A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Track #52 on Thommy Ford’s Playlist
Well, this is the last post in 2013’s weekend series on music. Since we kicked the series off with a post on Chicago legend Howlin’ Wolf, I figure why not finish it out with another great Chicagoan: the under appreciated singer/songwriter Terry Callier and his greatest song “Dancing Girl.”
Callier grew up on the north side and was a friend and contemporary of Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler. He had a minor hit for Chess records at the age of 17 with “Look at Me Now,” then recorded an amazing debut album for Prestige in 1964, The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier. That album wouldn’t see the light of day until 1968, but it led to a great three album stint for Chess’s jazz and soul subsidiary, Cadet : Occasional Rain (1972), What Color is Love (1973), and I Just Can’t Help Myself (1974). He would go on to record a couple dance influenced albums in the later seventies, but then retire from music to work as a computer programmer at the University of Chicago. He was rediscovered by English DJs in the late nineties and had a highly successful comeback stint in Europe before he passed away in October of last year.
“Dancing Girl” is from What Color is Love and it’s the perfect example of Callier’s uncategorizable sound and his ambitious songwriting. It kicks off on a cosmic note. A quiet acoustic guitar, an ominous organ, a glockenspiel, and some chimes accompany Callier’s breathy voice: “I saw a dream last night/Bright like a falling star/And the sources of light/Seemed so near yet so far/I thought I was in flight/Out where the planets are/Moving between day and night.” It’s a wonderful melody that eventually twists itself into a kind of jazzy R&B feeling as a slinky bass and some saxophone fills drop into the accompaniment. Callier’s lyrics shift too. Now he sings about mean streets and struggles, poverty, heroin, and prostitution, and he sings it in a bigger tougher voice. Finally the song strides right into full out funk territory and Callier scat-sings and improvises the song’s big crescendo before coming back around to a repeat of the opening section.
It’s one of the great unheralded songs of the 70s, nearly 10 minutes of powerful music that showcase everything Callier could do. Come in and check it out. The rest of the album should have something for everyone too. From the heavy groove of “You’re Gonna Miss You’re Candyman” to the country tinged “I’d Rather be with You” and the pop balladry of “Just as Long as We’re in Love.”
Review by Matthew