Spellbinder (1966)
Gabor Szabo

  1. Spellbinder (Gabor Szabo)
  2. Witchcraft (Carolyn Leigh/Cy Coleman)
  3. It Was a Very Good Year (Ervin Drake)
  4. Gypsy Queen (Gabor Szabo)
  5. Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) (Sonny Bono)
  6. Cheetah (Gabor Szabo)
  7. My Foolish Heart (Victor Young/Ned Washington)
  8. Yearning (Gabor Szabo)
  9. Autumn Leaves (Joseph Kosma) / Speak to Me of Love (Jean Lenoir)

Gabor Szabo – guitar, vocal (5, 8)
Ron Carter – bass
Chico Hamilton – drums
Victor Pantoja, Willie Bobo – Latin percussion

Produced by Bob Thiele
Engineered by Rudy Van Gelder
Cover painting by Gabor Szabo

Recorded May 6, 1966, at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

1 to 9 issued on LP in 1966 as Impulse A(S)-9123
5 and 10 (edit) issued on 45 as Impulse 45-248
11 (edit) and 12 (edit) issued on 45 as Impulse 45-254

An exceptional moment in jazz and one of Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo’s very best records. Spellbinder, a successful mix of standards, pop covers and on-the-spot improvisations, contains the original version of “Gypsy Queen,” the song Santana made famous in 1970.

Features bassist Ron Carter on bass, Chico Hamilton on drums and percussionists Victor Pantoja and Willie Bobo. A hypnotic album that deserves to be heard by guitar lovers and jazz listeners alike. Highlights include “Spellbinder,” “”Gypsy Queen,” “Witchcraft” and “Autumn Leaves” – but this writer considers “Cheetah” one of Szabo’s two or three best-ever concoctions.

On “Gypsy Queen”: While Szabo’s compositions have been sparsely covered by other musicians, “Gypsy Queen” became his best-known composition in 1970 when the rock group Santana included a brief version of the song at the end of its cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Black Magic Woman.” The song, featured on Santana’s album Abraxas1 (Columbia C 30130), reached number four on the Billboard charts (11/21/70).

“I’ll never forget,” producer Bob Thiele told me. “I had gone into the office on a Saturday and I was opening the mail and there was a royalty statement from Columbia Records. It must have amounted to 30 or 40,000 dollars for ‘Gypsy Queen’ being part of ‘Black Magic Woman.’ I called Gabor and said, ‘Gabor, are you sitting down or standing up?’ I said, ‘sit down.’ I told him and he really freaked out on the phone. He just couldn’t believe it. He was so happy and I was happy that he was happy. It was a delightful moment, really.” (This story seems a bit apocryphal to me…but this is what I was told.)

Carlos Santana, the group’s leader, has always expressed admiration publicly for Szabo and his influence. In a June 1978 interview for Guitar Player magazine, Santana claimed that his band had been exclusively a blues band until he’d heard “Spellbinder” in 1966. Santana was drawn to the appeal of the album’s conga sounds and credits this with the beginnings of his band’s “crossover” fusions.

The two guitarists did in fact forge a friendship several years later, which resulted in Szabo spending one summer in the early 70s as Santana’s house guest and playing with Carlos’ group.

When Carlos Santana was looking to change the musical direction of his band in 1972, Gabor offered Carlos the opportunity to unite musically. Santana, while flattered and excited by the offer, chose instead to pursue a fusion direction (inspired by a deep religious spirituality) with John McLaughlin; forming the band with Larry Young on organ, which would record the album Love, Devotion and Surrender (Columbia KC32034) in early 1973.

Later, in a January 1981 DownBeat interview, Santana announced the dedication of his song “Gardenia” to Szabo. The song, originally conceived with Szabo’s collaboration, was issued on the 1980 Devadip Carlos Santana album, The Swing of Delight (Columbia C2 36590), which also featured Spellbinder bassist Ron Carter. “Gabor Szabo is my spellbinder,” said Santana; “I look forward to recording an album with him someday.”

While such a recording never occurred, Santana continues to perform “Gypsy Queen” in concerts all over the world.

Versions of “Gypsy Queen” were also recorded by Count Basie with an Oliver Nelson arrangement on Afrique (1970), Larry Coryell on Barefoot Boy (1971) and with lyrics by Leon Thomas for Blues and the Soulful Truth (1971) – all produced by Spellbinder producer Bob Thiele.

Other covers of “Gypsy Queen” can be heard by Mike Keneally (1996), Tyburn Tall (1996) and The Magic of Santana featuring Alex Ligertwood and Tony Lindsay (2016). Szabo’s version of “Gypsy Queen” was also featured on the “Poguelandia” episode of “Outer Banks” (2023).

“Spellbinder” was also covered by Lee Ritenour on Smoke ‘n’ Mirrors (2006) and was the inspiration for former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve’s Spellbinder, who issued superb, yet little-known Szabo-inspired discs in 2008 and 2016.

  1. Santana recorded and released additional performances of “Gypsy Queen” in 1973, 1977 and 1993 and as part of Santana IV (2016). ↩︎