Early life and musical influences
The guitar legend Carlos Santana was born Carlos Augusto Alves Santana on July 20, 1947 in Autlan de Navarro, Jalisco in Mexico. Music ran in the family, as his father had been an accomplished professional violinist, and his brother Jorge Santana would also become a well-known guitarist in his own right. Young Carlos himself also learned to play the violin first before learning to play guitar.
When he was about eight years old, his family moved to Tijuana (the Mexican city that borders with California), and finally to San Francisco. When he was young, he was heavily influenced by blues players such as B.B. King, Ray Charles, and Little Richard as well as inspired by Richie Valens, one of the very few Latinos to rise prominently in the American music scene. It was there in San Francisco where he finally had the chance to see one of his idols, B.B. King, perform.
Santana was also exposed to a variety of musical genres including rock and roll, jazz and folk music. He also experienced the bourgeoning San Francisco hippie scene during the 1960s. He worked in a variety of odd jobs including washing dishes and busing tables for small changes to support himself. It was around that time that Santana finally decided to become a full-time musician.
Initial peak of success with the band Santana and his own solo career
During the mid-1960s, Carlos Santana formed his own group the Santana Blues Band, along with two fellow street musicians, and they later played just as Santana. The trio’s repertoire was an original blend Latin-inspired rock, folk, and jazz with African rhythms. Santana (the band) quickly gained a following on the SanFran local music scene.
Santana (the band) highlighted their early career with a memorable appearance at 1969s Woodstock. This led to the band’s first contract with Columbia Records. The same year Santana (the band) released their eponymous debut album. One of the album’s singles, “Evil Ways” (at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100) became the group’s first Top 10 hit, leading Santana to sell over 10 million copies in the process.
Carlos Santana’s initial peak of success occurred in late 1960s throughout the early 1970s. His band’s second album Abraxas (1970) yielded another US Top 10 hit “Black Magic Woman” (at #4), as well as another hit “Oye Como Va” (at #13). Santana’s (the band) third LP Santana III spawned another hit with “Everybody’s Everything” (at #12). The success of their third album was followed byCaravanserai (1972), which was also a critical and commercial triumph.
Apart from his band’s efforts, Carlos Santana also launched his first solo albumLove Devotion Surrender (#14 on the Billboard 200) in 1973. The jazz-influenced album was recorded along with fellow guitarist John McLaughlin who also played a part of Santana’s spiritual transformation. He and McLaughlin became devotees of the spiritual guru Sri Chiminoy around that time. Love Devotion Surrender itself was had some of the spiritually-charged music.
Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, Santana and his band continued to release a string of successful albums that included Amigos (1976), Moonflower (1977), and Zebop! (1981) while Santana himself released solo albums.
Waning popularity in the 1980s, and career renaissance in the 1990s and 2000s
Although in the latter part of the 1980s Santana’s popularity began to wane, he continued to record and tour with his band, often to critical praise. In 1987, Carlos Santana won a Grammy (in the category of Best Instrumental Performance) for his solo album Blues for Salvador. In the future he would win the next nine Grammys.
Carlos Santana made a commercially successful comeback starting in 1997, when he signed with Arista Records headed by Clive Davis. Davis used to head Santana’s first label Columbia Records. Davis teamed Santana with a group of mostly younger stars such as Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, Dave Matthew’s and Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas. This star-studded collaboration — which included another guitar legend Eric Claption as well — resulted in the album Supernatural, released in the summer of 1999.
It was Supernatural’s single “Smooth” that catapulted Santana to the apex of his own career. “Smooth” was co-written by Thomas (with Itaal Shur), who also sang in the track. Thomas’ catchy pop lyrics and singing were interspersed with Santana’s own blend of Latin-infused rock, highlighted by his signature electrical guitar licks and riffs.
“Smooth” was a #1 smash on the Hot 100 and Billboard’s Adult Contemporary singles chart. Its massive success led to the global multi-platinum success ofSupernatural — in the US alone, it sold over fifteen million copies. Supernaturaltopped the global charts, from the US and UK to Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
It was the most peak time for Carlos Santana. The success of “Smooth” andSupernatural led to Santana winning eight of the nine categories at the Grammy Awards in 2000, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year for “Smooth” and Album of the Year for Supernatural. Because of his successful stint at the Grammys, Santana tied Michael Jackson for having won the most Grammy Awards in a single year.
Santana followed up the amazing success of Supernatural with 2002’s Shaman, which did very well. It featured his collaboration with the young female recording star Michelle Branch in the single “The Game of Love.” It went to #5 on the Hot 100 and topped the adult contemporary singles chart. Another single fromShaman was “Why Don’t You & I,” featuring Chad Kroeger. It also became a Top 10 pop hit at #8.
Santana has continued to work in the industry, releasing recent work with varying degrees of success as well as performing live. Because of his guitar mastery, Santana also introduced his own line of “Santana” guitars and amplifiers through his partnership with reputable maker PRS Guitars.
Because of his immense and unique contributions to the music industry, Santana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. He and his band’s 1970 album Abraxas also made it to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Santana also received a Lifetime Achievement trophy from the Latin Billboard Music Awards in 2009.