Terry Callier – Ordinary Joe

Browsing Facebook the other day a post from the (excellent) Ubiquity Records reminded me that it had been a year since the (even more excellent) Terry Callier had passed away.

For those of you who don’t know his story, it’s an incredible one. He was an active recording artists in the 60s and 70s, produced by the great Charles Stepney, he quit the music biz in the early 80s and got a job as a computer programmer. He was rediscovered by the British Acid Jazz DJs of the late 80s and early 90s, and was championed by the likes of Gilles Peterson. As Eddie Piller, the man who tracked him down, said:

Terry was the most spiritual person I’d ever come across. Very quiet, shy, humble. He had not had a good time in music, but once he came to the UK and saw the passion and obsession that British kids had for him – which he had no idea about, like so many black Americans who come here to perform totally unaware that they are cultural icons – it blew him away

This gave his music career a second lease of life and he went on to tour and record great music with bands and artists including Massive Attack and Paul Weller. If you want a single album to give you an idea of just how great he was, or why so many people absolutely loved him, I’d suggest Alive, his live album recorded at London’s Jazz Cafe and released on the seminal Soho label Mr Bongo. I was lucky enough to see him at the same venue, as well as at the wonderful Union Chapel, both of which are gigs that will stay with me forever.

If there’s one song that sums up Callier for me, it’s the beautiful Ordinary Joe; its melody, rhythm and lyrics all show him at his best. It’s brilliantly unassuming and makes a magnificent legacy for such a great man.

RIP Terry, you were anything but ordinary.

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