If Santana's Roots Can Be Found, Abraxas Says It Knows Where

Los Angeles Times, Tuesday May 30, 1995, Orange County Edition, Calendar, Page 3
Transcribed by Audrey DeFrank

"I ain't got nobody that I can depend on" goes an old song by Santana, and perhaps guitarist Carlos Santana took the lyric to heart. In "Viva Santana," a three-disc anthology of the group, no fewer than 34 incarnations of the Santana band are listed from its inception in 1966 through 1988, the year the retrospective was issued.

Although the title "Santana" originally denoted a group of readily identifiable, idiosyncratic musicians, over the years it has come to represent whatever collection of anonymous sidemen is performing with Carlos at the moment.

So it is interesting, if somewhat misleading, that several members of the early Santana groups have joined to form Abraxas, named after Santana's second album.

It's interesting because members of this particular group--organist-vocalist Gregg Rolie, guitarist Neal Schon, drummer Michael Shrieve, bassist Alphonso Johnson and percussionists Jose Chepito Areas and Michael Carabello--are all superb musicians, whose contributions went a long way toward cementing Santana's early reputation for progressive excellence.

Many of them played on the seminal hits "Evil Ways," "Black Magic Woman," "Oye Como Va" and "Everybody's Everything."

It is misleading, however, because although Abraxas is being billed as "the original Santana band," a number of original members of Santana aren't in Abraxas, while Schon and Johnson didn't join until after Santana achieved its initial burst of fame.

This observation, though, is made for the sake of accuracy rather than any attempt to question the integrity or musical potential of Abraxas, which plays several area clubs this week.

This group of musicians all made significant contributions to the Santana legacy, and some achieved post-Santana success that rivaled or even dwarfed their accomplishments with the group--Rolie and Schon went on to form Journey, one of the most successful rock groups of the 1970s and '80s; Johnson is renowned both for his solo career and for being a member of the jazz fusion group Weather Report; Shrieve has enjoyed a successful solo career in jazz and has played on records with the Rolling Stones and Steve Winwood. This group is certainly capable of making exciting, vital music together.

"The idea behind this was to go back and finish something we started," Rolie said in a recent phone interview. "Santana was never the same after the demise of the original group," he said. "Players are players, and they play off each other in a certain way. Even Alphonso Johnson, who played with Santana afterward, played in this band the first time and said, 'You know, this has an energy of its own. When you play together, it's something special.' "

The split of the original group was highly acrimonious, and Rolie, 47, doesn't seem to have fully forgiven decades-old resentment toward Carlos Santana.

"Everybody had a hand in why it went by the wayside, but a large part was due to Carlos' desire to be the true leader of the band that was very democratic, and we didn't choose to follow," he said.

Rolie denied, however, that the formation of Abraxas is any sort of statement about the guitarist.

"Everybody thinks that--I think even Carlos does--but it has nothing to do with that," he said. "The fact is that the band Santana, when it was created, was six people. Carlos was just one-sixth of that band. It was a total democracy, and the sum of its parts was greater than any one individual. There was no individual genius there. We played on and off each other and developed it that way. It was really hippie stuff--that's where it was at. . . .

"We asked Carlos if he'd like to play on a couple cuts when we make an album, and he declined," Rolie added. "I don't think he relishes the fact that we're doing this. He's made comments to the effect that the music was the only thing we ever had in common, and that was it--well, he doesn't know how right he is about that."

Through a publicist, Carlos Santana declined to comment on Rolie's remarks or on his feelings about the existence of Abraxas in general.

Abraxas has spent some time in the studio and is showcasing for record labels during its Southern California appearances, performing songs from the old Santana catalogue and a host of new material that Rolie said is reminiscent in spirit of the original sound.

And although Schon recently released a solo album called "Beyond Thunder," Rolie asserted that all the members of Abraxas are fully committed to making this project their priority.

"Everybody's very serious about this," he said. "This music has no barriers--you can't call it rock 'n' roll, you can't call it Latin, you can't call it jazz, you can't call it R&B, because it's all of the above. It is what it is, and it still knocks people out."

* Abraxas and Davis Farm perform tonight at 8 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. $19.50. (714) 496-8930; Sunday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $19.50. (714) 957-0600; also Friday at the Coach House-San Diego, Saturday at the Ventura Theatre.

Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times, 1995.