Friday, December 18, 2009

How Santana Music Influenced Me

During the years I've played guitar in a Santana Tribute band, people generally assume that I'm a huge Carlos Santana fan. It's true that I've always enjoyed his music (especially the first two albums, Santana by Santana and Abraxas), but since I didn't really learn any Santana songs in depth until decades into my guitar career, he didn't exert a noticeable influence on my guitar style.

Actually, short-time Santana band member and co-guitarist Neal Schon (of Journey fame) played a much greater role in my development as a 6-string slinger, as I have long admired his melodic finesses combined with technical prowess.

But I have never been able to really learn someone's music in detail without coming to appreciate it on a deeper level, and such has been the case with Santana's music. As a guitar player, I certainly comp his lick's note-for-note during the tribute band gigs. And although his playing style is different from mine, his flair for stripping a guitar line down to its essence has definitely inspired me.

One of the the things Carlos excels at is playing melodies that are harmonically simple but rhythmically complex. He does it so naturally that it's not generally noticeable, but try to mimic his style and you'll find you really have to pay attention to your phrasing.

Additionally, I have taken a cue from the original Santana band, as a unit. Having always been a devotee of chordally complex music, I was delighted to study how Santana could take, not a 3-chord, not a 2-chord, but a 1-chord song ("Jingo"), and use a dynamic arrangement to keep it interesting. Awesome!

Even the most popular of Santana songs -- their re-make of Tito Puente's classic song "Oye Como Va" -- employs a simple 2-chord progression (i and iv) that never changes. Yet the arrangement is so interesting that the song never loses its trademark drive.

When writing the songs for my band Savor's CD, ¡Moviendote!, I tried to utilize those principles, as well as techniques gleaned from years of listening to and writing many different styles of music. Since the instrumentation is the same (guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, timbales, congas, hand percussion), it can't help but bear a common thread with Santana. But I see it as just one of the facets that make up a musical menage.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Carlos Santana's Guitar Tone

Distortion Makes A Difference

We used to have a saying when I was a teenager first learning to play guitar: "so distorted it's 'clean.' " What we meant was that with the right kind of amplifier distortion, you would achieve a smooth, round tone that sounded clean. In his latter years, Santana has definitely achieved that effect with his PRS Santana Signature guitar, combined with his Mesa Boogie amp.

However, the first couple of albums, Santana by Santana and Abraxas, which contained most of his classic hits, were not recorded using that combination. Instead, he used a Gibson Les Paul Special and possibly a Gibson SG guitar, along with a [probably] hot-rodded Fender Twin amplifier, and later maybe a precursor to the Mesa Boogie that would become his trademark.

Any way you slice it, he did not have access to the super overdriven sound that gave him the full, satin tone that would later become his trademark. Instead, his sound was more raw and uneven. He had to resort to tricks like doubling parts in the studio, adding echo and reverb effects, and using his guitar's volume control to extend his sustain.

As a result, in order to play those original songs true to form, you need to avoid the super-saturated tone available with modern amps, and duplicate the methods that Santana used back in the '70s. Which brings up the next point:

Know Your Santana Album Versions

Many of Santana's Hits have been recorded and released several times, each time with a different arrangement, guitar part, and guitar tone. It's easy to mix these up, and therefore produce a version that isn't true to any of the originals. So, pick the version you want to play, and stick to that version.

My rule of thumb: play the version that people will know best. In the case of the early hits -- Evil Ways, Black Magic Woman, Oye Como Va, et all -- it means playing the original album versions. Because those are the versions that have achieved the most radio play, which means those are the versions that most people know.

Some songs, like Europa, and Soul Sacrifice, are better known from live recordings (the latter frm the film, Woodstock). In those cases, play the live version. But don't mix them up with the original studio versions.

But Santana Plays His Songs Different Every Time

It's true, Carlos is one of those guitar players who never repeats the same riff twice. That doesn't mean that you can get away with the same thing. After all, people generally come to hear you play Santana songs, not your take on those same songs. Give them what they want!

Last, but definitely not least, remember that you are not an island. What the other members of the band play is going to affect how you sound. So make sure your band captures the Santana vibe as well as you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Scent of Santana

After successful forays in the cuisine business with Maria Maria Restaurants, the clothing business with Carlos by Carlos Shoes, Latin guitar legend Carlos Santana has added another arrow to his quiver: fragrance.

Carlos Santana for Men offers products with a "woody," subtle fragrance that is captured in the cologne, body wash, and deodorant. You can buy them separately, or together in a gift pack.

Carlos Santana for Women includes perfume (3.4 oz. size or 1.7 oz. size), moisturizing body wash, and silk body lotion. The women's products blend florals with some exotic fruits and complete the picture with soft, sensuous musk to create a warm, seductive fragrance.

Valentine's Day shopping just got easier for guitar nuts (and lovers of guitar nuts)! Of course all products share some of the profits with The Milagro Foundation: Santana's association that donates money to charities that work for the benefit of children.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Jingo: Santana's Trademark Song

When I first started playing with a Santana Tribute band, I liked Santana's music, but didn't have a true appreciation for it. No song has changed that opinion more than "Jingo": a one-chord "chant" piece from the band's debut album, Santana by Santana.

Not only is Jingo a simple song harmonically, but the bass line literally does not change from start to finish. Playing Jingo has given me a true appreciation for Carlos Santana's melodic prowess, as well as the power of arrangement to drive a song.

Though "Soul Sacrifice" was immortalized in the Woodstock Film, and "Evil Ways" had the most radio success, I believe it is Jingo which best exemplifies the deceptively simple power of Santana's early music.

While Carlos achieved his greatest commercial success with Supernatural (driven by hits like "Smooth" and "Maria Maria"), he launched his career decades before with music that -- although more than 40 years old -- is still relevant today.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Maria Maria (Restaurant, not Song)

Carlos has branched out again -- this time into the culinary arena. Recently, he launched a "themed" restaurant, called Maria Maria -- named after the song from his Supernatural album, of course.

However, if you're expecting rock star memorabilia, ala Hard Rock Cafe, you'll be suprised. The restaurant chain (there are four, so far), is not dominated by Santana, his music, and his equipment; rather, it carries the influence of his aura.

A collaboration between Carlos, accomplished chef Roberto Santibanez, and restaurant producers Dudum Sports and Entertainment, Maria Maria is an upscale restaurant with a blend of traditional mexican cooking and innovative touches. The decor is luxurious and comfortable at the same time. And the artwork (by some renowned latin artists) is provocative.

If you have a chance to eat at Maria Maria, give it a shot. Santana aficionado or no, it's worth the trip!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Carlos by Carlos

Carlos Santana has a line of women's shoes. Huh?

That's the reaction that I had. That's the reaction that most people have, when I tell them that Carlos Santana has a line of not just shoes, but women's shoes. Not just women's shoes, but hot, sexy women's shoes.

But when you really look at the Carlos by Carlos shoes line, and think about the reasons behind it, you start to see the logic.

Point 1: Deborah Santana (Carlos' ex-wife) was probably integral in the concept, initiation, and design of the shoes line. She does wear sexy shoes, so it makes sense.

Point 2: Carlos' and Deborah Santana's charity -- the Milagro Foundation -- benefits from the sale of every Carlos by Carlos shoe. So it's another way to help children around the world. (If there's anyone more deserving than disadvantaged children, I've yet to hear it. Yea for the Santanas!).

Point 3: Carlos Santana is building himself as a brand. Paul Reed Smith Santana Signature guitars. The Mesa Boogie Amps. The Maria Maria restaurants (I'll be covering those in a future issue of this blog, and on the Web site.) He plans to introduce a line of handbags.

He's building an empire. He may not think of it as that -- but someone is thinking of it that way. And you can't blame Carlos. After all, he's put out dozens of albums, and played thousands of live shows. Why not take advantage of his fame -- especially if he's willing to give back to the community, as he obviously is.

So, it makes sense that he introduced the Carlos by Carlos shoes line. And, to help [male] fans of Carlos Santana, I -- with the aid of a talented stylist -- have crafted the "Guy's Guide to Buying Carlos by Carlos Shoes." This article may actually help men entire uncharted territory, and purchase a pair of shoes for their better halves.

Now that's progress!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Samba Pa Ti: Santana's Classic Instrumental

Before 1999's Supernatural, and Carlos Santana's unprecedented career revival, before the collaborations with hit artists like Chad Kroeger, Rob Thomas and Michelle Branch, before "Santana" became a worldwide brand name, there was just the music.

And while Europa may be Santana's best-known instrumental song, Samba Pa Ti is such a classic example of raw melodic power that it stands on its own as one of Carlos' most beautiful pieces of music.

Check out the history, chord progression, and recording here. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Carlos Santana's Gear

Carlos Santana's sound is affected by the gear he uses, including his Mesa Boogie Amp (and others), Mu-Tron Wah Wah Pedal, and of course his recognizable Paul Reed Smith Santana Guitars. His history with Paul Reed Smith, especially, is fascinating: a symbiotic relationship that has enhanced both men, while producing a fine series of guitars, including the:

PRS Santana I Guitar
PRS Santana II Guitar
PRS Santana III Guitar
PRS Santana SE Guitar
PRS Santana SE II Guitar

and the latest in the series, the PRS Santana MD Guitar.

Playing Like Carlos Santana

As I mentioned, I play Santana's guitar parts note-for-note in my Santana Tribute Band. I've been told -- by people that have seen numerous other Santana tribute bands -- that I sound more like Carlos than any one else they've seen. To tell you the truth, I don't think it's because I'm fantastically talented. In fact, I think most people could sound a lot more like Carlos than they do. Here's what my "secrets" are.

It's All In The Timing

To me, one of the most distinctive things about Santana's guitar playing is his timing. Or, in other words, his phrasing. After all, he's mostly using the same pentatonic scales that hundreds of thousands of other guitar players use, but in his hands, they have a unique sound.

When learning Santana's parts -- especially his guitar solos, the first thing I do is to get them "in my head." That means listening to the songs actively, so that I'm actually paying attention to and absorbing all his phrasing and nuances. Because if you can't "think" it, you can't play it.

I'm convinced that all music, even the most soulful tunes, could be written out in standard notation, if you took the time. That doesn't mean it would be easy, or even that you should do it. It just means that there's nothing mysterious in what people play. It might be rhythmically complex, but it's not mystical.

In Santana's case, not only does he employ phrases that are rhythmically sophisticated, but he also anticipates or delays certain notes more than you would expect. It's part of his charm. For a great example, listen to the 1st and 2nd solos in Black Magic Woman, one of his best-known songs. The notes are as simple as can be, but the way he phrases them are priceless.

Position is Important

Once you have the phrasing in your head, experiment with the fingering until you can get the feel that he gets. Guitar is a strange instrument, in that there are often several different ways to play the same sequence of notes. Try different positions. Hint: Carlos tends to favor the higher strings -- high "E," "B," and "G," over the lower strings. And, especially in his earler material, he is not averse to using open positions.

The Little Things Matter

Pay attention to whether the notes are picked, hammered on or pulled off, and how he slides into, or away from, certain notes. One of the things I find is that the "devil is in the details." If you spend the time to capture all the nuances of Santana's guitar parts, it will make a big difference in the over all sound.

Now, I don't mean that non-musicians -- which will make up the bulk of your audience -- will come up to you after the set, and say something like "how come you played the opening riff to Oye Como Va on the 14th fret of the 'G' string? Carlos played it on the 10th fret of the 'B' string!" They won't be able to identify those details. However, they will know when it sounds like what they've heard on the radio, and when it doesn't.

Read my next post to find out why Distortion Makes a Difference.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sounding Like Carlos Santana

Five years ago, I started a Santana tribute band, with the idea that once I had a Latin rock band (complete with percussion), I would have a ready-made unit to play the original songs that I was writing in that vein. Little did I know that the Santana tribute band would take on a life of its own.

Now, having been through more than 30 keyboard players, timbaleros, congueros, bass players, and singers, I have an idea of what it takes to make a band like this work. (I also do all the booking.) Just learning Carlos Santana's guitar parts -- including his solos -- note-for-note, has been an education in itself. Hopefully, in sharing what I've picked up, I can help others trying to learn Santana's riffs.

Tone: How Important is Santana's Gear?

It's pretty well known -- and in fact I cover it on different pages of this site -- that Carlos Santana plays a PRS Santana Signature model guitar through a Mesa Boogie amp. Earlier, he played a Gibson Les Paul Special, and then a Gibson SG, through a Fender Twin amp. He even played a Yamaha SG guitar for a number of years. The question is: in re-creating Santana's tone, how important is it to use the exact equipment that he uses?

My answer is: it matters, but is not the most important factor.

As an example of what I mean, let me share the story of when I started playing electric guitar, at 38 years of age, after a 10-year hiatus. A bass player, drummer and I put together a 3-song set for a work retreat, including covering the Jeff Beck tune "Freeway Jam." Not having much equipment at the time, I used a Korean-made knock-off of a Gibson 335, as well as a cheap Crate amp. A fellow guitarist (who had a big-time record deal in the '80s) asked me after the show: "How did you nail Beck's tone with that setup?" He knew as well as I did that Jeff Beck had never played through anything even remotely resembling that combination.

After he had asked me that question, I thought about it. The fact was, my specific guitar tone probably wasn't exactly like Beck's. But because I was playing his guitar part note-for-note, it sounded like Jeff Beck's tone. That is how it works when I play Carlos' guitar parts in my Santana tribute band.

In my band, I use one amp: Fender's Hot Rod DeVille 4x10 (four 10" speakers). For the early Santana, I have a Gibson SG '61 Reissue, while for the later material I use the same Korean-made knock-off of a Gibson 335 that was mentioned earlier. Neither combination is what Carlos has ever used, and yet almost without fail, a guitarist comes up to me at every gig and comments on how much I sound like Santana.

Again, the reason is that I play Santana's guitar parts note-for-note. In the next post, I'll explain why I believe I can do that.