commercial success. With the benefit of hindsight, disco was king in 1979, and albums by singers like Terry Callier were almost unfashionable. Singers like Bobby Womack, O.V. Wright, Syl Johnson and Ann Peebles suffered the same fate. Like Terry would soon be, Bobby Womack was without a record label, with record labels choosing disco over quality jazz and soul. There was one crumb of comfort for Terry with Turn You To Love, when Sign of the Times provided Terry with the biggest hit single of his career. It was released as a single after DJ Frankie Crocker used it as the theme for his radio show. On its release, it reached number seventy-eight in the US R&B Charts. This sadly, was the only success from Turn You To Love. Not long after this, Terry was dropped by Elektra, and for the second time in three years, he was without a record label. 

Terry continued to tour until 1983, but never made another studio album during this period. By 1983, changes were afoot in his life. He won custody of his daughter, and started taking evening classes in computer programming. This lead to him taking what would be a prolonged sabbatical from music, which lasted fifteen years. During this period, Terry gained a degree in sociology, raised his daughter, and worked at the University of Chicago. During this period Terry never recorded any music, and the only album that was released was a live album of a 1982 show in Washington, TC In DC. It wasn’t until 1998 that Terry released another album Timepeace, twenty years after the release of Turn You To Love, which I’ll now tell you about.

Turn You To Love opens with the Larry Wade and Terry Callier penned Sign of the Times, which gave Terry his biggest hit single in America, reaching number seventy-eight in the US R&B Charts. Straight away, when the track opens, you realize that this is a really catchy track, that will sweep you along. It’s quite different from Terry’s Cadet era music, with a much more contemporary sound that mixes R&B with elements of funk. This funk influence is immediately noticeable, when keyboards, guitars and the rhythm section combine to produce a funk drenched sound, before a piano enters. Then when Terry’s vocal enters, it too sounds quite different. It’s the way he sings the song that’s different, not as reserved or thoughtful, more moderne in his delivery, full of joy, accompanied by a growling, yet equally joyous backing vocalist. The mid-tempo, dance-floor friendly arrangement almost bounces along, keyboards and synths combining with the rhythm section, while Terry delivers the lyrics with a mixture of emotion, passion and joy. Although quite different to his Cadet era music, it’s hugely catchy and demonstrates a different side to Terry’s music.

Larry Wade wrote Pyramids of Love, a very different song to its predecessor. It’s a much slower track, with some lovely lyrics about love. Swathes of keyboards, rhythm section, guitars and percussion combine before Terry’s tender, gentle vocal enters. Behind him the arrangement is quite full,everything combining perfectly, with subtle backing vocalists accompanying Terry. One of these backing vocalists is Terry, and they repeat the lyrics just after his lead vocal, which has an effective call and response style. Later, strings sweep in, providing a contrast to the combination of keyboards, percussion and rhythm section. By then, Terry’s voice is increasing in power and emotion, soaring high above the beautiful, meandering arrangement, which includes flourishes of synths and backing vocalists accompany Terry. Although this is a very different track from the opening track, it’s much more what you’d expect from Terry, with his tender, thoughtful vocal delivering some beautiful lyrics against a lovely, meandering arrangement.

The title track Turn You To Love was another song written by Terry and Larry Wade. A Spanish guitar opens the track, with a slow, subtle rhythm section and piano accompanying a thoughtful, but beautiful vocal from Terry. Lush strings slowly enter, as the arrangement gradually unfolds. Later, Larry Wade adds a chiming, guitar solo, giving way to sweeping strings that are the perfect accompaniment for Terry’s tender vocal, as he delvers the lyrics about love. These lyrics are the best from the Callier-Wade songwriting partnership on the album. With Terry delivering them with a combination of tenderness and thoughtfulness, and an arrangement that’s both understated and beautiful, this is one of the best songs on the album.

If someone had said can you imagine Terry Callier covering Steely Dan I’d have struggled to imagine the scenario. To me, it was like a line out of Alan Partridge. However, when I first heard this many album years ago, that’s what I encountered. It seems a strange choice for this album, but somehow, Terry and his band make it work. A spacious combination of rhythm section give way to keyboards blazing horns and searing, soaring guitars, before Terry gives slightly strained version of Walter Beckett and Donald Fagen’s lyrics. As the song progresses, he starts to get into the song, while guitars chime and soar, punchy drums and rasping, blazing horns combine. With backing vocalists accompanying him, the song fuses elements of rock, funk and jazz music. It’s a very different version to Steely Dan’s, who seem able to play the track a with looseness and freedom, that allows the song to breath, yet still remaining technically a tight and cohesive unit. Here, the song doesn’t seem to suit Terry’s voice and he has to alter his phrasing, while the band don’t allow the song space to breath. By the end of the track, however, Terry and his band manage to make the song work, just. It’s far from the best song on the album, and surely a song that would’ve suited Terry better could’ve been found. His band are technically excellent, but the song has too rocky a sound for Terry, and I’m sure after the album was released, many people maybe even Terry, questioned the song’s inclusion on the album.

Side two of Turn You To Love opens with the return of one of Terry’s classic songs, Ordinary Joe, which was popular in Northern Soul circles. Here, the song is given a new twist, speeded up with braying horns opening the track, accompanied by the rhythm section and keyboards. When Terry’s vocal enters, it too is quicker, as the song swings beautifully along, given a jazzy twist. His voice is a combination of tenderness and sometimes power, with emotion, joy and passion ever-present. Meanwhile a jazzy bass combines with rasping horns and the rhythm section, with guitars chiming throughout. Together with Terry’s jazz tinged vocal, they transform a classic song into something new, dynamic and full of energy. However, as good as the song is, and it’s excellent, I much prefer the original, which is one of Terry’s best ever songs.

While Ordinary Joe was speeded up, Occasional Rain is slowed way down. It was the title track from Terry’s 1972 album, and like Ordinary Joe is one of his best ever songs. However, this version of Occasional Rain works well, and the slow, spartan arrangement works well, displaying a new, and very beautiful side to the track. With a gentle acoustic guitar and violin combining, Terry’s thoughtful and considered, gentle vocal enters. Later, a harp enters, with flourishes of its beauty combining with the acoustic guitars. This combination is hugely powerful and deeply moving, and with Terry giving one of his best vocals on Turn You To Love, the result is a stunning version of a classic track.

Smokey Robinson cowrote Still Water (Love) with Frank Wilson. It’s another love song, with love compared to still water, as both run deep. As the sound of waves crashing against a beach open the track, a saxophone plays, with Terry’s voice drifting in and out of the track. He’s accompanied by backing vocalists, who play an important part in the track’s success. With piano, rhythm section and guitars accompanying him, a joyful Terry, carefully delivers the lyrics. Horns rasp and backing vocalists sweep in, while the piano is ever-present. The interplay between Terry and the backing vocalists, works really well, and their united soulful voices are a welcome addition. They combine well with Terry and the arrangement resulting in a beautiful, thoughtful track.

Tender, lovely backing vocalists open You and Me (Will Always Be In Love), co-written by Terry, Larry Wade and producer Reginald “Sonny” Burke. Again, the backing vocalists play a vital role in the song, accompanying Terry during the song, while his considered and gentle vocal is sung against a slow, slightly sad arrangement. it’s just the rhythm section, guitars and piano that combine, and for most of the track, it meanders slowly and subtly along. The only time this changes is when Larry Wade unleashes a chiming solo, with flourishes of his jazz guitar, that combine with Terry. Although this sounds good, the arrangement may have sounded better without this, as it detracts from Terry’s vocal and sounds of place with the rest of the arrangement. Despite this, it’s another gorgeous love song, tenderly sung by Terry.

Turn You To Love closes with another Larry Wade and Terry Callier song A Mother’s Love. It’s about a son thanking his mother for all she did for him, all the sacrifices she made for him and how he owes everything to her. A combination of rhythm section, backing vocalists and keyboards accompany Terry. His voice has a tenderness as he expresses gratitude against an arrangement that flows along with horns rasping, and the rhythm section adding brief bursts of drama. Mostly, the arrangement has an understated sound that suits the lyrics. As the song progresses, Terry’s vocal grows in power, as the emotion and passion in his voice grows. As the song ends he’s accompanied by backing vocalists whose voices are perfectly suited to his voice, while the piano and rhythm section provide a subtle and beautiful accompaniment. When this lovely song ends, it seems a good way to end the album. With such lovely lyrics, a gentle, understated arrangement and a tender, emotive vocal full of sincerity and love from Terry, how could you follow that?

Of the two albums Terry recorded for Elektra, Turn You To Love was quite different from its predecessor Fire On Ice. With covers of Steely Dan’s Do It Again, and re-workings of classic Terry Callier songs, like Occasional Rain and Ordinary Joe this saw Terry’s music move in a new direction. Mostly this worked, with Do It Again being the only questionable track on the album. Although Terry and his band made it work, it just seemed the wrong track for Terry. The new versions of Occasional Rain and Ordinary Joe worked well, with the new version of Occasional Rain, adding something new, subtle and quite beautiful to the track. Terry’s cover of the Smokey Robinson and Frank Wilson track Still Water (Love), worked really well and is one of my favorite songs on the album. Of the four songs Terry and Larry Wade cowrote, Pyramids of Love and Turn You To Love are the best, and among the album’s highlights. Apart from the questionable Do It Again, Turn You To Love is an album with some great music on it. Like I said earlier Turn You To Love was a case of something new, something borrowed and something blue. Sadly it was the last studio album Terry recorded for twenty years, until 1998s Timepeace. This sabbatical from music meant that one of the most talented singer, songwriter and musician of his generation was lost to music for far too long. Thankfully, since his return to music in 1998, Terry has recorded some excellent music, including Timepeace and Lifetime, his two best albums since his return from musical exile. Somehow, he effortlessly recorded some stunning music twenty years after the release of Turn You To Love, an album which like its predecessors, has some great music from the hugely talented Terry Caliier. Standout Tracks: Pyramids of Love, Turn You To Love, Occasional Rain and Still Water (Love).



1 Comment


    1. Terry Callier : Turn You To Love (1979) | Mr. Moo's What Da Funk

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