I’ll say it straight out; this is a fantastic album.
I’m not at all familiar with most of Santana’s musical output, but I do know that he made a name for himself with a smashing performance in 1969 when he played at Woodstock, the same year his first album was released. I also know that he has experienced real highs and lows throughout his long career, capped by a massive comeback in 1999 with his Supernatural album, which I believe has actually become one of the top 20 or 30 best selling albums of all time, and certainly his biggest triumph in the commercial sense.
While Supernatural certainly wasn’t bad, I personally don’t think it comes close to the brilliant musicianship contained on this self-titled effort, which was his third album and released in 1971.
These early Santana albums were probably the first successful mainstream fusion of Latin music and rhythms with hard rock; not a great surprise considering Santana’s Mexican roots and American upbringing. This album is a fascinating listen from start to finish…the blend of different styles experimented with just work together magically.
Just listen to the opening track, “Batuka,” one of the finest rock instrumentals I’ve ever heard. Normally one would assume that Latin influenced music is cheesy poppy stuff that people in Brazil like to grind to. Or people in North America stupidly consider the likes of Ricky Martin to be a “groundbreaking” crossover fusion of latin music with rock, which of course is complete poppycock.
Yes, “Batuka” is a clear message that Latin music can actually have balls… just listen to the complex percussion accompanied with funky bass rhythms and a plethora of heavy guitar riffs courtesy of good ‘ol Carlos himself. He also liberally throws hyperactive melodic solos around that are short and sweet enough to remain an impressive showcase of his technical ability without becoming irritating endless wankfests as many other guitarists tended to indulge in at the time. He certainly has a knack for melodic playing with great feel. Also, check out the addition of the crazy organ towards the end of the song, which reminds one of the best of Deep Purple!
The rest of the album pretty much retains this high level of songwriting and musicianship, perfecting the blend of Latin rhythms with blues, soul, lounge, and of course the hard rock which cements it all together. Some songs lean more heavily towards pure Latin music even sung in Spanish, and then there’s others like “Everybody’s Everything” which sound more like a ’60s James Brown soul pop number. All the tracks are very melodic and interesting without ever sounding too commercial… they perfectly reflect the album cover in that listening to the album is like embarking on a journey into a mystical land.
The year was 1971, and young Neil Schon had a big decision to make. The 17-year-old guitar prodigy was invited by Eric Clapton to join Derek and the Dominoes at the same time that he was invited by Carlos Santana to join his group. Schon chose Santana just in time to go into the studio to join in the recording of the band’s third album.
By the time Santana III was recorded, the band was still riding the huge wave they created with their historic appearance at Woodstock two years earlier. Their self-titled first album had reached #4 on the Billboard Album Chart, and their second, Abraxas, sold more than four-million and reached #1 in 1970. Everything seemed to be going their way.
What most of their fans didn’t know was that the pressure of success was taking its toll on the group, and by 1971 they were on the verge of disintegrating. Santana wanted the band to put emphasis on its Mexican musical roots. Greg Rollie, an original member of the band when it was formed in 1966 as the Santana Blues Band, wanted to go with a more progressive sound and themed concept albums, which suited young Schon just fine, given his classical training.
The tensions became more than the group could handle, and soon after the release of Santana III, the band’s members went their separate ways. Rollie later formed Journey, which would also become Schon’s home.
What’s Significant About Santana III: Legacy Edition
• It is the last album recorded by the original Woodstock-era lineup and the first that included Neil Schon
• It contains three songs that were recorded during those 1971 studio sessions but have not been released previously
• The second CD in the set contains the band’s complete final set on the night that the legendary Fillmore West in San Francisco closed
Carlos Santana is rightfully credited (along with Ritchie Valens, Tito Puente, Jose Feliciano and Los Lobos) with bringing Latin rock into the American mainstream. We shouldn’t forget, though, that Santana was also an important fixture in the late ’60s San Francisco music scene that also included the likes of Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, all of whom owe a good measure of their success to promoter Bill Graham and his legendary Fillmore West.
The original Santana lineup first played the Fillmore in December 1968. The final Fillmore performance came on July 4, 1971 and is released for the first time in its entirety on this CD set.
Who Should Buy Santana III: Legacy Edition
•Anyone who is new to classic rock and wants to fully appreciate the work of this legendary group
•Santana completists who want to own every version of everything the band and any of its individual members ever recorded
•Rock fans who appreciate the exponentially superior sound of digital reproduction when compared to the vinyl discs we originally heard this music on
Old vs. New: Who Wins?
If there’s any danger here it is that reissuing classic Santana material, especially with the previously unreleased bonuses in this package, may overshadow Santana’s newest album (All That I Am). Of course, it could have the opposite effect and boost both concert ticket and album sales. Either way, this release is well-timed in relation to the Santana comeback that began in 1999 and is still going strong.
By 1971, Santana had already garnered a lot of success and popularity, much thanks to their performance at the legendary music festival Woodstock. With each album, the band only increased the creativity and quality of their songs. And Santana 3 was no exception. Strengthened by the addition of percussionist Coke Escuvedo (sp?) and Neal Schon, the original Santana line-up made their best and last album at the ultimate height of their fame.
The album comes to a start with some nice percussion and then a great, great bassline comes thundering in. Then the magical dueling guitars of Santana and Schon take you for a ride. This is a great instrumental opener, full of sweet licks dripping in wah-wah and an amazing rhythm section. 5/5
2. No One to Depend On
Just like on Abraxas, the first track bleeds into the second. In this case, the two work very well together. They are a little similar except this one has vocals. Now, the lyrics or vocals aren’t anything amazing, but this band’s main feature isn’t lyrics, so I don’t care. The bass is great on this track, and the guitar is, well, astonishing. Neal and Carlos duel it out on the guitar solo, which isn’t far from the best ever, in my opinion. Not only can they play great by themselves, but they work together great as a team. They also work great with the percussionists. 5/5
The mostly happy, upbeat feel of the first two tracks comes to a halt here. This song is very nicely done, because it has a great mood, like a dark swamp at midnight. Kind of difficult to put in words, but this one always gets me. It features some decent lyrics, though, by Gregg Rollie, who does the lead vocals very nicely. The song keeps it’s slow-paced, moody feel until the outro guitar solo, which is beyond earthshattering. It is like a hand grabbing onto your skull saying, hey, wake up, listen to me! Not that the rest of the song is boring or anything, but, man, these solos really wake you up. Overall, a great emotional song. You just can’t beat that. 5/5
4. Toussaint l’ Overture
This is a big fan favorite. Personally I think it’s a good song but sometimes it bores me a little. The big guitar solo at the end usually catches my attention, though. Also has a cool breakdown with some chanting in Spanish. Since the music is top-notch, I can’t give this a bad grade. 4.5/5
5. Everybody’s Everything
Well, this one is sure to change your mind if you think Santana is boring and one-dimensional. Talk about variety! When I first heard this song I thought the radio turned on somehow or the stereo switched CD’s. This song is upbeat, but feels very nice and refreshing after the more melancholy feel of the last two tracks. I’m not a huge fan of horns but there is some excellent horn work on this song, which I think is done by the Tower of Power. You’ll want to get up and dance when you hear this infectious tune. 5/5
The CD goes back to a deeper melancholy mode when this song starts. Has a very Latin feel to it. Not my favorite on the CD but still manages to stay in my head. Santana and Schon deliver some great solos, so this is a pretty worthwhile cut. 3.5/5
7. Jungle Strut
Starts with a spacey intro. Then a great guitar riff comes in, and the whole band does their thing. Mainly just a “jam” song, but it’s not just “noodling” for over 5 minutes, it contains some very memorable moments and isn’t something you’ll just forget very quickly. One of my favorites on the album. 5/5
8. Everything’s Coming Our Way
Sounds kind of like “Everybody’s Everything”, but with minor chords. I’m not sure who’s doing lead vocals, I think it’s either Carlos or Gregg Rollie with a falsetto. But whoever it is, the vocals are absolutely great. Very emotional. The song also has an organ solo that is really nice. Not that I don’t like the other organ solos, this one just really fits. 5/5
9. Para Los Rumberos
Horn-driven closer that really ends the album perfectly. No organ or guitar solos, just great work as a whole band. A memorable closer to a memorable album. 5/5
Bonus Tracks: The three live bonus tracks are all equally amazing. They are: “Batuka”, “Jungle Strut”, and “Gumbo”. They all get 5/5 because they capture the live energy of the band and don’t drag the album down at all.
Score! This is actually where Carlos as we know and love him finally arrives. Maybe something clicked, and instead of being based on Rolie’s organ leads, the album finally lets Mr Guitar God take the ninety-nine percent of the cake. Melody-wise, this is not a big improvement over Abraxas, maybe even a retread – very few vocal tunes, just jams, jams and jams. But hey, this might not be a bad thing if we consider that Santana were never a terrific songwriting outfit. On the other hand, most of these jams are amazing.
The band, smoothed and tightened by all the years of success and pressure, strolls along like an enormous unstoppable Panzer, and it almost seems as if nothing can go wrong: these guys will keep punching out their infectious rhythms and lightning-speed solos even on their deathbed. And once they establish a firm groove, Carlos takes the lead and sprinkles us with solos the likes of which the American public hadn’t yet seen.
Perhaps if taken on an emotional level, these solos never reach towards the heights the band would achieve on their next album – the pinnacle of Santana’s “spirituality”. Instead, they just rock. In the meaning “rock the house down”. Santana displays the best of his technical achievements here, everything from speed and cunning vibratos to his mastership over the wah-wah pedal and other special effects. One need only take a single listen to the notorious ‘Toussaint L’Ouverture’ to fall under the charm of this record: no better hymn to the famous Haiti-liberating hero could be thought of than this piece of flaming rage and anger miraculously transformed into a sonic experience.
Even more amazing, Rolie actually rises to the challenge – as if he were peacefully sleeping all this time and just awoken out of his slumber by Carlos. So his organ solos on this record are equally engaging – fast, full of energy and power, fluent as hell, and… whatever. God had apparently found the band somewhere in between 1970 and 1971. Anyway, I was speaking of ‘Toussaint’: that solo passage at the end of the record is the most brilliant piece of music that the band had recorded up to that point, and it’s one of those rare pieces of music that carry you away to rock nirvana when you turn up the volume.
I actually find it hard to discuss the record – it’s not all that diverse, just one archi-energetic five-minute explosion after each other, dragging you with it to the depths of headbanging ecstasy; it’s records like these that define the old “rock = drug” cliche. Virtually every lead by Carlos on the album is a minor gem in its own rights, starting from the extended jams like ‘Toussaint’ or ‘Jungle Strut’ and ending with short, economic outbursts on such few vocal tunes as ‘Everybody’s Everything’ and ‘Everything’s Coming Our Way’.
Actually, the best tune after ‘Toussaint’ on here is the spooky ‘No One To Depend On’, with a steady, yet slightly relaxed mid-tempo groove alternating with gritty leads and faster parts and always sticking right to the point – not a second of time is wasted, it’s all either “building up…” or “break out!”
I mean, if there is any significant flaw on the record – and there sure are a few – it’s that it still has traces of Latin genericness. I could easily do without ‘Guajira’, for instance, which doesn’t exactly deserve all of its running time, or that peachy rumba thing that bookmarks the record. They’re not bad at all, and they’re just as danceable and have just as much headbanging power as the first two records, but I already know all that. I’ve had it before. This is why I welcome the following album even more than this one: Caravanserai would be a completely unique experience.
Still, Santana III is as classy as ‘early Santana’ ever gets, and to top it all, we get three bonus tracks on the CD re-issue, all from the band’s live performances at the Fillmore. Two of these (‘Jungle Strut’ and ‘Batuka’) are reprised from the album itself, and a third one (‘Gumbo’) is not as hot on Santana’s lead playing, but is one of the best examples of the Monster Band having a terrific groove together and leaves you desperately gasping for breath. Classic!
After their raw and exciting self-titled debut Santana, and the successful follow-up Abraxas, Santana decided to go dark and mysterious with their near perfect third album titled, well, Santana III. The cover art, which I just can’t seem to get enough of, does as good a job as any of describing the music within as it reaches higher into rock cosmos than any of their previous efforts.
It’s hard for me to imagine what fans must have thought when this hit the scene back in 1971. Right out of the gate the band hits a confident stride that doesn’t let-up as they deliver a writhing, swirling, near rock nirvana of an album. Of course, just about every album released by major acts in ’71 was near rock nirvana as well. Zeppelin IV, Sticky Fingers, Who’s Next…it was quite a year. And yet Santana were right there with the best of them, bringing their very particular type of heavy but danceable Latin rock.
“Batuka” starts out with subtle stereo percussion that quickly turns deadly with a heavy funk swagger that just screams from the speakers. Special mention needs to be made here of the sound, which is absolutely impeccable. The depth of the recording is truly splendid and the percussion, drums, organ, and Carlos’ sinuous guitar all meld together and make something truly remarkable.
“No One To Depend On” slinks by with a late night burn, the funky mid-section featuring the band deep in the cut. “Taboo” finds the band in psychedelic lounge mode with some excellent organ work and vocals from Greg Rolie. The track is dark and sweet, the sound dense and heavy.
“Toussaint L’Overture” ushers in the end of side one (you know…on a record) and the band goes out in Latin rock glory. Seriously, I have heard a lot of Santana jams over the years but nothing prepared me for this. Those drums rumble in like a coming storm and the band hits hard and heavy, the gleaming sound of the production bringing the instruments ever closer to complete meltdown.
Greg Rolie burns down the house with his Hammond B3 as Carlos builds layer after layer of his melodic, burning leads. Newcomer Neal Schon lends a hand to the jam on second guitar, and the three players trade solos towards the end in a stunning display of bravado. When Carlos comes back in with his almost romantic lead after the percussion mid section…let’s just say you should turn off all the lights, sit back, and let it all sink in.
“Guajira” is almost pure Latin jazz in its execution and seems to foreshadow Santana’s further development of jazz-rock as the years went on. The band plays beautifully here and provides a prime example of the dynamic wonder that made Santana such an incredible and vastly different band. Carlos’ solo here is wonderfully played, deep in the cut, and amazingly fluid.
“Jungle Strut” follows, its duel guitars sounding somewhat like the Allman Brothers if they moved down to Tijuana. This is quickly followed by Carlos’ own “Everything’s Coming Our Way,” and a fiery reading of Tito Puente’s “Para Los Rumberos.”
The 2006 Legacy Edition includes several bonus tracks from the recording sessions and only add to the overall enjoyment of the album. “Gumbo” smokes with exotic riffery and hot burning solos from Santana, Rolie, and Schon, while the rest of the band cooks up a boiling rhythm section.
“Folsom Street One” shows the deeper, more hypnotic side that this era of Santana was capable of – for more than seven minutes the band lays back and just lets the jam ride. Carlos sounds especially nice in his warped, distorted solo, aided by rolling percussion and some wonderfully played flute. Shame this didn’t make the original album as it is really something special.
“Banbeye” goes even further into hypnotic territory, achieving a near trance like state in its 10 plus minutes. The band displays a unique dynamic that is truly remarkable. The drums and percussion reach into and out of your subconscious as the growing chants become a solid layer of beauty. The guitar slowly chimes in after seemingly forever and reaches far into the cosmos of musical elevation. For a band that was about to tear apart at the seams they seem to be in complete unison with one another. It’s a shame they didn’t record more of this type of music, as it is indeed unique and wholly satisfying.
A second bonus disc is also included containing Santana’s entire performance at the closing of the Fillmore West, on July 4, 1971. The band performs a number of cuts off the new album as well as Santana classics such as “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen,” “Savor,” and “Incident at Neshabur.” There is also an excellent rendition of Joe Zawinul’s “In A Silent Way” from the Miles Davis album of the same name. Although the sound is a bit erratic at times – vocal drops outs, weird mixing – the scorching content more than makes up for it.
Santana III Legacy Edition is a stunning album that has been made even better with excellent remastered sound and a number of studio out takes and live cuts. The band was on fire during this period and just about to cross over to the next level with a newly formed band and the jazz tinged Caravanserai the following year. But here, in the rock perfection that was 1971, the band is forever captured in its youthful, ragged glory, putting the final touch on a stunning trilogy of perfect albums.
Santana goes back deep into the roots of today’s music, not only just to the time when the Family Dog was at the Avalon, but back further into the heavy dosages of Latin and African rhythms that have been part of American music for a long time.
For it’s surely true that for all their Fender basses and fuzz tones, Santana is more deeply committed to the music defined and still played by Tito Puente, Machito, Mongo Santamaria, and all the glorious combinations of brass and rhythm that made the old Sunday afternoon dances such a delight, than to the Rolling Stones. Santana’s music is contemporary, but it comes from a tradition and part of what has provoked a curious reluctance on the part of some hard rock fans to accept Santana is that tradition.
This is music to dance to, but it is music that shrieks for more advanced, dexterous and imaginative dancing than some of the freeform body motion that rock dancing has accepted. It is also music that asks for a certain kind of emotional abandon for maximum enjoyment. You don’t just listen to Santana; you get inside the rhythm, play it in your head or your body and participate.
The first time I heard this band properly was at one of the Family Dog dances at the Avalon and they were tremendously exciting. That’s a hallmark of Santana, it’s continual high level of excitement. When the band drops down from that high tension wire for a number or for a movement, it usually enters into one of those romantic lyric passages that Anglos have come to associate with syrupy sentimentality. But one man’s sentimentality is another’s pure emotion and Santana really is an emotional band.
Basically, they demonstrate to what incredible transports of ecstasy one can be taken by complex, insinuating rhythms, especially when they are played against one another not only in their patterns but also in the timbres of the sounds and the ranges wherein they are played. A full Santana rhythmic onslaught, as in “Tous-saint L’Overture” (who, contrary to one DJ I heard is no relation to the singer/producer, but rather was a military genius who has remained a hero to blacks and to many others because of the Haitian independence struggle more than 100 years ago) is one of the most complex assemblies of rhythmic patterns you can hear.
The delight of the tensions brought into play when one rhythm is set against another with all the artful shifts in the beat and utilization of alternate timbres of sound is amazing. Against these rhythmic turbulances, the singing, wailing guitar of Carlos Santana is usually set and it provides a contrast that can sweep you up in its momentum immediately and carry you along. And above all, the band swings.
Lyrics are almost secondary to instrumental virtuosity with Santana and so are vocals. Frequently the lyrics are utilized as single lines for a unison shout or chant that in itself evolves into a rhythmic pattern played against the sounds the band is producing. Thus the band actually becomes an extended essay in rhythm.
Their new album goes right along with their previous ones in its content except that, for me anyway, it is more consistent. Prior Santana albums have had amazing things for me but also some downers. This LP stays there all the way. The work of the Tower of Power horn section and of Luis Gasca (ex-Woody Herman trumpeter and leader of his own group on a fine LP last year) helps, of course, by giving that punching brass sound that fits so well with this kind of music, The songs are all by the group except for Gene Ammons’ now classic “Jungle Strut” and Tito Puente’s “Para Los Rumberos” (which has Carlos Santana’s name substituted in the last chorus of the vocal for a nice bit).
Sometime I would like to see an analysis of the rhythms and patterns used by Santana done by some ethno-musicologist who could relate them to traditional Cuban, African and Haitian music and styles. I suspect it would be quite revealing.
I am convinced that this band, which is really a city band bringing us the hot pavement and the cool nights as well as the rumble and the roar of the city, is solidly linked back to the hill country, the savannahs and the inland plains music of Africa and Cuba and the other sources of that magic rhythmic power of which they are such compelling examples.