Friday, January 6, 2012


In San Francisco, 1967 a band was formed that would be truly one of a kind. The Carlos Santana Blues Band was and is a group that combines a very strong Latin influence and style with blues-based rock. What makes this band, and by extension its leader and namesake Carlos Santana so unique is that that without sacrificing one iota of their Afro-Cuban based sound, they have become, of all things, classic rock icons. Your average classic rock playlist may include several heavy rock bands, a good number of classically influenced bands, quite a few country-rock bands and even a handful of horn-driven bands, But in all of the classic rock canon, no one sounds even remotely like the band that would eventually shorten its name to simply Santana.  At the group's first audition at San Francisco's Avalon Ballroom weeks after their formation, they were told by promoter Chet Helms that they would never get anywhere playing such heavily Latin-based rock and that Carlos should keep his day job as a dishwasher at Tick Tock's Drive-In on 3rd Street. Then came Woodstock.

The band was announced as one of the performers at The Woodstock Music And Art Fair as they were recording their self-titled debut album in May of 1969 which they finished in a month. After a career- making Woodstock performance the album was released. It peaked at #4 on the Billboard charts and a song from that collection,"Evil Ways", became a top ten single. Chet? Anything? I suppose not.

The band went on tour to promote the album with a line-up of Santana on guitar, keyboardist Gregg Rollie, Jose "Chepito" Areas on timbales and trumpet, bassist Dave Brown, drummer Michael Shrieve and Dave Carabello on congas. At this time they also started work on their sophomore album. The album, titled Abraxas was released in May of 1970 and went to #1. The single release from that album was a remake of Fleetwood Mac legend Peter Green's "Black Magic Woman" which peaked at #4 U.S.

The third album, brilliantly titled Santana III, was released in July of 1971. It followed it's predecessor to the #1 spot on the charts and would feature the addition of guitarist Neal Schon.

In the time between the third album and their fourth, Caravanserai, The band would see the beginning of  a long line of personnel changes, so many that in the course of the band's existence, the name Santana would come to identify the man, Carlos Santana as opposed to the band, ultimately leaving for all intents and purposes, Carlos Santana as a solo act. Among the first to go were Dave Brown, Michael Carrabello , Gregg  Rollie and Neal Schon, Rollie and Schon would later form another classic rock giant, the band Journey. Caravaserai was released in October of 1972, peaking at #8 with no single release.  The next hit single would come from the 1981 album Zebop , the Russ Ballard composition,"Winning" with lead vocals from British journeyman Alex Ligertwood.

I would feel negligent not to include a mention of Carlos Santana's brother, guitarist Jorge Santana. Jorge worked with salsa band The Fania All Stars, as well as recording two solo albums. His best known work, however was with the band Malo, which he led along with fellow Mexican Arcello Garcia. Malo had a top 20 hit entitled "Suavecito".
The two brothers have appeared together onstage numerous times.

Firmly established as one of pop music's most respected artists, highly regarded by critics and fans alike, Carlos Santana's career continued to flourish. In the realms of rock, pop, and jazz he came to be held in high regard due to his singular talent, unique style, genre flexability and pleasant, self-effacing personality.            
After his 1981 hit "Winning", it wasn't until 1991 that he scored a comparable success with the album Supernatural, which featured Santana performing with an impressive array of the period's top vocalists from different musical genres. This collecton reached #1 in several countries and went 15X platinum, selling nearly 27 million units worldwide.It included the hit single "Smooth" , featuring lead vocals from Rob Thomas of the group Matchbox Twenty. The song became a winner of three Grammy Awards.

The band Santana was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1988. The inductees were Dave Brown, Michael Shrieve, Jose Areas, David Carabello, Gregg Rollie and Santana himself. As a band,Santana won eight Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards all in 2000, while Carlos Santana won two Grammy Awards as a solo artist in 1989 and 2003. All told, Santana has sold over 100 million units worldwide as of 2010. Carlos Santana is still active in the industry to this day.