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Carlos Santana - A Tribute

Issue #48

Santana has a unique tone and guitar style. Although firmly rooted in Blues, he is known for his strong melodic lines, long feedback sustaining notes, and tremolo picked octaves and chromatics.
Jamie Humphries

To tie in with our PRS Santana SE 2017 review and Tech Session, Jamie Humphries reveals the personal role played by the great Carlos Santana in his love of the guitar and the influence he has had on him and so many others.

I love the electric guitar; I love how one guitar can sound so completely different depending on who is playing it. There have been many guitarists with unique voices on the instrument. Brian May, Edward Van Halen, Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, David Gilmour, The Edge - all of them have an instantly recognisable voice on the guitar. Another is Carlos Santana, whose guitar voice is as unique as his musical style. His vocal vowel-like guitar tone is the perfect voice for his hypnotic blend of Rock, Blues, Jazz and Latin American inspired rhythms.

I have a very deep and personal attachment to Carlos Santana's music and I have a great fondness of early Santana’s catalogue, which played a large part in my life, his early music forming the backdrop of my early childhood. My father was a huge Santana fan, with a large collection of Santana albums that I would listen to with him. One of the first things I worked out on one string of a nylon strung acoustic guitar was the opening motif of “Samba Pa Ti”. My first live concert experience occurred around 1979 when I was just eight years old, when my father took me to see Santana perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London.


I had just started playing guitar and was completely mesmerised by his flamboyant persona and playing style. This ritual of myself and my father going to see Santana together continued for many years. Santana’s beautiful Yamaha SG3000 also inspired my first decent guitar; with my grandfather buying me a crème white Yamaha SG1300T on a day out in London. I also later graduated to a very early PRS guitar, serial number #523, which I later sold to my dear friend the late Michael Casswell. So you can see how much of an impression and impact Santana’s guitar playing and music had on my life; when I hear a Santana tune I instantly think of my father.

With a career spanning five decades Carlos Santana has enjoyed a very successful career with his band, as a solo artist and through his more recent collaborations. He has experimented with a variety of styles; from Rock, to Blues, Jazz all fused together with his signature Latin American flavour and rhythms.  He has released countless classic albums including “Santana”, “Moonflower”, “Abraxas”, “Zebop”, “Inner Secrets” “Supernatural”, and “Santana III” to name but a few. These albums spawned such classic songs as “Black Magic Woman”, “Soul sacrifice”, “Well Alright”, “Open Invitation”, “Europa”,  “Oye Como Va”,  “Evil Ways”, “Smooth” and “Samba Pa Ti”.

Carlos Santana was born in Mexico in 1947, but eventually relocated to San Francisco California. He started out on the violin, but then swapped to guitar, being taught by his father, who was a Mariachi musician. Carlos was inspired and influenced by a mixture of American Blues musicians such as BB King, John Lee Hooker, Jimi Hendrix and Mike Bloomfield as well as Richie Valens, who although American was of Mexican decent.

Santana was making a name for himself in San Francisco during the mid to late '60s, during the music and drug culture explosion. A young Carlos became friends with concert promoter Bill Graham, and eventually began playing at the Filmore. He formed the Santana Blues band with a mixture of players on the scene and street musicians. Originally as a free form “jam” band, the band was the perfect backdrop for Carlos’s emotive melodies, rabid Blues lines and soaring sustain. Their music was based heavily on improvisation, and would feature long improvised solo sections.

Bill Graham was a lover of Latin American music, and had been a fan of the Santana band since its formation. He organised that Santana would perform at the legendary Woodstock Festival, which was to prove a turning point in Santana’s career, with an epic live version of “Soul Sacrifice” becoming the sound of Woodstock, being featured in the movie and on the soundtrack album. Santana was signed to Columbia Records, and the rest as they say is history!

For many, the original Rock/Blues/Latin fusion is the classic sound of Santana, which he has never surpassed, but looking back on his long career, you can see how he wanted to experiment and began to experiment with Jazz, recording with such fusion heavy weights as John McLaughlin on the album “Love, Devotion, Surrender”. During this period he was given the name 'Devadip' by guru Sri Chinmoy, who is credited on the liner notes of many of his albums from this period.

The 1980s saw a more radio friendly edge to Santana’s music, and although to the die-hard fans accused him of selling out, this period produced some fantastic albums such as “Inner Secrets” and “Havana Moon”. Then, in common with a fair few other famous 1970s bands, the Live Aid concert of 85 helped to re-establish him when he was added to the bill in Philadelphia by Bill Graham. The performance was legendary, and reignited interest in Santana; Pat Metheny also joined him on stage.

Carlos has always enjoyed collaborating with other musicians, including such diverse artists as Michael Jackson and Vernon Reid. 1989 saw a classic collaboration with Blues legend John Lee Hooker on the rootsy Blues track “The Healer”. Collaborations would lead to the biggest success in Santana’s career, with the 1999 album “Supernatural”, which sold over 15 million copies, and although Santana had won a Grammy in 1987, for Best Rock Instrumental, “Supernatural” won a staggering eight Grammys. The album saw Santana record alongside the likes of Lauren Hill, Eric Clapton, Cee Lo Green, Wyclef Jean, and Rob Thomas, the later providing vocals on the global smash hit “Smooth”. Santana revisited the collaboration format with the follow up album “Shaman”.

Santana has a unique tone and guitar style. Although firmly rooted in Blues, he is known for his strong melodic lines, long feedback sustaining notes, and tremolo picked octaves and chromatics. Original he achieved his tone with both Gibson and Yamaha SGs, but is ultimately associated with PRS guitars, being the first artist to receive a signature model by the company. He also uses Mesa Boogie Mark 1 amps, and is even responsible for part of the brand's name. He's famously quoted as saying 'This amp really Boogies', the first time he played one of Randall Smith's amps. He also incorporates Dumble amps into his setup.

He utilizes all the pickup configurations on his guitar, as well as employing the tone control, moving between bright and searing to mellow vowel like tones. Everything you hear comes from his fingers, a guitar and an amp.

Cited by the likes of Kirk Hammett and Prince as an influence, Carlos Santana has had an enormous impact and influence on music and guitar. His music defined an era, as well as bringing Latin American music to a contemporary Rock audience. For me personally, his guitar playing was very much a part of my young life.

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