Greetings again from the darkness. Although I was too young to attend Woodstock in 1969, I vividly recall the first time I saw the 1970 concert film, as I was stunned by the energetic performances, the dedicated attendees, and the mass of people making the best of rain, drugs, and music. By this time, I was attuned to Hendrix, The Who, Joplin, and most of the others, but the band that shook me was Santana. Familiar with only one song, “Evil Ways”, off their debut album, I was mesmerized by the pure force of their live “Soul Sacrifice” performance – the relentless drumming of Michael Shrieve (20 years old) and the blazing guitar work from band leader Carlos Santana (a 22-year-old).
With this documentary, Rudy Valdez (THE SENTENCE, 2018), delivers so much more than the typical musician biography. Sure, we get the basic background information, but thanks to chats with Carlos Santana himself, we learn more about the man and how his being is meshed with the music. Born in Mexico, Carlos’ dad played in a mariachi band and taught him to play the violin. The unusual route to rock and roll stardom began when Carlos switched to guitar and the family moved to San Francisco. His blending of Latin Jazz and Blues with rock and roll delivered a sound we had not previously heard. Carlos’ began playing regular gigs at the Fillmore West, and things kicked into gear once promoter/producer Bill Graham got involved.
Carlos formed a band and Graham instituted ‘festival training’ culminating in the live performance at Woodstock. Carlos tells an incredible story about Jerry Garcia (of The Grateful Dead) handing him some drugs, and the next thing Carlos knew, the band was called on stage in the midst of his acid trip. If you’ve seen the movie, the facial expressions will make complete sense once Carlos recalls what he was seeing with that trusty guitar in his hands. It’s one of the best rock stories you’ll hear. A week after Woodstock, Santana’s debut album was released by Clive Davis at Columbia Records.
The family background is interesting enough, but the real value here is in the self-reflection from Carlos. Apparently, the interview was conducted over a period of time, so we see variations and moods from the man with magic music. Carlos even discusses his time as a disciple of spiritual guru Sri Chinmoy … including haircut, white suits, and self-discovery. Carlos confesses how once “Smooth”, recorded in 1999 with Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty, became a monster hit, he finally felt validated.
Not many musicians get to have a professional career that spans more than fifty years … or have a wife who is a skilled drummer … or have a ‘slithering snake’ story with a spot in rock lore. But Carlos Santana, now 76 years old, has all of that, and has recently been battling a public relations nightmare after a statement he made regarding the trans community. As for the documentary, the interviews and archival footage and photos provide a nice look at the man behind the music.
Opening in select theaters on September 23, 2023 and going wide on September 29.