Originally recorded in 1965 by Latin percussionist Willie Bobo (birth name, William Correa), “Evil Ways” was written by Bobo’s guitar player, Sonny Henry. Quite different from the version immortalized in 1969 by Santana, Bobo’s Evil Ways has a sax in place of the organ solo, and no outro at all.

There were at least two reasons for Santana covering the song. One was the fact that Willie Bobo sat in on some of Santana’s early sessions. Another was Bill Graham’s urging that Santana do the tune.

Whatever the impetus, it was certainly a serendipitous choice for Santana, as Evil Ways turned out to be the band’s first top 40 hit, and remains a crowd favorite nearly 40 years later. Of course, once they were in the studio, Santana put their own stamp on it.

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Starting the song with a doubled guitar/organ riff, Santana picked up the tempo from the original’s laid back Cha Cha feel. The percussion is more aggressive, and the vocals, though sung “gang” style (Gregg Rolie and Carlos Santana), are missing the octaves used in Bobo’s version. Finally, the band ends by going into a double-time rhythm with Carlos wailing over the top.

Harmonically, it’s easy to see why the song was such a good fit for Carlos Santana. Using only three chords — with the 5th (“D”) appearing only three times during the entire song — Evil Ways epitomizes the quintessential Dorian mode that is Carlos’ trademark scale. Its two main chords, G minor and C major, are basically the same as Oye Como Va, down a whole step. (Note: Actually, to record the riffs interspersed into the verse, Carlos tuned his guitar down a whole step. That way, he could use open strings as if playing in “A,” but have the riffs come out in the key of “G.”)

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Although the song was not a hit for Willie Bobo, it’s obvious why Santana’s Evil Ways was such a chart topper. Its exuberant rhythmic feel, accessible vocals, and distinctive organ and guitar solos made it irrestible to a music-listening public that had never heard these elements combined before.

Evil Ways Lyrics

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You’ve got to change your evil ways, baby
Before I stop loving you
You’ve got to change, baby
And every word that I say, it’s true
You’ve got me running and hiding, all over town
You’ve got me sneaking and peeping, and running you down
This can’t go on,
Lord knows you got to change, baby

When I come home, baby

My house is dark and my pots are cold
You’re hanging round, baby
With Jean and Joan and a who knows who
I’m getting tired of waiting and fooling around
I’ll find somebody, who won’t make me feel like a clown
This can’t go on,
Lord knows you got to change

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(2nd ending)

Yeah, yeah, yeah

Evil Ways Chords

Verses, Solos
Gm – C
(repeat)

Chorus
Gm – C – Gm7 – C
Gm – C – Gm7 – C
D