Author Archives: Michael Caroff

Carlos Santana Inspired Artwork Throughout the Years

It’s been more than 50 years since Santana introduced the crowd at Woodstock to their unique fusion of Afro-Latin-Blues-Rock music. And yet more than five decades later the signature sound of legendary guitarist, Carlos Santana, continues to thrill listeners around the world.

Since the band’s debut album Santana was released, Carlos Santana has gone on to sell 100 million records and play to more than 100 million fans at concerts worldwide. He has been the recipient of countless honors and awards, including 10 Grammys and 3 Latin Grammys. Rolling Stone has named him #15 on their list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.

The legacy of Carlos Santana is not limited to his musical greatness. Throughout the years, his influence has expanded to include his devotion to activism and humanitarian causes. He has been an influential force in the lives of countless people around the world through his various foundations and charities, including the Milagro Foundation, Little Kids Rock, and the Amandla AIDS Fund.

The ever-evolving sound of Carlos Santana as well as the message of love, hope, and unity that he spreads through his music and his dedication to social activism have been an inspiration to many artists around the world since his epic breakout performance at Woodstock in 1969.

In 1987, Oakland native Michael Rios created the mural “Inspire to Aspire”, located on South Van Ness and 22nd Street in San Francisco, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Santana. The piece launched a friendship and collaboration between Santana and Rios that has included artwork for album covers, guitars, custom clothing designs, and concert backdrops.

German artist Gisela Hammer describes how listening to the vibrating guitar sound of Santana at one of his live performances inspired her to include a painting of the guitarist in her series entitled “Famous Musicians Live on Stage”. Of Santana’s performance, Hammer remarked, “To experience him live in the open air, an unforgettable impression… a great feast for the senses!”.

Artist Donna Wayman was moved to paint Carlos Santana because “Carlos is a humanitarian who uses his music to promote peace and love. I was very inspired by his positive energy.”

In 1998, when Santana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, website notes said of the legendary musician, “Guitarist Carlos Santana is one of rock’s true virtuosos and guiding lights.” 

Many artists from around the world have been inspired, not only by the intensity and passion that Santana exudes when performing live, but by his kindness and selflessness which transcend cultural, spiritual, and geographical barriers in an effort to connect people through positivity and love.

Santana Album Cover Art

The artwork displayed on the cover of an album can be just as much a part of the album’s individuality as is its sound. Referring to the remarkable album artwork of the ‘50s, the legendary singer Tony Bennett remarked that, when you bought an album, “you felt like you were taking home your very own work of art.”  

The artwork that has graced the covers of Santana’s albums over the last five decades is a testament to that sentiment. Three of our favorite album covers have their own unique story to tell.

Santana by Santana 

The drawing of a ferocious lion on Santana’s debut album is really a “fusion” of a variety of images created by Lee Conklin, a poster artist who designed many of the iconic posters that graced the walls of Bill Graham’s Fillmore West. Originally commissioned as a poster for one of Graham’s shows, the cover created by Conklin was inspired by a picture of a lion in a book of animal pictures that he owned; he used that as the basis for his drawing. 

Santana Santana album cover

Graham liked his posters to be in color, but Conklin decided that this poster would be done in pen-and-ink. It’s a complex drawing which features the head of a lion that’s composed of a number of faces for its cheeks and brows. The nose of the lion is actually another face that is connected to the body of a woman that’s made of the lion’s open mouth and legs that stretch out of it. The lion’s chin? A hula skirt. 

Santana asked Conklin to re-draw the poster for the cover of their debut album, Santana, released in 1969. An immediate success, the album went on to peak at #4 on the Billboard 200 pop album chart, the cover’s distinctive lion’s head linked forever to the band.


The album artwork on the cover of Santana’s 1970 album, Abraxas, is the work of the psychedelic surrealist, Mati Klarwein. His 1961 painting, Annunciation, was one of the first paintings that the German-French painter did after relocating to New York City. 

abraxas album cover

Carlos Santana noticed the painting in a magazine and felt that Annunciation conveyed artistically what the group was trying to convey, musically . . . “I’d just discovered that music and color are food for the soul. When we looked at the painting, we said, ‘Man, this is a great feast! Who did this?’”

Santana contacted Klarwein about using it on the cover of Abraxas, and it’s become one of the most celebrated album covers of the 20th century. However, the artwork on the cover was not without its controversy. Columbia Records initially had an issue with releasing an album with a naked woman on the cover, and on one of the released versions, a sticker bearing Time magazine’s review was used to cover the nude. 

Mati Klarwein went on to design the cover for Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, Buddy Miles’ Message to the People, Earth, Wind & Fire’s Last Days and Times, and many other albums.


Supernatural album cover

Supernatural was released on June 15, 1999 and is the 17th studio album recorded by Santana. The album features a number of collaborations with several artists including Eric Clapton, Rob Thomas, Dave Matthews, and Lauryn Hill. The record won nine Grammys and is one of the best-selling albums of all time. 

The artwork on the cover of Supernatural is the work of visual artist and Oakland, CA native, Michael Rios. After returning from an extensive trip to Europe in the ‘70s, Rios moved to San Francisco’s Mission District. He went on to create some of the first large murals that made the Mission famous and brought the artist national attention.

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Santana in 1986, Rios created the mural To Inspire, located on South Van Ness and 22nd St in San Francisco, which is when the two artists became acquainted with one another. The result? A long artistic collaboration and friendship between the two. 

The spiritual and collaborative nature of the music on Supernatural was the inspiration for the magnificent artwork displayed on its cover.

Savor Concert Highlighted

Santa Barbara News logo

Fiesta with a Mission

by Madison Hirneisen August 1, 2021

Community event raises funds for COVID-19 relief, promotes vaccines

David musical directing
Savor, a Santana tribute band, plays for the audience during Fiesta with a Mission at Chase Palm Park in Santa Barbara on Saturday, July 31, 2021. (Kenneth Song/News-Press)

A group of local bands performed at Chase Palm Park Saturday in a benefit concert called “Fiesta with a Mission,” which sought to raise funds for COVID-19 relief efforts locally and internationally.

The event was sponsored by the Resiliency Institute and featured performances from five local bands — Mariachi Real, Heart & Soul, Mezcal Martini, Savor and Sonora. Locals set up folding chairs and blankets to watch the show, which ran from noon to 7:30 p.m. Despite the event’s name, “Fiesta with a Mission” was not associated with any Old Spanish Days celebrations.

The goal of the benefit concert was to raise relief funds for nations hit hardest by COVID-19. All of the proceeds collected during the event will be donated to the Sri Lankan Medical Foundation and Direct Relief, which is providing aid in nations like India and Mexico.

Jacqueline Inda, the founder of the Resilience Institute, told the News-Press that the event’s participating bands came up with the idea to host a benefit concert, which would double as a way to promote the vaccine among the bands’ closest followers. Ms. Inda said in addition to raising funds for COVID-19 relief efforts, the event sought to provide vaccines to hesitant community members, particularly second and third generation family members in the Latino community.

Michael singing
Savor, a Santana tribute band, plays for the audience during Fiesta with a Mission at Chase Palm Park in Santa Barbara on Saturday, July 31, 2021. (Kenneth Song/News-Press)

“Most people consider doing outreach as having nonprofits go out and explain the message of vaccines, but there’s something different when an artist that you really like and that you really follow or a band that you really like and really follow says ‘hey, you know, let’s get together. Let’s do this for everybody else,” Ms. Inda told the News-Press. “Sometimes, when (the message) comes peer-to-peer in that way, it makes a world of difference than an organization talking about how safe it might be.”

Prior to Saturday’s event, the Resiliency Institute partnered with the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department throughout July to host pop-up clinics at a food bank on Bath Street. That effort continued on Saturday at the event, as local attendees had the chance to get the vaccine at a pop-up booth at Chase Palm Park.

Jeff Davis, a member of the Mezcal Martini band, told the News-Press that participating in Saturday’s event was not only a way to give back to a good cause, but also to celebrate the ability to play in-person shows once again.

“Bands have been cooped up for 18 months, the public has been cooped up that long, it was a great way to get out,” Mr. Davis said.

When organizing the event, Mr. Davis said he and the other organizers wanted to promote the fact that the main reason in-person events were possible again was because people are getting the vaccine. By promoting the vaccines to their regular followers, Mr. Davis said the bands were hopeful they could support the vaccine uptake locally.

“The idea was to help get vaccinations to not only the local underserved population… (but also) as a means of supporting vaccinations in other parts of the world that were hurting,” Mr. Davis said.

Lorenzo Martinez (far right) plays the congas for Savor, a Santana tribute band, during Fiesta with a Mission at Chase Palm Park in Santa Barbara on Saturday, July 31, 2021. (Kenneth Song/News-Press)

Among the dozens gathered at Chase Palm Park on Saturday was Kim Anderson-Flores, a native of Santa Barbara. She and her husband, Marco, often attended concerts at Chase Palm Park before the pandemic, which were free to the public.

She noted that Saturday’s event was significantly scaled back compared to the traditional Thursday events, adding that she had hoped to see more familiar faces during Saturday’s concert.

A trio of hat-wearing men take a selfie during the concert.
Yet, despite the smaller crowd, she said her and her husband, Marco, were happy to be back out and dancing again. They could be seen twirling and twisting to the music during Saturday’s concert.

“What brought us out was we love the music, and we love the fact that we could benefit the community (by being here),” Ms. Anderson-Flores told the News-Press.

The challenge of creating a Latin-rock Salsa song

Undeniably one of my favorite kinds of both dance and music in the Latin genre, is salsa. Fast and energetic, its unrelenting rhythmic pulse is irresistible. However, trying to translate this style into a rock band format turned out to be quite a feat.

The process of writing and arranging Angelina

As is often the case, writing and arranging were bound together in this song. The easiest part to come up with, ironically, was the chorus. I had that from the very beginning, as far as the chords, lyrics, and vocal melody.

And, the arrangement for the piano and bass parts flowed fairly smoothly, as well. The guitar part, however, proved to be elusive for quite some time.

In addition, I struggled with the verse. Experimenting with various chordal patterns as well as rewriting the melody multiple times, it took months and months of work to arrive at the final version.

For the guitar, simplicity was the key

After attempting a number of different melodic lines with a guitar, I finally achieved success by paring everything back and focusing on the rhythm.

In the verse, the guitar (with only a bit of distortion) plays a syncopated pattern built on a single note: E. However, I do switch between octaves, to accentuate the rhythm. In between the vocal lines of the verse, the guitar incorporates two different simple motifs, alternating back and forth. This gives the verse some structure, without breaking up the rhythmic drive.

For the chorus, the guitar part is even simpler: playing a comped rhythmic pattern on a single note (A, in octaves), it stays there the entire time.

Pedal tones and contrast

What makes the guitar parts work in the song is the fact that although that instrument focuses on a single note (E in the verse and A in the chorus), the bass and piano play moving chord progressions set against the pedal tones provided by the guitar. This not only creates an interesting harmonic dynamic, but also allows the guitar to carry the rhythm, unencumbered by the need to maintain the movement of the chord progression.

Key changes add interest

While the verse and chorus stay in a single key (A natural minor), the guitar solo initially modulates to D minor, before going back to the original key.

The other key change is one of my favorite parts of the song: At the end of the second verse, the piano ends on an A major (rather than the A minor used throughout the rest of the song). It’s the only time that chord comes into play, and it delivers a harmonic tension that resolves nicely into the second chorus. To make it even richer, vocal harmonies outline an E minor chord, which expands the full cord to an A Dominant 7+9.

Not surprisingly, because it is so subtle, this song is the hardest one on the album to re-create live. And for the same reason, it is my personal favorite on the album, Moviendote.

Writing Sambita: A Latin-Rock Samba Instrumental

Actually written before Savor was even on the drawing boards, Sambita began life as a jazz-influenced Latin song written for a 3-piece instrumental band: guitar, bass, and drums.

Screenshot of Timbale player
Sambita, a Latin-rock instrumental song based on a Samba beat.

Building the original arrangement

Structured in a fairly conventional pop song format, Sambita consisted of a verse, a bridge to connect it to the chorus, and a chorus. The parts then occurred a second time, but that iteration included a guitar solo played over the chorus.

In fact, this was one of my first forays into writing Latin music. And aside from my love of the genre itself, the audience reaction to this song — universally positive — really got me to thinking about expanding on that theme.

Adding new parts and reworking the melody

The original version was played on a very clean guitar (no distortion) which allowed for some complex chordal accompaniment in addition to the melodies. Once Savor was formed, the song had to be adapted to the new instrumentation — including a guitar sound in the rock vein, which meant a thick, rich distortion tone.

Probably the largest change was coming up with a melody to be played on the guitar during the choruses. (In the previous version, the guitar had played a chordal melody; that part was moved to the piano.) So I created a melodic line to go on top of the chord pattern.

Next, I dropped the original verse, and expanded a single phrase from the bridge to become the entire verse. For some reason, in the initial version of the song that phrase — which I came to realize was a powerful hook — occurred only once.

Song crafting versus songwriting

As I have generally found throughout my years as a songwriter, reworking a song in such a way inevitably made it stronger.

This composition is an excellent example of how songs are actually built — as opposed to simply being pulled out of the air wholesale. Many of the great songwriters whom I have long admired and whose memorable works taught me much, also classify themselves as song “crafters” rather than song “writers.”

What this means, essentially, is that you are constantly evaluating and improving your creative product. In the end, you wind up with a much better song than if you had just stuck with what you conceived of in the beginning.

NOTE: It is not in songwriting alone that I find this approach to be valuable. Having written hundreds of articles, essays, and other text pieces over my career, I have always found editing to be the most valuable part of that process as well.

Getting to the final arrangement

Since the song had been fairly well worked out in the previous band, the arrangement came pretty quickly — which is not always the case! Mainly, we added an intro that built a percussion section one instrument at a time. And we also ended the song with percussion as well, and a few light riffs alternating between the guitar and piano.

Even with those two additions, the song still clocks in at just a few seconds over 3 minutes. A fun little ditty with which to open the album, Moviendote.