Carlos Santana, the driving force behind the group Santana turns 74 today. Santana pioneered a fusion of rock, jazz, latin and african rhythms beginning in the 1960s. Among the first to apply unique instruments to rock with his use of congas and timbales on his early records, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member has won 10 Grammys over his long career.

Born in Mexico, Carlos Santana began playing string instruments at five. His family eventually settled in San Francisco, where his music was influenced by the diverse sounds he heard. In 1966 he formed the Santana Blues Band and soon they were working in the different musical elements into their sound. The band name became Santana when they signed to record their first record in 1969. Promoter Bill Graham was a Latin music fan, and had the band included in the lineup at Woodstock. Their performance of Soul Sacrifice was included in the movie and the band was a surprise hit, prior to the release of their first album.

The instant national success of Santana after Woodstock put extreme pressures on the band and began what became a steady flow of band members in and out. Over the decades Carlos Santana has been the only constant, and the band soon became a vehicle for his artistic vision.

After three successful albums which contained some of the band’s most enduring songs, Santana took a different path, moving to a jazz fusion sound. For a decade the band experimented with different sounds before returning with more commercially friendly material. It was not until 1999’s Supernatural that Santana would have the same level of success as their earliest albums. This recording was filled with guest performers and had one single Smooth top the charts for twelve weeks. The album and songs from it won a total of nine Grammys.

Several other collaborative albums have followed with Carlos Santana working with Herbie Hancock, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith and will.i.am. A brief reunion of the original lineup produced an album, Santana IV in 2016 followed by a short tour.

Among his many honors, Carlos Santana was placed on the list of top 100 guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and has been inducted into the Latin Music Hall of Fame.

Photo Credit: Maryanne Bilham