You got your spell on me baby: The bewitching voodoo rock of Santana’s “Black Magic Woman”

By on April 11, 2018

Night Flight’s “Take Off to Guitar Heroes” — which originally aired during syndication in 1991 — features music videos by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and the usual six-string axe-slinging suspects whose inventive playing-style and solos transformed blues-based guitar rock in the ’60s and ’70s.

We were particularly happy, however, to see that along with these more conventional choices was Mexico-born guitarist Carlos Santana, who, in 1970, turned the supple blues of Peter Green‘s “Black Magic Woman” into bewitching Latin jazz-inspired voodoo rock.

Watch it now on Night Flight Plus!

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Santana’s performance comes from their April 1971 appearance on the German TV show Beat Club,” during which they also performed two instrumentals, “Jungle Strut” and “Samba Pa Ti“.

We particularly like how “Beat Club” — which mostly focused pop and rock acts from the U.S. and Britain — presented them along with the latest cutting-edge video effects, like the kaleidoscopic framing effect which looks like Santana are in the center of a psychedelic mirror.

The show also frequently displayed the band’s name, song title and band members names on the screen too.

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“Black Magic Woman” had originally been recorded in 1968 by Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, who Santana had seen performing at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West in San Francisco, where Santana had formed in ’67.

As guitarists, Green and Santana — born in Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico — were both influenced by blues great B.B. King, whose melodic guitar leads featured sustained single-string runs up the fretboard (in Santana’s case, he often added “hammer-ons,” sharply-fretted notes hammered down on the strings).

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Santana’s version of “Black Magic Woman” truly transcends Green’s original, adding an interlocking polyrhythmic Afro-Caribbean/African beat from the band’s three drummers.

Their version — released on the band’s excellent second album, 1971’s Abraxas — features a couple of different solo guitar movements before it segues into a jazz-rock instrumental version of Hungarian jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo’s “Gypsy Queen.”

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Santana has said that Szabo influenced his incorporation of Latin jazz guitar into the originally blues-based style he’d begun playing when his band first formed, originally calling themselves “The Santana Blues Band.”

Green’s lyrics to “Black Magic Woman” conjured up powerful images of the protagonist’s desire for an irresistible fortune-telling gypsy woman who he realizes is using strange voodoo spells to possess his soul (“Got your spell on me baby/Magic woman, I just can’t leave you alone”).

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Read more about Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” below.

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Most rock music fans weren’t too familiar with Santana — Carlos Santana (lead guitar), Neil Schon (just sixteen years old when the guitarist joined the band), Gregg Rolie (keyboards/vocals), David Brown (bass), Michael Shrieve (drums), and Coke Escovedo, José Octavio “Chepito” Areas and Mike Carabello (congas, timbales and other percussion) — until their memorable appearance at the Woodstock Music Festival in Bethel, NY, August 16, 1969.

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The band’s self-titled debut album was released the same month, but their first single — a furiously-drummed & chanted cover of Nigerian drummer Olatunji’s tune, “Jingo” — hadn’t hit the national airwaves yet (it was released in October and would only reach #56 on Billboard‘s singles chart)

Since Santana had mainly played gigs in the greater San Francisco area, when they took the stage in the afternoon of the festival’s second day, a Saturday, most of the audience of 400,000 didn’t know who they were.

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It turned out that the 22-year old Santana — who’d arrived at Woodstock around eleven o’clock that morning — was told his band weren’t supposed to take the stage until eight o’clock that evening, so he decided to take mescaline and enjoy the live music, figuring he’d be coming down from his high before it was time to take the stage.

Around two o’clock that afternoon, however — right as he was peaking on the drug’s psychedelic effects — Santana was approached backstage and told ‘If you don’t go right now, you’re not gonna go on,” and so Santana and his band hit the stage and ended up playing an amazing set that wowed the crowd.

Santana has said that during “Soul Sacrifice,” he thought the neck of his guitar had become an electric snake that he needed to strangle before it bit him.

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Santana’s exposure at Woodstock — offering a real contrast to the other bands who played that day, including John Sebastian, Canned Heat, the Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival — helped propel their first album up the charts, to #4 on the Billboard 200 pop album chart (#26 UK), where it remained for the next two years.

The album’s second single, a cover of Willie Bobo’s “Evil Ways,” climbed into the Top Ten (it peaked at #9 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 singles chart).

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Santana’s debut LP, with cover art by Lee Conklin

Santana’s follow-up album, Abraxas — its title derived from a quote from Herman Hesse’s novel Demian: “We stood before it and began to freeze inside from the exertion. We questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it: We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas ….” — was released in September of 1970.

It would be Santana’s first album to hit #1, charting on the Billboard 200 (and on the UK album charts, for over a year), on the strength of its two hit singles, “Black Magic Woman” (#4) and their cover of Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va” (#13).

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Watch “Take Off to Guitar Heroes” — the other guitarists featured here included Pete Townshend, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie Van Halen, B.B. King and jazz virtuoso Stanley Jordan — on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.