Revisiting “Santana”, the 1969 debut album of the San Francisco band Santana
Santana were formed in 1966 as Santana Blues Band by Mexican-American guitarist Carlos Santana. He put up together a group of musicians with different backgrounds, ethnicity’s and influences, which resulted in a heavy fusion Rock band that could play Psychedelic Rock and Blues all seasoned with Latin and African drum beats and sounds. It was the first band of it’s kind to make it in the music industry with that formula. Santana played the Psychedelic circuit in San Francisco during the late 60’s with moderate visibility, mostly due to their sound that was different from the Bay rock bands of the time, despite that they were able to gain a legion of fans and followers that allowed them to keep on playing; they were featured at the Fillmore West sometimes along the same bill as Big Brother & The Holding Company, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane or Jimi Hendrix among other household names. In August 1969 they had two big breaks, one when they were put on the bill of the Woodstock Festival, as a special favor made to Fillmore’s Bill Graham, and other, the release of their debut “Santana”.
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The album, an energetic injection of music from beginning to end, largely featured instrumental cuts on free form jam, which was characteristic of Santana’s sound. It’s not just his guitar, you need to listen to every single musician in the album, every single one makes the music what it is. Gregg Rolie, taking on the lead vocals and the essential Hammond organ and piano, the outstanding excellency of Michael Shrieve drumming, David Brown bass, the percussion perfection of Michael Carabello and José “Chepito” Areas. The most memorable songs aside of “Evil Ways”, written by Clarence “Sonny” Henry , originally recorded by jazz percussionist Willie Bobo on his 1967 album “Bobo Motionare”, are the instrumentals like “Jingo”, a cover of a song by Nigerian percussionist, Babatunde Olatunji that was featured on his first album “Drums of Passion” from 1959, and the famous “Soul Sacrifice”. The album opens with “Waiting”, an instrumental that is followed by the album biggest hit “Evil Ways”. “Shades Of Time” it’s a simple song that has a very close approach to the West Coast and Acid Rock sound of the era, it blends into “Savor”, a Latin blended Rock instrumental that fusions into “Jingo”, the semi-instrumental cut that is one the most memorable in the album and closes the first side of the record. Side 2 opens with a short Acid Rock cut, “Persuasion” followed by “Treat”, an instrumental where Carlos Santana’s guitar leads and it’s the main instrument. “You Just Don’t Care”, a semi-blues track sometimes reminiscent of the sound of bands such as Big Brother & The Holding Company, distances itself from the Latin Beat present throughout the album that closes with the famous “Soul Sacrifice”, one of Rock’s best instrumental songs, Almost 7 minutes of pure musical joy where all the different musical influences and beats blend together. The Art work, a Lee Conklin illustration that had been adapted from a concert poster used by Santana when they played Graham’s Fillmore West, was used in the cover, Bill Graham was one of the bands biggest supporters and his influence in the music scene back then certainly helped them with the kick they needed.
Reception and Legacy
“Santana” it’s one of the best debut albums of all time, in an unique way makes you almost forget it’s a studio made album at times. it wasn’t necessarily blessed by the critics at the times, some even called it “noise” (the original Rolling Stone review). But it was proven otherwise, this is a record that hasn’t aged, that remains fresh to the ears and it’s the best moment Santana as a band and the classic line up had. In the following years Carlos Santana followed the same path as a guitarist but far from the wild jams and experimentation of the 60’s and early 70’s.
The Woodstock 1969 Performance
The album success owed a lot of it’s success to the Woodstock Festival performance. Jimi Hendrix and his Band Of Gypsies are usually crowned as the best act to perform in Woodstock, but Santana, an unknown band then, delivered their short performance in outstanding fashion. A whole band under LSD influence (which Carlos tells they taken just minutes to go on stage) played “Soul Sacrifice” and turned the performance into a historical moment in Rock music with Carlo’s guitar skills influencing as many guitarists in that moment as Hendrix did in his. After the success of the album it became a trend in Rock to feature Congas and Timbales, The Rolling Stones already had did it in 1968 on “Sympathy For The Devil”, and The Doors earlier in 1969 with “The Soft Parade” among others, but it was with Santana that it’s use became generalized in Rock. It’s not a “sacrifice” to listen to this album, if so, it’s one for the good of your “soul”.
7 “Treat (instrumental)”
8 “You Just Don’t Care”
9 “Soul Sacrifice (instrumental)” (Carlos Santana, Gregg Rolie, David Brown, Marcus Malone)
Personnel: Gregg Rolie: lead vocals, Hammond organ, piano Carlos Santana: guitar, backing vocals David Brown: bass Michael Shrieve: drums Michael Carabello: congas, percussion José “Chepito” Areas: timbales, congas, percussion
Recorded during: May 1969, Pacific Recording, San Mateo, California Produced by: Brent Dangerfield and Santana band, David Rubinson (original first session January 27–29, 1969) Release Date: August,1969 Label: Columbia
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