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Sunday, May 05, 2013

Spotlight on Santana

Good morning, everybody, and a very happy Cinco de Mayo to everybody here!

Translated from Spanish to English, Cinco de Mayo means...well...the fifth of May!  And, Cinco de Mayo is a very important day in Mexican history.

No, contrary to what many believe (including myself up until very recently), Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexico's independence day.  That day doesn't come until September 16.  But it was on this date in 1862 that Mexican armed forces pulled off an upset of sorts and won the Battle of Puebla against the French.  Since that victory, no European country have made an attempt to invade North and South America since, and over the years, the date has become a huge celebration for people all over the United States.

In short, Cinco de Mayo is a great excuse to kick back on a lounge chair in the warm spring breeze sipping a mojito.

So, considering that today is Cinco de Mayo, I came up with the idea to make the subject of this blog for today Mexican themed.  After all, there are quite a few popular entertainers, actors, and media figures who hail from Mexico.

They even have Mexico's Next Top Model!  Geez, does EVERY country need to have a modelling competition?  I tell you...

Anyway, since Sunday is the day in which we spotlight musical artists and groups, I thought that I would choose someone who has been in the music industry for almost fifty years!  And, he still happens to be going strong.  Though, admittedly you might not realize just how many songs he was a part of.  You see, even though he didn't really do much singing, his legendary guitar skills could be heard in songs from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s!  

Yes, today we're going to be taking a look back on some of the biggest success stories of Carlos Santana.

Now, Carlos Santana became a full-fledged American citizen in 1965, but he was born in the community of Autlan de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico on the Viente de Julio, 1947.

(That's July 20, 1947, for those of you who were wondering.)

Right off the bat, Carlos Santana proved that he knew how to play a musical instrument.  His first instrument was the violin (which he began playing at age five), and moved on to the guitar three years later at age eight.  At the time he began playing music, Carlos was initially disheartened over the lack of Latino artists in American rock music, but later cited the late Ritchie Valens as a strong influence on him.

When Carlos was a teenager, he moved to San Francisco, California with the rest of his family (who had moved beforehand), and he graduated from high school in 1965, the same year he received his American citizenship.  He did have the opportunity to pursue higher education at a couple of schools, but he opted not to go, believing that he could pursue a full and rewarding career in the music industry.

In 1966, it seemed as though fate was determined to make Santana a star, as a series of interesting coincidences helped Carlos get his career started.  Being one who loved music, Santana was a frequent spectator at Bill Graham's Fillmore West (a popular San Francisco music club at that time).  On one particular Sunday, a performance was supposed to take place with blues artist Paul Butterfield as the main headliner.  Unfortunately, Butterfield was too intoxicated to go on with the show, and Bill Graham had to think quickly to come up with a replacement act.  He tried to assemble a band with musicians that he had gotten connected with through previous bands that had played there, but as luck would have it, Carlos' name was suggested to Graham via Stan Marcum (who was then the manager of Carlos Santana), and once Santana took to the stage, everyone, including Graham, were blown away at his talent.

Some time later, Santana formed the band that was named after his last name, "Santana", and one of their biggest breaks as a band came at the legendary Woodstock music festival of 1969.  In the case of Santana, their appearance at the music festival was unique, as they were invited to perform before they had even released their debut album.  And, this had actually worked out to their advantage.  Their debut album was released just weeks after the festival wrapped up, and the album immediately went to the #4 position on the Billboard 200.

No longer were they just a popular San Francisco club attraction.  They had hit the big time, and Carlos Santana was loving every minute of it.

And, well, here are just four of the many hits that Carlos Santana had a hand in.  Not all of them became #1 hits, or even Top 5...but they are some of the songs that most everyone probably knows.

Album:  Abraxas
Year Released:  1970

Believe it or not, the band "Fleetwood Mac" had released this single two years earlier, in March 1968.  Though it was a mild hit in the United Kingdom (peaking at #37), the arrangement by Santana performed much better, peaking at #4.  The version by Santana was actually recorded as a medley, along with Gabor Szabo's single, "Gypsy Queen".  The song blended a variety of genres which included jazz, Latin, and Hungarian folk music!  I know, the combination is kind of weird, but for whatever reason, it worked like a charm.  

Album:  Shango
Date Released:  August 14, 1982

I think that the main reason why I loved this song so much is because of the music video, which is kind of surreal, and a little bit creepy (that mime guy that appears periodically kind of gives me the creeps).  I think that the celebration scenes could also kind of mimic a Cinco de Mayo celebration, which also works for the theme of this blog.  But the song is one of my favourite Santana songs, and it peaked at #15 on the Billboard Charts in 1982.  But, did you know that the song was ALSO a cover version?  The original version was recorded in 1981 by Canadian singer/songwriter Ian Thomas.  I don't recall Thomas' version, unfortunately.  Whatever the case, Santana proves his guitar playing skills in spades in this video clip.  

By the way, if you have ever wondered who the main vocalist is on "Hold On", it is Scottish born singer Alex Ligertwood.

Album:  Supernatural
Date Released:  June 29, 1999

Do any of you remember just how popular a band Matchbox Twenty were back in the late 1990s?  Matchbox Twenty seemed to be a popular band back when I was in high school.  I think that when I turned on my radio in my room to listen to while I did homework assignments, you could pretty much count on at least two Matchbox Twenty songs being played.

These days, you don't really hear too much from them, but back in 1999, the band was at its peak.  And, when lead vocalist Rob Thomas teamed up with Carlos Santana in 1999 to release a collaboration called Smooth, they were doing it at just the right time.  1999 was the year of the Latin explosion on the pop charts, as artists like Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, and Jennifer Lopez all had huge hits in 1999.

"Smooth" was no exception.  The single helped net Carlos Santana several Grammy Award nominations (he ended up winning EIGHT in 2000 alone), and the song stayed on the top of the Billboard charts for TWELVE weeks between October 1999 and January 2000...making it not only Santana's longest running #1 hit, but his very FIRST #1 hit!  Now, that's definitely something to celebrate.

Album:  Shaman (Santana)/Hotel Paper (Michelle Branch)
Date Released:  September 17, 2002

Ah, can I share with you something?  I love Santana, but I also liked Michelle Branch as well.  I don't know what it is about her, but she was a huge part of my life soundtrack in the early 2000s.  So, for Michelle Branch to team up with Santana on a single, that was like frosting on the cake for me!

And, it remains another favourite song of mine.

The song peaked at #5, and was another big success for both Santana and Branch. The song could also be found on each of their individual albums, which likely doubled the sales of the single.  I'd call it smart promotion for both parties to put their duet on their respective albums.  It worked for Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan in their native Australia, after all.

NOTE:  On the Adult Contemporary Charts, the song performed even better, peaking at #1 on two separate occasions!

So, that's my own personal list of Santana favourites for this Cinco de Mayo.  Do you have any favourite Santana songs?

(And, yes, I deliberately showcased one song from each decade to illustrate his career longevity.  What can I say?  The man's a guitar genius!)

Happy Cinco de Mayo, all!

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