Car­los San­tana’s pi­o­neer­ing fu­sion of rock and Latin mu­sic has been thrilling au­di­ences for five decades. Phil Capone ex­plores the many play­ing se­crets of this multi-Grammy win­ning gui­tarist.

Guitar Techniques - - NEWS -

San­tana is one of the most recog­nis­able elec­tric gui­tarists on the planet. Phil Capone analy­ses ev­ery facet of the great man’s style.

Dur­ing the early 60s the bossa nova move­ment marked the be­gin­ning of a surge in the pop­u­lar­ity of latin mu­sic. By the end of the decade it had made its way into main­stream rock, spear­headed by Car­los San­tana’s self-ti­tled band. San­tana’s fu­sion of latin and rock was a mil­lion miles away from the easy lis­ten­ing bossa nova of the early 60s; it was more ag­gres­sive, of­ten jammed and, of course, it fea­tured Car­los’s loud, dis­torted guitar so­los. San­tana was a true vi­sion­ary and pi­o­neer. The first rock mu­si­cian to cre­ate a sig­na­ture sound based on tra­di­tional latin amer­i­can and afro Cuban per­cus­sion.

Car­los San­tana was born in aut­lán de navarro, Jalisco, Mexico on July 20, 1947. his fa­ther was a Mex­i­can mari­achi mu­si­cian who be­gan teach­ing Car­los vi­o­lin when he was just five years old. At the age of eight he turned his at­ten­tion to guitar, again un­der his fa­ther’s guid­ance. By the mid 60s San­tana’s fam­ily had moved to Cal­i­for­nia and Car­los had been ac­cepted at sev­eral Cal­i­for­nian col­leges. in­stead he chose to move to San Fran­cisco, where he en­dured mun­dane day jobs in or­der to fol­low his dream of be­com­ing a pro gui­tarist. his bluesy, melodic so­los didn’t go un­no­ticed and it was not long be­fore the San­tana Blues Band was formed. the group’s fu­sion of latin and african rhythms, rock, jazz, and blues were an in­stant suc­cess. With the band’s name sim­pli­fied to San­tana, the group played a ground-break­ing per­for­mance at the 1969 Wood­stock fes­ti­val, which led to their im­me­di­ate sign­ing with Columbia records. Just a month later their self-ti­tled de­but al­bum was re­leased, fea­tur­ing the first top 10 hit, evil Ways. two fur­ther al­bums quickly fol­lowed, the multi-plat­inum selling abraxus in 1970, and San­tana iii in 1971. San­tana iii added a young (just 15 at the time) gui­tarist neal Schon to the ranks. Schon would re­main for the group’s fourth al­bum, Car­a­vanserai (1972) and then leave to form Jour­ney. Car­a­vanserai marked the end of the orig­i­nal San­tana line-up; from this point the band’s per­son­nel would re­main fluid. This al­bum also sign­posted a move away from the main­stream as Car­los be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing with jazz­ier, more har­mon­i­cally com­plex, and pri­mar­ily in­stru­men­tal ma­te­rial.

Dur­ing this pe­riod Car­los col­lab­o­rated with Ma­hav­ishnu fu­sion leg­end John Mclaugh­lin on the crit­i­cally ac­claimed al­bum love De­vo­tion Sur­ren­der (1973). Both were dis­ci­ples of the eastern guru Sri Chin­moy; the al­bum was in­tended as a trib­ute both to Chin­moy and to the pi­o­neer­ing jazz sax­o­phon­ist John Coltrane. the col­lab­o­ra­tion demon­strated the level of re­spect and trust that these two vir­tu­oso mu­si­cians held for each other. if you’ve never heard this al­bum, do check it out. John Mclaugh­lin’s ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent never over­shad­ows Car­los; he holds his own through­out and at times even out­shines Mclaugh­lin.

San­tana con­tin­ued to re­lease al­bums through­out the 70s and 80s. But the group’s pop­u­lar­ity was dwin­dling and, af­ter two un­suc­cess­ful al­bum re­leases in the early 90s, went into a pe­riod of hi­ber­na­tion. But in 1999 San­tana re­leased his 17th and best selling al­bum, Supernatural. the brain­child of arista records pro­ducer Clive Davis, the record­ing fea­tured col­lab­o­ra­tions with pop­u­lar artists of the day and so in­tro­duced Car­los’s mu­sic to a new, younger au­di­ence. Supernatural sold an in­cred­i­ble 30 mil­lion copies and achieved 15 times plat­inum sta­tus in the USA, while scoop­ing up no less than nine gram­mys. the al­bum en­sured Car­los’s po­si­tion as rock roy­alty at the be­gin­ning of a new mil­len­nium.

San­tana re­mains as pop­u­lar as ever. his 2014 al­bum Co­razón fea­tures col­lab­o­ra­tions with some of the big­gest names in latin mu­sic. his guitar style is as melodic and ex­pres­sive as ever. his un­mis­tak­able fat tone and unique phras­ing puts San­tana into the realm of gui­tarists who can be iden­ti­fied by a sin­gle note. he is one of the great­est liv­ing le­gends of the elec­tric guitar and if you’ve never seen the great man live, do it. he and his band put on a sen­sa­tional show!

A lot of times, I can’t stand my play­ing. Other times, I can’t be­lieve that it’s com­ing out of my fin­gers. Car­los San­tana

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