TERRY CALLIER / “Love Theme From ‘Spartacus'”

"People everywhere are searching, searching for a spiritual base to stand on, reach out from and react to. The way I understand it, I'm supposed to put the message out there as clearly as I can. The rest has to take care of itself." —Terry Callier
This is just plain beautiful. A childhood friend of Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler, born in 1945, Terry Callier came up out of Chicago during that Sixties/Seventies period when all kinds of wonderful music flowed forward fueled by the Windy City’s adventurous spirit. Terry started as an ultra-hip, Coltrane-influenced (if you can get to that!) folk singer and then became a major songwriter. For a minute he pursued a career as a singer-songwriter but eventually hung up his guitar in 1983. He had gained custody of his only child, Sundiata, and he wanted to devote his time and energy to raising her, so he became a computer programmer at Chicago State. Terry says: “When I got custody of my daughter I had to give up music to raise her properly, she needed me and the music business just didn’t seem like a viable option at that point.” Indeed, Terry was content to give up the music business forever. Besides, Terry never was going to be a 'pop' star. There was too much truth-telling he wanted to do. Too many relationship songs that did not focus on sex. Too many topical investigations that weren’t about the bling-bling of his era. His songs tried to make sense, rather than dollars, out of the complexities of life. Plus, he wasn’t a flashy dresser. His style just wasn’t happening as far as the charts were concerned. "I didn't touch a guitar from 1983 until 1988 because I was just too busy. Then in 1991 I got a call from a guy in London called Eddie Pillar, who ran a label called Acid Jazz. He told me that he had been playing my records in clubs and he wanted to re-release them and get me playing in England again. So for the next few years, I came over to do gigs in London in my vacation time from my day job." All of that in turn led to a one-off recording contract. Initially released in England and then later in the USA on Verve Records, Time Peace was a critically acclaimed and popular reemergence for Terry Callier. Indeed, Time Peace won the prestigious 1998 United Nations Time For Peace award for outstanding artistic achievement contributing to world peace. Terry_Callier.jpg The album had a little bit of everything and a whole lot of wonderful singing and songwriting: one could go on for days talking about the different tracks, but for now, I’ll concentrate on the only track not written or co-written by Callier: "Love Theme From 'Spartacus.'" "Love Theme From 'Spartacus'" was initially well known because of the 1960 movie starring Kirk Douglas. Over the years, many, many renditions have been recorded, but I believe Terry Callier's version is the definitive one. Callier’s baritone is supported by John Molder’s acoustic guitar, a few choice acoustic bass notes from long-time bassist Eric Hochberg (he recorded with Terry in 1982 just before Terry retired), and sensitive percussion from Alfredo Alias who contributed shimmering sound washes by using mallets on a cymbal. That’s it. And that’s more than enough. With the exception of his childhood buddy Jerry Butler, I don’t think there is any other male vocalist in popular music that can match the handsome sensitivity of Callier’s burnished baritone. Callier's voice can ring clear in the falsetto regions and nearly choke on the overflow of heartfelt emotions when he descends to the bottom reaches of his instrument, down there where the bitter often threatens to overwhelm the sweet, but where the pain is purged by the strength of this man’s spirit. Even when he’s moaning, we are buoyed by the 'phoenixishness' of Callier's resplendent spirituality. He is so resilient, the man’s innards must be equal parts flesh and equal parts rubber. You can hear all of that in Callier’s quietly determined, utterly convincing reading of the Spartacus lyrics. Need anyone be reminded, Spartacus was a slave. Spartacus led a revolt. Spartacus.... “Can it be? / Do you hear? / A new freedom song is ringing.” Welcome back, Terry Callier. —Kalamu ya Salaam P.S. I think we should include one of Terry Callier's original compositions that mines a similar vein. This is "What Color Is Love," which speaks for itself. Be sure to catch Terry's quoting of "The Look Of Love" at the end of his song. Also note that this is from a 2001 live recording and even with a boisterious audience he is able to deliver a recital of aching intimacy. Terry Callier. One of the absolute masters of contemporary music. Click here to purchase TimePeace             Sonic perfection          Terry Callier's "Love Theme From 'Spartacus'" is one of those four minutes of sonic perfection that only comes along every so often. One listen to this record and you realize there's nothing more that could've been added and there's absolutely nothing that should be taken away. The first time I heard this, Terry got all of two words out before I had my cellphone in hand, dialing up KCRW to find out what I was listening to. It's as near to perfect as four-minute pop tunes get. Not that folks haven't tried to improve on perfection. Both 4Hero and Zero 7 did popular remixes of Terry's take on "Spartacus" and while I like both attempts, the majestic dignity of the original remains the way to go.

* * *

YLateef.jpg And, I just realized that I forgot something. I've never heard the original version of "Love Theme From 'Spartacus'"—whatever it might be: instrumental? orchestral? vocal?—but there's another version of this tune that I like. Yusef Lateef released his version of "Spartacus" in 1961, a year after John Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things." Anyone familiar with the Trane's take on the pop tune—and if you're reading this and aren't familiar with it then shame on you—will recognize the wistful beauty of the main melody and the 3/4 time-signature (both tunes are waltzes). Also, Lateef, like Trane, is playing soprano sax. —Mtume ya Salaam Click here to purchase Yusef Lateef Anthology               You ever hear of an oboe?         Mtume, you ever hear of an oboe? Of course you have, because that double-reed, orchestral instrument is what Yusef was playing rather than a soprano sax. But don't feel bad about mistaking the oboe for a soprano; at first I thought the same thing you did, but after the first four bars I reconsidered. I thought maybe Yusef was switching instruments during the course of the song. Then I went to the liner notes to check out whether my ears were playing tricks on me. They were. Yusef had been playing oboe for the entire time, it was just that he was so adept with that devilishly difficult instrument (controlling the intonation of the oboe is no task for amateurs), I had thought, yeah, it might be a soprano. The lyrical piano comping is by Barry Harris, with Ernie Farrow on bass and Lex Humphries using a brush on the snare and a light stick on the ride cymbal. For most of his career, Yusef has been known for playing a broad, broad array of woodwind instruments (including basson and a plethora of flutes from around the world). In that regard the man is an absolute wonder, which is natural when you consider he is from Motown (born William Evans in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when he was five his family moved to Detroit via a short Ohio stopover). Anyway, Yusef frequently recorded on oboe and here is another sterling example recorded at a nightclub performance. Imagine, using an oboe to play "See See Rider," and Yusef plays the hell of it, getting dirty tones and everything. The group members on "See See Rider" are Richard Williams on trumpet (with that bright and beautiful, clarion tone of his), Mike Nock on piano, Ernie Farrow on bass, and the ever inventive James Black on drums.  —Kalamu ya Salaam             Oops!           Oboe, you say? No, never heard of it.  emoticon —Mtume ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 24th, 2005 at 12:03 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “TERRY CALLIER / “Love Theme From ‘Spartacus'””

Chuck Cuyjet Says:
July 24th, 2005 at 11:12 am

Both of these recordings are fabulous and rank in my personal top twenty of all time. I have to say that I was very excited to see Terry’s Time/Peace CD in the racks as I had long missed his work. There’s nothing ‘Ordinary’ about him!

Lateef’s rendition carries me back to my childhood in Philadelphia when, as young teens, my sister and I kept a sharp ear out for what we considered ‘cool sounds’ that the rest of our friends weren’t attuned to as they were solidily into Motown (not that we didn’t listen to rock and roll. We just wanted to know what else was going on!). We listened to Joel Dorn and Sid Mark on WHAT.FM and thought ourselves exceeding cool because we knew Yusef Lateef, Horace Silver, Roland Kirk, Coltrane, Miles, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Smith, etc. And, speaking of playing a broad array of instruments, one has to check out Roland Kirk, wouldn’t you say?

Thanks for setting up this site. Keep up the good work!

JB Borders Says:
July 24th, 2005 at 4:24 pm

Callier also recorded a killer version of Ellington’s Satin Doll on his 1973 album, I Just Can’t Help Myself. Like the cover of Love Theme From Spartacus, the cut stands out because the execution is flawless and because it is not a Callier original. He records very few songs by other writers; but when he does, he absolutely nails them.

drfeelgoed Says:
July 25th, 2005 at 12:11 am

Listening to it right now, stunning.

But why did you insert a picture of Krabi (Thailand) instead of the album cover?


           Mtume says:         

I was wondering about that myself, Baba. … But the more intriguing question is for you, Doc: how did you know it was Krabi?


          Kalamu says:         

 The short answer is simple: it’s an image carried over from the cover of a mixtape cd I put together that included "Love Theme." My bad.

 For those who have not downloaded the file to your computer, you are (like initially I was) probably confused and saying: what is he talking about? Under certain circumstances, downloads of a song also include visual images that were linked to that song.

Onome Says:
July 25th, 2005 at 8:51 pm

Small world…Chuck, might you know a woman named Sequoyah?

But getting back to the topic, I am a 24 year old woman who never heard of Mr. Callier until I went to Frisco a few weeks back for the VONA Voices Workshop. I walked into Amoeba Music and his voice was wafting from above. Sweet seraphim! Thank you for sharing all this amazing music, Kalamu.

mistacee Says:
July 26th, 2005 at 3:23 am

Had the pleasure of seeing Terry live a few times now. His tracks were always huge here during the Jazz/Rare Groove revival of the 80’s. Amazing singer

Castro (Jason) Says:
July 26th, 2005 at 6:42 pm

This has me thinking about Gil-Scott Heron’s "A Song for Bobby Smith"……

"aint you been there?/And ain’t you going

can’t you taste your/ideas growing

we are soldiers/soldiers of a new day

and ain’t you been there and can’t you feel it/

in your heart…."

This is a type of song that I feel is sorely missing from the repertoire of cats in my generation. Black Women vocalists in this generation have put out some great songs like this, but I love hearing a Brother sing this because it reminds me of hearing my Father sing in the choir when I was young. He has a baritone voice like Terry Callier and Gil-Scott and this has such an air of quiet authority- like listening to a river run past you in the morning. Someone also put me on to Dwight Trible, who can most certainly be included in this group. This is an amazing track- I will be copping this Brother’s work SOON!

Mtume says:                                                       

"Song For Bobby Smith" is one of my all-time favorite songs by one of my all-time favorite artists.

I love the spoken intro where Gil recounts asking Bobby, "What should we call this song?" Bobby, in typical three-year-old fashion, answers: "Oh, that’s pretty! That’s my song!" Bobby’s enthusiastic reaction is so out of step with the melancholy nature of the song, yet so in step with the irrepresible enthusiasm of youth, that the exchange adds an extra layer of poignancy to the already powerful melody and lyric.

Beautiful, beautiful stuff. BTW, we already have a couple of Gil Scott posts in the can — we gotta run ’em soon.

l'affreux thom Says:
July 28th, 2005 at 3:32 pm

stunning ! i post the same songs today.

Mtume says:                                                       

He did. La Case De L’Affreux Thom.

Chuck Cuyjet Says:
February 2nd, 2006 at 9:53 am

Onome, Sequoyah is my cousin. While I can’t claim to know her (I have met her once at a family reunion in Philadelphia) all Cuyjet’s are related. And speaking of VONA, I’ve attended the last two sessions and find it a wellspring and an oasis (I know, a redundancy, but I gush entirely too much). I’m applying again this year too. See you there?

Gato Says:
July 8th, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Your interpretations of these fine artists’ renditions of Spartacus are right on the money. This sweet, gentle song lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations, but only a few artists–Lateef and Callier–have truly captured the deep emotions the song holds.

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