In 1969, I passed up an opportunity to attend a music festival in New York State. It seemed too far to travel in an old beat up station wagon to see bands perform in the hot summer weather.
Later that fall, my friends and I travelled to downtown Pittsburgh via public bus, as we did often, to hang out and visit some of our favorite stores which included National Record Mart. We loved sifting through the newest albums by artists we heard on what was considered “underground” radio on an increasingly popular FM station.
That day at the Record Mart, my friend Michael and I debated about whether or not to purchase an album recorded by a new band that performed at the little concert I missed in August. I heard their pulsating Latin rock song “Jingo” on the radio, and hoped there might be more of the same on the LP. The artwork on the cover lured me in as well. Neither of us had enough money to buy the album so we split the cost and bought it together.
Back in our neighborhood, we all went to a friend’s house to listen to our new purchases. First up was side one of our choice pick, Santana’s debut album. Frankly, I was blown away! I couldn’t believe the shear energy and pulsating beats that seemed to match my own high energy personality. After we finished side one, Michael turned to me, stated that he hated it, didn’t want to listen to side two, and I could have it.
Well, I still own that album Carlos. It’s not in very good shape anymore since I literally wore it out playing it over and over again in my black lit bedroom, replete with glowing posters and burning incense.
I listened to plenty of rock n roll back then. My mother exposed me to ‘50s rock n roll in the early ‘60s, on nights my father wasn’t home. Then there was the British invasion lead by my beloved Beatles. But this was different. Your sweet guitar playing had me mesmerized—my mind absorbed the notes you so elegantly and precisely played—while the percussion kept my heartbeat at a rate that intoxicated my body.
I found music that touched me in a way no other had. At a time when my home life was filled with strife and misery, I stumbled on an artist that could help me endure and keep my head straight when I needed an interlude from my surrounding life. Following that first album came four more that I bought, listened to and wore out as I had the first.
After that, my life became busier and more complicated as I graduated college, began a career, married and started a family. Some of the albums became eight track tapes played in a device mounted under the seat of my Volkswagen Beetle and, after that, cassettes in my van. Of all the music I listened to, it was your albums that I first purchased in the latest technology so I could listen to them as best as they could sound. They accompanied me from one state to another via car or plane so I could listen to them whenever I needed a mental boost or simply wanted to hear some comfort music. I have listened to all of your other albums, including the more recent collaborations, and enjoy them as well.
Over the years I’ve listened to plenty of other music, and tend to judge albums by how many of their songs I truly enjoy. There have been a scant few that I enjoy 100%, and your earlier albums make the list. After all these years I still listen to them, now on an iPod. In fact, today I listened to Abraxis while taking a jog.
By the way, I have only had the pleasure of witnessing you perform live once. I brought my wife to see you at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. At the time, she listened to the Eagles, James Taylor, Van Morrison and similar artists, but went with me anyway (I think) just to keep me company. Before you began, I explained to her that if she wanted to better understand my infatuation with your music, to try to focus on your guitar playing while the rest of the music fills in as background. Guest what? Two songs into it, she looked at me and the only thing she said was “Wow!”
Carlos Santana, your music has helped me through the harder times of my life and inspired me during the most wonderful times of my life. Thank you for being there for me.