Not only has Carlos Santana had a lengthy career, he's displayed his talents with a wide range of styles, both solo and with the eponymous band that's had dozens of players over the years. The range is about as wide as the fluctuations in career. Particularly in terms of popularity and commercial success, Santana seems to have cycles of 10-12 years. The band's latest release, Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time, may be marking the end of one of those cycles, one it appears he may have used up as the latest vehicle to success.
Santana's first album was released the same month the band appeared at Woodstock. It certainly didn't hurt that the Woodstock movie appeared between it and the band's second release, which, along with the band's third album, went to number one. Undoubtedly, the quality of the Latin-infused rock and Carlos Santana's signature guitar style were the true driving force behind the band's popularity. While four Santana LPs hit the top 10 between then and 1981, in the 1980s and 1990s he and the band gradually disappeared from the charts with an accompanying decline in sales.
That changed dramatically in 1999, when Santana hooked up again with Clive Davis, who originally signed the band to Columbia Records, and released Supernatural. The album featured contemporary vocalists performing with Santana on a variety of songs written by him and the artists. The album not only reached number one, it was the first of his albums to win a Grammy. In fact, not only did Supernatural win Record of the Year, it received a record-tying eight Grammy Awards. Santana also invited many contemporary vocalists as guest artists on his ensuing two releases.
He and Davis invoke that formula again with Guitar Heaven but while the vocalists are largely contemporary, the songs are not. These are classics to many older listeners. Eight of the 12 cuts come from the period in which Santana had great popular success, 1967 to 1972. The oldest is Willie Dixon's 1961 "I Ain't Superstitious" (with Jonny Lang on lead vocals but, interestingly, apparently not playing guitar on the track). The other songs come from 1979 (Van Halen's "Dance The Night Away"), 1980 (AC/DC's "Back In Black") and 1983 (Def Leppard's "Photograph").