Santana was born in Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico. Carlos learned to play the violin at age five and the guitar at age eight. His younger brother, Jorge Santana, would also become a professional guitarist. Young Carlos was heavily influenced by Ritchie Valens at a time when there were very few Latinos in American rock and pop music. The family moved from Autlán de Navarro to Tijuana In La Colonia Libertad, the city on Mexico's border with California, and then San Francisco. Carlos stayed in Tijuana but joined his family in San Francisco later and graduated from James Lick Middle School and in 1965 from Mission High School. Carlos was accepted into the California State University, Northridge and Humboldt State University, but turned down these offers. Javier Bátiz, a famous guitarist from Tijuana, was said to have been Carlos's guitar teacher who taught him to play a different style of guitar soloing. After learning Javier Batiz's techniques, Santana would make them his own as well.
In San Francisco, he got the chance to see his idols, most notably B.B. King, perform live. He was also introduced to a variety of new musical influences, including jazz and folk music, and witnessed the growing hippie movement centered in San Francisco in the 1960s. After several years spent working as a dishwasher in a diner and busking for spare change, Santana decided to become a full-time musician. In 1966, he gained prominence by a series of accidental events all happening on the same day. Santana was a frequent spectator at Bill Graham's Fillmore West. During a Sunday matinee show, Paul Butterfield was slated to perform there but was unable to do so as a result of being intoxicated. Bill Graham assembled an impromptu band of musicians he knew primarily through his connections with the Grateful Dead, Butterfield's own band and Jefferson Airplane, but he had not yet picked all of the guitarists at the time. Santana's manager, Stan Marcum, immediately suggested to Graham that Santana join the impromptu band and Graham assented. During the jam session, Santana's guitar playing and solo gained the notice of both the audience and Graham. During the same year, Santana formed the Santana Blues Band, with fellow street musicians, David Brown and Gregg Rolie (bassist and keyboard player, respectively).
With their highly original blend of Latin-infused rock, jazz, blues, salsa, and African rhythms, the band (which quickly adopted their frontman's name, Santana) gained an immediate following on the San Francisco club circuit. The band's early success, capped off by a memorable performance at Woodstock in 1969, led to him signing a recording contract with Columbia Records, then run by Clive Davis.
Santana was signed by CBS Records and went into the studio to record their first album. They were not satisfied with the release and decided changes needed to be made. This resulted in the dismissal of drummer Bob Livingston. Santana replaced him with Mike Shrieve, who had a strong background in both jazz and rock. Percussionist Marcus Malone was forced to quit the band due to personal problems, and the band re-enlisted Michael Carabello. Carabello brought with him percussionist Jose Chepito Areas, who was already well known in his country, Nicaragua, and, with his skills and professional experience, was a major contributor to the band.
Bill Graham had been a fan of the band from its inception, arranged for the band to appear at the Woodstock Music and Art Festival before their debut album was even released. They were one of the surprises of the festival; their set was legendary and, later, the exposure of their eleven-minute instrumental "Soul Sacrifice" in the Woodstock film and soundtrack albums vastly increased Santana's popularity. Graham also gave the band some key advice to record the Willie Bobo song "Evil Ways", as he felt it would get them radio airplay. His first eponymous album, Santana released in August, became a huge hit, reaching number four on the U.S. album charts, and the catchy single "Evil Ways" reached number nine on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1969, Santana's performance at the Woodstock festival introduced the band to an international audience and garnered critical acclaim, although the band's sudden success put pressure on the group, highlighting the different musical directions in which Rolie and Santana were starting to go. Rolie, along with some of the other band members, wanted to emphasize a basic hard rock sound which had been a key component in establishing the band from the start. Santana, however, was increasingly interested in moving beyond his love of blues and rock and wanted more jazzy, ethereal elements in the music, which were influenced by his fascination with Gábor Szabó, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, as well as his growing interest in spirituality. At the same time, Chepito Areas was stricken with a near-fatal brain hemorrhage, and Santana hoped to continue by finding a temporary replacement (first Willie Bobo, then Coke Escovedo), while others in the band, especially Michael Carabello, felt it was wrong to perform publicly without Areas. Cliques formed, and the band started to disintegrate.
Teenage San Francisco Bay Area guitar prodigy Neal Schon was asked to join the band in 1971, in time to complete the third album, Santana III. The band now boasted a powerful dual-lead-guitar act that gave the album a tougher sound. The sound of the band was also helped by the return of a recuperated Chepito Areas and the assistance of Coke Escovedo in the percussion section. Enhancing the band's sound further was the support of popular Bay Area group Tower of Power's horn section, Luis Gasca of Malo, and other session musicians which added to both percussion and vocals, injecting more energy to the proceedings. Santana III was another success, reaching number one on the album charts, selling two million copies, and yielding the hits "Everybody's Everything" and "No One to Depend On".
But tension in the band continued. Along with musical differences, drug use became a problem, and Santana was deeply worried it was affecting the band's performance. Coke Escovedo encouraged Santana to take more control of the band's musical direction, much to the dismay of some of the others who thought that the band and its sound was a collective effort. Also, financial irregularities were exposed while under the management of Stan Marcum, whom Bill Graham criticized as being incompetent. Growing resentments between Santana and Michael Carabello over lifestyle issues resulted in his departure on bad terms. James Mingo Lewis was hired at the last minute as a replacement at a concert in New York City. David Brown later left due to substance abuse problems. A South American tour was cut short in Lima, Peru, due to student protests against U.S. governmental policies and unruly fans. The madness of the tour convinced Santana that changes needed to be made in the band and in his life.
In January 1972, Santana, Neal Schon and Coke Escovedo joined former Band of Gypsys drummer Buddy Miles for a concert at Hawaii's Diamond Head Crater, which was recorded for the album, Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live!. The performance was erratic and uneven, but the album managed to achieve gold-record status on the weight of Santana's popularity.
In early 1972, Santana and the remaining members of the band started working on their fourth album, Caravanserai. During the studio sessions, Santana and Michael Shrieve brought in other musicians: percussionists James Mingo Lewis and Latin-Jazz veteran, Armando Peraza replacing Michael Carabello, and bassists Tom Rutley and Doug Rauch replacing David Brown. Also assisting on keyboards were Wendy Haas and Tom Coster. With the unsettling influx of new players in the studio, Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon decided that it was time to leave after the completion of the album, even though both contributed to the session. Rolie returned home to Seattle, and after some time later became a founding member of Journey (which Schon would later join as well).
When Caravanserai did emerge in 1972, it marked a strong change in musical direction towards jazz fusion. The album received critical praise, but CBS executive Clive Davis warned Santana and the band that it would sabotage the band's position as a "Top 40" act. Nevertheless, over the years, the album would achieve platinum status. The difficulties Santana and the band went through during this period were chronicled in Ben Fong-Torres' Rolling Stone 1972 cover story "The Resurrection of Carlos Santana".
Santana met Deborah King, whom he later married in 1973. She is the daughter of the late blues singer and guitarist Saunders King. They have three children: Salvador, Stella and Angelica. Together with wife Deborah, Santana founded a not-for-profit organization, the Milagro Foundation, which provides financial aid for educational, medical, and other needs.
In 1972, Santana became a huge fan of the pioneering fusion band The Mahavishnu Orchestra and its guitarist John McLaughlin. Aware of Santana's interest in meditation, McLaughlin introduced Santana and Deborah to his guru, Sri Chinmoy. Chinmoy accepted them as disciples in 1973. Santana was given the name Devadip, meaning "The lamp, light and eye of God." Santana and McLaughlin recorded an album together, Love, Devotion, Surrender with members of Santana and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, along with percussionist Don Alias and organist Larry Young, who both had made appearances on Miles Davis' classic Bitches Brew in 1969.
In 1973, Santana, having obtained legal rights to the band's name, Santana, formed a new version of the band, Santana, with Armando Peraza and Chepito Areas on percussion, Doug Rauch on bass, Michael Shrieve on drums, and Tom Coster and Richard Kermode on keyboards. Santana was later able to recruit jazz vocalist Leon Thomas for a tour of Japan, which was recorded for the live, sprawling, high-energy fusion album Lotus. CBS records would not allow its release unless the material was condensed. Santana did not agree to those terms, and the album was available in the U.S. only as an expensive, imported, three-record set.[which?] The group later went into the studio and recorded Welcome, which further reflected Santana's interests in jazz fusion and his increasing commitment to the spiritual life of Sri Chinmoy.
A collaboration with John Coltrane's widow, Alice Coltrane, Illuminations, followed. The album delved into avant-garde esoteric free jazz, Eastern Indian and classical influences with other ex-Miles Davis sidemen Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland. Soon after, Santana replaced his band members again. This time Kermode, Thomas and Rauch departed from the group and were replaced by vocalist Leon Patillo (later a successful Contemporary Christian artist) and returning bassist David Brown. He also recruited soprano saxophonist, Jules Broussard to the lineup. The band recorded one studio album Borboletta, which was released in 1974. Drummer Leon "Ndugu" Chancler later joined the band as a replacement for Michael Shrieve, who left to pursue a solo career.
By this time, the Bill Graham's management company had assumed the affairs of the group. Graham was critical of Santana's direction into jazz and felt he needed to concentrate on getting Santana back into the charts with the edgy, street-wise ethnic sound that had made them famous. Santana himself was seeing that the group's direction was alienating many fans. Although the albums and performances were given good reviews by critics in jazz and jazz fusion circles, sales had plummeted.
Santana along with Tom Coster, producer David Rubinson, and Chancler formed yet another version of Santana, adding vocalist Greg Walker. The 1976 album Amigos, which featured the songs "Dance, Sister, Dance" and "Let It Shine", had a strong funk and Latin sound. The album also received considerable airplay on FM album-oriented rock stations with the instrumental "Europa (Earth's Cry Heaven's Smile)" and re-introduced Santana back into the charts. In 1976, Rolling Stone ran a second cover story on Santana entitled "Santana Comes Home".
The albums conceived through the late 1970s followed the same formula, although with several lineup changes. Among the personnel who came and left the band was percussionist Raul Rekow, who joined in early 1977 and remains to this day. Most-notable of the band's commercial efforts of this era was a version of the 1960s Zombies hit, "She's Not There", on the 1977 album Moonflower.
The relative success of the band's albums in this era allowed Santana to pursue a solo career funded by CBS. First, Oneness: Silver Dreams - Golden Reality, in 1979 and The Swing of Delight in 1980, which featured some of his musical heroes: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams from Miles Davis' legendary 1960s quintet.
The pressures and temptations of being a high-profile rock musician and requisites of the spiritual lifestyle which guru Sri Chinmoy and his followers demanded, were great sources of conflict to Santana's lifestyle and marriage. He was becoming increasingly disillusioned with what he thought was Chinmoy's unreasonable rules imposed on his life, in particular, his refusal to allow Santana and Deborah to start a family. He felt too that his fame was being used to increase the guru's visibility. Santana and Deborah eventually ended their relationship with Chinmoy in 1982.
More radio-pleasing singles followed from Santana and the band. "Winning" in 1981 and "Hold On" (a remake of Canadian artist Ian Thomas' song) in 1982 both reached the top twenty. After his break with Sri Chinmoy, Santana went into the studio to record another solo album with Keith Olson and legendary R&B producer Jerry Wexler. The 1983 album revisited Santana's early musical experiences in Tijuana with Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love" and the title cut, Chuck Berry's "Havana Moon". The album's guests included Booker T. Jones, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Willie Nelson and even Santana's father's mariachi orchestra. Santana again paid tribute to his early rock roots by doing the film score to La Bamba, which was based on the tragically short life of rock and roll legend Ritchie Valens and starred Lou Diamond Philips.
Although the band had concentrated on trying to produce albums with commercial appeal during the 1980s, changing tastes in popular culture began to reflect in the band's sagging record sales of their latest effort Beyond Appearances. In 1985, Bill Graham had to once again pull strings for Santana to convince principal Live Aid concert organizer Bob Geldof to allow the band to appear at the festival. The group's high-energy performance proved they were still a top concert draw the world over despite their poor performance on the charts. Santana regained a great deal of respect in both jazz and rock circles, with Prince and guitarist Kirk Hammett of Metallica citing him as an influence.
Growing weary of trying to appease record company executives with formulaic hit records, Santana took great pleasure in jamming and making guest appearances with notables such as the jazz fusion group Weather Report, jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, Blues legend John Lee Hooker, Frank Franklin, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, and West African singer Salif Keita. He and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead later recorded and performed with Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji, who conceived one of Santana's famous 1960s drum jams, "Jingo". In 1988, Santana organized a reunion with past members from the Santana band for a series of concert dates. CBS records released a 20-year retrospective of the band's accomplishments with Viva Santana!.
That same year Santana formed an all-instrumental group featuring jazz legend Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano saxophone. The group also included Patrice Rushen on keyboards, Alphonso Johnson on bass, Armando Peraza and Chepito Areas on percussion, and Leon "Ndugu" Chancler on drums. They toured briefly and received much acclaim from the music press, who compared the effort with the era of Caravanserai. Santana released another solo record, Blues for Salvador, which won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
In 1990, Santana left Columbia Records after twenty-two years and signed with Polygram. The following year, he made a guest appearance on Ottmar Liebert's album Solo Para Ti, on the songs "Reaching out 2 U" and on a cover of his own song, "Samba Pa Ti". In 1992, Santana hired jam band Phish as his opening act.
Santana's record sales in the 1990s were very low. Toward the end of the decade, he was without a contract. However, Arista Records' Clive Davis, who had worked with Santana at Columbia Records, signed him and encouraged him to record a star-studded album with mostly younger artists. The result was 1999's Supernatural, which included collaborations with Everlast, Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty, Eric Clapton, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, Cee-Lo, Maná, Dave Matthews, K. C. Porter, J. B. Eckl, and others.
However, the lead single was what grabbed the attention of both fans and the music industry. "Smooth", a dynamic cha-cha stop-start number co-written and sung by Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty, was laced throughout with Santana's guitar fills and runs. The track's energy was immediately apparent on radio, and it was played on a wide variety of station formats. "Smooth" spent twelve weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming in the process the last #1 single of the 1990s. The music video, set on a hot barrio street, was also very popular. Supernatural reached number one on the US album charts and the follow-up single, "Maria Maria", featuring the R&B duo The Product G&B, also hit number one, spending ten weeks there in the spring of 2000. Supernatural eventually sold over 15 million copies in the United States, making it Santana's biggest sales success by far.
Carlos Santana, alongside the classic Santana lineup of their first two albums, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. He performed "Black Magic Woman" with the writer of the song, Fleetwood Mac's founder Peter Green. Green was inducted the same night.
In 2000 Supernatural won nine Grammy Awards (eight for Santana personally), including Album of the Year, Record of the Year for "Smooth", and Song of the Year for Thomas and Itaal Shur. Santana's acceptance speeches described his feelings about music's place in one's spiritual existence. Later that year at the Latin Grammy Awards he won three awards including Record of the Year. In 2001, Santana's guitar skills were featured in Michael Jackson's song "Whatever Happens", from the album Invincible.
In 2002, Santana released Shaman, revisiting the Supernatural format of guest artists including P.O.D. and Seal. Although the album was not the runaway success its predecessor had been, it produced two radio-friendly hits. "The Game of Love" featuring Michelle Branch, rose to number five on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent many weeks at the top of the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, and "Why Don't You & I" written by and featuring Chad Kroeger from the group Nickelback (the original and a remix with Alex Band from the group The Calling were combined towards chart performance) which reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100. "The Game of Love" went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
In early August 2003, Santana was named fifteenth on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".
On April 21, 2005, Santana was honored as a BMI Icon at the 12th annual BMI Latin Awards. Santana was the first songwriter designated a BMI Icon at the company's Latin Awards. The honor is given to a creator who has been "a unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers."
In 2005, Herbie Hancock approached Santana to collaborate on an album again using the Supernatural formula. Possibilities was released on August 30, 2005, featuring Carlos Santana and Angélique Kidjo on "Safiatou". Also, in 2005, fellow Latin star Shakira invited Santana to play the soft rock guitar ballad "Illegal" on her second English-language studio album Oral Fixation Vol. 2.
Santana's 2005 album All That I Am consists primarily of collaborations with other artists; the first single, the peppy "I'm Feeling You", was again with Michelle Branch and The Wreckers. Other musicians joining the mix this time included Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Kirk Hammett from Metallica, hip-hop/reggae star Sean Paul and R&B singer Joss Stone. In April and May 2006, Santana toured Europe, where he promoted his son Salvador Santana's band as his opening act.
In 2007, Santana appeared, along with Sheila E. and José Feliciano, on Gloria Estefan's album 90 Millas, on the single "No Llores". He also teamed again with Chad Kroeger for the hit single "Into the Night".
In 2008, Santana started working with his long-time friend, Marcelo Vieira, on his solo album Marcelo Vieira's Acoustic Sounds, which is due to be released at the end of the year. It features tracks such as "For Flavia" and "Across the Grave", the latter featuring heavy melodic riffs by Santana.
Carlos Santana performed at the 2009 American Idol Finale with the top 13 finalists, which starred many acts such as KISS, Queen and Rod Stewart. On July 8, 2009, Carlos Santana appeared at the Athens Olympic Stadium in Athens with his 10-member all-star band as part of his "Supernatural Santana – A Trip through the Hits" European tour. On July 10, 2009, he also appeared at Philip II Stadium in Skopje, Macedonia. With a 2.5 hour long concert and 20 000 people, Santana appeared for the first time in that region. "Supernatural Santana – A Trip through the Hits" is currently playing at The Hard Rock hotel in Las Vegas, where it will play through 2011.
Santana is featured as a playable character in the music video game Guitar Hero 5. A live recording of his song "No One To Depend On" is included in game, which was released on September 1, 2009.
Carlos recently opened a chain of upscale Mexican restaurants called "Maria Maria". It is a combined effort with Chef Roberto Santibañez. They are located in Tempe, Arizona; Mill Valley (now closed); Walnut Creek, Danville, San Diego, California; Austin, Texas; and Boca Raton, Florida.
In 2012 Santana released an album Shape Shifter consisting mostly instrumental tracks