It started back in 1969 when he played Woodstock. For many folks Carlos and his band were the gateway into the world of jazz. As for me, I was raised on a steady diet of jazz from a very early age, so Santana’s fusion of Latin, jazz and rock music made for a delicious treat. I was elated that I could enjoy his unique guitar playing and be hip at the same time.
His first album cover added to the sense of mystery by being a white line drawing of a snarling male lion with people hidden in his face and mane. "Santana" is written in distinctive psychedelic lettering. The cut "Evil Ways" got lots of air play on pop, jazz and rock stations of the day.
Again mixing art and music in a thought provoking package, the next album cover was quite a favorite. Everyone I knew had the album Abraxas. It was the one with the cuts "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va." For many, even more tantalizing than the music was the buxom chocolate colored reclining nude with a stark white pigeon smack dab in the middle of the cover. They speculated that she was the inspiration for the song, "Black Magic Woman."
Others said that Abraxas was the nude red angel riding the floating bongo drum pointing up to a very fancy "S" because when you read the Herman Hesse quote on the back of the album it said “We stood before it . . . questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it: We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas...”
One of my friends went to the record store and paid the owner for the promotional poster which was a much bigger version of the album cover. He had it framed and displayed it prominently in his living room. It was a win-win situation because in the early '70s, even with the sexual revolution in full swing, the store owner didn’t feel that he could display it.
When Santana released his Greatest Hits in 1974, the album cover featured a headless figure holding a white pigeon. Because this figure is decidedly male, we had many a discussion about whether it was the Abraxas pigeon or not, as Santana’s music played and the wine flowed.
We also spent time discussing Carlos’s love of hats. Like his album named Shape Shifter, Santana has always shifted his head covering. From an African kofia to an American Pork Pie, a Greek Fisherman’s cap to knitted beanies, baseball caps or sharp throwback fedora, Carlos is seldom seen bareheaded.
To this day, I find it difficult to describe what Carlos does with his guitar, but there is no dispute that he has mixed art, music, love and magic together. I wonder if for his birthday this July 20, they found him a new style of hat? Perhaps a trip to Ravinia in August will answer that question for me.
~Lydia Barnes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Our Smooth Video of the Day: One of the first Santana tracks embraced by the Smooth Jazz format in 1987: