Santana - 50th Anniversary of Woodstock
by Pete Clemons
August 2019 sees the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Festival held in Bethel, a suburb of New York. By the end of the festival, and possibly on the back of the resulting Woodstock film released a year or so after the festival, the musical careers of so many of the bands and artists involved suddenly took off massively as their talents reached an even wider audience.
Overall, the film captured the mood, spirit, and music of the times wonderfully. The film has also, been described, as being one of the very best commentaries ever. The depth and breadth of coverage is nothing short of spectacular. In between the musical acts the camera wanders through the audience where it just seems to eves drop on various scenes. Together with on stage announcements the entire magic of the festival has been preserved for all time.
One of the bands that without doubt gained from all the publicity was Santana. After moving to San Francisco from Tijuana in Mexico, guitarist Carlos Santana was in at the beginning of the Haight-Ashbury music explosion of the late 1960s.
Initially a fluid band, in terms of line-up, the Santana band by the time of the Woodstock festival had settled on Carlos Santana, lead guitar, Gregg Rolie, keyboards, David Brown on bass, and Michael Shrieve on drums. To distinguish themselves, and add a Latin flavour to the music, the band added congas and other percussion instruments. These being played by Mike Carrabello and Jose ‘Chepito’ Areas.
And it was the above line-up that cut the self-titled debut album, titled Santana, during the summer of 1969. It immediately established the band as one of the most exciting and energetic groups to emerge from the San Francisco scene.
The music and rhythms created by Santana were compelling for their uniqueness at that time. And this debut release coincided with a memorable appearance at the Woodstock that, even today, remains as one of the astonishing stories from that festival.
At 2pm on Saturday 16th August 1969, the Santana band were relatively unheard of outside of San Francisco. Less than an hour later they had conquered the whole of America as news of their incendiary performance spread like wildfire.
A year later, after the release of the film, people from other parts of the world, who had yet to discover this band, were blown away by the version of Santana’s ‘Soul Sacrifice’ included within it.
The Woodstock film’s editing highlights so many memorable musical performances. From Richie Havens wonderful festival opener through to Jimi Hendrix finale there is so much magic within. Canned Heat, Country Joe and the Fish, Joe Cocker, The Who and Ten Years After. So many early performances were captured, for example Crosby Stills Nash and Young were playing only their second ever gig together. Even Sha-Na-Na, who took everyone back to the 1950s, were revered afterwards.
Guitarist Miller Anderson tells a wonderful story of his then band, The Keef Hartley band, and their first gig in America. It happened to be at the Woodstock festival. Miller mentions how they were standing at the side of the stage before it was their turn to go on. The stage announcer then introduced the band who were scheduled to be on immediately before them. A new band from San Francisco called Santana. Watching Santana so closely was jaw dropping, says Miller and it quickly dawned on the Keef Hartley band that they had to follow them. Fortunately, says Miller, John Sebastian turned up and the organisers let him do 20 minutes. This came as a relief to the Keef Hartley band as John calmed the audience down somewhat.
As for the Santana band, the above line up went on to record the acclaimed ‘Abraxas’ album during 1970. ‘Abraxas’, kept the Latin influence but was boarder in as much that the album began to dip into other influences. Carlos Santana had seen Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac perform and was taken by his tune ‘Black Magic Woman’. Santana included their own version on ‘Abraxas’.
By the time of the third Santana album, Carlos Santana began to introduce more newcomers to the band in the shape of Coke Escoveda and guitar protégé Neil Schon.
Then began a series of excursions away from the main band, for Carlos, as he began to work with the likes of Buddy Miles and John McLaughlin.
Extensive reshuffles of the Santana band began as it only followed its own rules. They produced a series of albums where Latin and jazz were fused together. Some say successfully, others would beg to differ. The band would however return, at times, to its roots.
At their best Santana were totally distinctive. Famed for guitar improvisations, purity and sweetness of tone. That was combined with Carlos’s own ability to sustain notes of feedback for almost any length of time.
Had it not been for the film, would the Woodstock festival have been remembered about as fondly today? Who knows. One thing is for sure though, it opened the ears of the listening public to a whole host of bands and wide range of music.