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Evil Ways (1969) - Santana: song history

Santana's performance and performance of "Evil Ways" at the Woodstock festival made a huge impression on the audience! They haven't released their first album yet, but they've made a name for themselves playing shows on the West Coast... Fantastic!

The story of "Evil Ways" by Santana...

"Evil Ways" is a famous hit by the Mexican-American rock band Santana, which became the pearl of their self-titled debut album in 1969 ... It is noteworthy that "Evil Ways" was originally recorded by jazz percussionist Willy Bobo in 1965 (and released as part of the album Bobo motion). The author was Clarence "Sonny" Henry, a jazz guitarist and songwriter. Written in simple verse form, the composition was also recorded by The Village Callers.

Released as a single, "Evil Ways" became the group's first hit! The single broke into America's Top 10, peaking at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100! Curiously, with the release of the debut album Santana, the authorship of the track passed to Jimmie Zack (Jimmie Zack & The Blues Rockers) - a midwestern rockabilly artist who recorded a song with the same name in 1960 (however, it was not the same song as Santana)… Let's remember the history of the timeless hit of the 60s!

How was the hit...

Santana band, 1969, Woodstock
Santana band, 1969, Woodstock

For many years, music lovers have been convinced that "Evil Ways" is performed by Carlos Santana himself! But... it's not. This song features Gregg Raleigh on lead vocals (he also plays a Hammond organ solo in the middle of the track), while Carlos provides guitar solos and backing vocals. By the way: Santana's solo in "Evil Ways" is about 90 seconds long...

The lyrics of "Evil Ways" are a story from the perspective of a man in love, an appeal addressed to his woman. The hero of the song feels like a complete fool - jealous and upset that his lover is hanging out with her friends, while he does not receive any attention from her ... He warns her that he will leave if this behavior continues:

"Baby when I come home baby
I see the extinguished light and cold food ...
You're shaking, baby
With Jean and Joan, and who knows who else...
I'm tired of waiting and being fooled.
I will find someone with whom I will not feel like a clown!
This can't go on anymore…”

"Evil Ways" was originally written by jazz percussionist Willy Bobo with Clarence "Sonny" Henry: Bobo was a Latin Jazz percussionist who was a big influence on Santana and played on some of their tracks in the late 70s...

"He was one of the first to try to combine Latin American music and blues on a record," Carlos Santana said in an interview. "He did it before us because we did it on the street and he already did it on records."

Santana (Woodstock, 1969)
Santana (Woodstock, 1969)

Santana's performance and performance of "Evil Ways" at the Woodstock festival made a huge impression on the audience! They haven't released their first album yet, but they've made a name for themselves playing shows on the West Coast... Fantastic!

Why Evil Ways?

The debut album Santana was released two weeks later amid positive reviews from the Woodstock press. Oddly enough, it was "Jingo" and not "Evil Ways" that was chosen as the first single: rhythmic and energetic, it reached #56 in America! The next single was "Evil Ways", which broke into the Top 10 ... At the end of the year, an edited version of "Evil Ways" was released, which brought Santana her first big success. A slick and stylized version of Willy Bobo's song smoothes over the original rough edges, confirming Carlos Santana's comments that they made music for whites. White or Black is a surprisingly dense song that succinctly packs Santana's sound into (perhaps) its most compelling form... Let's talk about the single.

Evil Ways (1969) - Santana (single cover)
Evil Ways (1969) - Santana (single cover)

The B-side is "Waiting", the song that launched Santana's seminal Woodstock performance. The studio version isn't as bright as the live version, but at that point, every Santana song was a magical call to exotic sounds. In the UK, "Jin-Go-La-Ba" was chosen as the B-side. Out of secondary interest, "Evil Ways" was initially misattributed to Jimmy Zach, who wrote a very different song called "Evil Ways" many years ago. It was most likely the work of lazy archivists who simply leafed through the songwriters catalog until they found a suitable name, as it is impossible for Santana not to know the source of the song... Released on a 7" single, "Evil Ways" reached No. 9 on the charts USA.

Similar to "Love Potion No. nine"

It wasn't long before critics, as well as listeners, began to notice the striking similarity between "Evil Ways" and the 1959 "Love Potion No. nine". The song was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller - a famous songwriting duo who wrote hits for Elvis Presley himself! In the mid-60s, shortly before Woodstock, Love Potion No. 9" was performed by The Searchers: it was this performance that made it an incredibly popular hit ...

If you carefully study both records - "Evil Ways" and "Love Potion No. 9" - you can find a lot of similarities ... For example, in the chorus! The melody and character of the performance sound very similar, with the only difference being that "Love Potion No. 9" sounds more energetic and positive than the slightly punchy "Evil Ways"... The tempo of "Evil Ways" is a little more slow. The guitar solo faded towards the end of the track, while "Love Potion No. 9" you can hear it somewhere in the middle... It's hard to call it plagiarism, but there is no point in arguing about the similarity of these two compositions.

Success, impact...

After Woodstock "Evil Ways" became a famous hit that repeatedly inspired performers and sound artists to improvise boldly! So, for example, in 1970, Johnny Mathis released his version: his cover hit the Cash Box rating at number 118. In the mid-90s, "Evil Ways" was performed by the alternative rock band Rusted Root: their version was included in the soundtrack to movie "Home for the Holidays". Moreover, this was not the last time that "Evil Ways" was used in cinema: in 2001, the composition complemented the cult "Fast and the Furious" ...

Conclusion

"Evil Ways" is a bright track with interesting lyrics and an incomparable performance by Santana... Having performed this song at Woodstock, the band snatched a lucky ticket to the future! We can say that then, at the 1969 festival, it was one of the most memorable performances on stage ... And, fortunately, it has not lost its magic to this day.

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