In June of 1973, after recording their fifth studio album Welcome, Santana embarked on a tour of Japan, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand. The band could afford to travel in comfort and rented their own plane for this tour, a Lockheed Electra N42FM. Jose “Chepito” Areas nicknamed the four-engine propeller plane “that Flying Turtle” for its slow speed that made the trips seem to take forever. The plane carried twelve tons of equipment, with the band perched in a 22-seat front cabin behind the cockpit and the crew in the rear cabin which was once the first class section. The Santana logo was proudly painted at the front of the plane.
The tour started in Japan with a series of performances organized by a promoter named Mr. Udo. Carlos Santana has a high regard for the music business man: “Some people call him the Bill Graham of Japan, because he was the man who really started bringing big rock acts there. I agree with that, but he also earned his moniker because he respects the music and treats the musicians well.” The band immortalized Mr. Udo with an instrumental tune named after him that they performed on that tour.
Santana played a total of twelve shows in Japan in the cities of Fokuoka, Hiroshima, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo and Sapporo. In Tokyo they performed at the Nippon Budōkan, known for hosting the first rock concert in Japan in 1966 with none else but the Beatles. The venue became quite popular as a sought-after stage for live recordings, with artists including Deep Purple, Bob Dylan, Cheap Trick, Eric Clapton and The Modern Jazz Quartet all recording live albums there.
Santana did not record their show at the Budōkan, but they did record all three shows they played at Kōsei Nenkin Kaikan in Osaka on July second, third and fourth of 1973. Recordings from the second and third shows were later released on the triple-LP album Lotus, a marvelous package, musically and visually. Carlos Santana wrote in the sleeve notes for Lotus: “We heard the tapes of our concerts in Osaka, and they were great – they caught the band at its best, and we were really proud of it. We had a great plan for bringing that music out, for making it an entire Santana concert experience: three LPs, with a booklet and images from Japan, all done by talented Japanese artists.”
This is one of Santana’s least known albums outside of Japan, for the simple reason that until 1991 it was not released in the US. Carlos Santana: “It was beautiful and ambitious and the music was fresh, but it was nothing that Columbia could handle. With the album cover and packaging and the three disks, it was just too expensive for them. They didn’t believe it would sell enough. Even after the Japanese finally released Lotus in the summer of 1974 and it became the bestselling import at the time, Columbia wouldn’t budge, and even Bill Graham couldn’t make them.”
Santana’s live set list in the second part of 1973 consisted mainly of tunes from their previous three studio albums – Abraxas, Caravanserai and Welcome, plus a sprinkle of tracks from albums by Leon Thomas and new tunes played for the first time on this tour. A DVD is available with footage from their shows in Tokyo. Here is a fantastic rendition of Toussaint L’Ouverture from Santana III, a track about the former Haitian slave who helped his country get its independence from France in 1804:
The Lotus album includes an excellent version of a key track from Caravanserai, Every Step of the Way. In his biography The Universal Tone Santana says of the tune: “For two reasons my favorite song on Caravanserai is Every Step of the Way – first because it sounds like what we really loved back then: Herbie Hancock’s Crossings. The song also reminds me of Shrieve because he wrote it and because of how we played together.” Even without the great contributions on the original track by Hadley Caliman on flute, Mingo Lewis on congas and Tom Harrell’s string arrangement, the live version is full of excitement and virtuosity.
Michael Shrieve also remembers the taped shows in Osaka fondly: “It was my birthday [Shrieve was born on July 6th]. There were big banners coming down saying Happy Birthday Michael. The performances were intense, all the time. This was Santana 2.0. Business-wise we named it the New Santana band. It was firing on all cylinders. We were all peaking. It was a big unit, tons of instruments.”
Here is one for the drummer, a clip from their show in Tokyo. The band is playing the tune Mantra, originally recorded during the Welcome album sessions but included only years later as a bonus track in the CD release. The end of the track segues to an extended drum solo by the master. One of the best solos I heard from a rock drummer. Or is he a rock drummer?
The last track on Lotus is an extended version of one of my favorite tunes in the band’s repertoire, Incident at Neshabur. Originally released on the album Abraxas, It is connected again to Toussaint Louverture as the site where his revolutionary army defeated Napoleon in Haiti. The track occupies all of side B on the third LP and demonstrates how great the band was on that tour. Every mood and tempo change is perfect, every note in the right place:
From Japan the band continued to tour the Far East, visiting Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, then to Australia and finally New Zealand. Their last show of that tour was at Town Hall Of The Performing Arts, Christchurch, New Zealand. Carlos Santana singled out that show as a special highlight: “The last concert of the tour was in New Zealand—Christchurch—and I remember the band being so together, as if we had made it to the summit of a mountain. It really felt like the best concert of the tour, the best that band had ever sounded. There was a sense of adventure in our playing; we were stretching out and trying new things, even on the last date of the tour, and there was no more turbulence – no problems with the structure of songs or the segues. It felt like the show just played itself – it was that good. It still blows my mind.”
Coming back to the US, and before the band started the next leg of their tour, Carlos Santana teamed up with John McLaughlin for a short tour that featured musicians from their respective groups: Doug Rauch on bass, Billy Cobham on drums, Armando Peraza on percussion and Larry Young on organ. On the eve of that tour Carlos Santana’s spiritual guru Sri Chinmoy gave him and Deborah Santana their spiritual names: “Devadip” (Lamp of God, Eye Of God, Light Of God) for him, and “Urmila” (Light Of The Supreme) for her.
The set list on that short tour consisted mostly of tunes from the album Love Devotion Surrender, a collaboration between the two guitarists recorded in 1972 and released a month ahead of the tour.
A review of the show at Crisler Arena, University Of Michigan, Ann Harbor, MI in Aug 31 reads: “It was a fine concert of rock and roll/jazz with a spiritual message. The group filled Crisler with waves of sound for a set lasting over three hours. Santana/McLaughlin improvise off a wide variety of themes, ranging from a very speeded up Sly Stone to an electronic version of John Coltrane’s masterpiece, A Love Supreme.”
At this point in his career Carlos Santana was already considered a formidable guitar player in the broad category of rock music. But he was still at awe of John McLaughlin, whose exploding guitar solos with the Mahavishnu Orchestra raised the bar for guitar players a good number of notches. He talked about that aspect of touring with the guitar master: “When we were on the road, I thought, ‘Man, what am I going to do? I should just shine his shoes.’ Then I found that after he finished playing, people would go, ‘Okay, we love what he says, but what do you have to say?’ I may not play as many notes, or know as much as he does, but three notes – if you put them in the right place at the right time – are just as important. So when you think, ‘I should hang up my guitar and be a dishwasher,’ listen to your other side: ‘No, you too have something they need.’”
Reminiscing about touring with that unique hybrid band, Santana added: “What a great band – John brought Larry Young and Billy Cobham, and I brought Dougie and Armando. I remember that Armando took on Cobham in one rehearsal after Billy said that he’d never met a conga player who could keep up with him – congas versus drum kit. I thought it ended in a draw, but Armando was still unimpressed. He held up his hands and said, ‘I don’t need no stickets.’”
The band ended their shows with a great track from Love Devotion Surrender called ‘Let Us Go into the House of the Lord’, a traditional gospel song arranged by Santana and McLaughlin. Here is a performance of the tune in Santa Monica, CA, September 1973:
Santana talked in length about that tour: “I remember every second. My joy was being with Armando Peraza, Doug Rauch, and I adored Larry Young and, of course, John and Billy Cobham. It was like being a few years out of high school and all of a sudden you are able to sit down and drive a 12 cylinder Maserati! It was a lot of energy with all of these people playing.”
Later in September of 1973 the Santana band resumed their touring, this time visiting countries in Central and South America. When they reached Managua, Nicaragua, the last band member to leave the plane was Jose “Chepito” Areas, a native of Nicaragua. He got an outstanding ovation from the crowd. Their show in that country was a benefit for the victims of the December 23, 1972 earthquake.
While in Argentine in October 1973, Carlos Santana was the topic of an extended newspaper article. This is how they described him: “In his room, the leader of the band Santana chats with us. He wears pants and a Hindu shirt. He is barefoot and speaks slowly, almost in a whisper. Sometimes his Spanish slips perceptibly towards Spanglish.” Santana was asked about the fact that he still includes songs from the band’s back catalog despite him constantly talking about their new musical path. He replied: “That’s how it is. The same thing happens when you have to give vegetables to a child. He doesn’t like them unless you give him a treat first. My old songs are the sweet that I give to the public before making them listen to something more complex, less obvious.”
That leg of the tour was documented on film, showing again the band at their peak. Here is an opportunity to watch the band playing an old favorite from the album Abraxas, the soulful instrumental Samba Pa Ti:
In between their South American and European legs of the tour, Santana’s album Welcome was released in November 1973. A Rolling Stone album review from January 3, 1974 by Bob Palmer got it mostly right: “Carlos has apparently been impressed by Airto’s Fingers, Chick Corea’s Light as a Feather and recent recordings by Leon Thomas, Alice Coltrane and Lonnie Liston Smith. The rhythm section is at its loosest and best; veteran Afro-Cuban powerhouse Armando Peraza and the much younger Jose Areas interact beautifully, and Michael Shrieve is developing a bag of his own out of directions laid down by Airto and Elvin Jones. There is more use of suspended time, different rhythmic structures and percussive colorations, making Welcome the most rhythmically satisfying rock recording since Professor Longhair’s.” Santana’s jazz explorations did not translate to commercial success. Compared to the band’s previous studio albums, all of them entering the top 10 and nestling at the top a couple of times, Welcome reached as high as the 25th position. Not bad for a mostly-instrumental, jazz and Brazilian flavored album, in a chart crowded with many other excellent albums.
The band’s relentless touring continued with a European leg in November of 1973 and back to the US on the last day of the year for a show at one of their favorite venues: the Winterland, San Francisco. A spectator of that show, who was 16 year old at the time, shared his experience: “I was on sensory overload panning across the stage, seeing Carlos, Mike Shrieve, Doug Rauch, Armondo Peraza, Chepito, Tom Coster, etc, realizing that, wow, what a lineup they have! Focusing on Carlos, his guitar intensity and tone was incredible. It was loud enough to be heard over the band, but melodic to the ear. His lead passages were like beams from heaven, piercing and soaring through the clouds of the Winterland smoke.”
That 1973 tour stayed in the minds and hearts of Santana’s band members for many years. This was a unique moment in time when all band members were in harmony about the musical direction and they shared an interests in jazz, fusion and Brazilian rhythms. In contrast to previous tours there were no drug problems and the typical shenanigans of a rock band on the road were absent. The band travelled comfortably and in style and for the most part played to appreciative audiences. Carlos Santana reflected about how his spiritual life heightened his experiences on that tour: “What helped me was that I was meditating and my diet was healthy and I wasn’t partying, and Shrieve was the same way. This was when we started to have incense onstage and when I put a photo of Sri Chinmoy in deep meditation on my amplifier. I don’t think I could have made it through that year without the spiritual strength to support what we were doing on the road. We had traveled a lot before, but you can ask anyone who was in Santana that year – there were times it was like going to war. For me, it felt like Shrieve and I were comrades on the battlefield.”
Both Michael Shrieve and Carlos Santana said that the 1973 band was special. Shrieve: ”The band was firing on all cylinders. We were all peaking. It was very intense in that period, so I was playing the best in my life.” Carlos Santana added: “That 1973 band – with Leon Thomas, Armando and Chepito, TC and Kermode, Dougie, Shrieve, and me – was musically the best and most challenging band I’ve ever been in. And the thing is, when we were playing at our best we were really just trying to find ourselves. That lineup was the closest I think Santana ever came to being a jazz band.”
Before we leave that magnificent year, here is one more track from Lotus, capturing the band playing a beautiful rendition of Waiting, a favorite track from their debut album:
In the next and final article in this series, we will enter 1974 and cover the albums Illuminations and Borboletta.
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