The previous article in this series focused on the Santana band during the months that followed the release of Caravanserai. The band was touring the album and Carlos Santana plus some of the band members recorded the album Love Devotion Surrender with John McLaughlin. In this article we pick up the story at the beginning of 1973, one of the band’s most productive years. During that year they recorded one more fantastic studio album with a host of talented and celebrated guest artists. This is the story of the album Welcome.
1973 started with a benefit concert for victims of the devastating earthquake that left thousands dead and 300,000 homeless in Nicaragua in December of 1972. The show took place in January 18 at Inglewood Forum in Los Angeles, with The Rolling Stones as the headliners. Both bands had connections to Nicaragua. Mick Jagger’s then-wife Bianca and Santana’s percussionist José “Chepito” Areas were born in Nicaragua.
The tour continued for three months with close to 50 dates across the US. At the end of that tour in April 1973 Mingo Lewis left the band after he got an offer to play in Return to Forever, one of the major influences on the Santana band at the time. Lewis joined a transitory phase of Return to Forever, the first electric version of that band after Airto Moreira and Flora Purim left the band. At that time RTF included Chick Corea on Fender Rhodes, Stanley Clarke on bass, Bill Connors on guitar and Steve Gadd on drums.
The same month Santana went into the studio to record their fifth studio album – Welcome. The music on that album continued the path that started with Caravanserai, but went deeper into jazz and Brazilian territories with a host of wonderful guest musicians. This time there was no friction within the band about the musical direction. The result was another stellar album featuring some of the band’s best instrumental work. But before we get to that, we need to introduce a new member of the band who joined in time to record a number of songs for the album.
It is important to note that during the recording of Caravanserai in 1972, the lead singer on their first three albums, keyboardist Gregg Rolie, only sang on one tune. He shared vocal duties with Carlos Santana on ‘Just in Time to See the Sun’. By the time the band started touring the album, Rolie was no longer with the band, and no other singer joined. Most of the performances consisted of instrumentals, with a few singing parts mostly by Santana. Long story short – the band needed a vocalist. Welcome included guest vocal performances by a number of singers, and one of them actually joined the lineup during the recording of the album and continued with the band throughout their touring that year.
Michael Shrieve talked about what inspired him to seek Leon Thomas as the band’s new singer: “I fell in love with his record live at town hall. Roy Haynes played on it. He had a tune called Um, Um, Um in 6/8. Since I was in Santana I was playing 6/8s in the Latin or African tradition. The way that Roy Haynes played the 6/8 on that album, I had to make that part of my vocabulary.”
Shrieve is referencing the album ‘The Leon Thomas Album’, released in 1970 with mostly live material. It was the singer’s second album after his critically acclaimed debut ‘Spirits Known and Unknown’ that included the track The Creator Has a Master Plan. The band would play these tracks at their live shows later in the year.
Shrieve continues: “My memory is that I called him up and said we got a tune we are interested in you singing on it. I knew it was odd and the other guys in Santana will say it is crazy, especially with Leon yodeling and all that stuff. Pretty odd mix but I thought it would work in our environment. He was a unique character, especially on the road. A singular sound, no one quite like him. Probably one of the oddest pairing in the Santana history.”
Carlos Santana verifies Michael Shrieve’s story and adds more information: “The big question for the Welcome album was vocals – who was going to sing after Gregg left Santana? I really liked Pharoah Sanders’s album Karma, on which the song ‘The Creator Has a Master Plan’ was sung by Leon Thomas, who sometimes liked to yodel. Leon was doing his own albums at that point: he put words to Gábor’s Gypsy Queen, and he was being produced by John Coltrane’s producer, Bob Thiele. Asking him to record and tour with us was Shrieve’s idea: ‘What if we get Leon Thomas to sing Black Magic Woman? Can you imagine that with him?’ I said, ‘Okay, let’s do it!’ and Leon agreed.”
Leon Thomas’ recollection of how he joined Santana: “They called me up. It was a strange thing, I’ve seen a lot of different things that something was going to happen. I dug something in the sky, a double-rainbow on Friday, and on Monday they called. So I flew out to the West Coast and saw they were extremely serious about their new spiritual insights. I heard the music which didn’t sound too bad. I said, ‘My goodness, you guys want me to sing these songs,’ and they said, ‘yeah, man.’”
Welcome is indeed unique not only for the fantastic instrumental work by all participants, but also for the vocals on it, by Leon Thomas and for the first time, female vocalists. Here is a review of select choices from the album.
The album starts with a tune that the band adopted as the opener of their shows throughout the busy touring year of 1973. Going Home was first recorded by Alice Coltrane as the closing piece on the album Lord of Lords, released in January 1973. She writes in that album’s liner notes: “Going Home is a gospel-oriented spiritual that is sung in homes and churches throughout the United States. It is one of my parents’ favorite songs. Gospel and Spiritual music are some of the greatest attributes of the Creator to have been bestowed abundantly upon the children of the Nile, i.e., African Americans.”
The music for this spiritual comes from Antonín Dvořák’s Largo, the second movement from his well-known Symphony no. 9 (From the New World). Dvořák’s pupil William Arms Fisher adapted the music and wrote lyrics for it in 1922.
Santana wrote about the first time he met Alice Coltrane: “Going Home came out of meeting Alice Coltrane that year, which for me was maybe the biggest realization of my spiritual dream—going from being a dishwasher to meeting the widow of John Coltrane and then getting to make music with her. We met for the first time in the spring of ’73, when Alice invited me to come stay with her in Los Angeles so that I could meet her and her friend Swami Satchidananda. By that time she had adopted the Hindu name Turiya. I liked Satchidananda, and maybe he was another guru I could have followed.” Drummer Michael Shrieve, Santana’s musical partner during that period, was also on a spiritual journey and a follower of Swami Satchidananda. The guru was popular with musically inclined youth after opening the Woodstock festival in 1969, addressing 500,000 rock fans.
Going Home is a soulful gospel melody, a perfect choice to open the album and the band’s live shows that year. Santana: “I asked Richard Kermode to play her arrangement on the mellotron and Tom Coster to play the Yamaha organ the way she played her Wurlitzer.” Here is the formidable keyboard duo unit playing Going Home:
Love, Devotion & Surrender
Going Home transitions smoothly into the first vocal track on the album, featuring Leon Thomas and for the first on a Santana album, a female singer. Love, Devotion & Surrender, similar to the title of the album Santana and John McLaughlin recorded the previous year, was named after the spiritual path of Sri Chinmoy. The first vocal part is by Carlos Santana, followed by fantastic singing from Wendy Haas, who contributed piano parts to Caravanserai. Haas played and sang in the Latin rock band Azteca, a band closely associated with Santana through various guest appearances and collaborations, most notably Pete Escovedo, who had played on Santana III. Haas was Michael Shrieve’s girlfriend at the time. In 1975 she joined the all-female group Fanny.
Leon Thomas is next, his first appearance on the album, delivering a powerful vocal performance. Of note on this track is the tasteful Fender Rhodes by Richard Kermode and Michael Shrieve’s excellent cymbal work.
When I Look into Your Eyes
Leon Thomas gets his first proper lead vocal role with a tune composed by Tom Coster and lyrics courtesy of Michael Shrieve. Carlos Santana singled out Thomas’ singing on the album and this tune in particular. The Yamaha organ part by Coster that kicks in at 3:55 is addictive. Add a tasteful flute solo by Joe Farrell and you get another excellent piece of music:
Yours Is the Light
The next tune features again beautiful lyrics by Michael Shrieve. Not many are aware that the gifted drummer also wrote lyrics for Santana during that period, starting with Stone Flower, the Tom Jobim tune from Caravanserai. He said about that side of him: “I used to want to be a writer. One of the things I studied in college was English Literature so I had aspirations to be a writer. I loved writing lyrics to songs, I got notebooks full of stuff.” Musically, ‘Yours is the Light’ is a tribute to one of Shrieve’s favorite bands of the period – Return to Forever. The band’s first two albums were a wonderful mix of jazz and Brazilian music. Chick Corea’s signature Fender Rhodes work on that album inspired many to pick up the instrument. Richard Kermode, who composed the tune, is definitely influenced by Chick Corea here. But the comparison to Return to Forever does not end there, for Michael Shrieve went all in and asked Flora Purim to guest on the song. The acclaimed Brazilian singer graces the early RTF albums with fantastic vocals on classic tunes such as What Game Shall We Play Today, You’re Everything and 500 Miles High. Purim recalls the recording with Santana: “When Carlos invited me, I walked into the session, and there was a song for me. I sang it and improvised a little jazz thing.”
Shrieve talked about the influence of Return to Forever’s early albums on his playing: “I was not only listening to it all the time, I was playing to it all the time. I was very influenced by the way Airto played the drums. I listened to him and other Brazilian drummers. I liked the tunes and the rhythms. I liked the touch on the drums, very light and bright.” Indeed Shrieve does wonders on this tune, which sounds like it came straight out of RTF’s songbook. During our conversation he gave his playing here the highest possible rating: “That is the number one performance on any Santana record that I’m most proud of, because I don’t sound like a tourist. Carlos is brilliant on it too. One of my all-time favorite solos of his is on that tune as well.”
Light of Life
Leon Thomas sings lead on one more tune on the album, Light of Life. This is somewhat an oddity in the band’s catalog up to that point, mainly because of the string arrangement. Tower of Power, the Oakland R&B and funk band famous for their horn section, played the exciting horn arrangement on Everybody’s Everything from Santana III. Greg Adams, a founding member of Tower Of Power, was a great arranger who wrote many horn arrangements for the band. Santana asked him to do something a little different on the Welcome album. For the song Light of Life he was asked to “write the sound of a rose opening”. He created an interesting string arrangement that not only accompanies the song’s melody but also adds melodies of its own, not unlike the arrangements Don Sebesky wrote at the time for CTI Records.
Flame – Sky
Time for the album’s centerpiece, the eleven and a half minutes of guitar heaven called Flame-Sky. John McLaughlin guests on this track, a complex mantra-like piece in a 13/8 time signature.
Santana wrote about this piece of music in his autobiography: “The one tune I really thought about for my guitar was Flame-Sky, which has McLaughlin on it. The title comes from something Sri said when I played him the song. ‘You’re such good boys, you and John’—he said that endearingly about us. ‘If you could only see how you affect the audience—both of you inflame their hearts to aspire again to be one with God. When people hear this song, a flame will shoot out of their hearts straight up to the sky, which will tell the angels, ‘This one is ready. This one is aspiring and not desiring.’” The tune shows how far the Santana band came since their debut album only four years earlier. They were able to reach the same level of mastery and intensity as the musicians they aspired to such as Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and Weather Report.
The album ends with its title track, a reworking of a John Coltrane tune from his album Kulu Se Mama, recorded in 1965. Coltrane wrote in the original sleeve notes from that album: “Welcome is that feeling when you finally do reach an awareness, an understanding which you have earned through struggle. It is a feeling of peace. A welcome feeling of peace.” Alice Coltrane fittingly plays beautiful piano embellishments on the Santana rendition, accompanying a soulful electric guitar solo by Carlos Santana.
A Rolling Stone album review from Jan 3, 1974 by Bob Palmer reads: “Carlos himself has never played better. On ‘Flame’ and ‘Welcome,’ he displays a resourceful guitar adaptation of the flutter-tonguing techniques introduced by Coltrane on the soprano sax; there is now more content and less effect in his solos, without the slightest diminution of the delicate touch and bell-like tone which make his work so unmistakable.”
Here is Welcome, a great ending to a great album:
But wait, there’s more. The 2003 re-release edition of the album on CD included a bonus track which did not make the original LP release. This one features a chant over an improvised jam that highlights the skills of bassist Doug Rauch and drummer Michael Shrieve.
As you can expect, album sales and chart positions declined for Santana during the period discussed in this article series. Compared to the top positions held by their first three albums (Self-titled debut at 4, Abraxas at 1, Santana III at 1), Caravanserai reached 8 (probably on the strength of the first three), Love Devotion Surrender peaked at 14 and Welcome stalled at 25. Not a bad position for a jazz-flavored album that did not yield any single. Santana was on a completely different wave length than the executives at Columbia Records, and for the next year he and the band continued to pursue their artistic ambitions with no commercial concerns. The following article will chronicle their live tours in support of Welcome in 1973 and the live triple album Lotus.
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