The life of a Tuscaloosa-based band can seem smaller than most. Bands that drum up attention and excitement early on can find themselves crippled by the two-pronged pitchfork that is higher expectations and needing income to function in life. Bands like Squirrelhouse and The Classic Flame vanished as quickly as they could even be remembered and even universally adored acts like The Dexateens found themselves split up over time.
This leads me to Callooh! Callay! I have been lucky to be writing for publications about music as long as the band has been together and followed their course, from good to bad. So once again, I’ll shut up a lot and let vocalist Adam Morrow explain his band, with brief interruptions by me for contextualization.
“We essentially began in 2010,” said Morrow. “We played and did stuff under the “Callooh! Callay!” name before that, but it was so different, both in sound and who was in and out of the band, that what we’re doing now started at the very, very beginning of 2010. It was cold outside, I remember that part. That’s when Bowen [Robertson, the drummer] joined and we started playing any show that’d have us, and things started evolving towards the direction we’re trying to go now, as far as sound is concerned.”
What Adam is referring to in “playing stuff under the name,” is the brief period where Dan Walker was a part of the group, which currently is mainly a three-piece with Morrow, Robertson, and bassist Natalie Jensen. In that time before 2010, the band released The Bird’s Run EP, which may actually be lost to the ages and is not listed among the group’s releases on their bandcamp page. So for our purposes, we’ll say Callooh! Callay! really got going in 2010, right around the time that Hackberry Records came to be formed. I’ll let Adam tell the story about that.
“We got involved with Hackberry Records because we knew the National Trust and liked Reed’s ideas a lot. It was what we needed. He remains one of the best folks I know to bounce ideas off of, and talk music. He inhales the stuff. Its contagious to be around someone that excited. There were some excellent moments involved, from the support ‘Sassprilluh’ was given inside our small collective, to the Hackberry Showcase that happened just about two years ago exactly.”
The Hackberry Records Showcase took place at the Mellow Mushroom in fall 2010 and can safely be said as the biggest moment in the very brief label’s history. For no charge, fans got to see several bands play some damn fine music and I was excited. I actually befriended Reed and Adam around this time, since they hosted great radio shows on WVUA-FM and were easy to write about because they had a lot to say. I never knew about the divide Reed would have with people in the community, however, nor did I learn about the frustration within.
“That night was electric, optimistic, whatever positive you want to say. Among my top two nights playing music in Tuscaloosa, and it still means so much to me to think back on the enthusiastic support we were given. On the flip side, I understand why Hackberry rubbed some folks the wrong way, especially towards the end. But Reed’s efforts helped us get our feet underneath us, and gave us interaction with a whole collection of new friends.”
I still remember a lot about the end of Hackberry Records, mainly because I wrote about it. I sent a piece to my publication at the time, The Crimson White, and immediately saw a lot of response on the day the piece was published. That day was April 27, 2011. I’m kind of making this about me, but I also want you to know that I’ve kind of grew close with the band over the years. It’d be unfair for me to be really impartial about Callooh! Callay! and their past because I see a lot of what I did in that two years of time.
After the Hackberry split, I worried to death that we were seeing what happened to the local music buffs of past generations who see bold projects come to the forefront and then get swiped away. Then later in 2011, my worries in the matter of CC were alleviated. They released a damn fine EP called Wide Awake and released it on their own and weren’t crippled by the lack of a label. The dudes I knew were actually growing up and finding their own avenues, continuing on despite the odds against them.
“We recorded [Wide Awake] with Adrian Marmolejo, and, to put it simply, he started pushing us towards a studio he’d been working at in Birmingham. Of course he was right, but when we finally went, we had an albums worth of material ready, so we went with that.”
I’m glad to say that I felt less bitter about how local music was around this time, and I think the bands I saw felt the same way, too. Nothing explicitly was different and people didn’t suddenly erupt to see local music, but there was enough of an appreciation by the few local bars that carry original music to sustain the great acts. I earnest believe Callooh! Callay! is one of the great acts, namely one that could get away with covering the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek because every other bar around town books an act that will cover “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” without even thinking about it.
This leads us to 2012, a bit of a slow year for the band but that sort of happens when a band actually has to record a full album. In this case, Talk has been recorded and is close to finished.
“The recording process for ‘Talk’ involved driving to Birmingham a lot, eating Al’s, and playing with Sitori Sonics’ experiments. We recorded with Emanual Ellinas at his Magnetic Audio studio. All of the sessions went super late, and Emanual wires some really wild pedals and electronics (his pedals are some of the best around, so if that’s your bag, you should totally check them out; great stuff from a good dude), so things got a lot louder and weirder than they have in the past. I have no idea if folks will like what came out of there, but we’re all really geeked out about it. We did the initial sessions in May and worked on it until about July, so we’re just very, very ready to get it out to the “world.” I’m ready for it to be out so we can talk about specifics.”
This finally leads us to tonight. Callooh! Callay! is playing with Muscle Shoals band Belle Adair at the Green Bar. I’m going to bold this part because I’ve written a lot here. Anyways, this looks to be a fine show and Adam has, for lack of a less crude term, praised the shit out of Belle Adair.
“We initially wanted to do something similar to last years ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ show, but when Belle Adair inquired about playing with us down here, we couldn’t really pass that up. It’s a different sort of spectacle, but still a spectacle. They’re a great band, kind of like Wilco and Radiohead had a lovechild and raised it in the Shoals (to grossly oversimplify what they do; just listen, it’s great), and its our first show back in Tuscaloosa since April after a lot of recording and some little mini-tours. Should be a real good one.”