Originally called The Santana Blues Band, Santana was, in the beginning, a band whose material consisted primary of “jams” — improvisational pieces — rather than songs. In fact, it wasn’t until their second album, Abraxas, that, at the suggestion of pianist Alberto Gianquinto, they began to shift their focus from percussion jams to tighter song structures.
One of their initial jams eventually turned into a song called “Soul Sacrifice,” which achieved legendary status after being featured in the film, Woodstock (although it first appeared on their debut album, Santana by Santana.)
Most of Soul Sacrifice is based on a rhythmic three chord pattern: Am – C – Dm – C – Am. This pattern is introduced by the whole band in the beginning, then fades into the background to provide a foundation for the melody — played on guitar — followed by a lengthy guitar solo. Of course the harmonic structure lends itself perfectly to Carlos Santana’s Dorian mode bent.
Following the guitar solo, the organ gets its props, after which there is a substantial drum solo. Then the guitar takes a second solo. During the second guitar solo, the harmonic center is shifted to D, in a natural minor (Aeolian mode), which is also carried by the guitar. (This could also be considered as staying in A, and modulating to Phrygian mode.)
At the end, after switching back to Am (Dorian mode), the band reprises the initial three chord pattern, segueing into full-band hits on the Am chord.
Such a solo/jam oriented song could have become a dreary, unending affair in the hands of lesser musicians. Santana’s members, however, combine their individual flair for hooky melodies and rhythms, with an almost uncanny ability to “read” each other, and create a memorable piece.
Since Santana has played — and continues to play — this song for many, many shows, there are numerous recorded versions. Probably the best known is that which was immortalized in the film, Woodstock, which features an especially inspired drum solo by a teen aged Michael Shrieve playing way beyond his years.
Soul Sacrifice Chords
Most of the song
Am – C – D – C – Am
Am – C – Am – D – D – C – D – C
Key Change (live version)
Dm – Am