Born in 1947, Carlos Santana grew up mostly poor in a small Mexican town, Autlán de Navarro. His father, Jose, led a mariachi band and inspired him to learn violin (which he detested) and guitar (which he didn’t).
Amid his parents’ marital uproar the family moved to rumbustious border town Tijuana where Carlos played to a cantina full of prostitutes.
Santana (the band) formed in 1967 after Carlos moved with his family to San Francisco. From the start, the band combined rock with Latin American rhythms, and after appearing at Woodstock became a big name.
Oye Como Va, penned by Latin-music great Tito Puente, helped the second album Abraxas (1970) to big sales, and Santana 3 (1972) brought Neil Schon into the band.
Despite being the face of the band, Carlos and his impeccable guitar were merely components in a supremely gifted outfit, and on Abraxas, each member of the band made his presence felt.
Gregg Rolie supplied the articulate, seductive organ grooves that made Black Magic Woman and Oye Como Va instant radio classics, and composed the stomping rockers Mother’s Daughter and Hope You’re Feeling Better, with Carlos’ signature riffs soaring high above.
Bassist Dave Brown and drummer Mike Shrieve laid the bedrock of what was quickly becoming one of the tightest rhythm sections known to mankind and paved the road for the exuberant timbales and congas of Mike Carabello and José Areas.
Carlos disbanded his original group as he began to embrace the teachings of guru Sri Chinmoy (at the instigation of his friend Mahavishnu John McLaughlin). Santana adopted the name Devadip.
The Latin/jazz/rock fusion album Caravanserai used keyboard player Gregg Rolie and guitarist Neil Schon along with studio musicians – none of whom were included in the new Santana lineup in 1973.
The new line-up placed original members Areas and Shrieve alongside Tom Coster (keyboards), James Mingo Lewis (percussion), Armando Peraza (percussion) and Doug Rauch (bass).
At this time, Carlos Santana also recorded albums with John McLaughlin (Love, Devotion, Surrender) and Alice Coltrane (Illuminations).
More line-up changes saw Santana (the band) return from heady experimentation to simpler roots, which returned their albums back to the ranks of the best-sellers again.
In 1977, Santana ditched his band again (except for Tom Coster), and Neil Schon and Gregg Rolie formed Journey.
Carlos Santana enjoyed single success with Winning (1981) and Hold On (1982) and also renewed his collaborative work. He cut Havana Moon with Willie Nelson in 1983 and Beyond Appearances (1985) with Buddy Miles.
Santana’s 1999 “comeback” album Supernatural scooped nine Grammys and over 10 platinum discs. Their 2000 single Smooth became their first Top 20 hit in over 22 years.
“Music is the union of two lovers: melody and rhythm.
The melody is the woman, and the rhythm is the man.”
Carlos Santana. 1994
José ‘Chepito’ Areas
James Mingo Lewis