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.
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