September 23 – Listen How it Goes, My Rhythm: Abraxas at 50

9/23/70: Santana – Abraxas

We stood before it and began to freeze inside from the exertion. We 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”…. – from the Hermann Hesse book, Demian.

There are examples throughout all music genres of bands or individual artists who get into a groove where they can do no wrong in the studio, on stage, or both. In 1970, Latin/blues/jazz/rock fusion band Santana was one such group. It had been just over a year since their breakout performance at Woodstock, followed by the release of their self-titled debut album a couple of weeks after the festival. Santana’s followup was recorded with the same lineup over a period of two weeks in the spring of 1970, and Abraxas was released on this date 50 years ago. It reached the top of the Billboard album chart in the U.S. while featuring three prominent instrumental tracks.

Santana On 'Black Magic Woman,' A Pioneering Cultural Mashup : NPR

The star singles from the album were covers: Black Magic Woman (Fleetwood Mac) reached number four in the U.S. (after leaving Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green derived significant royalty income from Santana’s version), and Tito Puente’s Oye Como Va hit number thirteen. But after many years and many plays, the tracks that keep me coming back are the non-hits, such as the instrumentals Incident at Neshabur with its heavy jazz inflection, and Samba Pa Ti. Carlos’s inspiration for this song was a heavily drinking saxophone busker outside his NYC hotel window. Two of my other favorites were written and sung by keyboardist Gregg Rolie, Mother’s Daughter and Hope You’re Feeling Better. The former maintains much of the Latin flavor of the rest of the album, while the latter features more of a straight forward rock sound. Carlos’s searing guitar licks are the common denominator along with Rolie’s vocals.

Santana - Hope You're Feeling Better - 8/18/1970 - Tanglewood (Official) -  YouTube

While the first three Santana albums have been stuffed into the classic rock pigeon hole over the years, this band perhaps more than anyone carved out a unique niche. The Latin rhythms which form the backbone of Santana’s music just feel good to listen to, and the band must’ve felt an immense sense of freedom when playing it. It could be a bitter cold winter day, but with Abraxas playing it’s always sunny and 75. For many including me, this continued into their lesser known (commercially speaking) fourth album, Caravanserai, before Carlos shifted into a different but also very interesting phase of his career.

Though Carlos and the Latin element of these albums understandably garner the most attention, I feel Gregg Rolie doesn’t receive the praise he deserves. Maybe he has and I’m just not aware. However, it’s no coincidence that Santana and later Journey (who he co-founded with Neal Schon, who also played on the third Santana album) were markedly different bands after his departure. His vocals and signature Hammond B3 were crucial ingredients to both.


Bonus Blurbs:

  • Oye Como Va, translated to English, means listen how it goes, my rhythm.
  • The album was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2016.
  • The album cover art is a painting titled Annunciation, by Mati Klarwein. His distinctive style would be found on later albums by Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Gregg Allman.


Side One:

  1. Singing Winds
  2. Crying Beasts
  3. Oye Como Va
  4. Incident at Neshabur

Side Two:

  1. Se Acabó
  2. Mother’s Daughter
  3. Samba Pa Ti
  4. Hope You’re Feeling Better
  5. El Nicoya


May 1970, Pt. 2 – The Woodstock Soundtrack and Thoughts on the Festival

Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More

On May 11, 1970 the soundtrack to the Woodstock film was released as a triple album, but only covered a fraction of the performances. My favorites from this “condensed,” initial release are performances by Canned Heat, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Sly and the Family Stone, CSNY, Santana, Joe Cocker, and Ten Years After. Obviously this was one of the cultural events of the 20th century U.S. if not the biggest. It introduced the masses to the likes of Richie Havens, Santana, and Canned Heat (whereas some of the others had previously had their coming out parties in places like Monterey two summers earlier). I think the one aspect of it all that sticks with me is the sheer nerve these folks had to have to get up on that stage in front of so many people, especially those who were better known locally in places like the Bay Area (Santana) or the East Village (Havens). Santana drummer Michael Shrieve had just turned 20, and he gave one of the more incredible performances of any musician there in my opinion.

Michael Shrieve - DRUMMERWORLD

Someone posed the question on an online music forum I visit, if you could go back and attend either the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 or Woodstock in ’69, which would you choose? If I’m honest with myself, it would probably be Monterey. Woodstock was great and significant for all the reasons we’ve seen and heard over the years, but if I were to have plunked down on that hillside in the actual conditions they dealt with at Yasgur’s farm, I would’ve been miserable. Hendrix at dawn when I’m sitting in a muddy landfill and probably haven’t slept in a couple days? No thanks. I’m content to watch that on TV with a clean bathroom nearby. I would’ve made a lousy hippie when it comes down to it. and judging by the garbage left behind, many of the attendees made lousy hippies as well.

11 Images That Will Make You Go 'Wait, Really?' (With images ...

Hendrix at Monterey? Absolutely. The overall lineups for both events had their pros and cons looking back, but they were both unique. For example, the Association would not have fit into the Woodstock vibe (I know, I know, but somehow Sha Na Na did?), but they were still relevant enough to make sense at Monterey. From my perspective it seems there was a vast difference between 1967 and 1969 as seen in the documentaries of both events. At Monterey a hint of innocence could still be seen. The Counter Culture was just starting to explode, but in a way people seemed to maintain a little more individuality than a couple years later when it came to their appearances and attitudes. For most, the scene was still new and full of possibilities. There wasn’t quite the ubiquitous hippie uniform and attitude. Also, not as many people – musicians and fans alike – were as strung out at Monterey as at Woodstock. I’m not articulating this very well. Maybe it’s none of that. Perhaps it’s my perception that in 1967 there was more optimism for a better world: for the war to end, for racial harmony, etc. The year 1968 created much disillusion, and by the time Woodstock happened the first of the Manson murders had occurred less than a week earlier, Altamont was just a few months away, and Kent St. not far behind. All that said, I realize Woodstock couldn’t have been pulled off without positivity and optimism, so maybe this is all hindsight from someone who wasn’t even there. Perhaps somebody who was alive at the time can set me straight on this.

Crowd shot - Monterey Pop Festival | Monterey pop festival ...
Monterey Pop Festival, 1967
Woodstock, 1969