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Working with Carlos Santana

Photograph of Carlos Santana by Baron Wolman jamming at the Day on the Green, Oakland Coliseum, July 1977.Two years in and Walnut Street Gallery was in full swing with our Art of Rock and Roll® exhibits. 

We had developed great relationships with the photographers and album cover artists for the Grateful Dead. Our collectors were excited about enjoying the visual imagery created for and inspired by the music they loved.

During the summer of 1991, the Grateful Dead were touring, and Carlos Santana was their opening act. The band always stopped in Denver, so we coordinated an exhibit with the Denver tour date. We assembled photographers, album cover artists, and Jerry Garcia’s art for the show. Because this was still considered a new genre in the art world, we tried to spread the word any way we could, which called for a party!

The exhibit was at the Oxford Hotel in Denver, where we were staying with the staff, and we hosted a party for the artists in our suite the night before the concert. We borrowed many of the images from the exhibit and transformed our suite into a mini gallery for the party. 

The management for the Grateful Dead and Carlos’ band were staying at our hotel, so I sent invites to their rooms. They all came! First was Herb Greene’s ex, who oversaw the Grateful Dead’s ticket and pass coordination. Then came the knock at the door that took the gallery to the next level in the world of art and music. 

I answered and introduced myself to about six people. The first person through the door introduced himself as Jorge Santana, Carlos’ brother, and immediately Herbie jumped up to greet him. Then, most of Santana’s crew and the band came to the party. The party was a huge success, and we made an authentic and lasting connection with Jorge. 

Carlos did not make it to the party because he was the unexpected guest of honor at the Houston police department for the night. His band had played a concert in Mexico, and when they were coming back to the states, Carlos was stopped by the customs officials and detained for a joint in his bag. 

When he made it to Denver the next day, Jorge insisted he meets us and see the exhibit. Carlos stopped by, met us, and toured the show. When he left for the soundcheck, he told us he was interested in purchasing some prints and would get back to us. And so, our journey with Carlos had begun.

In late 1991, several months after the Denver meeting with Carlos, we received a call. The salesperson who answered the phone, came into our office stunned and said, “Carlos Santana is on the phone for you.” 

During that conversation, Carlos said he loved what we were doing, and he wanted to do a project with us. He was interested in creating a limited-edition print to honor the concert promoter, Bill Graham, who Carlos felt helped launch his career. 

Carlos Santana and Bill Graham Poster

Carlos shared with us that in 1969 Michael Lang, a concert promoter, called Bill Graham and told him he needed Bill’s help. Michael and a group of his buddies were producing a festival in Woodstock, New York, that summer, and the show was becoming bigger than life and more than he could handle on his own. He needed Graham’s help.

Graham said he would do it, but there was one condition. He insisted that a small up-and-coming band he represented—Santana—be allowed to play mainstage at the event. This festival—Woodstock—was the first time Carlos performed in front of a large crowd. Until that point, he’d only played small clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area. His performance at Woodstock catapulted Carlos into the heart of the American music scene. All music lovers in the country now knew of Carlos and the band Santana.

Carlos felt that Bill Graham made it possible for him to gain national recognition, so he wanted this art project to honor Bill, who had recently died in a helicopter crash. Carlos wanted the piece, which would incorporate imagery from Woodstock and both Bill and Carlos on stage, to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Woodstock, which was just around the corner. 

Our months-long search for images began. We put out press releases to music magazines and newspapers searching for that one elusive photo. We contacted all the professional photographers that worked at Woodstock. Photographs began to arrive at the gallery. 

One photographer, Baron Wolman, whose first job photographing music was with Rolling Stone Magazine, responded. His first assignment for the magazine was to shoot music festivals that summer and Woodstock was one of them. Baron, also a family friend of ours, had a treasure trove of images we showed Carlos. But nothing hit the mark. 

Finally, one day I received a fax from Carlos. He had cut up two of Baron’s photos and created a new image altogether. After months of searching, the image was born! 

To create the print, we used two printing processeslithography and serigraphy. It was groundbreaking, at the time, to incorporate two different forms of printing. Carlos wanted it to have the qualities of a black and white photograph while also including psychedelic colors. 

Once the print was finished, we met with Carlos at his offices in Marin, and he signed the art, then Baron signed the edition, and we silkscreened Bill Graham’s signature on the print. This project was just the beginning of our adventure of working directly with musicians and publishing their visual art.

View this Piece by Carlos Santana and Baron Wolman

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Walnut Street Gallery – The Art of Rock and Roll®
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700 North Colorado Blvd. Box 336
Denver, Colorado 80206

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Good music comes out of people playing together, knowing what they want to do and going for it.