Carlos Santana  [1947 -]

José Santana taught his son Carlos to play the violin at age five and the two performed together in a mariachi in Tijuana before emmigrating to San Francisco in the early 1960s.

As a teenager at Mission High School, it was the electric guitar and the blues that captured Carlos’ imagination. He performed at school dances and restaurants and got to know all the blues musicians who played at the Fillmore West. In 1966 he got his first opportunity to play there himself with a group of friends who took the name “the Santana Blues Band,” soon shortened to “Santana.”

Three years later Fillmore West manager Bill Graham helped book Santana at the Woodstock festival, creating a buzz just in time for the release of their first album in 1969. Carlos’ soulful guitar and the band’s inspired musicianship on hits like Evil Ways (first recorded by Willie Bobo) created an opening in the mainstream for a Latin rock sound -- electric guitar paired with organ and Latin percussion, and a mix of Caribbean rhythms with rock, R&B, and blues -- that had been taking shape in San Francisco and elsewhere.

Their 1970 album, Abraxas, produced a Top 20 hit that was sung entirely in Spanish: Oye Como Va, (originally by Tito Puente). Santana struggled with their sudden celebrity and the band’s membership shifted in the following years. Carlos became interested in the spiritual teachings of Indian guru Sri Chinmoy and in the east-west crossover music of John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu orchestra. 

By the 1980s the band had dissolved and Carlos worked on a variety of solo and collaborative projects. His visibility in the mainstream diminished until it was revived by the 1999 CD Supernatural, a collaboration with other high profile musicians that garnered nine Grammy Awards.

Santana’s Mariachi
Bill Graham at Woodstock
Bill Graham
1969: Woodstock Music & Art Fair held in Bethel, NY
Santana Young Bloods Poster
Santana at the Filmore Poster