This month, Craft Recordings releases an expanded deluxe edition of the late Terry Callier’s remarkable debut album, The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier. This reissue includes five previously unreleased alternate takes (“900 Miles,” “Promenade In Green,” “It’s About Time” and “Be My Woman”) and two recordings making their vinyl debut (“Jack O’Diamonds” and “Golden Apples of the Sun”). “This record is like a river, ebbing and flowing,” wrote Nik Rayne of the Myrrors for Aquarium Drunkard. “That may sound vague, but it’s probably the best way I can think to describe the music contained on the 1964 recordings that make up Terry Callier’s debut record The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier. Every time I put this music on I drift away, caught up in the slow, rolling rhythms and sad, rambling lyrics. Though Callier is best known for his run of unique psychedelic records in the early seventies, it’s his earliest material that has taken the strongest hold on my soul: a molasses-thick concoction of traditional American folksong and jazz, with Callier’s warm, deep croon practically floating across the stripped-back musical arrangements. Aside from Terry’s own finger-picked acoustic guitar, the record’s only other contributors are Terbour Attenborough and John Tweedle dueting on the bass.”
The new edition includes new liner notes written by Aquarium Drunkard’s Jason P. Woodbury. Presented here, an excerpt from those notes. The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier is available for pre-order now.
On July 29th, 1964, the 23-year-old Terry Orlando Callier hunkered down with supervisor Samuel Charters at Webb Recording in Chicago to record what would become his debut LP, The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier. Committing to tape a series of folk standards, the sessions paired Callier’s deep blue voice and acoustic guitar with two bassists, Terbour Attenborough and John Tweedle. Though the material retains its traditional roots, the peculiar configuration of instrumentalists, inspired by John Coltrane’s work with two bassists, nods toward Callier’s jazz leanings as does his forlorn phrasing. While Callier’s trailblazing run of records through the 1970s would more fully fuse jazz, soul, gospel and psychedelia, The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier conveys the promise and power of Callier in his earliest days. It’s a document marking a particular moment, capturing a young man in his element, his voice and songs timeless.
Terry Callier was born in Chicago in 1945. He was surrounded by music in what would become the Cabrini-Green neighborhood. His mother loved the sounds of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and all around him were musicians. Pianist Ramsey Lewis was around in those days; Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were out peddling their gritty blues; among Terry’s peers were the fledgling Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler of the Impressions. He began singing in local doo-wop groups in his teens and while still in high school, cut “Look at Me Now,” a single for the legendary Chess Records. Booming with horns and bombastic drums, the danceable “Northern Soul” composition differs greatly from the stark melancholy of The New Folk Sound…but it showcases Callier’s voice already sounding fully formed, husky and heavy, much more lived in and knowing than his youth should’ve allowed for.
In what would prove to be the first in a series of significant delays to his career, Callier’s mother wouldn’t let him hit the road in support of the record, insisting instead that he finish high school first. He obliged, but music stayed on his mind. While attending college, he became enamored with the popular folk song wave sweeping across the nation’s youth, picking up an acoustic guitar from his dorm room neighbor, but jazz drew his attention too. One night, he turned up at a small club called McKee’s Disc Jockey Lounge
to find Elvin Jones nailing his drum kit to the stage, preparing for a performance with John Coltrane. The
performance had a transformative effect on Callier. The music that night presented a raw intensity Callier wasn’t prepared for, and opened his mind to the range of spiritual expression made available by music. “It made me realize that everything in life was in this music: the beautiful and the ugly, the godly and ungodly,” he’d tell writer Will Hodgkinson in a 2004 interview for The Guardian.
Initially stunned out of commission by what he witnessed Coltrane and his band do, Callier took to the acoustic guitar and devoted himself to music fulltime. Inspired by the poetic sounds of Bob Dylan and
Fred Neil, he began playing Chicago folk clubs. He picked up a residency spot at the Fickle Pickle, a local
club managed by Mike Bloomfield. He was playing five nights a week when he informed his mother he wanted to pursue music full-time, and this time, she didn’t balk at the prospect. “I had a bar tab, I was making what seemed like excellent money for what I was doing, and I was having a great time,” Callier told Peter Margasak in 1998 for an interview in his Post No Bills column for the Chicago Reader.
Playing alongside compatriots like Dino Valenti, Josh White Junior, Fred Neil, and his friend David
Crosby, Callier brought a faraway yearn to the folk material of the day. Perhaps it was what he’d absorbed
from Coltrane — the desire to bring “the beautiful and ugly” to his music — that attracted famed blues
producer Samuel Charters to him. “In a world of aggression and attitude, Terry is a very gentle person,” Charters said in an interview with the New York Times. “His music is out of step.”
The July session went smoothly – Charter’s handwritten reel notes label nearly every performance “fine,”
indicating only a little roughness and the occasional sour note, which remain on the final album, giving it
an air of honesty. Most of the songs were recorded in one take. Alternate versions reveal slight differences, but the interplay between Callier, Attenborough, and Tweedle is astounding. On album highlight “Spin, Spin, Spin,” the three players weave in and out with each other, playing in three individual time signatures: 6/8, 2/4, and 4/4, respectively. “For although a mere two basses and guitar is not exactly a rhythm section, there are a whole lot of tempos going on,” writer Rent Foreman indicates in his original liner notes.
Bringing a swinging lilt to the traditional material, Callier imbues “It’s About Time,” a reflection on the “Age of Anxiety” that seems to have stretched all the way from 1964 to the present day, with a haunting grace. “It’s about time for the dawn of peace/we’ll tear down the walls, break the sword and drum/yeah, you
and me, brother, we can overcome.”