From blues to rock, from fusion to his native Latin and beyond, Les Davidson looks at the Living Legend that is the mighty Carlos Santana
the guitar at age eight. the family moved from autlán de navarro to tijuana, on Mexico's border with California, on to san Francisco.
It was here that Carlos heard everything from blues to jazz and folk music. After finishing school he washed dishes and went busking for small change, but was always honing his guitar skills.
Carlos came to prominence in 1966 when promoter Bill Graham included him on a sunday blues jam at the Fillmore west, replacing Paul Butterfield who was indisposed. Butterfield’s guitarist Michael Bloomfield and Britain’s Peter Green influenced Carlos greatly, as did BB King, and you can hear these influences even today. But he also developed his own unique guitar voice. It was clear to all who heard him that a unique talent was emerging.
Carlos was already in the santana Blues band along with organist and singer, Gregg rolie, David Brown on bass, and Marcus Malone on percussion. they played for free whenever they could in San Francisco’s bay area. Bill Graham gave the band its own spot at the Fillmore west in the summer of 1968. santana's big breakthrough came at the 1969 woodstock festival where they gave a superlative performance which was recorded and released on the subsequent woodstock film in cinemas all over the world, establishing santana as a powerhouse of latin-rock infused with blues, unlike anything that had come before it. The first two albums, Santana and abraxas, were a mainstay in the album charts around the world and could be found in most discerning record collections of the time.
Carlos also investigated a more modal approach, as can be heard on his collaboration with jazz giant John Mclaughlin on love Devotion surrender; he also lent his guitar skills to Kora player Mory Kante’s late-80s album touma. He has since collaborated with some of the top names from both the old school and the musicians of today.
the following two 16-bar examples serve as an introduction to Carlos’ melodic soloing style. First his late-60s approach and then his late-90s. Use the examples to expand your vocabulary and overall technical facility.
Carlos tends to use his amp volume turned up and his guitar volume control backed down, opening it up for solos. He uses a conventional picking technique although both examples are playable with pick and fingers approaches.
santana tends to play a mixture of languid lines interspersed with fast sprints. there are many ways to build up speed but the Gt
The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart; the most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace.
approach is to suggest you learn the licks at a manageable tempo before attempting to play them at performance speed (unless of course this presents no problem to you). Doing things slowly and deliberately allows you to focus on where any problems lie - is it your picking letting the side down; or are your fingers simply not used to the positions or shapes used? Using a little patience to nail the problem area will reap huge rewards later on, in terms of precision when tackling and overcoming specific problems, and in your overall guitar technique.
Carlos taking one of his legendary top-of-the-neck excursions