It was a
case of second time lucky. A very young Carlos Santana had already made his
presence felt when his debut album slammed its fist, or better yet, his guitar,
down on the table of a rock world gearing up to enter the '70s. Abraxas suddenly turned the son of a
mariachi musician into the #1 gun with the best-selling record of the time
under his arm, an undeniable hit that found the magic formula to blend together
–mixed, not shaken- a generous smidgeon of Latin flavour with punchy,
The success of Abraxas originated at the crossroads where Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac) and Tito Puente met. The pair would give Santana two of the early milestones in his career: from the first came Black Magic Woman; the second provided Oye Cómo Va. These are titles, along with Samba Pa' Ti, that simply don't need any introduction. Forty five years later, the songs may sound like what people might call a "standard", but back then they were a genuine revolution, whose recent release Rolling Stone magazine famously defined as "possibly doing for Latin music what Chuck Berry did for the blues". The facts demonstrated that from the upper echelons of the record sales charts, and the rest now forms part of the legend.
1970 was a magical year for rock music. The final spasms of the hippie era still hadn't passed from the scene and every band was looking for new paths to pursue. Deep Purple released In Rock, the cornerstone of heavy rock; Clapton was recording Layla; Iggy and his Stooges put out Fun House; Traffic did the same with the great John Barleycorn; Cat Stevens, Neil Young… all destinations were wide open for anyone who could find their way onto the road to them. Santana caught the highway that went from Mexico to the U.S. by way of San Francisco and New York State and took full advantage of it. Woodstock was his passport for the new decade. (Note for myth lovers: the Gibson SG he played at that mega concert is now on display at a locale in Marbella).
Together with his debut album, Abraxas may be the only way of finding the original Carlos Santana, the musician who electrified salsa but never lost sight of the fact that his goal was to play rock 'n' roll. A child of his time, he went on to briefly put Devadip in front of his name and overload his music with mysticism. Time, nevertheless, heals all, and in a career as long as Santana's that counts for a lot, although perhaps he was too quick to abandon the desire to be young in the '70s sense of the word.
This is the time to say that dumb thing about how at least his guitar, or better still, his guitar style, will live on forever. There are very few players with a style as unmistakable as his, a sound that everyone can identify with almost from the first note. It is difficult to re-listen to Abraxas without all those restrictions getting in the way and just reconnect with the Santana who was still adjusting and putting together the pieces, only a few steps away from becoming a master of the six strings. Only then you can discover the freshness of the year when rock discovered the south.