Classic Rock Review

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Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live! (1972)

cd-coverFrom amazon.com

Review There seem to be all sorts of urban legends surrounding this 1972 Top Ten album from Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles. Some people claim that the concert never took place, which seems unlikely since Santana and Miles toured together extensively in late 1971 and early 1972. Others suggest that Carlos played little on the disc, and while I respect the six-string talents of Neal Schon (who legend also says turned down an invitation from Eric Clapton to flesh out Derek and the Dominos to play with Santana’s band, and who built a great reputation for himself as lead guitarist for Journey), there are numerous guitar runs on ‘Live!’ that have S-A-N-T-A-N-A written all over them. I think many of the myth-makers are deluded by the overly-engineered master tapes. It was common practice in the early seventies to modulate the amplitude of the crowd noise, as is evident on programs such as ABC-TV’s ‘In Concert’ late night program, and this seems to be what was done with ‘Live!’. While it sounds hokey at times, that doesn’t mean the performances didn’t happen.

Perhaps also lending to the controversy is the liner notes listing the recording date as “January 0, 1972”, a non-existant date, suggesting the concert never happened. But the concert actually took place in Hawaii, in the center of the Diamond Head volcanic crater, on January 1, 1972 during the ‘Sunshine ’72 Festival’. Supporting that fact is a collage of about fourteen photographs from the concert itself. I can see Carlos playing guitar in several of them, and there’s a number of Hawaiian-looking people standing around as well. That’s proof enough for me. I guess this one doesn’t rise to the level of the McCartney death hoax!

Fortunately, the music does rise to the occasion. I first acquired a copy of this disc as one of my 12 “free” records when I joined the Columbia Record Club. I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but in 1972 most people were convinced you couldn’t go wrong with Carlos Santana, and I was one of them. I wasn’t disappointed. While it may take a little time and a few listens for the 25 minute plus ‘Free Form Funkafide Filth’ to grow on you… it does. I’m not sure how ‘free form’ this filth is (it’s credited to Miles, Santana, drummer Gregg Errico, and bassist Ron Johnson), but it manages to hit a funk groove on several occasions and passes the ample running time (especially for a vinyl disc) admirably.

The real gem, however, is side one. While the track listing lists five seperate tracks, tracks one and two (‘Marbles’ and ‘Lava’) and tracks four and five (‘Faith Interlude’ and Mile’s best known composition, ‘Them Changes’) segue seamlessly into one another, creating a musical suite. Only an upbeat, horn augmented version of ‘Evil Ways’ stands alone, almost as a centerpiece. All of these tracks, save ‘Faith Interlude’, which is perfectly titled given it’s bouyant strains, are funky tomes of dynamite. Robert Hogins on organ and Coke Escovedo on timbales, along with a trio of conga players, do yoeman’s work keeping up with Santana, Schon, and Miles. Over the years these tracks have merged in my mind, and belong together as one piece of work every bit as much as the flip side of the original vinyl disc.

This is at least the third time this disc has been reissued, having been remastered in 1994 and reissued in 2005. The pressed copies of the 2005 release must have gone quickly, explaining the need for this 2008 reissue. Sadly, no additional tracks have ever been added to any of the reissues, suggesting that no additional quality recordings from the concert exist. That’s a little hard to believe, but what else could explain it? If additional material comparable to what is being offered here is ever released, criminal negligence charges should be levied against Bob Irwin, the “Reissue Producer”, for keeping it under wraps for so long. Regardless, your classic rock collection isn’t complete without this one.

Review Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live!…was recorded on New Year’s Day, 1972 at the Sunshine ’72 Festival inside Diamond Head volcano crater, Honolulu Hawaii. Carlos was coming off the massive commercial success highs of three critically acclaimed Santana albums, but was moving away from the Latin rock format he had pioneered and was taking more and more aggressive steps towards focusing his attentions and talents on fusion jazz.

Carlos though was a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix, very evident in his pre-studio and early studio playing techniques and extremely evident in the unreleased 1967 single “Ballin'” a gigantic homage to Jimi! The chance to team up with Band Of Gypsy’s drummer Buddy Miles was as close as he would ever get to meshing with one of his guitar heroes. As a matter of force, Carlos and Buddy were accompanied on this record and in the concert with some main elements of Santana (the band) including 2nd guitarist and soon to be founder of Journey, Neal Schon.

The concert album kicks off with a two-part jam penned by Carlos’ new guitar hero John McLaughlin in the first part (Marbles) and by Buddy in the 2nd drum led part (Lava). An R&B funky version of Evil Ways, with lead vocals by Buddy offers a unique take on the hit single. I’ve been listening to this for nearly 40 years and the jury is still out. As a live performance it has its merits, but in comparison to the Santana original, it is a few bricks shy of a full load for me. The opening song Marbles is much better by a mile (no pun intended), but the closer to side one of the album, a newly refreshed version of Band Of Gypsy’s hit Them Changes is the stand out track here.

Them Changes has even more intense energy than ever, the lead guitar work by young Carlos is a flaming blaze of glory that rivals (and possibly outshines) the Hendrix original work (shame on me!) and the added brass horns make this a one of a kind remake! Now if you like Woodstock/Live at the Fillmore-wherever long jam sessions, filled with overlapping and exchanged leads from every musician on the stage, laid down with a 70’s-funk R&B bottom, then the 25 minute long Free Form Funkafide Filth, the whole side two of the original vinyl, is where it is at. You might like it, you might not, you might just have to be “in the mood”. Anyway you cut it, the concert album is high-energy, raw, naked talent complete with all the warts.

A Santana collector or completist will need this album, a big fan will want it, a casual fan will have to evaluate if the representative style here warrants the purchase (at the Amazon price of 6 bucks that’s a big a-duh). This is a Buddy Miles delivering the goods he always makes great. This is a Carlos as usual unparalleled on guitar and backed up with his legendary 2nd, Neal Schon, but a Carlos in transition from Rock to Jazz in a set that is mainly R&B inspired. The engineering was good for its time but is far from perfect yet also far from being anything near a bootleg. It is a large crowd concert with humanity jammed into the top of an open-air volcano, so the crowd noise is definitely there.

If you like “exciting” albums, this is one of those! Not Carlos’ best work but far from his worst as well. I give it Four, you might care to judge for yourself.

May 1, 2013 Posted by | Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live | | Leave a comment