Last updated: 05/26/2012 12:00:00 PM
FORMED: 1966, San Francisco, CA
The origins of SANTANA lie in a chance meeting in San Francisco between Carlos Santana and keyboardist Gregg Rolie in 1966. Towards the end of that year the two musicians formed the Santana Blues Band together with Tim Frazer on guitar, Gus Rodrigues on bass, Rod Harper on drums and Michael Carabello on congas. Carabello provided the third element in what was, in barely three years, to become the band SANTANA.
The Santana Blues Band began to attract a following to their version of Chicago blues from the very beginning. ***As the band developed the percussive conga it also became more evident as did the Latin influence of Carlos Santana who had been born in Mexico and absorbed a multitude of salsa and jazz influences together with the legendary bluesman along the way.
However the personnel began to change as quickly as the band was developing. By the middle of 1967 the mark tow version was back to the nucleus of Carlos Santana and Gregg Rolie with both Bob Livingstone on drums, Marcus Malone on percussion and David Brown on bass the latter of whom was to become the fourth element in SANTANA.
During 1968 the band was spotted by Bill Graham who was promoting the Fillmore West where the band initially played as the opening act. Such was the reaction that their reputation began to grow apace with Bill Graham eventually becoming their co-manager. In parallel with the success of the band came the recognition of Carlos Santana as a virtuoso guitarist the result of which was an invitation for him to play on the first super session album released as ‘The Live Adventures of Al Kooper...’
As 1969 progressed the Santana Blues Band developed into a mark three version with Carlos Santana and Gregg Rolie augmented by Michael Shrieve on drums, the returning Michael Carabello on congas, Chepito areas as trombalist-percussionist, Alberto Gianquinto on guitar and Rico Reyes on vocals. Both Alberto Guianquinto an Rico Reyes were to feature later in the SANTANA story with the former being credited with the arrangements on the first album ‘Santana’ and as the pianist on ‘Incident At Neshabur’ which was included on their second recording which was the acclaimed ‘Abraxas’ album.
(It is interesting to note that the original sleeve for the album credits the recording as taking place at the Pacific Recording Studios as were both the first album ‘Santana’ and the original recordings on this collection. This fact, together with the performance of Gianquinto on piano suggests that the track was either a surplus track from the album ‘Santana’ or possibly one of the original ‘demonstration’ recordings. If the latter were the case it could be deduced that this particular track did not feature the official SANTANA at the time of the release of ‘ABRAXAS’ but rather the mark three version of the SANTANA BLUES BAND as listed above.) Rico Reyes was also credited on ‘Abraxas’ as providing the vocals on the classic ‘Oye Como Va; and with vocals, percussion and the arrangement (along with Areas and Carabello) on ‘El Nicoya’.
1969 was, of course, the year of the breakthrough by SANTANA following their appearance at the Woodstock Festival in New York State where they received a standing ovation for ‘soul sacrifice’ and which became the earliest composition to closely identified with the band.
History does not relate exactly when the SANTANA BLUES BAND became SANTANA. Highly relevant to this collection is the fact that the band were to make the first studio recording of ‘Soul Sacrifice’ along with eleven other compositions included here at the time and, most probably, following their appearance at Woodstock. This more was, in itself, highly unusual and may well have resulted from the influence of Bill Graham as co-manager. Be that as it may the band went into Pacific Recording Studios in San Mateo, California and both laid down a piece of recording history as well as providing the impetus for an extraordinary recording career. For these studio recordings the band was Carlos Santana on guitar, Gregg Rolie on keyboards and vocals, Michael Shrieve on drums, Chepito Areas on percussion, Michael Carabello on congas and David Brown on bass and can justifiably be called the first line-up of SANTANA.
These recordings, which also included the original versions of ‘Persuasion’ and ‘Jingo’ and could easily be judged to be finished masters, became the auditions tapes from which CBS was to sign the band and launch them on their way to international success. At this point we might say the rest is history but also available from this seminal time are four fascinating tracks recorded at an audition that resulted in Neil Schon joining the band on guitar, a position that he held until 1972 when he and Rolie formed Journey.
The session involved Gregg Rolie on Keyboards and vocals, David Brown on bass and Michael Shrieve on drums and perhaps most vividly illustrates the move from the blues band period to the highly distinctive latin sound of SANTANA. Whilst two of the tracks consist of little more that a jam session as the musicians got to know each other both ‘Travellin’ Blues’ and ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ hark back to the roots of the SANTANA BLUES BAND. This double compact disc places all of the original SANTANA recordings into context for the first time. Their historical importance is beyond doubt and, after a quarter of a century, have at last been given the prominence they deserve.
Nigel Molden, February, 1994