There are few things better that come out of our education programs than the real “behind the music” style stories shared by the artists and musicians who we celebrate. Such a story was told to me this past weekend by the co-founder and lead singer of Santana, Hall of Fame Inductee Gregg Rolie when he was in town to perform with fellow Inductee Michael Carabello for our 14th Annual American Music Masters series honoring Janis Joplin.
In most of the biographies you will read about Santana, they are rather ambiguous about the details of how the band was actually formed. You read about how Gregg Rolie and Carlos Santana were both in San Francisco in the 1960’s and then magically, there was Santana. When Gregg Rolie said to me, “you know how Santana really formed, don’t you?…it was in a tomato patch.” I knew I was about to be let in on a rock and roll secret.
This is how it really happened.
The origins of the Santana Blues Band, which later became just Santana, lie in a chance meeting between keyboardist and lead singer, Gregg Rolie and guitarist, Carlos Santana. The two knew of each other, both playing in separate bands around the San Francisco area in 1966. One sunny afternoon there was a house party out in the middle-of–nowhere California (which is now a highly developed suburb of San Francisco), where in character of the times, there were a lot of drugs being passed around. I mean, hey, it was a party! Carlos was there. So was Gregg. Eventually, so were the cops. Now, Gregg was interested in what he had seen Carlos do musically from being around the scene and seeing his band at the time. When the cops showed up at the party, he saw a chance to meet Carlos. In haste, he had seen an escape route from the cops and was about to let Carlos in on the action. As soon as he reached Carlos, he realized Carlos was already on the run, utilizing the aforementioned escape plan that he had apparently scouted out on his own. Gregg followed, running as fast as he could out the back door and into the tomato field that ran for miles behind the house. Hiding from the cops together in this tomato field for about two hours, Gregg and Carlos starting talking music and decided it was a great idea to start a band. This is how Santana was really formed…in a tomato patch.
photo caption: Backstage at the AMM Tribute Concert, L-R: Gregg Rolie, Carolyn Wonderland, Jason Hanley and Michael Carabello. Photo: Rock Hall/Janet Macoska.