May 2017

Santana, the Man and the Band

Our May 2017 Icon has been melding rock with Latin music for 50 years.

Most people outside the San Francisco Bay Area first became aware of Carlos Santana through his namesake band’s memorable performance before a crowd of more than 400,000 at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969. The peak of their set, captured for an even larger audience in the Woodstock concert film and soundtrack album, was this song: the original instrumental “Soul Sacrifice.” Santana’s own passionate guitar playing is a dominant force here, but just as important are percussionists Jose “Chepito” Areas and Mike Carabello, organist Gregg Rolie, and the virtuoso drumming of Michael Shrieve (who had just turned 20 when this clip was filmed).

Another Santana classic, “Black Magic Woman,” was written by one of the guitarist’s musical heroes: Peter Green, the original leader of the British rock band Fleetwood Mac. Although Green’s 1968 recording of the song with Fleetwood Mac is superb, Santana’s version from two years later is far better known. In this live performance (from a 1971 edition of the German TV show Beat Club), Carlos shares the stage and the solos with another guitarist, Neal Schon, who was only 16 when he joined Santana. Within a couple of years, Schon and keyboardist/singer Rolie would leave the band and form another one, Journey, which went on to achieve massive success in the late 1970s and 1980s with radio-friendly rock songs like “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Open Arms,” and “Separate Ways.”

Ever since it first appeared on 1970’s Abraxas, Santana’s version of Latin percussionist/bandleader Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va” has been a staple of the man (and the band)’s concerts. Here’s a live take from a 1993 show in Santana’s native Mexico.

In 1999, Santana introduced himself to a new generation of listeners with the album Supernatural. Of its several hits, the biggest was “Smooth.” Co-written and sung by Rob Thomas of the rock band Matchbox 20 (who reprises his lead vocal role in the live version below), “Smooth” spent three months at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. To date, Supernatural has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling album ever released by an Hispanic artist.