Legendary guitarist Carlos Santana was born in Autlan de Navarro, Mexico on July 20, 1947. He first learned to play violin since his father was a professional violinist but traded it for a guitar by the time he was eight when his family moved to Tijuana.
After being inspired by American rock & roll he began performing in local strip clubs until his father relocated the family to San Francisco in the early 1960s for work. Carlos became a naturalized American citizen in 1965 and was working as a dishwasher. After work, he played on the streets until he formed the “Santana Blues Band” made up of other street musicians in 1966. The hippie movement was taking place at the time with its epicenter in San Francisco which influenced his music.
Santana combined blues, rock and jazz with psychedelic African polyrhythms to create a unique sound. Bill Graham became the band’s manager and got them their big break when he had them included on the roster of the historic Woodstock music festival in 1969. Their stellar performance resulted in Clive Davis signing the band to a recording contract with “Columbia Records.” Over the decades the band members have constantly changed leaving Santana the sole consistent member.
In 1998, he was inducted into the “Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and was listed by “Rolling Stone” as the 15th “Greatest Guitar Player” of the 20th century. He’s had a top 10 album on the charts every decade for the past six going back to the 1960’s. He’s won ten Grammys including 8 in one night for Supernatural tying Michael Jackson’s record and he continues to perform before sold out crowds to this day.
Here are Blues Rock Review’s top 10 Santana songs.
10. “Oye Como Va”
Carlos Santana is a musical genius who has the ability to take any song and make it uniquely his own. “Oye Como Va” is a classic example of that when he recorded Salsa legend Tito Puente’s 1950’s composition for Abraxas in 1970. Once again keyboard player Gregg Rolie who joined “Journey” in 1973 sang lead on it.
9. “Everybody’s Everything”
“Everybody’s Everything” was co-written by Santana and sung by keyboardist Gregg Rolie. It appeared on 1971’s Santana III and the sound was augmented by the “Tower of Power” horn section. The guitar solo was performed by future “Journey” founder and guitarist Neal Schon who first joined Santana when he was fifteen. The lyrics communicate the concern at that time for enlightenment, which Santana believed was a primary function of music.
“Let your head be free
Turn the wisdom key.”
8. “Evil Ways”
Jazz guitarist Clarence “Sonny” Henry wrote “Evil Ways” and it was originally recorded in 1965 by Willie Bobo. Bobo was an important influence on Santana by being the first to record the merger between Latin music and blues. It appeared on Santana’s eponymous debut album in 1969 and was in their set list at “Woodstock.” It was released as a single soon after the festival in the midst of the positive publicity because of their stellar performance and it hit #9 on the charts.
7. “She’s Not There”
The Moonflower album is comprised of a mixture of live and studio cuts and was released in 1977 as a double album. One of the standout cuts is a cover of the Zombies 1964 hit single “She’s Not There,” written by Rod Argent, which was also released as a single. The song was covered by many other artists but once again Santana demonstrated his ability to completely master someone else’s tune and make it uniquely his own by infusing it with his sound. Although Santana sometimes sang lead he always included a lead singer in his band over the decades and this time it was Greg Walker.
6. “Blues for Salvador”
“Blues For Salvador” is the album title and as well as that of the final cut on the album that Santana dedicated to his son Salvador. It was released in October 1987 as a solo album and won Santana his first “Grammy” in 1989 for “Best Rock Instrumental Performance.” He co-wrote the song and performed it with Chester D. Thompson on keyboards.
5. “Soul Sacrifice”
The final song of “Santana’s” set at the “Woodstock” festival in 1969 was an eight minute version of “Soul Sacrifice.” It was the final cut on the band’s already recorded eponymous debut album that was released two weeks after the event. The only reason why “Santana” was on the roster was because their manager, rock and roll entrepreneur Bill Graham was managing other bands at the show.
4. “Maria Maria”
When Supernatural was released in 1999 it had been seven years since “Santana’s” last album, Milagro. “Maria Maria” was written and produced by Wyclef Jean and Jerry Duplessis who used “an R&B duo called ‘Product G&B’” for the vocals. The song was inspired by the Maria, who was the main character in the Broadway musical “West Side Story. According to Jean the riff from the “Wu-Tang Clan’s” 1993 song “Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit” produced the inspiration for the melody. The song won a Grammy for “Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.” Carlos called it a “Feel-Good Summer Song” and the album itself won eight “Grammy Awards.”
“Smooth” also appeared on 1999’s Supernatural and was the first #1 song of Carlos Santana’s career. It occurred when the song was released as a single in 1999, nearly thirty years after his explosive ascension into rock stardom at “Woodstock” in 1969. It won three “Grammy Awards” for the “Record of the Year,” “Song of the Year” and “Best Pop Collaboration.” The song was co-written by Rob Thomas and Itaal Shur whose original song was called “Room 17.” The lyrics were originally about a sexually charged adulterous affair but Thomas changed the lyrics to describe a hot day while keeping the song sexually charged.
2. “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen”
“Black Magic Woman/ Gypsy Queen” were originally combined as one song when the band released it on Abraxas in 1970. “Black Magic Woman” was written by “Fleetwood Mac’s” founding member Peter Green and appeared on 1969’s English Rose album. At the time, Green was compared to Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, and Carlos was impressed after seeing him perorm. Gregg Rolie, Santana’s keyboard player at the time sang lead on the album. Gypsy Queen was originally written by Hungarian jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo.
1. “Put Your Lights On”
“Put Your Lights On” was written and sung by Erik Francis Schrody, whose stage name is “Everlast.” Everlast also played acoustic guitar to accompany Santana’s lead licks. It appeared on 1999’s Supernatural after “Arista Records” founder Clive Davis signed “Santana” to the label. Carlos wanted to update his sound and make it more contemporary sounding to appeal to the audiences of that time period. The song itself has religious connotations that Schrody inserted in the lyrics which Santana immediately felt an affinity for.
“Hey now, all you sinners
Put your lights on, put your lights on”