Learning more about Santana

Santana book

BOOKS | LEWIS WATTS

I have always admired Carlos Santana, but I think I had begun to take him for granted. He made his career in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, starting in the Fillmore. I’ve always loved his music, especially his early albums, but I only knew a few particulars about his life. So I borrowed my wife’s copy of his autobiography, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light, which is well written and makes you feel as if you are sitting in a room with him having a conversation.

Santana was born in Autlán de Navarro, Mexico, the son of a professional Mariachi musician. He developed his blues chops playing guitar in strip clubs in Tijuana. He moved with his family to San Francisco in the early 1960s and formed the Santana Blues Band in 1966. I remember seeing him play with B.B. King at the Fillmore. His international reputation was sealed by his performance at Woodstock.

Santana always had a wide variety of influences in music. His unique style was formed by expanding his foundation in the blues to include Latin and jazz influences. One of his first big hits was “Oye Coma Va,” originally recorded by Tito Puente. I was fascinated to see that he was very tight with people like Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, John Lee Hooker and many others.

Santana was married for many years to Deborah Santana, the daughter of Saunders King, a prominent R&B guitarist during the heyday of the Fillmore District in the 40s and 50s, featured in Harlem of the West. He is now married to Cindy Blackman, a drummer who has played with Lenny Kravitz and many jazz ensembles. One of the notable qualities of Santana’s life is his deep spirituality, which has taken a number of forms, and which has sustained him and influenced his broad musical reach.

I was happy to learn more about Santana. The book made me break out his old albums in my collection — and then seek out some of his new music. It’s a good read.

Lewis Watts is co-author of Harlem of the West: San Francisco’s Fillmore Jazz Era.

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