It was late Sunday night when the news came through that Terry Callier had passed away. He was aged just sixty-seven and had lost an eighteen month battle with throat cancer. Straight away, memories came flooding back for me. It was the late-nineties, and I’d headed to Glasgow to one of Terry’s comeback concerts. The small venue was packed, with a buzz of anticipation spreading through the hall. People were only half-listening to the DJ spinning an eclectic selection of tracks. Then the lights were dimmed, and Terry walked almost shyly to the microphone. The audience were on their feet, believers to a man or woman in Terry’s music. As he almost humbly welcomed and thanked the audience, the lights dimmed and Terry launched into a set of his classic tracks interspersed with track from his two comeback albums Timepeace and Lifetime. Quite simply describing the music as beautiful, spiritual mystical and deeply moving. At last, and belatedly Terry Caliier’s music was finding the audience it deserved. Part two of Terry Caliier’s career was unfolding and in Glasgow, like much of Britain, a new generation of music fans were ready to enjoy the journey. Sadly, Terry Caliier’s music wasn’t always as appreciated.

Terry Callier was born in Chicago, in 1945, growing up in the North Side of Chicago. Among his friends, were other giants of soul music, including Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield and Major Lance. Soon, Terry was singing in neighborhood doo wop group. Then, aged just seventeen, Terry auditioned for Chess Records, recording his debut single Look At Me Now. After that, Terry started playing folk clubs and coffee houses, before falling under the spell of legendary jazz musician John Coltrane’s music. 

By 1964, Samuel Charters of Prestige Records met Terry. Samuel was so impressed by Terry’s music and talent, that he encouraged Terry to record an album. Terry headed into the recording studio and recorded what became The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier. Aged nineteen Terry had recorded his debut album and it was ready for release. Then disaster struck. For some inexplicable reason Samuel Charters, decided to take the tapes of the album to the Mexican desert. This delayed the release of the album until 1968. When The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier was belatedly released, music had changed. Sadly, it failed to give Terry the commercial breakthrough his talent deserved. The next time Terry released his second album, it be a new decade.

It was at Cadet Records, a subsidiary of Chess Records that Terry Callier released a trio of minor classics. For fans of Terry Callier, these three albums are quite simply, amongst Terry Callier’s finest work. The first of these albums were Occasional Rain was released in 1972, which featured the classic tracks Ordinary Joe and the elegant, beautiful and moving title-track Occasional Rain. Sadly, commercial success eluded Terry. What Color Is Love followed in 1973 and saw Terry at his very best. Dancing Girl, Just As Long As We’re In Love and the seminal title-track What Color Is Love. Still the commercial success and critical acclaim the Terry’s music deserved, eluded him. When the last of this trio of albums, I Just Can’t Help Myself, released in 1974 and failed to catch the public’s attention, Terry’s career at Cadet was over. These three albums remained hidden gems, cherished by a small band of dedicated followers of Terry’s music. It would be over twenty-five years later, that they were rediscovered by a new generation of music lovers.

After being dropped by Cadet Records, Terry Callier signed for Elektra. He recorded two critically acclaimed albums for Elektra. Fire On Ice, released in 1977, was the first of these albums. Again, it failed commercially and so did the followup 1978s Turn You To Love. While both albums were critically acclaimed, they weren’t a commercial success released as they were at the height of the disco era. Little did Terry realize, but it would be another twenty-years before he released another studio album.

Although Terry Callier continued to tour until 1983, he didn’t release any further studio albums. It was that year that he was given custody of his daughter. Determined to bring his daughter up properly, Terry retired from music. He took classes in computer programming and got a job at the University of Chicago. In his spare time, he studied for a degree in sociology. During this period, only one album was released, TC In DC, a live album recorded in Washington in 1982, before his retirement. It was released in 1996.

In the late 1980s’ UK DJs started playing Terry Callier’s music in clubs. This led to Acid Jazz Records releasing I Don’t Want To See Myself (Without You), a track Callier recorded in 1983. From then on, Terry made trips to the UK to play concerts during his holidays from work.

After a prolonged absence for music, Terry Callier began to make a comeback in the late 1990s. He recorded a track with Beth Orton on her Best Bit EP, which was later on her Trailer Park album. Then in 1998, he recorded Timepeace, which was the album that marked the second coming of Terry Callier. It seemed Terry hadn’t lost any of his talent as a songwriter or singer. Soon, a new generation of music lovers discovered Terry’s music. His Cadet and Elektra albums became prized possessions of this new generation of music lovers. Rounding off Terry Caliier’s comeback, Timepeace received an award from the United Nations for outstanding artistic achievement and his contribution towards world peace.

Following 1998s Timepeace, Terry released Lifetime in 1999. Lifefime was vintage Terry Callier. It was as if after all these years away from music, he was on a creative roll. Somehow, Terry managed to surpass thee quality of Timepeace. Lifetime seemed to feature one great track after another. This included When My Lady Danced, Sunset Boulevard, When The Music Is Gone, Nobody But Yourself and the title-track Lifetime. Terry it seemed, was back for good. Sadly, Terry Callier would only release three further studio albums.

At the dawn of the new millennia, Terry Callier signed to a new label Mr. Bongo. For Mr. Bongo, Terry would release three further studio albums, plus two live albums, 2001s Alive and 2008s Welcome Home. The three studio albums started with 2002s Speak Your Peace, followed by 2004s Lookin’ Out and what proved to be Terry Callier’s swan-song, Hidden Conversations, released in 2009. Following the release of Hidden Conversations, nothing further was heard from Terry Callier. What many people didn’t realize, that Terry was bravely battling cancer.

Now three years after the release of what was Terry Callier’s final studio album Hidden Conversations, Terry Callier lost his brave battle with throat cancer. Music has lost one of the most talented singer and songwriter of his generation. Sadly, music is a much poorer place for Terry’s passing. Not only was Terry Callier a hugely talented singer and songwriter, but a man who was truly humble and unassuming. He leaves behind a back-catalogue of some stunning music. For anyone whose yet to discover Terry’s music, his three Cadet albums Occasional Rain, What Color Is Love and Just As Long As We’re In Love are a good place to start. Add to this, his two Elektra albums Fire On Ice and Turn You To Love and then finally, the best albums from Terry Caliier’s second coming, Timepeace and Lifetime. These seven albums will allow you to hear what is, quite simply, the best music of Terry Callier’s near fifty-year career. 

As someone whose championed Terry Caliier’s career relentlessly, writing about his work and becoming something of an evangelist when it comes to Terry’s music, his passing left me hugely saddened. Seeing Terry Callier live in concert was one of the best concerts in my long concert going career. It was a deeply moving, beautiful, spiritual and almost mystical experience. I count myself hugely fortunate to have witnessed Terry Callier live and to have discovered his music. Hopefully, further generations of music fans will continue to discover and cherish Terry Callier’s music and that it’ll continue to move and affect them, in the same way that it has affected me and many other people. Quite simply, Terry Callier’s music will forever live on. 



  1. Peter

    My name is Peter.Thank you for your article. I live in Ukraine and I love music Terry Callier. We have it almost nobody knows. With great regret that I learned of his death. I have no words … His songs will always be in my heart. Goodbye Terry ….

    • Hi Peter,

      Thanks for your comments. It’s always good to hear from another Terry Caliier fan. I’m glad he has fans as faraway as the Ukraine. His music crosses boundaries and brings people together. I too was saddened by the death of Terry. His music touched a lot of people. However, it will live on even and we as fans of his music should tell others about his music. Thanks for your comments.

      Best Wishes,

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