Sunday, September 19, 2010

Latin Rock Music

The Tribute Band or the Album -- Which Came First?

Since our band, Savor, released an album of original Latin rock music after 6 years of playing as a Santana Tribute Band, it would be natural to assume that we were inspired to do so after playing Carlos Santana's music for so long. Actually, the reverse is true.

8 years ago, I was playing in -- get this -- a 3-piece instrumental rock band. The band's goal was to create music that had hooks: actual melodic and harmonic motifs in a pop-song-like format. Talk about a challenge! It forced all of us to stretch, and as the band's main writer, I really honed my compositional skills.

Near the end of the band's two-year tenure, I was starting to try to write songs in a Latin style. (Rather than Santana, I was inspired by Salsa and other more traditional genres of South American music.) What quickly became apparent was that having only three instruments severely limited the possibilities. I didn't really know much about Latin percussion, but something was obviously missing. So, I began to try to form a new band, with the purpose of playing Latin-flavored instrumental music.

Things didn't go so well.

For the previous project (named, ironically, "Hook"), I was lucky enough to connect with a bass player and drummer who, like me, were playing for the love of it. When trying to assemble a larger unit, however, I had trouble getting musicians to commit. One keyboard player I spoke to, though, mentioned a Santana Tribute Band he had played with previously.

"A tribute band?" I thought. That's tacky. But the more I considered it, the more I realized it could be the method with which I had a ready-made unit available to play original songs. I decided to give it a go. The next couple of years brought two surprising (to me) results:

1) Building a working tribute band was a lot harder than I thought!

2) I re-learned the fact that people connect with vocal songs, and began writing those as well as instrumental compositions.

Now, I will say that while Santana was not my original inspiration for my own songs, I did learn some valuable leasons while mastering his music. But that's a subject for another article.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Santana Tribute Band:

What Should Be In A Promo Video?

Seven years ago, when we started our Santana Tribute Band (Savor), we created a promotional video to show agents and entertainment directors what the band looked and sounded like. At that point, we hadn't played any gigs! So we shot the band -- live -- in a rehearsal studio. Later we cut in footage that various cable stations had given us from subsequent shows.

Of course, since then, there have been changes in band members; on the whole, I believe the band sounds better. And, after more than 100 gigs, we have more stage presence, as well.

So, fast-forward to 2010. We just finished a new video, and this one is a bit different from the first one, in the following respects:

1) It's shorter. Two-and-a-half minutes, as opposed to seven;
2) There are more songs (nine; the old one had six); they are:
- Black Magic Woman
- Oye Como Va
- Smooth
- Jingo
- She's Not There
- Savor
- Samba Pa Ti
- Guajira
- Europa
3) There are some "text panels" throughout; and, finally,
4) The band members are introduced.

I'd love some feedback on this. What do you think? Did we include everything we needed to, or is something missing?

Do you hear enough of each song to get the idea, or would longer clips be better?

Some of the video is a little "shaky;" is that a problem?

Please feel free to comment below, and let us know your thoughts!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Sparkle of Santana DVX Wine

What do you do when you've at least popularized (if not virtually invented) Latin rock, helped to develop an entire culture of amplifier technology, toured the world with a smokin' band for more than four decades, played for half a million people zonked out of your mind, and launched a career renaissance the like of which has not been seen in the history of the music industry?

You launch your own private wine label, of course!

As most people know, the first paragraph refers to Carlos Santana's ground-breaking musical style, first seen by a wide audience at Woodstock in 1969. Not to mention his involvement with Mesa Boogie amplifiers, the legendary Santana live show, and the phenomenal popularity of 1999's Supernatural.

What may not be quite as familiar, though, is the Santana DVX Sparkling Wine that was produced by the Mumm Winery in Napa Valley, California. Issued in 2000, the combination of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vintages was the brainchild of Carlos, his then wife Deborah Santana, and winemaker Ludovic Dervin.

Of course, it was introduced to on a broader scope than it might otherwise have been, due to a little ditty titled, appropriately, "Santana DVX," by a rap/comedy band called The Lonely Island. Complete with clever, albeit raunchy, lyrics, the song became quite a smash in the social media-sphere.

Unfortunately, the wine was issued on a very limited basis, and is long gone. No word of a sequel has been released, although with this run Carlos Santana has been on, you never know!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Drummer Cindy Blackman to Wed Carlos Santana

It must have been a stunned crowd that witnessed Carlos Santana's very public proposal to this then girlfriend (now fiancee): drummer Cindy Blackman. Obviously a lot more than that audience bargained for In Tinsley, Park, Illinois, on the July 9, 2010 show of the Universal Tone Tour.

Blackman, although primarily a vetted jazz percussionist, is possibly best known for her 11-year stint with Lenny Kravitz. As such, she showed she was a master of groove as well as swing. This may be the general public's introduction to the groundbreaking drummer, but in the jazz scene, especially, she has long been a fixture.

And with numerous albums under her belt, she can claim status as a composer as well.

Her gig with Santana's band adds Latin rock music to her resume, and seems to be just another step in Blackman's self-proclaimed goal of virtuosity. Congratulations to the happy couple!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gregg Rolie

Gregg Rolie

Legendary Vocalist/Keyboardist for Santana and Journey

Santana's 1999 Grammy phenomenon, Supernatural, has sold in excess of 25 million copies. It launched a rebirth of Carlos Santana's career leading to his artist-as-icon status. More recently, he has lent his name to a line of Santana perfumes and colognes, handbags, wine, Carlos by Carlos women's shoes, and more.

But this legendary status now enjoyed by Carlos wouldn't exist were it not for the hits still played on radio: "Evil Ways," "Black Magic Woman," "Oye Como Va," et al. Most of these songs were included on Santana's first two albums, Santana (often called Santana by Santana), and Abraxas.

At the heart of the sound of those classic records are the keyboard playing and vocals of a young musician named Gregg Rolie.

Still a teenager when he and Carlos formed what was at one time titled the "Santana Blues Band" and then finally simply "Santana," Rolie had a distinctive vocal style has been immortalized on those early albums. And he didn't stop there. He and band mate Neal Schon went on to form Journey, a band which initially achieved a cult status among musicians, and then became one of the world's leading pop rock groups.

Rolie wasn't just a vocalist who accompanied himself on keyboards, though. The powerful simplicity of his organ playing is evident in the iconic chord inversions that introduce Oye Como Va, the unusual note (a 9th) that kicks off his solo in Evil Ways, and many other parts. Playing keyboards is something many people do; really good keyboard players is a much smaller group. Creating keyboard parts (both rhythm and lead) that stick in people's mind is a rare skill indeed, and one at which Rolie excels.

To this day, Rolie can be heard on both keyboards and vocals in his own group, the Gregg Rolie Band. Touring the country and playing hits both old and new, Rolie and his band (which includes original Santana conguero Mike Carabello) embody much of the original sound of the early Santana songs that still resonate with listeners, 40 years later.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Neal Schon

Incredible Melodic Journey

There are a lot of excellent electric guitar players out there. When you narrow the field to guitar players who play parts that you remember long after the song is over, it shrinks noticeably. But at the very pinnacle of that group is this category: players so melodic that every "riff" they play is a hook that sticks with you for a long time.

One of the members of that very small cadre is Neal Schon.

He must have displayed that talent early, because at 15, he had Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana vying to bring him on tour. After a couple of years under the radar in Santana's band, Neal broke out on his own to form Journey with Santana band mate Gregg Rolie. It was a momentous career choice.

Beginning with the first note of the first song on the first Journey album, Schon has steadily created a catalog of memorable songs, parts, and solos that is mind-boggling. His unique chordal phrases form the basis of most Journey songs; his lead riffs and solos challenge the vocal lines for sheer melodic power.

For more than 30 years, Schon has built a body of work that is staggering in its sheer volume, not to mention quality. He has contributed to many other projects, and even been in other bands (Bad English, Hardline, Abraxas Pool, et al), but it is in Journey where his melodic gift is best exemplified.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Yamaha SG

One-Time Santana guitar

More than 10 years of photography have etched the image of Carlos Santana and his PRS Signature guitar into the public consciousness. The resurgence of Woodstock footage has served the same purpose for one of Santana's original guitars: a Gibson SG.

But the six years that Santana spent playing a much less known guitar -- the Yamaha SG -- have been, to a great deal, eclipsed. However, that guitar, played by Carlos during a pivotal point in his career, probably had a lot to do with what many people think of as the "Santana Sound." That is, a round, smooth-yet-beefy-tone, complemented by endless sustain.

Embodying the best of the features of Santana's two previous guitars, the SG and Les Paul (both by Gibson), the Yamaha SG175 was a thick, woody guitar with double cutaways in the body. Combined with his Mesa Boogie amp, it helped him develop the signature sound for which he is renowned today.

Actually, although the model number was SG175 at first, Carlos and Yamaha together modified it into it's eventual form, which was called the Yamaha SG2000. That is the guitar heard on the original recording of "Europa," "Open Invitation," and other classic Santana songs.

After Carlos had played the guitar for a while, it was "discovered" by other popular guitarists of the day, including Steve Cropper, Kerry Livgren (Kansas), and Mick Jones (Foreigner).

Recently, Yamaha has reissued the model as the SBG2000, as well as several other related models. It's a fitting tribute to the legendary status of the artist who originally helped the world see the quality of Yamaha guitars.