“Carlos Santana is the most famous rock star who does not sing.”
That’s part of the opening sentence to Chris Willman’s review of Carlos Santana’s new book, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light. To learn more about the autobiography visit Santana’s Web site.
Is Carlos Santana the most famous rock star who doesn’t sing? And by “sing” I mean lead vocals—Santana is frequently credited with singing backup. There are a lot of rockers who don’t sing but few that are famous and even fewer that are as famous as Carlos Santana.
Below, Musicology-101 looks at Carlos Santana and five other rock stars who are very well known but eschew crooning. As you’ll soon learn, Willman is on to something. Of course, we’ll leave it up to you to make the final decision but Carlos Santana is definitely one of the most famous rock stars who does not sing.
AC/DC’s lead guitarist, Angus Young, may not be a household name, but his schoolboy-uniform and duckwalking are as synonymous with rock and roll as drugs and sexy groupies. Young and AC/DC have sold more than 200 million albums during their hall of fame career. Their 1980 opus, Back in Black, is one of the bestselling albums of all-time having sold more than 50 million units. AC/DC may be known for using three-chords but Young is still widely regarded as one of the genre’s greatest guitarists.
Carlos Santana is one of rock’s greatest guitarists and successfully fused it with Latin music. One or the other would have been enough to get him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but accomplishing both has made him a legend. While Santana does sing backup, he does all his talking with his axe. Santana’s 1999 album, Supernatural, is probably what prompted Willman to call Carlos the most famous non-singing rock star instead of “one of the most.” The album sold more than 30 million copies and captured nine Grammy Awards.
Currently, Santana, both the man and the band, are in the middle of a residency at the House of Blues Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. On March 8, 2015, Santana begins the “Corazon Tour” in St. Petersburg, Florida. Less than two weeks later the group plays the first of three shows in Mexico. Carlos and company return to the House of Blues in late May.
Eddie Van Halen
Let’s ignore the little lead singing Eddie Van Halen has done during his illustrious career (lead vocals on "How Many Say I" from Van Halen III). After all, his guitar work speaks volumes—Van Halen has sold more than 80 million albums and Guitar World readers named him the greatest guitarist of all-time. Eddie’s fame doesn’t stop there. He appeared in an episode of Two and Half Men and was married to an actress (Valerie Bertinelli). Within his own generation he’s the “most famous rock star who does not sing,” but when you start including rock fans from other eras he probably falls behind Santana.
Jimmy Page was the lead guitarist for one of rock’s most influential bands, Led Zeppelin. He’s consistently in the top five when it comes to “greatest guitarists of all-time” lists. If there was a Mount Rushmore for rock guitarists he’d be on it. Page is probably Santana’s biggest threat to Willman’s honorific of “most famous rock star who does not sing.” While every rock fan knows Page (and his riffs), he’s much more of a mystery than Carlos Santana. For example, Carlos Santana has a Twitter page, Page does not.
John Bonham is the second member of Led Zeppelin on our list and the only drummer. His death in September of 1980 caused the band to dissolve. Bonham is arguably the greatest drummer in rock and roll history. He inspired generations with his beats, innovations, and ability to find a song’s groove. Just as everyone who picks up an axe tries to play “Stairway to Heaven,” everyone who picks up a pair of drumsticks tries to play “When the Levee Breaks.”
Saul Hudson plays a sweet guitar. So sweet he has to go by the name Slash. Whether in Guns N’ Roses, Slash’s Snakepit, Velvet Revolver, or as a solo act, Slash has melted faces with his proficient guitar shredding. Besides being a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Slash frequently finds himself high on rundowns of rock’s greatest guitarists. If Guns N’ Roses had endured a little longer, Slash may have very well ran away with the title of “most famous rock star who does not sing.” He’s still the most famous rock star who wears a top hat.