Santana was born in Autln de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico. His father was a mariachi violinist, and Carlos learned to play the violin at age five and the guitar at age eight. Young Carlos was heavily influenced by Ritchie Valens at a time when there were very few Latinos in American rock and pop music. The family moved from Autln de Navarro to Tijuana, the border city between Mexico and California, and then San Francisco. Carlos stayed in Tijuana but joined his family in San Francisco later and graduated from James Lick Middle School and Mission High School there. He graduated from Mission High in 1965. a famous guitarist from Tijuana Mexico, is said to be Carlos’s guitar teacher who taught him to play a different style of guitar soloing. After learning Batiz’s techniques, Santana would make them his own as well.
In San Francisco, he got the chance to see his idols, most notably B.B. King, perform live. He was also introduced to a variety of new musical influences, including jazz, world music, and folk music, and witnessed the growing hippie movement centered in San Francisco in the 1960s. After several years spent working as a dishwasher in a diner and busking for spare change on the streets, Santana decided to become a full-time musician; in 1966, he formed the Santana Blues Band, with fellow street musicians, David Brown and Gregg Rolie (bassist and keyboard player, respectively).
With their highly original blend of Latin-infused rock, jazz, blues, salsa, and African rhythms, the band (which quickly became known simply as Santana) gained an immediate following on the San Francisco strip club. The band’s early success, capped off by a memorable performance at Woodstock in 1969, led to a recording contract with Columbia Records, then run by Clive Davis.
Santana to Caravanserai
Santana was signed by CBS Records and went into the studio to record their first album. They were not satisfied with the release and realized changes needed to be made. This resulted in the dismissal of Bob Livingston. Santana replaced him with Mike Shrieve, who had a strong background in both jazz and rock. Marcus Malone was forced to quit the band due to personal problems, 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, who had been a fan of the band from the start, convinced the promoters of the Woodstock Music and Art Festival to let them appear before their first 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 albums vastly increased Santana’s 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, simply titled Santana, became a huge hit, reaching number four on the U.S. album charts, and the catchy single “Evil Ways” reached number nine on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1970, the group reached its early commercial peak with their second album, Abraxas, which reached number one on the album charts and went on to sell over four million copies. Instrumental in the production of the album was pianist Alberto Gianquinto, who advised the group to stay away from lengthy percussion jams and concentrate on tighter song structures. The innovative Santana musical blend made a number-four hit out of the English band Fleetwood Mac’s “Black Magic Woman” and a number-thirteen hit out of salsa legend Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va”. Carlos Santana, alongside the classic Santana lineup of their first two albums, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. He performed “Black Magic Woman” with the writer of the song, Fleetwood Mac’s founder Peter Green. Green was inducted the same night.
However, Woodstock and 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 established the band in the first place. Santana on the other hand, was growing musically beyond his love of blues & rock and wanted more jazzy, ethereal elements in the music, which were influenced by his fascination with Miles Davis and John Coltrane, as well as his growing interest in spirituality and meditation. To further complicate matters, Chepito Areas was stricken with a near-fatal brain hemorrhage, and Santana wanted the band to continue performing 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.
Teenage San Francisco Bay Area guitar prodigy Neal Schon was asked to join the band in 1971, though, at the time, he was also invited by Eric Clapton to join Derek and the Dominos. Choosing Santana, he joined 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 a number of friends who helped with percussion and vocals, injecting more energy to the proceedings. Santana III was another success, reaching number one on the album charts, selling two million copies, and yielding the hits “Everybody’s Everything” and “No One to Depend On”.
But tension in the band continued. Along with musical differences, drug use became a problem, and Santana was deeply worried 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, Neal Schon and Coke Escovedo joined former Band of Gypsys drummer Buddy Miles for a concert at Hawaii’s Diamond Head Crater, which was recorded for a live album. 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 made spectacular contributions to the session. Rolie left and went home to Seattle, opening a restaurant with his father, 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 Forty 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 cover story “The Resurrection of Carlos Santana”.
Around this time, Santana met Deborah King, whom he later married in 1973. She is the daughter of the 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 Foundation, which provides financial aid for educational, medical, and other needs.
In 1972, Santana became a huge fan of 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 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 Bitches Brew in 1969.
In 1973, Santana, having obtained legal rights to the band’s name, formed a new version of Santana, 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 was later able to recruit jazz vocalist Leon Thomas for a tour of Japan, which was recorded for the live, sprawling, high-energy fusion album Lotus. CBS records would not allow its release unless the material was condensed. Santana did not agree to those terms, and the album was available in the U.S. only as an expensive, imported, three-record set. The group later went into the studio and recorded Welcome, which further reflected Santana’s interests in jazz fusion and his commitment to the spiritual life of Sri Chinmoy.
Santana claimed to become a born-again Christian (date unknown) and produced an album in 1992 ith songs about Jesus Christ, called Milagro.
In 2008 he told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview that he would hear Jesus’ voice comforting him when he was becoming suicidal.
Shifting styles in the 1970s
New Year’s Eve 1976; at the Cow Palace, San Francisco Photo: David Gans
A collaboration with John Coltrane’s widow, Alice Coltrane -Illuminations 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 to 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. For a time, he employed the services of famed bassist Jaco Pastorius, who added more of a funk groove to his newer jazz sound.
By this time, the Bill Graham’s management company had assumed the affairs of the group. Graham was critical of Santana’s direction into jazz and felt he needed to concentrate on getting Santana back into the charts with the edgy, street-wise 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 Chandler 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 also received considerable airplay on FM album-oriented rock stations with the instrumental “Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)” and re-introduced Santana back into the charts. Rolling Stone Magazine 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 personnel who came and left the band was percussionist Raul Rekow, who joined in early 1977 and remains to this day. 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 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 requisites of the spiritual lifestyle which guru Sri Chinmoy and his followers demanded, were great sources of conflict to Santana’s lifestyle and marriage. He was becoming increasingly disillusioned with what he thought was Chinmoy’s often-unreasonable rules imposed on his life, in particular, 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.
Santana, 1984 Barcelona, Spain
More radio-pleasing singles followed from Santana and the band. “Winning” in 1981 and “Hold On” ( a remake of Canadian artist Ian Thomas’ song) in 1982 both reached the top twenty. After his break with Sri Chinmoy, Santana went into the studio to record another solo album with Keith Olson and legendary R&B producer Jerry Wexler. The 1983 album revisited Santana’s early musical experiences in Tijuana with Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” and the title cut, Chuck Berry’s “Havana Moon”. The album’s guests included Booker T. Jones, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Willie Nelson and even Santana’s father’s mariachi orchestra. Santana again paid tribute to his early rock roots by doing the film score to La Bamba, which was based on the tragically short life of rock and roll legend Ritchie Valens and starred Lou Diamond Philips.
Although the band had concentrated on trying to produce albums with commercial appeal during the 1980s, changing tastes in popular culture began to reflect in the band’s sagging record sales of their latest effort Beyond Appearances. In 1985, Bill Graham had to once again pull strings for Santana to convince principal Live Aid concert organizer Bob Geldof to allow the band to appear at the festival. The group’s high-energy performance proved why they were still a top concert draw the world over despite their poor performance on the charts. Personally, Santana retained a great deal of respect in both jazz and rock circles, with Prince and guitarist Kirk Hammett of Metallica citing him as an influence.
The band Santana returned in 1986 with a new album Freedom. Buddy Milles, who was trying to revive his music career after spending much of the late 1970s and early 1980s incarcerated for drug charges, returned for lead vocals. His onstage presence provided a dose of charisma to the show; but, once again, the sales of the album fell flat.
Growing weary of trying to appease record company executives with formulaic hit records, Santana took great pleasure in jamming and making guest appearances with notables such as the jazz fusion group Weather Report, jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, Blues legend John Lee Hooker, Frank Franklin, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, and West African singer Salif Keita. He and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead later recorded and performed with Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji, who conceived one of Santana’s famous 1960s drum jams, “Jingo”. In 1988, Santana organized a reunion with past members from the Santana band for a series of concert dates. CBS records released a 20-year retrospective of the band’s accomplishments with Viva Santana.
That same year Santana formed an all-instrumental group featuring jazz legend Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano sax. The group also included Patrice Rushen on keyboards, Alphonso Johnson on bass, Armando Peraza and Chepito Areas on percussion, and Leon ‘Ndugu’ Chancler on drums. They toured briefly and received much acclaim from the music press, who compared the effort with the era of Caravanserai. Santana released another solo record, Blues for Salvador, which won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
In 1990, Santana left Columbia Records after twenty-two years and signed with Polygram. The following year, he made a guest appearance on Ottmar Liebert’s album Solo Para Ti, on the songs “Reaching out 2 U” and on a cover of his own song, “Samba Pi Ti”. In 1992, Santana hired jam band Phish as his opening act. He remains close to the band today, especially to guitarist Trey Anastasio.
Return to commercial success
Carlos Santana during a concert in 2005
Santana’s record sales in the 1990s were very low. Toward the end of the decade he was without a contract. However, Arista Records’ Clive Davis, who had worked with Santana at Columbia Records, signed him and encouraged him to record a star-studded album with mostly younger artists. The result was 1999’s Supernatural, which included collaborations with Everlast, Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty, Eric Clapton, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, Cee-Lo, Man, Dave Matthews, K. C. Porter, J. B. Eckl, and others.
However, the lead single was what grabbed the attention of both fans and the music industry. “Smooth”, a dynamic cha-cha stop-start number co-written and sung by Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty, was laced throughout with Santana’s guitar fills and runs. The track’s energy was immediately apparent on radio, and it was played on a wide variety of station formats. “Smooth” spent twelve weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming in the process the last #1 single of the 1990s. The music video, set on a hot barrio street, was also very popular. Supernatural reached number one on the US album charts and the follow-up single, “Maria Maria”, featuring the R&B duo The Product G&B, also hit number one, spending ten weeks there in th
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