"I first heard Terry in 1973, when I was an editor at DownBeat, and I was mesmerized by what he could do on stage," Verve Records' then-president Chuck Mitchell told me as "TimePeace" was being released. "I considered him a major artist."
"Eventually, I moved to New York, Terry disappeared from sight, and I still treasured his recordings.
"And then a colleague of mine called me up and said, 'You'll never guess who I saw … Terry Callier! He's been in Chicago all along, and he's got demos!' "
Mitchell signed Callier, who couldn't believe the turn of events.
"To say the least, I'm surprised, because I thought my time in music was pretty much over," Callier said to me. "I have to admit that I was a little nostalgic about the past, but I didn't really wish for a return to the music business."
Yet Callier did return, generating critical accolades.
"In truth, little has changed in Callier's approach," wrote Richard Harrington in the Washington Post in 2000. "His often-hushed vocals tend toward the cool and understated, his mostly-acoustic backing to the spare and supple, his lyrics to the metaphysical and, on occasion, socially conscious."
But Callier's comeback only went so far, a music industry increasingly obsessed with youth and massive sales not wholly welcoming to an artist of Callier's vintage and sophistication. Even so, while based in the Detroit area during the past few years, he toured Europe regularly until he was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago, said his daughter. Callier lived with her while receiving treatments here during the past year, the family said in a statement.
Sunny Callier said she hoped to hold a public memorial for her father in the near future.
"He was loved all over the world," said Sunny Callier, who added that her father was surrounded by family when he died. "People are saying it's a loss for everyone."
Everyone who loved music of the most fiercely individual kind.
To read more from Howard Reich, go to chicagotribune.com/reich