Two things happened to Santana during the summer of 1969: they performed at The Woodstock Music & Art Fair and released their first self-titled album, which became an immediate commercial hit. These two events combined to make huge stars out of the group.
Legacy Recordings has issued a series of two CD releases that combine complete performances at Woodstock, plus the album issued closest to that performance. Such artists as Sly & The Family Stone, Janis Joplin, The Jefferson Airplane, Johnny Winter, and Santana themselves return in all their historic 1969 glory.
This recording features the original and classic Santana line-up: guitarist Carlos Santana, keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie, drummer Michael Shrieve, bassist Dave Brown, percussionist Jose Areas, and conga player Mike Carabello. While there have been a lot of incarnations of Santana over the years, this was the tightest, featuring them combining Latin rhythms with a fusion of rock and blues.
Santana’s original self-titled album has been remastered and cleaned up, giving it a clear and pristine sound. I have owned this album on vinyl since its release forty years ago, and many of the songs are still instantly recognizable. The rhythms just wash over you, and Carlos Santana proves that his early solo improvisations showed the genius that would flower over the course of his career.
Songs such as “Evil Ways,” “Persuasion,” “Jingo,” and “Soul Sacrifice” all combine heavy percussion and bass rhythms with Rolie’s organ. Santana responds with intermittent guitar solos. He is one of those rare guitarists that can wring impossible notes from his instrument.
Santana’s complete eight-song, forty-five minute Woodstock performance sees its official light of day for the first time here. Seven of the eight songs are taken from their debut, album which hints at their lack of material at the time. Even so, it is nice to hear early live versions of these tracks. The bass and the percussion dominate more than on the studio tracks. Carlos picks his places carefully and his solos do not overpower the music.
The Woodstock tracks are a prisoner of their time, however, as the recording techniques of 1969 do not match those of today, especially in such a huge outside venue. They are passable, though, and what they lack technically, they more than make up for historically.
The Woodstock Experience presents the best of both worlds. You receive a classic rock album, plus a treasure trove of unreleased material from the most historic festival of all time. It is essential listening for any rock fan.