Santana III was my favorite Santana album fifty years ago and remains so today

You’ve heard the saying the original is the best? It’s certainly true with the rock band Santana.

It’s hard to believe that Santana began its musical journey more than five decades ago. Most of us saw them for the first time with their brilliant performance at Woodstock. The performers we remember from that day include their leader, the soon-to-be-legendary guitarist Carlos Santana, keyboardist/vocalist Greg Rolie and twenty-year-old drummer Michael Shrieve. The live version of “Soul Sacrifice” has been stuck in our brains since then….and that’s a great thing.

They followed up their Woodstock gig by releasing their first album, highlighted by the song “Evil Ways” and the studio version of “Soul Sacrifice.” A year later came the brilliant “Abraxas” which brought us “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va.”

In September of 1971, they released “Santana III.” It was the last album of the original Woodstock-era Santana band, although they did reform in 2016 for the one-off “Santana IV” reunion album. For the third album, Carlos brought in then seventeen-year-old guitarist Neal Schon. The extra guitar made it a fuller and deeper sound than the first two albums.

Nothing against their first two albums, but “Santana III” has always been my favorite Santana album. I wondered if I would still feel that way after fifty years and not hearing the record in its entirety for decades?

I spent yesterday listening to all of the first three Santana albums. What a great way to spend a couple of hours.

What I found was that nothing had changed in the last fifty years. While I acknowledge that it’s not the best of the three, I think “Abraxas” is clearly at the top, number three is still my favorite. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s the double guitars as I’m all about great guitar. Maybe it’s the singles such as “No One to Depend On”, “Everybody’s Everything” and the Carlos Santana rare lead vocals on “Everything’s Coming Our Way.” Maybe it’s knowing that this is the finale for this inception of this great band. It’s probably a combination of all of the above.

Sadly, as I said above, this version of Santana moved on after “Santana III.” Carlos went in a different musical direction with his next album, “Caravanserai.” It had more of a Jazz-fusion sound. While most of the original band played on this album, it wasn’t and didn’t feel the same. Don’t feel bad for the others, though. Rolie and Schon went on to form Journey. Shrieve has had a long career as a drummer and producer. He’s played with B.B. King, Sammy Hagar and Steve Winwood among others.

In 2021, fifty years after its release, “Santana III” still holds up. Give it a listen. You’ll be happy you did.

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