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Carlos Santana on Playing Woodstock


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When Santana played at Woodstock in 1969, you already had your trademark sound, that piercing sustain in which you hold a single note for what seems like ages. How did playing with so much high-speed percussion affect your approach to soloing?
The more somebody plays fast around you, the more you slow down and play long, legato lines. In “Jingo" [on 1969's Santana], we had that bass line and the conga going in that rhythm. I had to do something different. Plus, I started with the violin, which was drawing long notes with a bow. I realized that playing longer notes, sustaining them, was more appealing.

It was getting crowded at that time with blues people. My voice on the guitar felt more natural in a different vocabulary. But I still love the blues. You need to marinate yourself in that music daily. It's like putting syrup on pancakes. If you don't have any syrup, the pancakes are not that cool [laughs]. If there's no blues in it, then I won't listen.

What was it like to hear those notes sail over that huge Woodstock crowd?
It was beyond scary, especially because I was at the peak of acid. I said, “God, please help me stay in tune. Please help me stay in time. I promise I'll never touch this stuff again." Of course, I lied [laughs]. What I remember is that it was really hot, all of the other bands were playing the same -- and we were different. When we started, it felt like we were back in Aquatic Park in San Francisco, where people would drink wine, smoke a little hemp and just play congas. It felt that natural.

It's amazing -- within a year [after that show], everybody had congas and timbales: the Rolling Stones, Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis. All we really did was integrate Tito Puente, Afro-Cuban musicians like Mongo Santamaria, into the blues that I loved.

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