The previous article in this series focused on the making of Santana’s milestone album Caravanserai. We are now in October of 1972, with the new Santana band ready to embark on a tour to promote the album. Just around the corner a jazz rock collaboration is awaiting Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin and members of their respective bands. Throughout this whirlwind of activity a deep spiritual awakening paralleled the musical exploration. We are about to plunge into one of Santana’s most exciting periods and lineups.
Santana’s fourth studio album Caravanserai was released in October 1972. A month ahead of its release the band started an extensive tour of the US and Europe to promote the album. The final pieces in the lineup puzzle for the tour fell into place with the addition of not one but two keyboard players. The first was Tom Coster who already recorded with the band for the Caravanserai album. You can hear his electric piano on La Fuente del Ritmo. Carlos Santana then tapped into his brother Jorge Santana’s band Malo and recruited Richard Kermode, an excellent keyboardist with a fantastic touch on an electric piano. Michael Shrieve talked about the need for a second keyboard player in the band at the time: “Two keyboards broadened the horizon of what was possible sonically and rhythmically. In order to play the music from Caravanserai it was necessary.” Carlos Santana found parallels between the two-pronged keyboard front in Santana and the Miles Davis band: “Richard Kermode had a bad, straight-ahead montuno, a consistent Latin feel in his playing and was steady like a horse. In my mind, Tom Coster as the Keith Jarrett of Santana, and Kermode became the Chick Corea.” Tom Coster summarized it: “I eventually got the gig along with Richard Kermode, and I thought it was a wonderful, wonderful molding of two musicians, because Richard and I had different things to offer the band, but we worked together beautifully, and complemented each other beautifully, and also got along well. So the colors that we brought into the band as keyboard players were pretty special, very, very special.”
How unique that new Santana sound was we will listen to shortly, but before we get into the music of Santana proper, we have to cover an album that came out of left field and found members of the Santana band collaborating with a formidable jazz rock outfit that had everyone at awe when it came out with its debut album in 1971. The story unfolds.
Santana’s US West/Canada tour kicked off officially on October 4th 1972 with a performance at one of the band’s favorite venues, the Winterland ballroom in San Francisco. The event was significant not only for being the first time the new group performed together on stage, but also for the guest musician who joined them at the end of the show. Santana recalls: “We sealed the deal when John flew out to San Francisco to sit in with the new Santana at Winterland at the start of October. John sat in for the last half hour.” John is of course, John McLaughlin, and the deal that was sealed began when McLaughlin called Santana and extended an offer to record an album together. McLaughlin recalled the circumstances in an interview for Circus magazine in August 1973: “It was really strange the way it happened. I woke up one morning with this idea for an album I wanted to do with Carlos. That same day, my manager phoned me to say that he had been having meetings with Clive (Davis, president of Columbia) and that Clive had this idea that I should do an album with Carlos.” It is somewhat odd that this is the same Clive Davis who told Santana that Caravanserai was a career suicide just a few months earlier. But jazz-rock was not just at an artistic expression at that moment in time, it also moved many LP units and kept record labels happy.
Audiences coming to watch Santana on the new tour were mostly unprepared for the kind of music the band was about to unleash upon them. Caravanserai had not yet been released, and the long jazz-influenced instrumental excursions on that album were foreign to fans who wanted more Black Magic Woman and Evil Ways and less Stone Flower. Santana remembers: “I’d be into a long, slow solo, and suddenly somebody would yell at the top of his lungs: ‘Play fuckin’ ‘Evil Ways’!’ Oh, man. I remember turning around and looking at Shrieve, and then we’d go into ‘Stone Flower.’” The first leg of the tour was a package that included Bobby Womack and Freddie King, who were also puzzled over the music Santana was playing: “I remember Freddie King saying, ‘Hey, Santana, that’s some weird-ass shit you’re playing now. Why don’t you play some ‘Black Magic Woman’? I like it better when you just play some blues.’” The band persevered and got better and better at playing their ambitious music. A Rolling Stone article towards the end of October 1972 observed: “Santana, on its complex new levels, is at this point so solid musically that fewer and fewer people are demanding the old evil ways. There were standing ovations in San Francisco and New York, and encores almost everywhere else.”
The same article also included a photograph of Carlos Santana taken by Annie Leibovitz at his hotel room in Seattle. The photograph made the cover of the magazine in December 1972 and is likely one of the very last sightings of the guitarist with long hair. This brings us to the next part of the story.
Back to that phone call John McLaughlin made to Carlos Santana. Talk about intimidation. The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s debut album ‘The Inner Mounting Flame’ left listeners with their jaws open. Michael Shrieve remembers: “McLaughlin came out with Mahavishnu and changed the world, like ridiculous. It was like the moon landing – where were you the first time you heard the Mahavishnu live? When I heard it I realized, after I dragged myself up from the floor, that I would never play drums like that. I wouldn’t be able to, so let’s get that straight so don’t bother. It helped me define my direction. Everyone went to Billy, but I said I’m not gonna be part of that crowd.” Smart move.
Carlos Santana was in a tougher spot – he had to play guitar on an album with John McLaughlin: “People ask me if it was intimidating to play with John back then—it’s always intimidating to play with John. He was busy restructuring the way a guitar sounded in jazz—in music. What could I do next to him?” Santana went to his inner circle seeking help: “I spoke to a lot of people, including Shrieve and Deborah (Santana’s future wife), before saying yes.” The best encouragement came from his elder band member: “I remember Armando had good advice: ‘Don’t worry, goddammy.’ (He’d say ‘goddammy’ instead of ‘goddamn it.’) ‘You let him do his shick, let him play. When it’s your turn, you already got something he don’t have.”
The two band leaders brought members from their respective groups to the studio in October 1972 to record an album inspired by John Coltrane musically and Sri Chinmoy spiritually. Coltrane’s presence is felt in this album not only with the two pieces he wrote, ‘A Love Supreme’ and ‘Naima’, but in the overall meditative yet virtuosic style of playing by the two guitar players. Musicians on the album include Larry Young on organ, Jan Hammer on keyboards and percussion, Billy Cobham on drums, Don Alias on drums, and members of Santana: Doug Rauch, Mike Shrieve, Mingo Lewis and Armando Peraza.
Here is a track written by John McLaughlin called ‘The Life Divine’, a showcase jazz rock rollercoaster. Carlos Santana on McLaughlin’s compositions: “The music included a few originals by John—he can come up with some long, gorgeous, celestial melodies, and I know that’s just one reason why Miles loved him. He did two for this album —‘Meditation’ and ‘The Life Divine.’”
We mentioned ‘A Love Supreme’ by John Coltrane. That album had a special place in Santana’s heart. In his autobiography he recalls a time when a very early member of the band, Marcus Malone, or ‘Marcus the Magnificent,’ left him in his apartment and put the album on: “The first thing I heard was Coltrane’s volume and intensity. Coltrane’s loudness and emotion reminded me of Hendrix, but it sounded like his horn was putting holes in the darkness – each time he blew, more light came through. I remember looking at the album cover and seeing his face so calm and intense. It looked like his thoughts were screaming. It was one of the first times I realized the paradox of music: it can be violent and peaceful at the same time.” It was only natural for the two guitarists to pick a piece of music from that album to perform on Love Devotion Surrender. Santana: “Coltrane was the reason the recording came together, so we had to celebrate his music and acknowledge him, even if we were rock musicians doing some of his holiest songs only a few years after he died.”
McLaughlin summarized the experience of making the album: “We had a very strong rapport. And neither of us dominates the music. Spiritual harmony creates musical harmony. The result is different from the Mahavishnu Orchestra and different from Santana. I think it’s greater than them both.” Carlos Santana: “We called the album ‘Love Devotion Surrender’, which was the spiritual path of Sri Chinmoy.”
Sri Chinmoy’s name came up twice thus far, so lets discuss Carlos Santana’s spiritual quest during that period. Santana goes to great lengths in his autobiography to chronicle the personal connection he had with the guru’s teachings. I will touch on it briefly because it is tied very strongly to the music he and the band were making at the time. Santana describes his first encounter with the spiritual leader, when guitarist Larry Coryell stayed at his house earlier in 1972: “We meditated together, and I noticed a photograph he carried with him—it was in a little frame, and it was scary. It showed a man in the middle of meditating so deeply that the photo was humming! I asked Larry who it was. ‘This is a transcendental picture of Sri Chinmoy in a high state.’” Turned out that John McLaughlin was also a follower of the guru, who moved from India to New York City and opened a meditation center in Queens. The cover of ‘Love Devotion Surrender’ includes a photograph of Sri Chinmoy with his two disciples.
Santana became a disciple of Sri Chinmoy around the time of recording the album ‘Love Devotion Surrender’, when John McLaughlin and his then-wife Eve took Santana and soon to be his wedded wife Deborah to meet their guru for the first time. That meeting made Santana an instant follower. On orders from the guru he shed his long hair, an unheard of move for a rock star in the early 1970s. When he flew to London to meet with the rest of the band to start their European tour, they did a double take before recognizing him: “When the band saw me they were shocked. I could see in their faces that they thought someone had kidnapped Carlos and sent his twin brother instead.”
Santana was not the only member of the band in search of a guru. Drummer Michael Shrieve was also on a spiritual quest at the time. He remembers the parallel paths he and Santana took: “We went together to see Sri Chinmoy. We went outside of NYC. He was on a kind of altar. We sat, he meditated. It was amazing. Literally white light appeared. Carlos and I were in a taxi going back to a 5th Avenue hotel and he said, ‘man I don’t know about you but I think I found my guy.’ I said ‘That was an unparalleled experience but I think I’m gonna keep looking a little bit.’” Shrieve found what he was looking for with a different guru who had disciples from the music world. Swami Satchidananda moved to New York in the late 1960s and started teaching his philosophy in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. His lectures filled venues such as Carnegie Hall and he opened the Woodstock festival, addressing 500,000 young rock fans. Alice Coltrane became a devoted follower of Satchidananda in 1970. Shrieve: “I found my guy in Satchidananda. During the tour I would get up at four in the morning no matter what and meditate. I was very disciplined during that period, practicing a lot, vegetarian, very clean living.”
The European leg of the 1972 tour kicked off in London on November 4th with two shows at the Empire Pool, Wembley. Like other shows on that tour it started with the announcement, “Good Evening. We’d like just one moment of silence, please.” The crowd abided and then the band started with Caravanserai’s climax track ‘Every Step of the Way’. Melody Maker described what ensued: “For the next 90 minutes, it seemed as though the Gods had descended from Olympus and were walking the earth once more.” The review of the show raved about all the musicians on stage and singled out the percussion section: “Lewis and Peraza were a treat. They had one duet which was visual poetry as well as percussive nirvana, elbows flailing and grins ever-widening. One expected blood to pour from the skins of their drums.”
This is what the band sounded like (apologies for the low sound quality) during that segment of the tour. Here is ‘Every Step of the Way’ from a live performance at De Doelen, Rotterdam, Netherlands, December 1st, 1972:
1972 ended with a short tour of the US, the band performing in New Orleans, Texas and Arizona. As their opening act they selected a band they admired greatly, led by former members of Miles Davis’ band. Carlos Santana remembers: “Bill Graham asked me who I’d like to have open for Santana on that run, and it took me less than a second to say Weather Report. They agreed to be on the bill, and during every show I’d be backstage listening to them play—Wayne, Joe, Eric Grávátt on drums, and Miroslav Vitous, who was playing acoustic bass through a wah-wah!” The now-legendary jazz rock group released their second album ‘I Sing the Body Electric’ earlier in 1972 but were an unknown entity for the rock fans who came to see Santana. A reviewer of the show in Tucson. Arizona on December 15th made their ignorance public, claiming, “Who has ever heard of Weather Report?”, describing the audience’s dissatisfaction with that opening act and summarizing, “Maybe one day will come when teen-agers can trust a group with a balding piano player.” But the lack of appreciation for one of the best instrumental groups that ever existed was not shared by members of Santana. Shrieve: “Those are the people we wanted to hang up with. We once did a tour with Weather Report opening for us just so we can watch them every night. Eric Gravatt was unbelievable.”
As much as I rate the music that Santana was making during that period as their creative musical peak, I can understand their audience’s reaction. The music coming out of stage was light years different than their first three very successful albums. The band had no natural singer in their current lineup and spare one or two numbers sang by Carlos Santana and a few others featuring chants, the show was predominantly an instrumental concert. If you included the opening act, Santana fans had to sit through three hours of jazz rock cosmic instrumentals, when their reference point was ‘Evil Ways’. Caravanserai, as Clive Davis described it, had no single within miles of it. It is a testament to the group’s dedication to their new music that the set list did not succumb to the pressure and kept evolving to feature even more esoteric selections during that tour.
Here is one more performance from that period, Santana playing at San Diego Sport Arena, January 30, 1973. This one is Stone Flower, a key track from Caravanserai:
In the next article we will continue tracing Santana’s activities in 1973 and their next studio album – Welcome.
The following resources were used during the writing of this article:
Carlos Santana’s excellent memoir The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light
A chat with Michael Shrieve, December 2022
Santanamigos, a great online resource for Santana’s history