Terry Callier - alive!
"Alive" is the titel of Terry Calliers latest album - published in 2001. During his Germany-tour this spring he gave proof of really being a legend - "the one last soul legend existing on this planet" - as people use to call him. A statement like this may seem problematic. However, Terry Callier does combine singing with a message, with stories that are full of feeling and appellations. He considers himself not a political man but a "social worker in music" - and he is a man with a heart in which the whole world has found a place.
Terry Callier (Foto: David Levine)
Yes, Terry Callier indeed is a legend and a personality - someone, who has a message to tell. He can enter a room and fill it with his presence, warm it up just by being there. Musically, his roots lie in Blues and Soul - roots which he never denies on his way straight forward. - As the scheduled interview in Berlin could not take place, due to voice-problems of our hero (which luckily did not hinder him to perform great that evening!) - the Internet as a worldwide medium made it possible to take a second chance per e-mail. Here we are:
Carina: The concert in Berlin was the last one of your tour - how is the recognition of your music in Germany in general? What kind of people are visiting your concerts?
Terry: The music is very well received in Germany. At the concerts we are seeing a mix of people from very young to middle-aged. There seems to be a true appreciation for what the band is doing that crosses generation, age and color barriers.
Carina: You sing and play the guitar - how did you learn that? Are you selftaught?
Terry: My first instrument was the piano -- I began taking lessons when I was seven or eight years old. I didn't start playing the guitar until I went away to college and got involved in the folk music scene. I studied classical guitar for a year or so in the late 60's and I`ve recently started taking formal guitar lessons again. I want to be able to play the things I hear and further study is the only way to get to that point.
Carina: You withdrew from the music-scene to care for your daughter in the 80s and worked as a computer programmer - in 1991 an Acid Jazz Label picked up your music again. Could you please tell something about the development that took place since then?
Terry: I left the music scene in 1983 in order to provide my daughter with the support she needed. I still played guitar around the house and between 1983 and 1991 I may have played in public no more than six or eight times.
When I received the call from Eddie Pilar at Acid Jazz Records, I was quite surprised. I had no idea there was an interest in my music in the UK and Europe at that time. I played my first gigs in the UK late in 1991 and that led directly to meeting Giles Peterson and Russ Dewbury. Together, they arranged for Chuck Mitchell (who was CEO of Verve Records in the US at that time) to attend one of the concerts. Shortly afterwards, I recorded 'TimePeace' and a year later 'LifeTime'.
None of it would have been possible without the initial interest expressed by Eddie Pilar and the Acid Jazz label.
Terry Callier (Foto: David Levine)
Carina: Your music is defined as jazz, soul, folk - what name would you give it yourself?
Terry: People hear in this music the things they are most familiar with. Folk music fans hear the folk part of it, jazz fans are drawn to the improvised quality and soul fans can feel what's happening. I'm not sure what label to put on the music -- it's what I do and it's been influenced by every type of music I've ever listened to.
Carina: What colour is love", "TimePeace" - lyrics concerning feelings, love, social engagement - is it with the help of lyrics possible to give people a hint, to lead them to a special direction? In other words: how much can music influence people?
Terry: Music can only influence the people who hear and appreciate it. Hopefully, we'll be able to increase the size of the audience without changing the music or the focus of it. I'm grateful that there do seem to be people who are interested in the music and what it's trying to say.
Carina: What would you say is more important for you: your compositions or your lyrics?
Terry: Music and lyrics are both important to me. The music has to have some originality and so do the words. At the best of times, the music truly fits the lyrics and helps define the sound and deliver the message.
Carina: You wrote texts like "African violet" or "Lament for the late AD" - where do you see your own place in the american society? How is the situation between black and white people in the United States today?
Terry: It has always been difficult for America to deal with it's racial history and the resulting problems. There are some places in the states where black and white people are able to live in relative peace and harmony and there are places in the US where that is impossible. In addition, there are Hispanic and other minorities in the states who have the same problems (more or less) as Black people and Native Americans.
Terry Callier (Foto: Davis Levine)
Carina: As a singer / songwriter - do you have a certain responsibility for what happens in the world?
Terry: I think all artists (writers, directors, painters, musicians, film-makers, whatever) have a responsibility to try and move society to a higher vibe. I think that we haven't lived up to the task, not necessarily because we don't or didn't want to but because the entertainment industry isn't interested in messages as such -- they are only concerned with what is selling. In addition, the industry has control over what is presented as commercial and if they want a certain type of music to be popular they increase it's exposure and if there's a certain type of music they want to suppress, they have no problem doing that.
Being a musician means presenting your music as clearly as possible so that people can draw hope, inspiration and the other things they need directly from it.
Carina:You used the term "all you need is faith" - wherefrom do you get your faith, your inspiration and your strength?
Terry: 'All you need is Faith' is a line from Curtis Mayfield's composition called "People Get Ready". I'm trying to follow the Sufi path -- we're taught that it is still possible to establish a relationship with the Creator of the Universe; to hold on to it and be guided by it. The stronger the relationship is, the stronger the person will be. That's all I can say about it at this time.
Carina: Have you got a sort of philosophy for life?
Terry: There is only one philosophy that's worth having and that is 'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you'. If we could live by that, there would be a lot less pain and fury in the world ...