Santana - Biography

By J Poet


Carlos Santana, leader of the band that bears his name, is one of the most revered American guitar players in history with a signature sound marked by a clear high pitched tone with a long bluesy sustain. He played world music before the genre had a name, successfully blending blues, rock, jazz and Latin music. He always went his own way, finding fame by ignoring trends and playing the music of his heart. Although almost every album Santana - and the band that bears his name - ever made went gold, it wasn’t until 1999 that he became a superstar. His “comeback” album Supernatural (1999 Arista) sold 14 million copies and took home 14 platinum albums and eight Grammys, duplicating Michael Jackson’s 1983 record for most Grammys won on a single night. Despite his growing commercial success – he’s sold more than 90 million albums and performed for more than 100 million people - he continues to go his own way, making music to nourish the heart and soul of his fans without borders or boundaries.


Santana was born in 1947, in a small village in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. His father’s side of the family had always been mariachi musicians; his father started giving him violin lessons when he was five, but he wasn’t interested in traditional music. At eight he discovered the blues and started teaching himself guitar by playing along with the records of B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, and T-Bone Walker. When he was 12, the family moved to Tijuana and he was soon playing rock music in the town’s seedy nightclubs.


The family moved again, to San Francisco, but Santana left home to go back and play the Tijuana clubs. His older brother brought him back home where he settled into Mission High and learned English. The clubs in the Mission district and The Fillmore were a hotbed of jazz, blues, international folk music, and classical Afro-Cuban sounds. After school he went back to playing clubs nights and working days, until he was “discovered” by the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. With Garcia’s help he put together the Santana Blues band with David Brown on bass and Gregg Rolie on keyboards.


Before long Santana’s blistering solos and the band’s blend of Afro-Cuban music with rock and blues was getting attention, and Bill Graham started booking them at The Fillmore and Winterland. Record companies came sniffing around, but Santana turned them down. When they played Woodstock in 1969, they didn’t have an album out, but their performance of “Soul Sacrifice,” a tune Santana composed especially for the event, caused a sensation. They next scored an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, one of the only unsigned rock bands to ever be booked. In late 1969, they finally inked a deal with Columbia. Santana (1969 Columbia) stayed on the charts for two years, went double platinum and launched two Top 10 hits “Evil Ways” and “Jingo,” an adaptation of Olatunji’s “Jin-go-lo-bah.”


Abraxas (1969 Columbia) hit #1on the album charts and went 5X platinum behind covers of Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va” and Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman” which contains one of Santana’s most familiar guitar solos. Santana III (1971 Columbia) with Neal Schon on second lead guitar and the Tower of Power horn section and the jazzy Caravanserai (1972 Columbia) followed the band’s previous albums up the charts and into platinum territory. In 1972, Santana made his first “solo” outing, Live - Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles (Columbia) a jazzy outing that included “Free Form Funkified Filth,” a title that perfectly captured the album’s vibe.


After the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison, Santana put the breaks onto his own excesses and became a devotee of Sri Chinmoy and became Devadip Carlos Santana. Through Sri Chinmoy he met the British guitar hero Mahavishnu John McLaughlin and they collaborated on Love, Devotion, Surrender (1973 Columbia) an album that showed both men in top form with Santana’s passion complimenting McLaughlin’s astonishing technical prowess. It hit the Top 20 and went gold.


Santana’s spiritual beliefs infused his playing with his band as well, and he incorporated more free flowing instrumental tunes into the band’s driving Latin/rock/jazz sound. Welcome (1973 Columbia), Borboletta (1974 Columbia), the live two LP set Lotus (1975 Columbia) and Festival (1976 Columbia) all slowly went gold, but it was the gold Amigos (1976 Columbia) that returned them to the top of the album charts. Bill Graham became Santana’s manger in 1975 and signed him to another seven album deal with Columbia.


The band toured relentlessly and headlined LiveAid, the US Festival, and the first Amnesty International concert tour. In the late 70s and 80s, the band released the double LP live set Moonflower (1977 Columbia) which went double platinum, Inner Secrets (1978 Columbia) and Marathon (1979 Columbia) which went gold, Zebop (1981 Columbia) another platinum success, Shango (1982 Columbia), Beyond Appearances (1985 Columbia), and Freedom (1987 Columbia). Santana also released several solo projects including the spiritually themed albums Illuminations (1975 Columbia) a collaboration with harp player Turiya Alice Coltrane, widow of John Coltrane and Oneness: Silver Dreams Golden Reality (1979 Columbia). Other solo efforts were Swing of Delight (1980 Columbia), a jazz fusion project with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Ron Carter, the more rock oriented Havana Moon (1983 Columbia) with Willie Nelson, Booker T. Jones, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and his father’s mariachi band, and Blues for Salvador (1988 Columbia). The title track of Blues for Salvador won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. In 1986, Carlos he wrote the musical score, for the Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba, but none of that music made it onto the original soundtrack album. Santana also organized the Blues for Salvador concert in Oakland, California, to benefit the children in El Salvador damaged by Reagan’s aggressive foreign policy. His last album for Columbia was 1990’s Spirits Dancing in the Flesh.


In 1982 Santana stopped following Sri Chinmoy, converting to Christianity in the early 1990. In 1992 he started his own label, through Polydor and released Milagro (1992 Guts & Grace/Polydor) hailed by critics as one of his best fusion efforts. Still, radio was changing and while he was still played on oldies stations, mainstream radio was ignoring his music. Santana Brothers (1994 guts & Grace/Island) an all instrumental album of Latin rock cut with his brother Jorge and his nephew Carlos Hernandez didn’t help despite its blazing musicianship.  He stayed out of the studio until he signed with Arista and cut Supernatural (1999 Arista) which went 14X platinum. Santana took a big gable by inviting some of the younger generation into the studio with him, but Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, Eagle Eye Cherry, Maná, Dave Matthews, Everlast, and Rob Thomas helped open the ears of a new generation to his timeless music. Supernatural was his first #1 album and won Grammys for Best Rock Album, Album of The Year, Best Rock Performance for the track “The Calling” with Eric Clapton, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group for “Put Your Lights On” a collaboration with Everlast, Best Pop Instrumental Performance for his work on “El Farol”, Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals and Record of the Year for “Smooth” with Rob Thomas, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group for “Maria Maria.” The album also won three Latin Grammys - Record of the Year for “Corazón Espinado” with Maná, Best Pop Instrumental Performance for “El Farol”, and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group for “Corazón Espinado”.


On Shaman (2003 Arista) and All That I Am (2005) he continued his winning streak and his collaborations. Shaman (2003 Arista) went double platinum with the help of Michelle Branch, Musiq, Seal, Macy Gray, Dido, P.O.D., Placido Domingo and Ozomatli. “The Game of Love” won Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals Grammy for Santana and Michelle Branch. All That I Am (2005) went gold with the help of Steven Tyler, Mary J. Blige & Big Boi,, Kirk Hammett & Robert Randolph, Bo Rice and Los Lonely Boys.


Santana’s always been active in community organizations and founded the Milagro Foundation, which has given almost two million dollars to benefit underprivileged youths. He donated the profits of his 2003 Shaman tour to ANSA – Artists for New South Africa – to fund their fight against AIDS. He received star on Hollywood Rock Walk of Fame and Billboard’s Century Award for distinguished achievement in 1996 and was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 1998. He received the NAACP Hall of Fame Award in 2006.



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