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The Inspiration Behind a Few of Santana’s Album Titles

Carlos Santana is considered by many to be one of the top guitarists in modern history. The winner of 10 Grammy Awards as well as three Latin Grammys, Rolling Stone magazine has ranked Santana at No. 20 on its list of 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

During his career, Santana and/or his namesake band have released 26 studio albums, 7 live albums, and 23 compilation albums, some of which have unique and unusual names. Where did Santana get his inspiration for some of these titles?

A Literary and Musical Classic

Abraxas was released on September 23, 1970, when Carlos Santana was only 23 years old. The album took its name from a line from Demian, the literary masterpiece written and published in 1919 by German author Herman Hesse. During this period in Hesse’s life he was undergoing therapy from an associate of the famous psychologist, Carl Jung. It was the beginning of the author’s turning to the “inward way”, as well as his discovery of “magical thinking”. 

This line, taken from Hesse’s Demian, is the inspiration for the title of Santana’s second album…”we questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it: We called it mother, we call it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas…”

In Jungian theory, Abraxas represents a being higher than God, something utterly unattainable and impossible to conceptualize, which, according to Santana, is exactly what the album was meant to be, a combining of spirituality and psychedelia, the music full of spirit, sexuality, and soul taking its roots from the percussive sounds of Afro-Caribbean music.

Fusing Genres

Santana’s fourth album was released during a period of transition for the band. Caravanserai is a spiritual blend of jazz, rock, and Latin music, and is considered by many to be the best album made during this period of transition for the band.

The word, “caravanserai” in the Near East means a large courtyard that provides accommodations for traveling caravans. However, Carlos Santana found a different meaning for the term while he was reading a text written by the Indian yogi and guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, “The caravan is the eternal cycle of reincarnation, every soul going into and out of life, from death to life and back again, until you arrive at a place where you can rest and achieve inner peace. That place is the caravanserai.”

According to Santana, this was a most fitting title for this album because it not only represented the personal quest for spirituality that he had embarked upon, but the music created by a band in transition for the album.

Another Stage in the Process

Carlos Santana released his sixth studio album Borboletta in 1974. Borboletta is Portuguese for “butterfly,” as is evident on the beautiful album cover designed by Carlos Santana in collaboration with Ed Lee and Barry Imhoff. In the early ‘70s, Carlos Santana was evolving, both musically and spiritually. The title is a reflection of his “metamorphosis,” but is also a “shout-out” to the contributions of Brazilian musicians Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, significant influences to the music on this album, a combination of jazz-funk-fusion, on this album.

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.

Carlos by Carlos

Carlos Santana has a line of women’s shoes. Huh?

That’s the reaction that I had. That’s the reaction that most people have, when I tell them that Carlos Santana has a line of not just shoes, but women’s shoes. Not just women’s shoes, but hot, sexy women’s shoes.

But when you really look at the Carlos by Carlos shoes line, and think about the reasons behind it, you start to see the logic.

Point 1: Deborah Santana (Carlos’ ex-wife) was probably integral in the concept, initiation, and design of the shoes line. She does wear sexy shoes, so it makes sense.

Point 2: Carlos’ and Deborah Santana’s charity — the Milagro Foundation — benefits from the sale of every Carlos by Carlos shoe. So it’s another way to help children around the world. (If there’s anyone more deserving than disadvantaged children, I’ve yet to hear it. Yea for the Santanas!).

Point 3: Carlos Santana is building himself as a brand. Paul Reed Smith Santana Signature guitars. The Mesa Boogie Amps. The Maria Maria restaurants (I’ll be covering those in a future issue of this blog, and on the Web site.) He plans to introduce a line of handbags.

He’s building an empire. He may not think of it as that — but someone is thinking of it that way. And you can’t blame Carlos. After all, he’s put out dozens of albums, and played thousands of live shows. Why not take advantage of his fame — especially if he’s willing to give back to the community, as he obviously is.

So, it makes sense that he introduced the Carlos by Carlos shoes line. And, to help [male] fans of Carlos Santana, I — with the aid of a talented stylist — have crafted the “Guy’s Guide to Buying Carlos by Carlos Shoes.” This article may actually help men entire uncharted territory, and purchase a pair of shoes for their better halves.

Now that’s progress!

Gregg Rolie

Legendary Vocalist/Keyboardist for Santana and Journey

Santana‘s 1999 Grammy phenomenon, Supernatural, has sold in excess of 25 million copies. It launched a rebirth of Carlos Santana‘s career leading to his artist-as-icon status. More recently, he has lent his name to a line of Santana perfumes and colognes, handbags, wine, Carlos by Carlos women’s shoes, and more.

But this legendary status now enjoyed by Carlos wouldn’t exist were it not for the hits still played on radio: “Evil Ways,” “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Va,” et al. Most of these songs were included on Santana’s first two albums, Santana (often called Santana by Santana), and Abraxas.

At the heart of the sound of those classic records are the keyboard playing and vocals of a young musician named Gregg Rolie.

Still a teenager when he and Carlos formed what was at one time titled the “Santana Blues Band” and then finally simply “Santana,” Rolie had a distinctive vocal style has been immortalized on those early albums. And he didn’t stop there. He and band mate Neal Schon went on to form Journey, a band which initially achieved a cult status among musicians, and then became one of the world’s leading pop rock groups.

Rolie wasn’t just a vocalist who accompanied himself on keyboards, though. The powerful simplicity of his organ playing is evident in the iconic chord inversions that introduce Oye Como Va, the unusual note (a 9th) that kicks off his solo in Evil Ways, and many other parts. Playing keyboards is something many people do; really good keyboard players is a much smaller group. Creating keyboard parts (both rhythm and lead) that stick in people’s mind is a rare skill indeed, and one at which Rolie excels.

To this day, Rolie can be heard on both keyboards and vocals in his own group, the Gregg Rolie Band. Touring the country and playing hits both old and new, Rolie and his band (which includes original Santana conguero Mike Carabello) embody much of the original sound of the early Santana songs that still resonate with listeners, 40 years later.