In the late Sixties-early Seventies, during the heady free-love anything goes days, I was living in New York City. So when we were tooling around in my uncle’s convertible Triumph, long hair flowing in the wind and somebody yelled out “Santana in Central Park free concert today” we immediately made a beeline for the park, sat there and….
…nothing. A rumor. Oh, well. (I didn’t see them live for another 20 years or so. We also saw them last year and my review is here). But they are coming out with a new album and so, are long overdue for a post.
Carlos Santana began his career in Tijuana, Mexico playing guitar in strip clubs. (A not unheard of situation. Frank Beard, ZZ Top drummer, did the same thing as did, for a time, The Beatles pre-Ringo). I think Carlos was something like 15 years old at the time. Now there’s an education.
His family later moved up to San Francisco where he saw, among others, B.B. King and knew he needed to play that kind of music. (His band was originally called the Santana Blues Band). I remember reading somewhere that Carlos, by then the typical broke, struggling musician, snuck into the Fillmore West to hear Cream and Hendrix.
Bill Graham, owner of Fillmores East and West, became an advocate of Carlos’. When asked to provide assistance at Woodstock, Graham said he would if the then-unknown Santana were added to the bill. At that point in time, they didn’t even have an album out. (Their debut, Santana, wouldn’t come out till later that month).
Regardless, they played, they rocked, they became famous. (Moee, I think, due to the fact that the movie and its soundtrack were wildly popular, exposing them to the masses).
Here they are killing it at Woodstock. Love Michael Shrieve’s drumming on this. Great solo. For the record, most of the band had done acid prior to going on. They thought they’d be able to come down but wound up having to go on stage sooner than they expected.
So Carlos here is high as a kite. He said the whole audience was spinning around and those faces he’s making are him trying to tame the guitar whose neck was moving “like electric snake.”
Carlos is one of my favorite guitar players of all time. He is one of those musicians whose playing is recognizable by one note. Who else gets that tone? Here he is in Guitarworld magazine with some surprising info about his influences:
“I first started with B.B. King because that’s the most natural thing for a guitar player to start with….I suggest getting a lot of Dionne Warwick albums and… try to match her vocal note-for-note. Because there was one time where she had that beautiful balance between black and white… I listened to that and I learned how to sing [through the guitar]. Like that. Through her.”
Here he is, “singing” one f my favorite songs of his – or anybody’s – from Abraxas, the beautiful “Samba Pa Ti.”
Carlos was a devoteé of the great British blues guitarist, Peter Green. It was Green who wrote and recorded “Black Magic Woman” with the original Fleetwood Mac. Mac were popular but never quite as big in the States as in the U.K.
Carlos covered the song and added a coda called “Gypsy Queen” by a Hungarian jazz guitarist named Gabor Szabo. (Which if you’ve never heard it, is worth checking out here). The result is a blisteringly great track, still played relentlessly on classic rock radio.
As the seventies progressed, Carlos found spirituality. He got heavily into jazz and did an album with the phenomenal guitarist, John McLaughlin. (See my post on jazz-rock for a nice tune by The Mahavishnu Orchestra, McLaughlin’s band). The original Santana band went their separate ways with guitarist Neal Schon forming the band Journey, whom frankly I’ve never been able to warm up to.
Next post – Expanding his horizons, Carlos turns away from the style that made him famous. He does some great non-commercial stuff, eventually getting back to the mainstream with a massive Grammy-winning hit album in the late ’90’s. And the original band reforms for a new album.