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Bridges

Chapter 8: Bill Graham & the Evolution of the Santana Blues Band

Latin sounds disappeared into the mix that created Rock... but not for long.

[FOOTAGE: GOLDEN GATE FOOTAGE]

Far away from Latin's New York scene, a Blues Rock group would take a Latin sound international. In the psychedelic years of the 60s, the most influential Rock venue in San Francisco was the Fillmore...

[STILL: BILL GRAHAM AT FILLMORE]

run by former Mambonick, Bill Graham.

[STILL: BILL GRAHAM]

Graham ran his ballroom with a specific model in mind.

GREENFIELD: The Fillmore, and then all the psychedelic ballrooms, because they all take their cue from the Fillmore. The Fillmore is Bill Graham's recreation of the Palladium circa 1953 in Manhattan.

[FOOTAGE: MIRROR BALL]

(VO) Crystal mirror ball turning with the lights going in all directions and people perceiving that in a manner they hadn't in the Palladium;

[FOOTAGE: DANCING TO THE GRATEFUL DEAD]

...bands playing and improvising and extending their sets. People dancing, I mean, you know, they were freak dancing, but they danced. Bill always wanted everyone who came to the Fillmore to dance.

He had also taken an interest in a young local guitarist, a kid he'd first met trying to sneak into the Fillmore.

[STILL: CARLOS SANTANA]

His name was Carlos Santana.

[STILLS: CARLOS SANTANA AS A BOY]

Santana was born in Mexico, the son of a Mariachi violin player. He too played violin himself as a boy, on the streets of Tijuana for change, as well as with his father, in local bars.

[STILLS: SEEDY SCENES OF TIJUANA BARS AND PROSTITUTES]

SANTANA: (VO) It was one night where we were in the lowest part of Tijuana, you know, the, it smelled like puke and vomit and piss, in this whore joint. I mean the, the, the, the cheapest whores. (OC) Makes my stomach sick just to think about it. And we were playing this music and I just started crying, part crying and part anger 'cause I didn't wanna' be there. So my father said to me, "What's the matter?" And I says, "I don't wanna' play this music and I don't wanna' be here. I know that you need me to help you, to pay the rent, but I can't stand the sm-, the smell and I can't stand these people and I can't stand this music. It, it's just, you know, it's making me sick to my stomach."

So he said to me, "So what do you like? That American crap music?" which is like Little Richard and Chuck Berry?

I go, "Yeah...now Dad, look at where we are. Could that music be any worse than this?"

[STILL: YOUNG CARLOS SANTANA WITH GUITAR.]

Leaving violin behind, Santana picked up the guitar and felt an immediate bond.

[FOOTAGE: SAN FRANCISCO MISSION DISTRICT]

In the early sixties, Santana's family moved to a Latino neighborhood in San Francisco, the Mission District. By then Carlos was already playing in bands and in love with the Blues.

SANTANA: All of us are children of B. B. King, you know. Just like B. B. King might be a child of T Bone and other people, we're, we're children of B. B. King.

[STILL: B.B. KING]

RUBINSON: (VO) Carlos' heroes were not Mongo Santamaria or Tito Puente. (OC) He didn't know about those people. He was from Mexico. He was from California. He was a California dude.

[STILLS: MONTAGE SANTANA BAND POSTERS]

The Santana Band started out as a Blues-Rock band... but evolved over time, as members came and went, and different influences entered the mix. Mike Carabello, a high school friend of Carlos' was the first to introduce the conga, having learned to play in drumming circles in the city.

MICHAEL CARABELLO: And it was everybody's influence. Ok let's try a little bit of jazz this time, let's do a little bit of Miles Davis, no, let's do a little bit of Gabor Szabo thing this time, let's do a little bit of a Beatles thing and let's do a little bit of a Stone's thing. And you mix that all together and we still had our sound.

[STILL: SANTANA BAND PRESS PHOTO]

By 1969, the band had jelled, each member bringing something unique to the sound.

JOEL SELVIN: It's very important to understand that the early Santana band was a masterful creative collaboration.

[FOOTAGE: PERFORMANCE SANTANA BAND]

SELVIN: (VO) Carlos Santana was a great Blues guitarist. Michael Carabello, the conga player, and Chepito Areas, the timbales player, they brought the Latin battery to the sound. Gregg Rolie was a huge contribution on organ, he was a great musician and you know, ultimately sang their hit records, but the organ was a big part of what they were doing. Michael Shrieve was the right drummer to tie the whole package together. David Brown, was African-American. He played fine bass and (OC) brought that sort of United Colors of Benetton thing to the scene that was so important to their message.

[FOOTAGE: PERFORMANCE SANTANA BAND]

CARABELLO: (VO) How it happened that there was (OC) a Puerto Rican in the band, a Mexican in the band, a Nicaraguan in the band, an Irish guy in the band, a Norwegian guy in the band, and a Black guy in the band, we didn't do that on purpose, you know, but the music came out of that.

[FOOTAGE: PERFORMANCE SANTANA BAND]

Visually the band may have suggested world harmony... but coming from the Mission District gave it an edge.

MICHAEL SHRIEVE: (VO) It wasn't any hippy thing. It was like a street gang, but the weapon was music. You make a mistake (OC) maybe like hippies would say, "oh you know, that's cool man, you're making a good effort, try it again." It was more like...(gives a look)... you know.

[STILL: SANTANA BAND]

SELVIN: (VO) They weren't hippies. They walked on stage and it was the Mission District. (OC) You know, I was sure they had switchblades in their pockets.

[FOOTAGE: SANTANA BAND PERFORMANCE: "INCIDENT AT NESHABUR"]

SANTANA: (VO) Women started dancing differently to us than they were dancing to Jimmy Hendrix and Cream, The Grateful Dead. (OC) They weren't catching butterflies. They were more like, you know, this is the gift from God. (VO) Sensual... And Santana music can truly accentuate that without even trying.

[FOOTAGE: SANTANA BAND PERFORMANCE: "INCIDENT AT NESHABUR"]

As the band evolved toward a more Latin sound, it had a key supporter giving it work and rehearsal space, even suggesting Latin songs to cover, like "Evil Ways."

[STILL: BILL GRAHAM]

SELVIN: (VO) Bill Graham recognized it immediately and he understood (OC) better than the guys in the band, what they were dealing with.

RUBINSON: It gave him a chance to have his music reach the audience that he wanted it to reach.

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