Every since the group's 1982 debut LP, music critics have loved The Call. What other band gives writers the opportunity to use words like "uncompromising," "apocalyptic," "urgent," and "bristling?" "If there is any justice," said the Philadelphia Daily News, "The Call will soon be heard and celebrated 'round the world as the best new rock band of the '80s."
Call founder Michael Been doesn't read his reviews, and he's certainly not terribly convinced there's much justice in the world. Lack of justice -- or "lack of love," as Been names it -- has always been a major lyrical topic in his work. After three brilliant albums, there are still people out there who think the group is from England.
Those in the know -- from Billboard to Musician, Melody Maker to New Musical Express -- cite The Call for the depth of their material and the passion with which it's performed. "Rock 'n' roll is a vehicle to express the emotions you are not allowed to use in everyday life," Been has said, and songs like his "The Walls Came Down" (written as an answer to Ronald Reagan's anti-Soviet saber-rattling) are nothing if not emotional.
Tilting their debut release on Elektra Reconciled does not indicate that The Call have softened their edges, not backed away from their ideal of music as a "non-violent weapon of change." "It's more a question of being reconciled with myself on a personal and spiritual level," explains Been. "The need is to be reconciled with the world the way it is, or you lose your love for people, you lose your faith in life itself."
The first singe from Reconciled -- self-produced in seven weeks, staggered over a six-month period at New York's Power Station -- is "I Still Believe." And that, to Been, sums up his maturing philosophy: "For people like us/In places like this/We need all the hope/That we can get."
The last year has been one of trial by fire for The Call. Despite excellent response to the 1983 Modern Romans and high praise for 1984's Scene Beyond Dreams, the band found itself embroiled in label and management disputes. After a U.S. and European tour as special guests of headliner Peter Gabriel (one of a devoted Call following which also boasts Bob Dylan, The Band's Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson, Jim Kerr of Simple Minds and film director Martin Scorsese), the group was at loose ends. But even this setback had a positive effect: "Because it was hard," says Been, "because of all we went through, we were even more determined to make it happen. Plus, it gave us a year to work on songs."
The result is an album by a band at its peak, tempered and unflinching in its commitment to its music.
The history of The Call officially started in Santa Cruz, California in 1979, when Been and fellow Oklahoman Scott Musick got together with locals Tom Ferrier and Greg Freeman (who left the band after Modern Romans) to form The Call. Yet, the genesis of their music goes back much further.
Michael Been grew up in Oklahoma City, where the only relevant bit of the environment seemed to come out of the radio speaker. His first sight of Elvis Presley on TV changed his life. By age 7, Been was performing weekly on local television and radio, giving a dose of Chuck Berry and Little Richard to the country-western crowd. Music has been Been's sole profession ever since.
He moved to Chicago at age 16, and was attracted to the blues scene by Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Junior Parker -- and politically by the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the war in Vietnam. In high school, he listened to Bob Dylan and especially The Band, a strong influence both musically and lyrically.
But don't assume that Michael Been's life has been as dark as some of his lyrics might imply; he experimented with comedy back in Chicago placing first in the Illinois state competition; besting his friend and high school companion, John Belushi, who finished second.
Still, it was music, not comedy, that brought Been to California. In Los Angeles, Been first met up with fellow Okie Scott Musick. They wrote original material, and played garages and small clubs for three years, while also learning every Band song note for note. Finally they moved to Santa Cruz, where they got to play small clubs and garages. It was 1979, amd they became The Call.
The Call's first demos were rejected by every major American label, yet nearly every major producer in England begged to produce this passionate new band. The self-titled Call debut LP was produced by Hugh Padgham, best known for his work with Phil Collins, David Bowie and the Police. Keyboards -- now provided by bandmate Jim Goodwin -- were volunteered by Been's idol from The Band, Garth Hudson, who summed up the group to Musician magazine saying: "I thought the writing was excellent. I liked the melodies and all the little things they put in. They're all strong players - both in arrangements and improvisation. They felt good; the songs had something to do with what's going on. The words had a cause which was important, because I'm concerned about the state of America. I'd rather be representative of the fighters than the wimp-rockers." Hudson toured with The Call when they supported both Peter Gabriel and Simple Minds, and played on the first three albums.
Although Hudson was unable to work on Reconciled. His colleague, legendary guitarist Robbie Robertson does play on "The Morning." Fellow fans Jim Kerr and Peter Gabriel contribute to "Everywhere I Go," and Kerr sings on "Sanctuary." Been returned the favor by singing on Gabriel's upcoming LP, as well as backing four tunes on Simple Minds' current Once Upon a Time. The Call is schedule to open for Simple Minds on their Spring '86 tour of the U.S. and Canada.
But the most important thing that has lately happened to The Call, as far as Been is concerned, is that the group has solidified into a cohesive unit of players struggling toward a common end. "That's something I've wanted since I was 16 years old, when I heard The Band for the first time," says Been. "When that happens -- that chemistry between people -- it's incredibly satisfying." Bassist/vocalist Been, drummer Scott Musick, keyboard player Jim Goodwin and guitarist Tom Ferrier are integral parts of a whole -- a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. "We've been through hell and high water together," says Been. "To know that we've done this together is what makes it all worthwhile."