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Hispanic Heritage

Carlos Santana

Birth: July 20, 1947 in Autlan de Navarro, Mexico
Nationality: Mexican
Occupation: Guitarist

In the late 1960s, when acid rock reigned and the British Invasion was still raging, Carlos Santana and his band introduced the music scene to a new Latin-based rock sound featuring an Afro-Cuban beat. This would effectively usher in the concept of "world music" years before the description would catch up with the style. After soaring in popularity and becoming one of the biggest acts of the day, the group went through various personnel changes, but they continued to make music together even as Santana, finding new spiritual and musical paths, began to record jazz fusion on his own with many other top names. Though his rock records continued to sell vigorously, he would not have a radio hit after 1982.

Then, in 1999, Santana became one of the most often-heard performers on the airwaves. He teamed up with some of the hottest young acts of the day, including Lauryn Hill, Dave Matthews, Everlast, and Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, along with the legendary Eric Clapton, to produce a work that harkened back to his early Latin sounds, but with a contemporary slant. With an irresistible hook and Thomas's cool vocals, the single "Smooth" began racing up the charts, and the album, Supernatural, sold an astonishing 14 million units. The project overall won a phenomenal total of eight Grammy Awards, tying Michael Jackson's 1983 record for most Grammys won on a single night. Some wondered if his comeback could be attributed to the sudden boom in Latin music beginning in the late 1990s that helped create the popularity of artists such as Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez, and others. Santana, however, credits a force more high-minded than a fad or marketing appeal. "It's not really chance or luck," he remarked to Jeff Gordinier in Entertainment Weekly. "It's something more paranormal like divine synchronicity."

Santana was born to Jose and Josefina Santana on July 20, 1947, in Autlan de Navarro, a small village in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. His father, a traditional violinist who played mariachi music, exposed him to the basics of music theory when he was five years old and tried to teach him violin. "My father's a musician, his father was a musician, my great-grandfather was a musician," he told James Schaffer in Down Beat. Santana added, "Dad taught me the violin for almost seven years, and I could never get anything out of it. I always sounded like Jack Benny no matter how hard I tried. Only Jack Benny could really play, but I sounded like Jack Benny when he was fooling around."

Began Playing Nightclubs at Age Eleven

More interested in rock 'n' roll than the mariachi sounds anyway, Santana began to learn the guitar at age eight, imitating the style of greats such as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, and T-Bone Walker. However, he still credits his father with teaching him to appreciate music in general. After the family of 12 moved to the border town of Tijuana in 1955, he began playing in nightclubs along the strip there when he was just eleven years old.

Around the early 1960s, Santana's family moved to San Francisco, California, but he soon ran away to return to Tijuana and play the circuit again. His older brother came to retrieve him, though, and he ended up in San Francisco with the rest of his family, where he went to Mission High School and learned English. There he also discovered a thriving cultural scene with a diversity of musical styles, including jazz, blues, international folk music, and classical salsa by the likes of Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri.

While working full-time as a dishwasher in a restaurant, Santana continued to play music, performing on the street for change in the evenings and jamming with others to try to get a band together. With mentoring from Jerry Garcia of the successful hippie group the Grateful Dead, he quit his job. Joining with bassist David Brown and keyboard player Gregg Rolie, he formed the Santana Blues Band, eventually abbreviating the name to simply Santana.

In the thriving scene of the San Francisco area in the 1960s, new bands were sprouting up all the time, so it was not easy to get noticed. For three years, Santana played small clubs around town, particularly in the Mission District, a predominantly Hispanic area. Before long, though, promoter Bill Graham noticed their unique sound and began to book them at his Fillmore West and Winterland clubs. Blending an Afro-Cuban beat with a fast-tempo rock and blues base and low-key vocals, Santana created the new style of Latin Rock.

Achieved Success with Santana

Although they were approached by several record companies in the late 1960s, the band declined a contract. Therefore, when they played for half a million people at the legendary Woodstock festival in 1969, they did not even have an album out. There, they performed a piece titled "Soul Sacrifice," written specifically for the event. By now Santana included drummer Mike Shrieve and percussionists Jose Chepito Areas and Mike Carrabello. After getting a warm reception at Woodstock, they were booked on the popular Ed Sullivan Show, then signed to Columbia Records by the end of the year. Their first effort, Santana, stayed on the Billboard charts for two years, eventually selling more than four million copies. It spawned the hits "Evil Ways" and "Jingo."

The next year, 1970, Santana continued to ride a wave of success, releasing its second hit album, Abraxas. This featured the classic rock staples "Oye Como Va" (written by Tito Puente) and "Black Magic Woman" (penned by Peter Green), and went platinum in sales. In 1971, the group had a gold album with Santana III, and in 1972 it saw platinum again with Caravanserai. Meanwhile, Santana became more fond of jazz, and recorded his first effort without the rest of the band in 1972, pairing up with Buddy Miles. The band also began to experience a shift in members, as musicians came and went from the group. Guitarist Neal Schon had joined in 1971 and later left, along with original member Rolie, to form Journey. Eventually, Santana was the only initial member who remained.

After the much-publicized drug-related deaths of several prominent musicians in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison, Santana began to reassess his lifestyle. He had skyrocketed to fame in a short time, like the others, and found himself indulging in the familiar trappings of a rock star, including excesses of drugs and casual sex. Finding a religious path, he became a devoted follower of Sri Chimnoy, a spiritual guru and proponent of meditation. In August of 1973, he changed his name to Devadip (meaning "the light of the lamp of the Supreme") Carlos Santana. In April of that year, he married Deborah Sara King, founder of a health food shop in San Francisco and daughter of a guitarist known for his work with blues singer Billie Holiday. The couple has three children, Salvador, Stella, and Angelica.

Through his association with Sri Chimnoy, Santana got to know guitarist Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. Together they created a spiritual jazz-fusion album, Love, Devotion, and Surrender, released in 1973. Throughout the 1970s, Santana would release four more albums with spiritual themes, recording without his band but in collaboration with others such as Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter.

Returned to Latin Rock Sound

By the mid-1970s, Santana began to drift back toward his Latin rock sound. Promoter Graham took over as his manager in 1975, and he began to record again with the group, even though Santana himself found more meaning in his spiritual efforts. Despite the fact that all of the group's works continued to hit either gold or platinum, they did not have another top-ten hit until 1976's Amigos. After that, CBS records re-signed Santana to a seven-album contract.

During the 1980s, Santana and the band recorded less frequently, only putting out five albums throughout the decade. However, they toured prolifically, selling out stadiums and appearing at high-profile events like LiveAid, the US Festival, and on the first Amnesty International concert tour. He also helped organize the "Blues for Salvador" concert in Oakland, California, in 1988, which benefitted children in El Salvador. That year, he won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for "Blues for Salvador." 1988 was especially active as he toured with saxophonist Wayne Shorter and also embarked on a tour with the original Santana band members Rolie, Areas, and Shrieve, who had not played together since the early 1970s. In addition, in 1988 he released a 30-song retrospective album which featured previous hits as well as unreleased studio tracks, live cuts, and sound checks.

Back in 1982, Santana discontinued his association with Sri Chimnoy, and he and his wife converted to Christianity in the early 1990s. In 1992, ending his lengthy association with Columbia, Santana signed a deal with Polydor Records which included forming his own label, called Guts & Grace. John Swenson in Rolling Stone called Santana's first effort for this label, Milagro, "one of the finest sessions he's done," and added, "The album reaffirms Santana's position as the standard-bearer for fusion music." In 1993, he toured with folk icon Bob Dylan, and in 1996, he toured with guitar great Jeff Beck. Though Santana still sold seats, he noticed that radio stations no longer played any of his music besides his early hits, and the media was not paying him much attention. He received a star on the Hollywood Rock Walk of Fame in 1996, but it would take him until 1998 to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Therefore, by the late 1990s, Santana was looking for a comeback. He explained to Andy Ellis in Guitar Player that in his meditation and dreams, he had received instructions telling him the following: "We want you to hook up with people at junior high schools, high schools, and universities. We're going to get you back into radio airplay." He felt his music could have a positive effect on youth of the day. Along with producer Clive Davis, who had first signed him to his contract at Columbia in the 1960s, Santana devised a plan. He told David Wild in Rolling Stone, "I didn't want Santana to sound like a Seventies jukebox. I wanted to be relevant today or as Wayne Shorter would say, 'Completely new, totally familiar.'"

Made Huge Comeback with Supernatural

Though many acts were not interested in working with someone they perceived to be old and washed-up, Santana, working with his band, managed to assemble a collection of some of the biggest talents in the industry, including Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, Eagle Eye Cherry, Dave Matthews, Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, Everlast, and the Dust Brothers, producers for Beck and the Beastie Boys. Even Eric Clapton made an appearance. The result was 1999's Supernatural, which reached number one on the Billboard album chart and generated the number-one single, "Smooth." Supernatural also became one of the most critically acclaimed CDs of the year and sold 14 million copies by 2003. The title, Santana told an Entertainment Weekly interviewer, "deals with the paranormal relationship between Lauryn Hill, Eric Clapton, and myself. Most of my collaborators said, `I knew I was going to work with you because you were in my dreams.'" Surprisingly, Supernatural got nearly all of its airplay on pop and rock radio, with little support from Latino stations, despite the fact that five of the tracks are in Spanish.

In February of 2000, Santana won a whopping total of eight Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year for "Smooth," and Album of the Year and Best Rock Album for Supernatural. He also won an American Music Award that year for Best Album. He waited three years to release Shaman, his follow-up album to the phenomenon that was Supernatural. Santana followed the same blueprint that led them to success with Supernatural, assembling a stellar group of popular musicians to contribute to the album. Musiq, Seal, Michelle Branch, Dido, Placido Domingo, and many others make appearances on the album. All Music Guide reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine praised the album, but noted that with such a large ensemble of players, its success may stem from "reasons that have nothing to do with Santana."

For Santana, it is not about the recognition as much as it is touching people with his art. "I want my music to clue my listeners into something beyond the song itself," he once related to Dan Ouellette in Down Beat. "For example, this guy who had considered suicide wrote me a letter. He had seen the video of John Lee Hooker performing 'The Healer' and it inspired him to seek another way of dealing with his problems. Now that's more important to me than how many Grammys I get or how much money I could make selling Pepsi."

PERSONAL INFORMATION

Born on July 20, 1947, in Autlan de Navarro, Mexico; son of Jose (a traditional violinist) and Josefina Santana; adapted religious name Devadip (means "the light of the lamp of the Supreme"), 1973; married Deborah Sara King, 1973; children: Salvador, Stella, Angelica. Addresses: Publicist--Jensen Communications, Inc., 230 East Union St., Pasadena, CA 91101. Website--Santana Official Website: http://www.santana.com.

AWARDS

Latin New York Music Awards, Latin Rock Band of the Year, 1975; Bay Area Music Award (Bammy Award), Best Guitarist, 1976-77, 1980-81, 1994-95; Bammy Award, Best Album for Moonflower, 1977; Bammy Award, Best Group, 1980; Grammy Award, Best Rock Instrumental Performance for Blues for Salvador, 1988; Bammy Award, Musician of the Year, 1978, 1988, 1993; Billboard Century Award for distinguished creative achievement, 1996; received star on Hollywood Rock Walk of Fame, 1996; induction, Bay Area Music Awards Walk of Fame, 1997; Chicano Lifetime Achievement Award, 1997; Nosotros' Golden Eagle Legend in Music Award, 1997; induction, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1998; National Council of La Raza, Alma Award, 1999; Grammy Awards, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, Best Pop Instrumental Performance, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, Best Rock Instrumental Performance, 2000, Best Pop Collaboration, 2003.

CAREER

Began performing in Tijuana, Mexico, 1961; lead guitarist of group Santana (founded as Santana Blues Band in San Francisco, CA), 1966; recording artist with Columbia/ CBS, 1969-91; recording artist with Polydor, 1991; founded Guts and Grace record label, 1994; appeared at Fillmore West, 1968, Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, 1969, Altamont Festival, 1969, California Jam II, 1978, LiveAid, 1985, first Amnesty International concert tour, 1986, Woodstock '94, 1994; released album Supernatural, which won eight Grammy Awards, 1999; released Shaman, 2002.

WORKS

Selected discography

  • Solo

  • (With Buddy Miles) Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live!, Columbia, 1972.
  • (With Mahavishnu John McLaughlin) Love, Devotion, Surrender, Columbia, 1973.
  • (With John Coltrane) Illuminations, Columbia, 1974.
  • Oneness, Silver Dreams-Golden Reality, Columbia, 1979.
  • Swing of Delight, Columbia, 1980.
  • Havana Moon, Columbia, 1983.
  • Blues for Salvador, Columbia, 1987.
  • Spirits Dancing in the Flesh, CBS, 1990.

With the group Santana

  • Santana, Columbia, 1969.
  • Abraxas, Columbia, 1970.
  • Santana III, Columbia, 1971.
  • Caravanserai, Columbia, 1972.
  • Welcome, Columbia, 1973.
  • Greatest Hits, Columbia, 1974.
  • Borboletta, Columbia, 1974.
  • Lotus, Columbia, 1975.
  • Amigos, Columbia, 1976.
  • Festival, Columbia, 1976.
  • Moonflower, CBS, 1977.
  • Inner Secrets, Columbia, 1978.
  • Marathon, Columbia, 1979.
  • Zebop, Columbia, 1981.
  • Shango, Columbia, 1982.
  • Beyond Appearances, Columbia, 1985.
  • Freedom, Columbia, 1987.
  • Viva Santana!, Columbia, 1988.
  • The Sound of Carlos Santana, Pair, 1989.
  • Milagro, Polygram, 1992.
  • Sacred Fire, Polydor, 1993.
  • Brothers, Polygram, 1994.
  • Dance of the Rainbow Serpent, Columbia, 1995.
  • Live at the Fillmore 1968, Sony, 1997.
  • Best of Santana, Columbia, 1998.
  • Supernatural, Arista, 1999.
  • Shaman, Arista, 2002.
  • Essential Santana, Sony, 2002.
  • Love Devotion Surrender (Remastered), Sony, 2003.
  • Birth of Santana: The Complete Early Years, Cleopatra, 2003.
  • Ceremony: Remixes & Rarities, Arista, 2003.
  • Influences, Warner Brothers, 2004.
  • All That I Am, Arista, 2005.

FURTHER READINGS

Books

  • Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale Research, 1996.
  • Newsmakers, Issue 2, Gale Group, 2000.

Periodicals

  • Arizona Republic, January 18, 2000, p. A10.
  • Down Beat, January 1981, p. 13; February 1988, p. 16; August 1991, p. 28.
  • Entertainment Weekly, September 10, 1999, p. 151; December 24, 1999, p. 36; October 25, 2002, p. 73.
  • Guitar Player, January 1993, p. 58; January 1996, p. 61; August 1999, p. 74.
  • Hispanic, October 1992, p. 80; March 1996, p. 18.
  • Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 22, 2002; October 4, 2002.
  • Latin Beat, September 1999, p. 20.
  • Music & Media, November 9, 2002, p.3.
  • Newsweek, February 14, 2000, p. 66.
  • New York Times, January 5, 2000, p. B5.
  • Rolling Stone, February 21, 1980, p. 26; September 22, 1988, p. 27; August 24, 1989, p. 65; September 3, 1992, p. 68; December 9, 1993, p. 24; October 28, 1993, p. 30; August 19, 1999, p. 47.
  • Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), February 8, 2000.

Online

  • Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/rock.jsp (October 2, 2003); www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_1/index.jsp (February 5, 2004); www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_7/index.jsp (September 14, 2005).
  • Santana Official Web site, http://www.santana.com (July 7, 2003).
  • "Shaman," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 6, 2003).
  • USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/music/awards/2006-02-26-imageawards_x.htm (February 27, 2006).

SOURCE CITATION

Contemporary Musicians, Volume 43. Gale, 2004.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale. 2007.

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