August 1969: the month of the legendary Woodstock festival and Santana’s iconic, LSD-infused performance that’s eternally credited for the band’s subsequent overnight explosion–as well as gleaming confidence in the release of their very first studio album.
Regardless of individual levels of tripped-outness, all eyes were transfixed and ears raptured when “Soul Sacrifice” took ahold of the Woodstock crowd, Michael Shrieve’s merciless drum-abuse mystified, and Carlos’ wailing on the guitar sent the 450,000 onlooking hippies straight to heaven. The synthesis on the stage–signified by the grin-shared, call-and-response playing between members–was sublime.
So, all hype considered, the release of the band’s self-titled album nearly immediately after their mind-blowing gig at Woodstock was nothing short of timely. And for this subsequent generation of music, the two milestones were forever inextricably tied.
“Rock” is still an oversimplification for the breakout LP Santana; a beautiful swirl of Latin, blues, acoustic, electric, world, psychedelic rock–not to mention ‘spiritual renewal’, was referenced for melodic influence in the birthing of this 9-track masterpiece. Bordering on messy garage band practice and instrumental mastermind, most songs feel overwhelmingly creative (“Savor”, “Jingo”)…so improvisational and ‘ahead of their time’ that they evoke in one’s mind comparison of a young wizard only just learning of his powers. In another word…chaos–but destined magic. And that was the only mode of operation by Santana knew up until 1969: unbridled musical energy; playing live–so intensely and experimentally–that their output resonated for days.
The band naturally battled internal, creativity competition. But since every member was brilliant, this was nothing short of a blessing.
Easily, the most spirit-soothing moments on the LP are [still] when Carlos’ own Mexican music roots ascend, hushing the previously unrestrained, psychedelic-rock sounds made out of sheer restlessness. It’s a Latin surge of deep, supernatural healing when “Evil Ways” starts, sponsored by a single man and his Gibson. Truthfully, Carlos Santana’s relationship with his guitar can only be understood through the ears–and it’s a complex, sacred one.
Santana remains the celebrated group’s starter album, no doubt, but an eerily good one. One of free jamming, loose expression, a perfect clash of instrumental visions, and a time-tested marker of classic rock’s beginnings.
For the end of August and beyond, let us celebrate the mystical art that is Santana: frontman Carlos, Gregg Rolie’s otherworldly organ licks, the band’s first album…and finally, their hallucinatory performance on August 16th, 1969 at the bottom of a muddy hill on Yasgur Farm.
Watch and be spellbound.