After several years spent working as a dishwasher in a diner and busking for spare change, Santana decided to become a full-time musician. In 1966 he gained prominence due to a series of accidental events, all happening on the same day. Santana was a frequent spectator at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West.
During a Sunday matinee show, Paul Butterfield was slated to perform there but was unable to do so as a result of being intoxicated. Bill Graham assembled an impromptu band of musicians he knew primarily through his connections with the Grateful Dead, Butterfield’s own band and Jefferson Airplane, but he had not yet chosen all the guitarists.
Santana’s manager, Stan Marcum, immediately suggested to Graham that Santana join the impromptu band and Graham agreed. During the jam session, Santana’s guitar playing and solo gained the notice of both the audience and Graham.
During the same year, Santana formed the Santana Blues Band, with fellow street musicians David Brown (bass guitar), Marcus Malone (percussion) and Gregg Rolie (lead vocals, Hammond Organ B3).
With their highly original blend of Latin-infused rock, jazz, blues, salsa and African rhythms, the band (which quickly adopted their frontman’s name, Santana) gained an immediate following on the San Francisco club circuit. The band’s early success, capped off by a memorable performance at Woodstock in 1969, led to him signing a recording contract with Columbia Records, then run by Clive Davis.
Record deal, Woodstock breakthrough and height of success: 1969–72
Santana was signed by CBS Records and went into the studio to record their first album. They were not satisfied with the release and decided changes needed to be made. This resulted in the dismissal of drummer Bob Livingston. Santana replaced him with Mike Shrieve, who had a strong background in both jazz and rock.
Percussionist Marcus Malone was forced to quit the band due to involuntary manslaughter charges, and the band re-enlisted Michael Carabello. Carabello brought with him percussionist Jose Chepito Areas, who was already well known in his country, Nicaragua, and, with his skills and professional experience, was a major contributor to the band.
Bill Graham, a Latin Music aficionado, had been a fan of the band from its inception, and arranged for them to appear at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival before their debut album was even released.
They were one of the surprises of the festival; their set was legendary and later the exposure of their eleven-minute instrumental “Soul Sacrifice” in the Woodstock film and soundtrack album vastly increased their popularity.
Graham also gave the band some key advice to record the Willie Bobo song “Evil Ways”, as he felt it would get them radio airplay. Their first album, Santana, was released in August 1969 and became a huge hit, reaching #4 on the U.S. album charts, with the catchy single “Evil Ways” reaching number nine on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1969, the band’s performance at the Woodstock festival introduced them to an international audience and garnered critical acclaim, although the band’s sudden success put pressure on the group, highlighting the different musical directions in which Rolie and Santana were starting to go.
Rolie, along with some of the other band members, wanted to emphasize a basic hard rock sound which had been a key component in establishing the band from the start. Santana, however, was increasingly interested in moving beyond his love of blues and rock and wanted more jazzy, ethereal elements in the music, which were influenced by his fascination with Gábor Szabó, Miles Davis, Pharoah Sanders, and John Coltrane, as well as his growing interest in spirituality.
At the same time, Chepito Areas was stricken with a near-fatal brain hemorrhage, and Santana hoped to continue by finding a temporary replacement (first Willie Bobo, then Coke Escovedo), while others in the band, especially Michael Carabello, felt it was wrong to perform publicly without Areas. Cliques formed, and the band started to disintegrate.
Consolidating the interest generated by their first album, and their highly acclaimed live performance at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969, the band followed up with their second album, Abraxas, in September 1970.
The album’s mix of rock, blues, jazz, salsa and other influences was very well received, showing a musical maturation from their first album and refining the band’s early sound. Abraxas included two of Santana’s most enduring and well-known hits, “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen”. Abraxas spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard chart at the end of 1970.
The album remained on the charts for 88 weeks and was certified 4x platinum in 1986. In 2003 the album was ranked number 205 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Teenage San Francisco Bay Area guitar prodigy Neal Schon was asked to join the band in 1971, in time to complete the third album, Santana III. The band now boasted a powerful dual-lead-guitar act that gave the album a tougher sound. The sound of the band was also helped by the return of a recuperated Chepito Areas and the assistance of Coke Escovedo in the percussion section.
Enhancing the band’s sound further was the support of popular Bay Area group Tower of Power’s horn section, Luis Gasca of Malo, and other session musicians which added to both percussion and vocals, injecting more energy to the proceedings. Santana III was another success, reaching #1 on the album charts, selling two million copies, and yielding the hits “Everybody’s Everything” and “No One to Depend On”.
Tension between members of the band continued, however. Along with musical differences, drug use became a problem, and Santana was deeply worried that it was affecting the band’s performance.
Coke Escovedo encouraged Santana to take more control of the band’s musical direction, much to the dismay of some of the others who thought that the band and its sound was a collective effort. Also, financial irregularities were exposed while under the management of Stan Marcum, whom Bill Graham criticized as being incompetent.
Growing resentments between Santana and Michael Carabello over lifestyle issues resulted in his departure on bad terms. James Mingo Lewis was hired at the last minute as a replacement at a concert in New York City.
David Brown later left due to substance abuse problems. A South American tour was cut short in Lima, Peru, due to student protests against U.S. governmental policies and unruly fans. The madness of the tour convinced Santana that changes needed to be made in the band and in his life.
In January 1972, Santana, Schon, Escovedo, and Lewis joined former Band of Gypsys drummer, Buddy Miles, for a concert at Hawaii’s Diamond Head Crater, which was recorded for the album Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live!. The performance was erratic and uneven, but the album managed to achieve gold-record status on the weight of Santana’s popularity.
In early 1972, Santana and the remaining members of the band started working on their fourth album, Caravanserai. During the studio sessions, Santana and Michael Shrieve brought in other musicians: percussionists James Mingo Lewis and Latin-Jazz veteran, Armando Peraza replacing Michael Carabello, and bassists Tom Rutley and Doug Rauch replacing David Brown.
Also assisting on keyboards were Wendy Haas and Tom Coster. With the unsettling influx of new players in the studio, Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon decided that it was time to leave after the completion of the album, even though both contributed to the session. Rolie returned home to Seattle, and later became a founding member of Journey (which Schon would later join as well).
When Caravanserai did emerge in 1972, it marked a strong change in musical direction towards jazz fusion. The album received critical praise, but CBS executive Clive Davis warned Santana and the band that it would sabotage the band’s position as a “Top 40” act.
Nevertheless, over the years, the album would achieve platinum status. The difficulties Santana and the band went through during this period were chronicled in Ben Fong-Torres’ Rolling Stone 1972 cover story “The Resurrection of Carlos Santana”.
Santana met Deborah King, whom he later married in 1973. She is the daughter of late blues singer and guitarist Saunders King. They have three children: Salvador, Stella and Angelica. Together with wife Deborah, Santana founded a not-for-profit organization, the Milagro (“Miracle”) Foundation, which provides financial aid for educational, medical, and other needs.
Shifting styles and spirituality: 1972–79
In 1972, Santana became interested in the pioneering fusion band The Mahavishnu Orchestra and its guitarist, John McLaughlin.
Aware of Santana’s interest in meditation, McLaughlin introduced Santana and Deborah to his guru, Sri Chinmoy. Chinmoy accepted them as disciples in 1973. Santana was given the name Devadip, meaning “The lamp, light and eye of God”.
Santana and McLaughlin recorded an album together, Love, Devotion, Surrender (1973) with members of Santana and The Mahavishnu Orchestra, along with percussionist Don Alias and organist Larry Young, who both had made appearances on Miles Davis’ classic album Bitches Brew in 1969.
In 1973, Santana, having obtained legal rights to the band’s name, Santana, formed a new version of the band with Armando Peraza and Chepito Areas on percussion, Doug Rauch on bass, Michael Shrieve on drums, and Tom Coster and Richard Kermode on keyboards.
Santana later was able to recruit jazz vocalist Leon Thomas for a tour in Japan on July 3 and 4, 1973, which was recorded for the live, sprawling, high-energy triple vinyl LP fusion album Lotus (1974). CBS records would not allow its release unless the material was condensed.
Santana did not agree to those terms and Lotus was available in the U.S. only as an expensive, imported, three-record set. The group later went into the studio and recorded Welcome (1973), which further reflected Santana’s interests in jazz fusion and his increasing commitment to the spiritual life of Sri Chinmoy.
A collaboration with John Coltrane’s widow, Alice Coltrane, Illuminations (1974), followed. The album delved into avant-garde esoteric free jazz, Eastern Indian and classical influences with other ex-Miles Davis sidemen Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland. Soon after, Santana replaced his band members again.
This time Kermode, Thomas and Rauch departed from the group and were replaced by vocalist Leon Patillo (later a successful Contemporary Christian artist) and returning bassist David Brown. He also recruited soprano saxophonist, Jules Broussard for the lineup. The band recorded one studio album Borboletta, which was released in 1974. Drummer Leon “Ndugu” Chancler later joined the band as a replacement for Michael Shrieve, who left to pursue a solo career.
By this time, Bill Graham’s management company had assumed responsibility for the affairs of the group. Graham was critical of Santana’s move into jazz and felt he needed to concentrate on getting Santana back into the charts with the edgy, streetwise ethnic sound that had made them famous.
Santana himself was seeing that the group’s direction was alienating many fans. Although the albums and performances were given good reviews by critics in jazz and jazz fusion circles, sales had plummeted.
Santana, along with Tom Coster, producer David Rubinson, and Chancler, formed yet another version of Santana, adding vocalist Greg Walker. The 1976 album Amigos, which featured the songs “Dance, Sister, Dance” and “Let It Shine”, had a strong funk and Latin sound.
The album received considerable airplay on FM album-oriented rock stations with the instrumental “Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)” and re-introduced Santana to the charts. In 1976 Rolling Stone ran a second cover story on Santana entitled “Santana Comes Home”.
The albums conceived through the late 1970s followed the same formula, although with several lineup changes. Among the new personnel who joined was current percussionist Raul Rekow, who joined in early 1977. Most notable of the band’s commercial efforts of this era was a version of the 1960s Zombies hit, “She’s Not There”, on the 1977 double album Moonflower.
The relative success of the band’s albums in this era allowed Santana to pursue a solo career funded by CBS. First, Oneness: Silver Dreams – Golden Reality, in 1979 and The Swing of Delight in 1980, which featured some of his musical heroes: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams from Miles Davis’ legendary 1960s quintet.
The pressures and temptations of being a high-profile rock musician and requirements of the spiritual lifestyle which guru Sri Chinmoy and his followers demanded were in conflict, and imposed considerable stress upon Santana’s lifestyle and marriage.
He was becoming increasingly disillusioned with what he thought were the unreasonable rules that Chinmoy imposed on his life, and in particular with his refusal to allow Santana and Deborah to start a family. He felt too that his fame was being used to increase the guru’s visibility. Santana and Deborah eventually ended their relationship with Chinmoy in 1982.
Guitars and effects
Santana played a red Gibson SG Special with P-90 pickups at the Woodstock festival. During the time between the release of Abraxas and Santana III (1970–1972), he used different Gibson Les Pauls and a Black Gibson SG Special. From 1976 until 1982 his main guitar was a Yamaha SG 175B and sometimes a white Gibson SG Custom with 3 single coil pick-ups.
In 1982 he started to use a custom made PRS Custom 24 guitar. In 1988 PRS Guitars began making Santana signature model guitars, which Santana has played through its various iterations ever since (see below).
Santana currently uses a Santana II model guitar fitted with PRS Santana III nickel covered pickups, a tremolo bar, and .009-.042 gauge D’Addario strings.
He also plays a PRS Santana Multidimensional (MD)The Santana guitars feature necks made of a single piece of mahogany topped with Rosewood fretboards (some feature highly sought-after Brazilian Rosewood). This helps create the smooth, singing, glass-like tone for which he is known.
Santana Signature Models:
PRS Santana I “The Yellow”(1988)
PRS Santana II “Supernatural” (1999)
PRS Santana III (2001)
PRS Santana SE (2001)
PRS Santana SE II (2003)
PRS Santana Shaman SE-Limited Edition (2003)
PRS Santana MD “The Multidimensional” (2008)
PRS Santana Abraxas SE-Limited Edition (2009)
PRS Santana SE “The Multidimensional” (2011)
Santana also uses a classical guitar, he used the Alvarez Yairi CY127CE with Alvarez tension nylon strings, in the last years from 2009 he uses custom made, semi-hollow Toru Nittono’s “Model-T” Jazz Electric Nylon.
Santana does not use many effects pedals. His PRS guitar is connected to a Mu-Tron wah wah pedal (or, more recently, a Dunlop 535Q wah and a T-Rex Replica delay pedal. then through a customized Jim Dunlop amp switcher which in turn is connected to the different amps or cabinets.
Previous setups include an Ibanez Tube Screamer right after the guitar. He is also known to have used an Electro Harmonix Big Muff distortion for his famous sustain. In the song “Stand Up” from the album Marathon (1980), Santana uses a Heil talk box in the guitar solo. He has also used the Audiotech Guitar Products 1×6 Rack Mount Audio Switcher in rehearsals for the 2008 “Live Your Light” tour.
Santana uses two different guitar picks: the large triangular Dunlop he has used for so many years, and the V-Pick Freakishly Large Round.
Carlos Santana’s distinctive guitar tone is produced by PRS Santana signature guitars plugged into multiple amplifiers. The amps consist of a Mesa Boogie Mark I, Dumble Overdrive Reverb and more recently a Bludotone amplifier. Santana compares the tonal qualities of each amplifier to that of a singer producing head/nasal tones, chest tones, and belly tones.
A three-way amp switcher is employed on Carlos’s pedal board to enable him to switch between amps. Often the unique tones of each amplifier are blended together, complementing each other producing a richer tone.
He also put the “Boogie” in Mesa Boogie. Santana is credited with coining the popular Mesa amplifier name when he tried one and exclaimed, “That little thing really Boogies!”
Specifically, Santana combines a Mesa/Boogie Mark I head running through a Boogie cabinet with Altec 417-8H (or recently JBL E120s) speakers, and a Dumble Overdrive Reverb and/or a Dumble Overdrive Special running through a Brown or Marshall 4×12 cabinet with Celestion G12M “Greenback” speakers, depending on the desired sound.
Shure KSM-32 microphones are used to pick up the sound, going to the PA. Additionally, a Fender Cyber-Twin Amp is mostly used at home.
During his early career Santana used a GMT transistor amplifier stack and a silverface Fender Twin. The GMT 226A rig was used at the Woodstock concert as well as during recording Santana’s debut album. During this era Santana had also began to use the Fender Twin, which was also used on the debut and proceedingly at the recording sessions of Abraxas.
Carlos Santana became a naturalized US citizen in 1965. On October 19, 2007, his wife of 34 years, Deborah Santana, filed for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences”.
Carlos Santana became engaged to drummer Cindy Blackman, after proposing to her during a concert of the Universal Tone Tour at Tinley Park in Chicago, Illinois, on July 9, 2010. The two were married in December 2010.They currently live in Las Vegas.
Main articles: Carlos Santana discography and Santana (band) discography
Love Devotion Surrender (1973)
Oneness – Silver Dreams Golden Reality (1979)
The Swing of Delight (1980)
Havana Moon (1983)
Blues for Salvador (1987)
Santana Brothers (1994)
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