Letter From Behind the Keys: From Blues to Gold

Letter From Behind the Keys: From Blues to Gold
Mike Shrieve, Carlos Santana, Gregg Rolie, Chepito Areas, David Brown, Mike Carabello in 1969. Photo courtesy of Carlos Santana.

W E PLAYED BLUES. That was it. Then the congas were there, and we ended up kind of stretching out. As I recall, when the Butterfield Blues Band came out with East-West we started jamming, started playing like that. All that music was pretty blues-based. It was such a conglomeration of styles from blues, rock, jazz, Latin, African…you name it, it was in there. We just created a music that nobody had ever done.

We wanted to be an internationally known band, while everyone else was just trying to be a band out of San Francisco, or the various places they came from. We had a much larger vision, and the music just caught on. The music of a generation.

We hit at the right place, right time, right guys in the band. Bill Graham loved Latin music and he was the impresario of all of this; everything was falling into place. But we barely got signed to Columbia Records. It was a package deal with a couple other bands—It’s a Beautiful Day was one. They took us because we were San Francisco bands, not because they necessarily really knew. We did “Evil Ways,” which we didn’t even want to do, we played at Woodstock, and the thing took off.

Mike Shrieve first played “Black Magic Woman” for me. He got me the Fleetwood Mac album because he knew I was a big fan of Peter Green. I heard that song and I thought, “Man, I could really sing this.” It took me a year to talk the guys into playing it. We finally connected at a sound check in Fresno; Carlos started to really get what was going on with it. He goes “What is that?” I said, “Well you’ve been playing it for a year at practice because I keep bringing it up!” He finally connected to it and we arranged it and did it. It’s the only song I ever sang, just once. That was exactly the vocal. You know usually you go back in and fix this and that, but on “Black Magic Woman” I did the first two verses, then something broke in the control room and we had to wait. Then I sang the third verse. It was all one take.

Santana music, to me, is like blues; it never goes away. There’s always something to it that’s very hip. There’s a lot of “decade music” out there, but this is not that.

Gregg Rolie

A founding member/keyboardist/singer for both Santana and Journey, Gregg Rolie now tours with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band.

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