The Call Biography
Last updated: 06/18/2011 12:00:00 PM
Music critics cite The Call for the depth of their material and the passion with which it's performed:
"This critically acclaimed band counts Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robertson, and Jim Kerr among it's biggest fans. So what are you waiting for? This is a Call well worth heeding."- Rolling Stone
Chicago Tribune written by Lou Carloza June 1998
While some might consider The Call's best days behind them, the compelling, urgent set delivered by Michael Been and company at the Subterranean Cafe and Cabaret Thursday night decisively proved otherwise. Playing without a bassist (but with original members Scott Musick on drums and Tom Ferrier on guitar), Been wowed the standing-room-only crowd with a balanced mix of old standbys and thoughtful, new originals - including the hypnotic, steam rolling, "All You Hold On To" a bonus track on the just released "The Best Of The Call".
In strong voice through 17 songs and a generous encore, Been held nothing back, bringing a biting rock brilliance to the group's semi-acoustic lineup. He's also a spiritual, anthemic songwriter who flows easily between the searing and the soaring, and the night's set offered strong evidence that The Call, unsung or not, may well be the closest thing America has ever had to its own U2. No wonder Bono, Peter Gabriel and Bruce Cockburn are Call fans.
If pressed to pick a highlight - the entire night played like the crest of a wave - this reviewer gives a nod to "Everywhere I Go" from 1986's "Reconciled". Ferrier and Been stretched the songs middle with atmospheric solos long on emotion and absent of cliche before hammering home the song's thunderous tag. Likewise, it was impossible to resist "The Walls Came Down" - especially when Been, clearly taken by the crowds enthusiasm, let fly a mighty, celebratory whoop at the end of the song. Rock shows may come bigger, flashier and costlier, but they don't get much more immediate and passionate than this.
"Spiritual adventuring by a California band that dances well clear of high seriousness into a unique groove" says TIME magazine of "Into The Woods", rating Into The Woods as one of the top ten rock albums of 1987.
"The Call opened the evening with an urgent , driving set, highlighted by songs from the band's new album, "Into The Woods", and it's previous one, "Reconciled", and proved why this band deserves more attention than it's been receiving."- David Kronke, Dallas times Herald
"The Call consciously avoids trendiness and continues making music from the heart. This is a band to watch."- Dave Golladay, Pittsburgh Leader
"The Call's music is just good well-crafted rock and roll. By the middle of their set, the sold-out Chrysler Hall was crammed with people dancing in, on and around their seats. The Call were great in concert. The crowd loved them, and so did I."- Lia Braganza, York Town Crier
What are the CALL about?
Since The Call released their self-titled debut LP in January, 1982, the group has made it abundantly clear that this is a band with bigger issues on its collective mind than mere chart success.
"We were never impressed by fashion, or the latest haircut or the newest trend", says Michael Been, The Call's vocalist, bassist and main songwriter. "With us, it was always the music. The music is everything. The cult of personality and celebrity that surrounds rock and roll and the modern pop culture in general, never really interested us. I would say that if it got to a point where music was just a function of making money, and we had to play a song we didn抰 believe in, or present ourselves in a way that wasn抰 true to us, I don抰 think we抎 do it anymore. I'd get into another line of work because that抯 not why I play music. Don't get me wrong, we would love to be able to do a song that everyone loved and have it be a big hit. We'd rather have a hit record than not have one, but I don抰 think it's in our nature to fake it or try and create something our of nothing".
Many of the lyrics unflinchingly examine the dark side of human nature, while acknowledging the redemptive potential of our capacity for love. Michael Been considers his compositions "basically love songs. I'm talking about the love between us all. I think it gets down to what love demands of us. Unconditional love and acceptance - - where you love not only what is lovable in a person, but you also love their weaknesses as well as their strengths, their failures as much as their success, and their ugliness as well as their beauty - - to me this is true love, God's love. And I'm not even sure it's humanly possible. I'm still working on that one."
How did the CALL start? The Call was formed in 1980 in Santa Cruz, California, with Michael on guitar, Scott Musick on drums, Tom Ferrier on guitar, and Greg Freeman on bass. Yet the genesis of their music goes back much further.
Michael Been grew up in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. "I grew up on rock and roll; Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, The Beatles, Stones and Yardbirds. I started playing guitar and as soon as I was old enough, I had a band," says Michael.
He moved to Chicago at age 16, attending high school during the politically charged late 60's. There he saw lots of blues greats such as Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, and Jr. Parker. He listened to Bob Dylan and especially THE BAND, a strong influence musically, lyrically and spiritually.
Michael headed to California in 1972. In Los Angeles, he met drummer Scott Musick, a fellow Oklahoman who also shared an affection for the music of THE BAND. Scott and Michael played in a variety of bands in the Los Angeles area before moving to Santa Cruz in 1976. For the next three years, Michael worked on his songwriting while playing in several different bands with Scott. The band Motion Pictures was formed when Michael and Scott joined forces with two musicians from the Bay Area - guitarist Tom Ferrier and bassist Greg Freeman. "It all fell together so naturally. We played together so effortlessly and trusted each other," Michael says.
Ultimately, Motion Pictures became The Call. By January of 1980, the band was sending around demo tapes to record companies, eventually signing with Mercury/Polygram. Their debut LP The Call was recorded in England with Hugh Padgham producing. The album featured the keyboard talents of THE BAND's Garth Hudson, who had been impressed by the group's lyrics and improvisational abilities, and who remained a friend and occasional sideman, also appearing on the band's next two albums. The debut album won a considerable amount of critical acclaim, as did the following year's Modern Romans, on which the band took over its own production responsibilities. Modern Romans gained mainstream acceptance despite subject matter that radio programmers ten to shy away from. Their single, "The Walls Came Down" and its video, earned an enormous amount of radio and MTV play. This was followed by the band's 1983 tour of the United States and Europe opening for Peter Gabriel.
The Call's 1984 release, Scene Beyond Dreams, demonstrated continued growth for the band and offered evidence of Michael's increasing tendency towards lyrical introspection. It was during this period that Jim Goodwin, originally form Oregon, joined the band on keyboards. Also at this time, Greg Freeman left the group and Michael switched to bass guitar.
In 1985 The Call attempted to get away from Polygram Records and its management company and found themselves embroiled in a legal battle. "The band didn't play for quite a while and it took a lot out of us but I really feel we became a much stronger group because of it, ?says Michael.
With The Call's first Elektra LP, 1986's Reconciled, featuring radio favorites like "I Still Believe" and "Everywhere I Go", Michael's songwriting carried a more forgiving, less confronting tone than much of the material on the earlier discs. Legendary guitarist Robbie Robertson of THE BAND appeared on this album, as did Jim Kerr and Peter Gabriel. Michael returned the favor by singing on Gabriels' LP So, as well as Simple Minds' album Once Upon A Time. The Call opened for Simple Minds on their Spring ?6 tour of the United States and Canada.
Unlike Reconciled, however, The Call's new Elektra LP Into The Woods, is played and sung entirely by the group. "That was intentional," says Michael. "We wanted it to be just the band this time. We also made an effort to incorporate different styles of playing that we learned over the years. I can hear blues, soul, gospel, folk, country, of course rock and roll, and even classical influence. But it still sounds like The Call."
Into The Woods clearly demonstrated just how far The Call has come in the six years since its vinyl debut. Tracks like "I Don't Wanna", "It Could Have Been Me", "Day or Night" and "In The River" (the latter featuring a rare co-lead vocal by Scott, who co-wrote the song with Michael) mark this The Call's most intense and compelling effort to date.
When asked about the other members of the band, Michael said, "They're extraordinary people. Very unshowbusiness, very bright and extremely talented, and all very different in their approaches. Jim is the youngest, he抯 full of life, loves life, Scott's very intense, but he抯 also the funniest guy I抳e ever known. And Tom, a.k.a. Dickie, is an original - indescribable - there's nobody like him."
The most important thing that has happened in the last few years to The Call, as far as Michael Been is concerned, is that the group has solidified into a cohesive unit of players struggling toward a common end. "Without a doubt, we all absolutely love this band. We know that when the four of us play together, it's better than any one of us and more than the sum of the parts. There's a sense of fulfillment that we have never experienced from playing with anyone else and that's rare. That's what it is. That's why we do it."