Perceptions, insights & influences, they’ve all played a part . . .
Whilst giving some of my older posts a reread, so to speak, I’ve realised something important. I need to put the post in context for you, my kind readers. Not to do so would be crass and unthinking. And until now, I wasn’t thinking. Now I am . . . perhaps a bit late but at least I’m considering the consequences of my omissions. The nice thing about this forum is that I can readdress matters at a later date with a revised, rehashed or simply repeated message from the Roads & Trails of My Life. So here goes.
Much like most people who lived their formative years in the sixties and seventies music played an enormous part in my development. My cousin, many years older than I, introduced me to Cliff Richard and The Shadows in 1962. Nice but not a lasting impression did it leave. I felt that there was too much hysteria which I found embarrassing in an odd kind of way. At age 5 or 6 I was already showing signs of a nascent musical taste and a modicum of whimsy. Trini Lopez and his Lemon Tree didn’t do it for me either. Elvis left me cold too as did the Dave Clarke Five, The Monkees, The Archies and a plethora of other radio airplay singers and groups. My mother had a collection of hundreds of 78s which we never listened to because we hadn’t a record player that would play them. Then my folks splashed out and bought a Gramophone – an RCA with turntable for 45s, 331/3rds and 78s. And yours truly began to play the records and to listen to them. From one-sided 78s featuring Dame Nellie Melba singing Home Sweet Home to Enrico Caruso, Bing Crosby, The Ink Spots, Pee Wee Russel, Louis Armstrong and countless others whose names elude me in the mists of time.
It was a beginning yet I hankered for more. I was yearning for music that Spoke To Me like nothing else had up until then. That’s when I met my friend Gary who turned me on to The Beatles. Then through a neighbourhood girl I met the Rolling Stones. From there it was a blur of new introductions. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce & Ginger Baker as Cream, Black Sabbath, the MC5, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan and so on and so forth until music became my raison d’etre. I spent pocket money, birthday money, Christmas money and holiday work pay on records, records, records and yet more records. My world had changed and it would never be the same again.
My late friend Neil once asked me what different bands meant to me. Funnily enough, the first band that came to mind was Santana. This all started with the thought . . . what, who, is, was Santana in my life? And then it ran away with me. Besides anything else Santana was the one band that had an indelible influence on my youth. There were others too, but Santana stands out with its colour palette of moods. Black ‘n’ grey for Black Magic Woman to Red and Orange for Oya Coma Va . . . to the sultry Purples, Blues and Vermilion of Samba pa Ti with its redolence of seduction. Santana taught me to feel colours and to taste feelings.
Santana is more than a name to me. Santana is more than a band or even a man. Santana is a unique experience, being something different to me on each playing of their albums. I am of the view that one experiences Santana, for to me, Santana is not simply music to be listened to. It is a band of brethren manifesting their communal vision under the spiritual guidance of the guitar player extraordinaire, Carlos Santana. His sound is unique, immediately recognisable and inestimably “Santana”. From “Evil Ways” featured on the 1969 self-titled debut album, through all of the 30 odd albums recorded and released over the four decades since, there is; That Sound – That Guitar – That Man . . . ever painting colours to be felt and emotions to be tasted.
Here I borrow from the liner notes of Santana IV . . . “The instantly recognisable “sound” is a meld of signature elements of Afro-Latin rhythms, soaring vocals, electrifying blues-psychedelic guitar solos, and irrepressibly jubilant percussion work. Combine this with widescreen hooks and melodies and you have the sounds” . . . that will lodge themselves in the thicket of your senses and stay there. Forever.
Santana is the band of the 60s and 70s and that continues to this day. One could say that Santana is probably the first band to become a brand! All bands seek this musical Nirvana. The certainty of musical immortality, if you like, or even if you don’t! Very few achieve this elusive goal. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones are some of the bands that managed to be “different” in their sound. Instantly recognisable as to whom they are. The tragic truth is that a whole bunch of them are dead too early. They are the “members” of the mythical and oft mentioned “27 Club”. And the rest make up a pretty short list. Thank heavens for the technology of sound recording because without that even The Stones songbook would end up on the scrapheap of forgotten tunes. Imagine, if you will, what a Rock Star Antonio Vivaldi would have been had he had the benefit of recordings that could be packaged and sold to eager customers!
This technology is what ensures that seminal bands like Santana, The Beatles, The Stones, Nirvana, Roxy Music, Pink Floyd and a plethora of others remain ‘alive’ to new generations of music lovers. The whole “27 Club” would have wilted into obscurity by now if not for the miracle of this technology. Imagine, if you can, never being able to hear the guitar virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix ever again. Imagine the Blues voice of Janis Joplin forever silenced! The beautiful guitar accompanied poetry of the amazing Nick Drake confined to the darkness that is silence. I do imagine it and it freaks me out. Because music is part of the essence of my being. Not that I am a musician of any import. It’s just that I listen voraciously to the recordings no matter what they may be of. I’m genre neutral when it comes to music. I prefer to give it a listen a few times and then post it into pigeonholes in my mind. And I often move them as time dictates and my tastes mellow.
Oh, I do have preferences but they range from the Baroque classical music of J.S. Bach right the way through to the most esoteric of Frank Zappa’s experimental music. And everything in between, from the instrumental guitar genius of Leo Kottke to folk music, rock in all of its guises, to electronica a la Tangerine Dream to even some C & W like Blake Shelton and Lady Antebellum.
But, thanks to that very recording technology not only does it survive but The Santana sound now forms a part of the soundtrack to millions of lives across the world, not just mine. At the age of 14 I danced my first ‘real slow-dance and get-off session’ with a girl at a ‘hop’ in Rondebosch Town Hall, Cape Town, to a Santana cover by Omega Limited. Oh how we danced! I even ‘smooched’ her, tongue and all for the first time! The song title eludes me but the experience I will recall forever!
At first glance the appeal of Santana could easily have been lost in the Tex-Mex bodegas and bars of the American South West. But, fate dealt a winning hand, commencing with the fledgling band’s unforgettable performance at the seminal “Woodstock Music & Arts Fair” of August 1969. Right the way through some 40 albums culminating so far with 2016’s Santana IV the fan base has simply grown. Fans of Santana don’t defect to other artists or “different genres”. Rather they live on or pass on. Nothing in between. When Santana took to the stage in upstate New York on that muddy August day 48 years ago the band had not yet been signed by a record label! They had recorded precisely nothing as of that time, playing clubs and pubs to eke out a living. The symbiotic relationship with “Woodstock Festival” as the embodiment of the Youth (Hippy) Counterculture and the fledgling Santana as its theme song was formed. Success was assured and neither the Band nor the fans would ever be the same again.
It is to Santana’s sound that my generation swayed, smooched and shuffled on that rain-sodden field forever “Woodstock” but more accurately described as Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York.
We went on to military service. Vietnam, Angola, Rhodesia, Congo, Afghanistan and Iraq were all fought and died for to the sounds of Santana and their peers in music. The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker . . . the list goes on and made up the soundtrack to the unforgettable movie experience that was “Good Morning Vietnam!” And, if we survived our military service, most of us went on to attempts at love and marriage, starting families of our own. Our generation were determined not to make the same mistakes that our parents had made. We swore that no son of our generation would be sent to fight another war in another country. And we failed miserably. But the music played on. With our generation resolutely teaching our children what our fathers and our mothers didn’t know how to teach us. Although most of us have failed to bring our children up differently to how our parents raised us we cannot blame the soundtrack of our lives. Genetics is a powerful influence.
All the while Santana and the sounds of Woodstock and beyond were with us. To illustrate my point, in 1981 I tried playing Oye Como Va and Samba Pa Ti in the delivery room in the nursing home when my son was born. I was ejected for my troubles. But my son was bitten and he’s now a fan of the Santana sound. And a disciple of the Carlos Santana style. As well as a sometime guitarist and all round music lover. I’m so proud of him I could burst. My three-year-old grandson was at our house a few days ago. Out of nowhere he yanked a CD from the stand and said to my wife; “Ganny, play Bob Mahly for me please.” And blow me down if the CD was anything other than “Confrontation” by Bob and his Wailers. I did mention the power of genetics?
The music of that time is etched into my psyche but most of all, the sounds of Santana. And now, although I appreciate and listen to virtually everything that is categorised as music not a fortnight goes by without me putting on a Santana album from my collection. As Carlos’ opening guitar licks wash over me I find myself in a transcendent state, all at once, in the Fillmore West, LA with Carlos Santana’s beautiful and beloved notes tingling in my ears, cleansing my troubled mind. That irrepressible sound uplifts my soul whilst allowing me a tear here and there in memory of comrades who didn’t make it this far.
Full circle is how everything in Nature works. From the unimaginably long periods that make up the precession of the equinoxes to the fleeting life cycle of some butterflies everything goes and eventually comes back in a ceaseless cycle that you can count on.
From my late Mother’s record collection which ran into the hundreds to me as the music fanatic that I am, through my son’s equal zeal and around to my three-year-old grandson, the circle continues.
Santana is no exception to the rule of cycles. Just consider the line-up for the latest offering being the brilliant Santana IV CD of 2016 which sees original Santana Blues Band members; iconic guitar player, Carlos Santana together with Gregg Rolie (keyboards & lead vocals), Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Michael Carabello (percussion) and Michael Shrieve (drums). The album signifies the first time since 1971’s multi-platinum classic Santana III that the original five band members have recorded together. The line-up is rounded off by extant Santana band members; Karl Perazzo on percussion with Benny Rietveld on bass. Legendary vocalist Ronald Isley of The Isley Brothers makes a guest appearance on two cuts. The cycle continues as remorselessly as the sunrise.
One day when my final page has been read and I too am dead and cold I’d really like it if someone says, “What should we play at Pete’s memorial service?” I hope that they look no further than Samba Pa Ti. I’m listening to the second album, Abraxas as I write. I wish you happy listening and the experience of, the feeling and the colours of emotion that IS Santana.
Thanks for reading. Ciao
Abridged version first published here on 25 January 2017 Peter Mark Wells-Garnett © 19 April 2017