Personalities | Carlos Santana | Santana’s Searing Colossus | Guitar Heroes

Multitalented guitarist Carlos Santana was born the son of a mariachi musician in the Mexican town of Autlan de Navarro in 1947. The family moved to Tijuana when he was nine, and Carlos, who first played violin before changing to guitar, became interested in rock’n’roll and blues.

At 13, he was earning money playing in cantinas and strip joints. When his family emigrated to San Francisco, he stayed behind to continue working as a musician, but was persuaded to join them and soon became involved in the city’s burgeoning music scene.

In 1966, The Santana Blues Band was formed. Despite the name, they operated as a collective, and Carlos was not regarded as the leader, a situation which persisted for several years, even after the name was shortened to Santana in 1968. Embarking on a two-month tour of colleges and universities in California, the band developed their distinctive sound, incorporating the Afro-Cuban rhythms of Latin America, which complemented Santana’s lyrical guitar style.

Carlos quickly made a name for himself; his first appearance on record was as a guest on The Live Adventures Of Mike Bloomfield And Al Kooper (1968), which came about as a result of legendary promoter Bill Graham taking the band under his wing. Graham pulled off a remarkable coup in securing Santana a slot at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969. By then, they had signed to CBS and recorded their debut album Santana (1969), a collection of free-form jams with which the band were largely dissatisfied. Woodstock proved a turning point for Santana; their rendition of the 11-minute instrumental ‘Soul Sacrifice’ was one of the highlights of the movie, making the band internationally famous. Santana were also on the bill at The Rolling Stones’ disastrous free gig at Altamont later in the year. Their second album, Abraxas (1970), went to No. 1, and its mix of salsa, rock’n’roll, Latin and jazz was more successful for being compressed into structured songs. The album featured Santana’s expressive guitar on two well-known pieces, Peter Green’s ‘Black Magic Woman’ and ‘Samba Pa Ti’.

The recruitment of teenage prodigy Neal Schon gave the band a harder-edged dual-guitar sound for Santana (1971), also known as Santana III to avoid confusion with the first album. Caravanserai (1972) veered into jazz-rock fusion territory, and Santana’s commercial fortunes started to decline. Next came Amigos (1976). By returning to the Latin feel and adding a dose of funk, Carlos Santana arrived at a formula that served him for many years.

Santana made an acclaimed appearance during the American leg of Live Aid in 1985. The year 1988 saw a reunion tour with various former members of the Santana band. During the 1990s, however, his career was at a low point, and he was without a record contract, but he pulled off a remarkable comeback by signing to Arista Records and assembling an all-star cast for Supernatural (1999), which won nine Grammy Awards. It was followed by Shaman (2003)...

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