When I was 8 or 9 years old, I spent a lot of time with my cousins in the Bay Area near San Francisco. One of our favorite things to do was to go into San Francisco and hang out at Golden Gate Park. Maybe play three flies up or throw a Frisbee.
It was the late 60’s and the Hippies loved Golden Gate Park too. I was just a kid that watched Beverly Hillbillies after school, but, I was also listening to bands like Cream and Jimi Hendrix on the radio. One of our favorite areas of the park was where the Merry-Go-Round was under a big pavillion. There was stuff to climb on, old Jungle Gyms and outdoor gymnasium things like the metal rings and stuff to wear out any hyper-active 8 year old.
In the meadow on the edge of this area was a daily communal hippie drum thing going on. I would see them unload these handmade drums, conga drums, whatever and join in a group of about 100-200 people chanting and drumming and just having a good time.
You could say it was the precursor to the modern drum circle. I don’t even know if they knew what they were aiming for but it obviously was reminiscent of afro centric beats and Latin rhythms. Whatever it was, it looked like fun and I just wanted to go hang out and listen.
I asked my Aunt Marlene what they were doing. She just responded that “it was a Pot Party” and “no, I could not go over there”. A Pot party, what was a pot party? I pictured a big communal pot of chili or stew in the middle and they were just beating on the drums to pass the time while they waited to eat. I just stood about 30-40 yards away intrigued by all the rhythm and the fun they were having.
It was the same every time we headed down by the old merry-go-round area; at least for a year or so, which back then was a long time. Somebody else was taking notice, a young Carlos Santana. I read that he based the band on the percussion jams at Golden Gate Park. His band sound naturally evolved with Golden Gate Park percussionists Michael Carabello, Michael Shrieve and Jose Areas at the core of Santana.
My friend Steve talked about the first time he saw Santana at the Fillmore East. He said there were these primitive Latin looking drums all over the stage and they were thinking what the heck is this? Then these three guys came out and started beating on all the stuff and it sounded cool then other band members joined in and so on until Carlos was out playing lead guitar over the top of the whole thing. The birth of Santana was born in San Francisco, not a preplanned “oh I was listening to some Cuban Salsa” thing but an organic pre 70’s drum circle driving a rock band.
In fact, Santana was probably the second original jam band after The Greatful Dead. When Santana started they had some rhythm and melody structures that they would just jam for 8-10 minutes on at a time. Check out Santana playing “Soul Sacrifice” in the movie “Woodstock”.
Bill Graham was one of the first to tell Carlos it sounded great but they needed songs. At first, it was instrumentals with titles like “Samba Pa Ti”, Spanish for “Samba for You”, a great title for a Samba jam. Then Tito Puente songs with Spanish lyrics like “Oye Como Va”, which would be translated as probably, “Listen to what’s goin’ on”. Eventually at Bill Graham’s behest they recorded the Willie Bobo song “Evil Ways” which reached number 9 on Billboard with the first album going to number four.
Santana came to life at a certain time and place as a result of what was going on with the local scene interpreted by a young guitarist with a reflection on the culture he grew up with.
After Woodstock exposed Santana to the entire country and the world, Santana and his “Boogie’d” Fender would go on to influence other bands such as Malo, War and a myriad of others as well as a spin off band called Journey by Santana alumni Neil Schon and Greg Rolie.
Well, why would I share this story of hearing what Santana heard and realizing that I knew the root, the beginning of a unique Band? I hope it might inspire some musician/songwriter to look a little off the beaten path as they develop their own sound. It could be inspiration from hearing another musicians’ own unique ability and how one could overlap his own take on things to create something original. Carlos Santana and those percussionists hanging out in Golden Gate Park were originals.
- Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN email@example.com