Author Archives: Tara OLoughlin

Santana captures the heartbeat of music

Have you ever had an instant reaction to a piece of music, where the sound enters your ears and ends up in your soul? The song itself is translated into an emotion that washes over you, and you’re suddenly wistful and mellow or joyful and unable to resist the drive to move your body to the rhythm. 

All art has the capacity to move you, but music is the only form that can physically compel you to move. There’s a connection, something that drove early man to create instruments that could make complex patterns of sound, and at the backbone of it all is the percussion. 

Percussion is the key

Percussion is often referred to as the heartbeat of music. In the background, behind the vocals and other instrumentation, there’s a beat like the steady, syncopated beat of our own hearts. The rhythm is what evokes a physical desire to match it, like dancing, pumping your fist in the air, or tapping a foot. 

From a historical standpoint, it makes sense that humans created the drum before any other instrument. Rhythm exists everywhere in nature, from the drumbeat of a giant herd of animals racing across the Earth to the light patter of rain falling. 

Drums are used by every culture and in every genre of music, but Latin music has roots in African music, which is particularly influenced by percussion. It plays an important role from an artistic, cultural, and even spiritual perspective. 

World music

Carlos Santana was creating “world music” decades before the term became popular. His music captures styling from African, Cuban, Latin, Rock, Blues, Jazz, and other genres. Over the years, his music has been infused with various different influences, but percussion has always remained a central theme.

He pioneered the rhythmic fusion of music from different countries with a truly inclusive percussion section. In addition to drums, you’ll hear timbales, bongos, congas, cowbell, tabla, and many more. Carlos Santana is able to tap into the essence, or heartbeat, of music from around the world.

Who doesn’t want to play guitar?

A recent study found that, after piano, the guitar is the second most popular instrument to learn in the United States. Starting in the late 1950s, with the emergence of rock and roll and pop music, guitar became the principal instrument. In most live performances of current music, the lead guitar player is up front on center stage and often gets the spotlight during riffs and solos. 

There are a number of significant qualities about the guitar that have led to its evolution into the primary instrument of today’s music.


Guitar allows for an incredible amount of personal expression. The fact that it’s a stringed instrument gives each musician the ability to develop their own sonic personality. Combined with the different versions of the instrument itself, the potential variation in sound is unlimited. Electric, acoustic, twelve-string, and electro-acoustic guitars all produce unique tones. Then there are the special effects like fuzz, reverb, or octavia pedals to further expand the range.


You don’t have to be in a studio to play the guitar. Unless you require the entire electric guitar set up, a guitar can be transported just about anywhere. It’s the perfect accompaniment for a campfire, outdoor party, or small get-together. Since so much music is written for guitar, it’s all you need to play your favorite songs, instrumental versions or sing-along


When performing on stage, instruments like keyboards or drums are stationary, and are generally set up to the sides or back so they don’t block the other band members. The guitarist can be anywhere and is usually up front on the stage, entirely visible to the audience. Relatively light and attached by a strap, the guitar leaves them free to jump around or dance, adding entertainment value to the performance.


Three centuries ago, Johann Sebastian Bach dubbed the guitar “the little orchestra,” likely in reference to the ability to play harmony and melody at the same time. The guitar can produce a fullness of sound that needs no accompaniment. 

It’s easy to understand the growing popularity of guitar among adults and kids alike. With just a few lessons, you can pick up the fundamentals and soon be impressing your friends. Who doesn’t admire the person who pulls out their guitar in the evening as the sun goes down and the party mellows? Even learning a few basic chords allows you to entertain the crowd with a familiar song.

Guitar Heroes

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Savor lead guitarist, Michael Caroff, to discuss a short list of my favorite guitarists. With an intense love of the instrument and curiosity about music in general, Caroff is somewhat of an aficionado when it comes to in-depth knowledge of the all-time greats. 

He fell in love with the guitar at 9 years old and put together his first band in his early teens. Prior to founding Savor nearly two decades ago, and writing/co-producing all the original songs on the album Moviendote, Caroff has performed live and composed music in a number of different musical genres over the years. His extensive background and overall passion for guitar made him uniquely suited for this interview.

Eddie Van Halen

MC: Excellent number one choice! Eddie Van Halen had the top three qualities of an incredible musician: tremendous natural talent, a sharp ear for pitch, and the drive to produce memorable music. 

JK: His solos are so melodic and smooth, and I know he formed Van Halen when he was still in his teens. How much formal training did he receive prior to that?

MC: When they were young, Van Halen’s mother insisted that he and his brother, Alex Van Halen, learn to play classical piano. Guitar was an instrument he picked up entirely on his own without ever receiving any lessons. You can hear the influence of his classical background in the way he plays, which is why he’s been dubbed “The Mozart of Rock Guitar.” Even when he’s playing back-up to vocals, you can hear little, harmonic concertos.

Eric Johnson and Joe Satriani

JK: Am I correct in thinking they belong in the same genre; fusion jazz with rock or pop overtones? 

MC: I can see why you grouped them together. Both rose to fame due to instrumental records. Although they compose and play high-technique, guitar-driven music and both are very technically adept guitarists, there are significant differences in their styles. 

Eric Johnson belongs in the same category as Eddie Van Halen from a pure musicianship standpoint. He has tremendous talent, flawless pitch, and an extremely unique guitar sound. His compositions include open pentatonic scales (five note scales, played across multiple strings), and his style is different from any you’ve heard before. It’s bright and airy — uplifting. 

In 1990, his album A Via Musicom went platinum, and included a single, “Cliffs of Dover,” that accomplished a rare crossover event, landing at #5 on the Top 40 Chart.

Joe Satriani is also very musically talented and most well-known for his instrumental album Surfing with the Alien. He has a heavier sound and feel to his music; I’d classify his guitar style as closer to metal than Johnson’s. Rather than the pure sound that Johnson favors, Satriani focuses more on interesting effects. 

Mattias Jab

MC: I love the Scorpions! Jab’s guitar clips are easy to listen to and enjoyable, but they’re not basic. They’re different from anything you’ve heard before, and he has a great talent for fitting the solos and back-up licks smoothly into the songs. The guitar parts work so well that they have the memorability of melody or lyrics. 

For the average person, songs come on the radio or streaming app, and you get a feeling about whether or not you like it and want to hear it again. Caroff’s expansive knowledge of music theory in combination with being an accomplished guitarist himself helps you to understand why each of these musicians have found wide appeal across the listening audience.

How music can help you battle COVID-19

The past eight months of dealing with the worst global pandemic of our time has a lot of Americans stressed out. Responding to concerns over the increasing incidence of mental health problems and substance abuse due to COVID-19, the CDC conducted a survey in June of 2020. The study revealed that a whopping 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse. 

Mental and emotional benefits of music

These numbers are 3-4 times higher than a similar study conducted at the same time last year, so if you’re suffering from anxiety or depression, you’re not alone. The stress is getting to all of us. While we can’t solve the pandemic overnight, we can take positive steps toward minimizing the repercussions on our own health. Listening to music has been proven to lower cortisol — the fight-or-flight hormone that our body releases when we’re faced with a stressful event — and promote relaxation. 

Because of the strong connection between music and emotion, music has long been used as a form of therapy to regulate mood. The rhythmic and repetitive aspects of it engage the neocortex of the brain, which creates a sense of calm and lowers impulsivity. One caveat: to achieve a particular state of mind, choose music that matches the mood you want to achieve, not the one you’re currently experiencing. Put simply, don’t listen to heavy metal if your goal is to relax or tragic ballads if you need a lift. 

Music and the immune system

Self-care has never been as important as it is right now, because stress also takes a toll on your physical health and ability to fight off the Coronavirus. Neuroscientists at McGill University in Montreal performed a meta-analysis on over 400 studies touting the benefits of music to mental and physical health. They found that listening to and playing music boosts the body’s production of immunoglobulin A and natural killer cells — the cells that go after invading viruses and strengthen the immune system.

If you still need convincing, pull up a video of a live music performance. Michael Caroff, frontman of the Santana tribute band, Savor, has seen the way music changes a crowd. Whether the band is performing during the daytime at a family-friendly event or in the evening at a bar, the audience is always transformed by the uplifting Latin-influenced music. People’s faces reflect their pleasure and many are moved to get up and dance, and for those few hours, they don’t have a care in the world.

What does it take to be a great tribute band?

In the past, some tribute bands had a cheesy reputation, like something you might see in Vegas. Men dressed in silly Elvis costumes, with their hair gelled up and hips gyrating around. But all of that has changed. 

Today, tribute bands are big business, thanks to the highly talented musicians who are committed to getting the music right. They fill a void, giving fans the opportunity to hear their favorite music played live, even when they can’t afford the real thing or the band isn’t touring together anymore. 

The truly great tribute bands are made up of musicians who are not just good at playing their instruments, they have a true appreciation for those they’re emulating. Their goal is to look and sound so much like the band they’re paying tribute to that their performance elicits the same pleasure as listening to the authentic version. 

Don’t confuse them with cover bands

One way to describe a cover band is that it’s a jack of all trades but master of none. These bands play popular songs from a number of different groups, and the good ones do a decent job at sounding close to the originals. They don’t specialize in any one band’s music, however, so you’re never going to confuse them with the real thing. 

That’s the major difference between a cover band and a tribute band. It’s not enough for tribute bands to do a decent job sounding like the original, their goal is to be an exact replica. And if the truth be told, sometimes even better. How is this possible? Some successful, famous bands are better in the studio than they are playing live. 

The devil is in the details

To become a top-rated tribute band, the musicians must be perfectionists. They have to study and analyze every note, along with the art of performance practiced by the band they’re mimicking. And they have to love the band they’re paying tribute to. 

A good example is Savor, the Santana Tribute Band, from San Diego. The music is beautiful and authentic, so much so, that in whatever venue they play, you see people jump to their feet, joyfully dancing to the nostalgic songs. The musicians even dress the part in bell bottoms jeans and tie-dyed shirts. 

And when you hear the lead guitarist play the hauntingly melodic notes from Europa, you know he’s spent countless hours, learning to perfectly mirror the unique style of Santana himself.