Carlos Augusto Alves Santana (born July 20, 1947), known simply as Carlos Santana or Santana, is a Grammy Award-winning Mexican-born American Latin rock musician and guitarist.
He became famous in the late 1960s and early 1970s with his band, the Santana Blues Band, going mostly under the title “Santana,” which created a highly successful blend of salsa, rock, blues, and jazz fusion. Their sound featured his often high-pitched and distorted guitar lines set against Latin American instrumentation such as timbales and congas. Santana continued to work in these forms over the following decades, and experienced a sudden resurgence of popularity and critical acclaim in the late 1990s.
Over his career he has sold an estimated 80 million albums worldwide.
Early life and career
Santana was born in Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico with a father of musical arts. Santana’s father was a Mariachi violinist, according to the introduction of “Best of Carlos Santana” by Wolf Marshall, P2. He encouraged his son’s early interest in music the younger Santana took up the violin at the age of five. It was when his family moved to Tijuana several years later, that Santana began his lifelong relationship with the guitar, the instrument that would make him a musical icon. He was fascinated by and emulated his guitar heroes including John Lee Hooker, T. Bone Walker, and B.B. King, whom he heard on American radio stations from across the border. In 1961, Santana immigrated into the United States without documentation, moving from Mexico to San Francisco. After finally being convinced to stay in San Francisco with his family, he graduated from Mission High School in 1965. Santana began helping the family out by working as a dishwasher and grew to enjoy the San Francisco music scene, often sneaking into Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium to listen to some of his favorite musical artists, including Muddy Waters, The Grateful Dead and many of the great rock, blues and jazz musicians who appeared there. At the end of 1966, Tom Frazier (guitar) wanted to form a new rock band. Frazier joined Santana (guitar/vocals), Mike Carabello (percussion), Rod Harper (drums), Gus Rodriguez (bass guitar), and Seattle native Gregg Rolie (organ/vocals), to form the Santana Blues Band. Santana has maintained that it was he and Rolie who were the most serious about music and pursuing it further, while the others were only interested in hanging out and being part of the scene. Santana himself was not viewed by the group as the actual leader of the band that had his name. The group operated as a collective, as it would through the early 1970s. The name of the band was agreed upon due to a local musicians union requirement that there be a designated leader and a name. He met Stan ‘Moon’ Marcum who acted as the group’s manager.
After a while the name of the band was known simply as “Santana”, dropping ‘Blues Band’ from their title. At this time the group’s lineup consisted of Carlos Santana, Rolie, with David Brown on bass, Bob ‘Doc’ Livingston on drums, and Marcus Malone on percussion. Promoter Bill Graham heard them and let them perform at the Fillmore (later Fillmore West). Santana’s recording debut occurred as a guest on The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper with Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield, who were also Fillmore regulars.
There has always been speculation about how the band picked up its Latin influence, since ironically neither Santana nor Gregg Rolie had any affinity for the style in the first place. It is known they hung out often at San Francisco’s Aquatic Park where conga players would get together and jam. Also, around this time Santana was being exposed to other types of music for the first time in the creative, musically fertile city. Bay Area jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo became a favorite of Santana and featured congas on his 1966 album, ‘Spellbinder’. But more importantly he soon realized that, when they had Latin percussion in the band, the girls would dance to their music by gyrating their hips wildly like belly dancers. Santana found that the latin percussion became a success with the audience and he added it to their musical style.