Santana III reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts in the magazine’s Nov. 13, 1971, issue. Even though I have an autographed copy of the album (signed “Joy, love Carlos Santana”) on the wall of my office, it is probably isn’t in my top five list of Santana releases. Yet it’s this week’s music moment because of the demarcation it represents in the musical journey of Carlos Santana and his band.
Santana’s second album, Abraxas, also hit number one on the charts, helping generate buzz and anticipation for III. The latter continued the percussive Latin-influenced rock and produced two top 40 singles. It was the last production by the original Woodstock-era members of the band and included a significant addition — guitarist Neal Schon. In 1973, Schon and Santana keyboardist Gregg Rolie would form a band called Journey.
The dual, but rarely dueling, lead guitars on Santana III made this a more guitar-oriented album and it undoubtedly reached number one on its own merit. But despite back to back number one albums, Santana took a dramatic fork in the road. The next several U.S. albums — Caravanserai, Welcome and Borboletta — were more instrumental, had a jazz fusion bent and reflected Carlos Santana’s growing interest in spirituality. Yet those three records rank among my favorites in the Santana catalog. (I also have a similarly autographed copy of Caravanserai hanging in my office.) While the first two went gold the year of their release, Borboletta would take 15 years to sell enough units to reach that milestone.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s Santana returned more toward the current mainstream but by the late ’90s Carlos would be without a record contract. Surprisingly, the end of that decade would bring another number one album, Supernatural, which was Carlos and a variety of guest collaborators. When that album was released, I remember my kids being surprised that I’d bought something from such a “new artist.” They were even more surprised when I told them I’d been listening to the man for nearly 30 years.
Despite its individual strength, Santana III will never displace its predecessor or immediate successor albums in my personal ranking. Yet it not only marks the end of phase one of Santana, the benefit of hindsight reveals hints of what was forthcoming — the end of the original band and the next step in a wide and varied musical journey by one of the world’s greatest guitarists and the band that bore his name.
Seems like everybody’s waitin’
For the new change
“Everybody’s Everything,” Santana, Santana III