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Interview: Carlos Santana

Santana's Latest - Blessings and Miracles - Is Another Step Forward in His Career

Rock and roll didn’t waste any time growing up, even in the earliest years of its inception. Like a delicious batch of chili, it heartily welcomed extra ingredients and spices. In fact, it was those accouterments which allowed the revolutionary musical style to splinter and create so many successful sub-genres.

Carlos Santana did more than anyone else in those early days to initiate and imbue strong Afro-Latin influences into a traditional rock and roll framework. But he continued - and continues - to grow; finding new musical landscapes to explore with the legendarily talented friends that he’s made along the way. Santana’s reputation, of course, precedes him: leader of the Santana rock outfit, Carlos has sold over 100 million records and played in front of 100 million people. Of course, he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has 10 Grammy - and 3 Latin Grammy - wins to his name.   

Santana has recently released a new album titled, Blessings and Miracles where he revisits the formula that brought him so much success with 1999’s Supernatural album. Blessings and Miracles finds a new duet with his partner, Rob Thomas, but also boasts heavyweight mutual collaborations with Steve Winwood, Chris Stapleton, and many others. In addition to his new album, Santana is also currently headlining a multi-year residency at House of Blues at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

It was a thrill to discuss his career, but what you’ll find most interesting is the mystical way he looks at his life and experiences: through a lens of gratitude, joyfulness, and curiosity. So, grab my hand and let’s climb up this hill together to meet the wise man sitting at the top. Like any guru worth his salt, Santana looks at the complicated edges of existence and filters them to make everyday consciousness seem simple. See if you can see what he’s seeing.

Evan Toth: Hello, Mr. Santana, how are you?

Carlos Santana: Hello, I'm grateful and happy. How are you?

ezt: I'm good. That's a good answer. I'm going to use that in the future, grateful and happy.

cs: Yes, yes, those are elements to having a delicious life.

ezt: It is and it's interesting because the album is called Blessings and Miracles. One of the questions I wanted to ask you was, Can you talk to us a little bit about some of the blessings and miracles that have gotten you to this brand new album.

Carlos: Synchronicity. There is no such thing as coincidence. People can call it that but it's really God's way of remaining anonymous. Someone orchestrates for you and for me all the time. I used to say conspire but that's not a good word, but they orchestrate for you, people, artists. Ever since I first started playing music, I always been center stage with whether it's with Jerry Garcia or Michael Bloomfield or Peter Green or Eric Clapton. I always been invited to share center stage with them. Someone's trading for me to meet this and people and create music that elevates people's hearts into a place where they are able to claim their own divinity, their own totality.

ezt: Blessings and Miracles is your 26th album. What's left in how you approach a new record with a fresh pair of eyes and ears? How do you come into these things now?

cs: With confidence, with clarity, with certainty, with assurance, that I can hug the unknown and hang around unpredictability and stay young.

ezt: How do you feel about vinyl? Are you nostalgic for records? Are you just embrace and love the digital easiness of today? What are your feelings about musical formats? Do you have any favorites or any nostalgia for the early days?

cs: I love all the forms, I remember when I first heard the first 8-track and then cassettes and CDs and DVDs. Record has a different dimension of frequency sound. Also, you get to see clearly in the album the credits and the musicians and stuff like that. I miss that part of it, but I'm not attached emotionally. I don't invest emotionally on something that holds me back. Sometimes when people ask me, "What's your sign?" I go, "Ooh, what do you mean?" "What's your sign, astrology?" I go, "All of them and none of them." That's how I feel about the records and the DVDs. I Utilize it to suit me and give me joy and pleasure, but I'm not attached to it.

ezt: It's all about the music?

cs: Yes.

ezt: When you released Supernatural in 1999, it was heralded as a comeback of sorts for you. While the album was a smash hit, your duet with Rob Thomas on Smooth was a super duper smash hit. Now, on the new album, you join him again for a tune called Move. Tell me about working with him again after 22 years after your first comeback?

cs: Sharing with Rob Thomas is a real delight. He's a wonderful gentleman, great person, great supreme artist, and we have fun. We found that both of us have this chemistry to create music that females really love. [laughs]

ezt: Of course, I put it together. I want you to know I put together, smooth move, get it, smooth move.

cs: Got it.

ezt: I don't know if I'm the first journalist you've spoken to that's put that together, but I want you to know you're dealing with someone pretty sharp here, Mr. Santana.

cs: All right. Thank you. We appreciate that.

ezt: [chuckles] It's good. As you know, the world, we lost a Gary Brooker, the vocalist of Procol Harum. You cover, Whiter Shade of Pale with another one of my favorites Steve Winwood, and curiously the original tune didn't have any guitar originally, but talk to me about that special song. It's a really a mystical tune that I've always loved. It certainly seems to match up with your catalog too. It seemed like it was a time to approach that too.

cs: When we started, Santana opened up for Procol Harum many times. I deeply admire and appreciated Robin Trower who started with Procol Harum. I was surprised that it wasn't no guitar in it, but I when I approached my brother Stevie Winwood, I said listen, "I hear you singing Whiter Shade of Pale, but I want to do it more African, a little bit more Cuban and Puerto Rican like a wahida, very sexy, and of course, I'm going to play guitar on it."

It took him about 5, 10 seconds, and all of a sudden, he looked at me right in the eye, he goes, "I hear it. I know where you're going with this. I hear it. Thank you," and so we did it and Narada Michael Walden helped us out. It's a song that it was very important because that's when I left my mother. I left my sisters and brothers because I wanted to be like BB King. I wanted to get my own stories. I was washing dishes at that time, so I was basically a weekend musician. It was time for me to become a full-time musician.

The reason I'm telling this story is because when I left this is the song, Whiter Shade of Pale, that was in the radio a lot, and my poor mother missing me and being worried where I was, [chuckles] this is the song that she played a lot so it has a special meaning for me.

ezt: It's cool. It's interesting how that tune was a part of your psyche prior to you really becoming a full-fledged full-time musician and now here you are all these years later revisiting. It's pretty interesting.

cs: Yes. To be accurate is Procol Harum, The Doors, and Traffic were really important to me because they had a sound, and they are the sound, they will always have the sound of staying perpetually in junior high school or something.

ezt: Right, right, and they're always popular in junior high school. I work in school, so the kids love The Doors today. There's something about it reaching that certain adolescent age, where you're thinking about a lot of different things, and The Doors, and they're really a perennial for sure.

cs: They're mighty. I can't stop playing The Doors. For the last two weeks, I've been playing When the Music's Over live. You can find it live at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Oh my god, it's scary how good it is.

ezt: Wow, I have to check that out for sure. I know there have been a lot of doors live releases lately, and I haven't gotten to them all, but I'll check that one out for sure. Back to Stevie Winwood, what a great musician. It's so cool to think that you guys have this relationship, and you've known each other for so many years, but what a great guitarist too. He's underrated as a guitarist. Am I right?

cs: Oh, I love him. Since the beginning, I love his guitar playing. I love what he played with Jimi Hendrix and Voodoo Child. Stevie Winwood is men for all seasons. He can do it all. What I love about him, I love him, is love that he has for God. He has an incredible love for God, so does Eric Clapton, so does Larry Graham. I love people who have-- We all love God but some people love God and they hug him just a little closer and you can tell. When you hug God a little closer, you become more resplendent and adorable. I love being adorable. Don't you love being adorable?

ezt: I try, I try. [chuckles] When I can pull it off, I love it, yes.

cs: Just be you, you'll be adorable.

ezt: That's it. Talk to me a little bit more about some of the other guests on this record. Obviously, as you're mentioning, this is about vibe and giving off a vibe. Clearly, you've been able to always attract other people to work with you. You always have a really interesting group of characters making music with you. What was new or interesting about putting that together on this record?

cs: My son, Salvador, and my daughter, Stella, and my wife, Cindy, playing drums. Also, being with Kirk Hammett and Marcus together. There's so many artists, Ally Brooke and so many new artists, especially the last song song that Chick Corea wrote. I believe he sent it to us. That's the song that we played. This album has a lot of avenues like the Champs-Élysées in Paris is connected to a lot of people, and a lot of emotions, a lot of principles and ideals. I'm just grateful because I get to be center stage and all these incredible spirits surround me and want to share their light with me.

ezt: You're an artist also that truly does embrace many different genres and is able to successfully fuse them together in your own recordings. That's not an easy thing to do. Unfortunately, our pop culture music machine doesn't really champion that thing. How do you pull that off? How have you pulled that off successfully after all these years?

cs: I discovered a long time ago because hanging around The Grateful Dead, and taking some consciousness revolution, expanding your mind perceptions, I learned back then that I am a multidimensional Mexican, I am a multidimensional spirit, and being multidimensional requires for you to be open to everything. I'm not a one trick pony. Since I accepted my multidimensionality, I am able to go from A to Z with music and not be stuck on only-- It's like saying, "I don't do windows." The whole world is a freaking window. What are you talking about?

ezt: No, it's true. You have to be open to it but people put up their own roadblocks.

cs: As Dr. Phil would say, "How is that working for you?"

ezt: Do you ever wake up in the morning and just say, "Oh , wow, look at all these things that have happened to me and that are continuing to happen?" Are you just amazed at the experiences you've had during your life? You seem so beautifully spiritual and in touch with the greater picture. Wow, do you ever just sit back and think about it, or is it too much to almost think about, your journey here?

cs: No, thank you for mentioning that. I am very aware that my phone rings since the beginning. It could be Miles Davis or Jacob Pastorius or Stevie Ray or Wayne Shorter or Herbie Hancock or Pharoah Sanders or Eric Clapton. A lot of people call me and they call me because we share with one another. We say, "What are you into today?" I go, "Learning and having fun.". They go, "Oh, okay." I keep that happening, and I'm able to make traction, my favorite word, spiritual traction.

ezt: Maybe that's the name of the next album, spiritual traction.

cs: Yay, [unintelligible 00:13:02]

ezt: Musically speaking too, you've seen the music industry change so much since you began What are some things that you're surprised about that are still similar in the industry? What are some things that maybe you're surprised haven't changed? What are some similarities and differences that you didn't expect?

cs: My son, Salvador, asked me a question like that a long time ago. He said, "Dad, when you were my age," which is 20, he says, "What did you have back then that we don't have now? What do we have now that you didn't have back then?" I say, "Yes, You have computers that you can change the key of the song. You can change the tempo of the song, but you can keep the same key. In the old days, if you slow it down, it changed the key, if you speed it up, it changed the key, but now you can keep the same key." He goes, "Oh, you have certain things. You have an advantage because of computers."

He goes, "What did you have back then that we don't have now?" I go, "Imagination." I don't let the computer tell me, "No, I don't let astrology tell me what day I'm going to have. I use my imagination to go beyond the limitations of the mind because the mind is very limited. The heart is not, but the mind is very limited.

ezt: Do you remove things? Are you a cell phone guy or are you a screen person or do you say, "Hold on?" Do you see the convenience of it? Also, how much does it permeate your life personally? Just curious.

cs: I use tools and skills to communicate. In the beginning when I was an Apache, I used to I used to communicate with blankets and smoke or mirrors, and my name was Geronimo. When I first started, that's what people used to call me, El Apache. My dad was going to call me Geronimo. My mom says, "No, I don't think so." That was the first time my mom said no to my dad about something. Anyway, but I learned to communicate now with the Facebook or social media. I learned to turn people on to something that is imperative that men at least look at it.

Most men are going to hit a brick wall with a heart attack because of the diet that you keep, the diet that you have as you were a child. It comes it comes down to keep living DNA ancestral behavior, real men eat meat. I'm learning because of what happened that you don't have to substitute delicious and flavor and stuff that is good for your heart. You don't have a heart attack or colon cancer, but you have to be committed to the three or four D's, devotion, dedication, discipline, diligence, about what you put in your mouth because you can actually reverse the plaque in your arteries. Plaque is not good for you, especially the one that they call the widow maker.

Not only with music, but I also like to share with people information about how can I be 74, almost 75, and I can still feel Jerry Garcia and Michael Bloomfield, and now Peter Green, a lot of musicians cheering for me as I dive into new avenues or new this and that, I have John McLaughlin and Eric Clapton, people who are cheering for me like I cheer for them. This gives you confidence. That's what I want to be able to present to people, give people hope, courage, and confidence about how to live your life in such a way that is delicious.

ezt: It's beautiful. Carlos, I'm a musician too, and I don't want to get too guitar geeky here for the audience, but I hope that people recognize how special and beautiful your guitar tone is. You've achieved something that every musician hopes to. People just don't mistake it when you're playing the guitar. It's obvious. What's going on the way you approach playing and amplification today? Are you currently doing anything new to harness your tone or anything different?

Photo by © Roberto Finizio

cs: Oh, thank you for asking that. The main thing for me is that I have become a full-time dumbbell amplifier musician. I played since 1972, two, three years ago, boogies, but it was time to put them aside. Now, it's a different tone that I don't gravitate to anymore. I mainly play dumbbells. I found out that it's easier for me to articulate a very spiritual and sensual language. My good friend Dumble just passed, and he created something that is very, very--

Being a musician, once you plug into this amplifier with no pedals, no nothing, just into the amplifier, you discover a whole new frequency of splendiferous. I miss him very, very much. He made amplifiers for Eric Clapton. He rewired him, Fender amplifiers, and then he put his thing on it. I'm basically playing Paul Reed guitars and Dumble amplifiers.

ezt: It's a great tone on the new album. It's like I said, it's completely obvious, it's you, and that's the best thing any musician can do, right?

cs: Yes, thank you. If you want to listen to, a real, real incredible tone on the guitar, of course, Peter Green's Supernatural, but also check out Novus. I did an album with Plácido Domingo and Shaman, and the song Novus, the way my guitar complements Placido Domingo and vice versa, that's my favorite guitar tone of Carlos Santana. That one and Samba pa ti, they're my favorite tones.

ezt: All right. I'll have to check that one out, absolutely. I'm a big Ritchie Valens fan. Even though he had a place in the pantheon of Rock and Roll architects, I still feel he's underappreciated and undervalued, really, especially considering his extremely young age when he left us. I always wonder what he would have done if there had been just five more years to his life. Can you talk just a little bit about Ritchie Valens?

cs: Absolutely, my joy. Ritchie Valens is the first person along with José Feliciano and

Santana that combined it, what they call now Latino rock or whatever. Ritchie Valens also gave birth to a certain extent, heavy metal music. His tone on the guitar was different. The way he did La Bamba was very different, but what I love about him is that he loved the blues, just like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck and all my British Blues Brothers.

He loved the blues. His name was Little Ritchie Valens because he wanted to be like Little Richard as well. Everybody comes from Little Richard, including Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix at one time or another. We learned from Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley. Those are the kings of Rock and Roll.

ezt: You've got a brand new album here, but what's next? I know you're always thinking about the future and thinking ahead and thinking inward and outward. What's next? Where are we going from here?

cs: We're going to do an album with John McLaughlin, my wife, Cindy, and I. Last time we did was Love, Devotion and Surrender. We want to create an album with John McLaughlin, eight-track cassette, CD, whatever. I want to call it God-Self, God-Self. A lot of the material is by John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane. The visual, if you can visualize this, this is what I want it to sound like. I want it to sound like extraterrestrial UFOs landing on a movie, Good, Bad and the Ugly, like a Western thing. I hear Derek Trucks in there too, but definitely I want to create some mystery.

I keep talking about the unknown and unpredictability. It's fun just taking a deep breath and stand back and watch John McLaughlin come in and rearrange things. He has a beautiful song. A song that he submitted is called Guitar Love. It'll steal your heart. Cindy, and I, we're already focusing on the next album, God-Self, and we're going to have fun with John McLaughlin.

ezt: What are some, just words of wisdom to folks out there that love music or musicians, or here we are in this crazy 21st century, and what are some thoughts you have about just the role of music and what it's going to do for us, or you know what I mean?

cs: Yes, music is the universal language that will stop war, but you have to point the speakers at the oppressors because they have hearts and anyone who has a heart will be reached, then you give them chills, then they cry, and then they laugh, then they feel compassion and totality all of a sudden. Music has the capacity to make people feel unity, harmony, and your totality. It's not presuming or bragging. Music is the only language of love that can accelerate peace on earth because you have--

The '60s was part of the solution or part of the problem, when the power of love replaces the love for power, all those things won't go away because they're true. John Lennon and Bob Marley and Bob Dylan, they're all right. All the songs, What a Wonderful World, Isu, Israel, Over the Rainbow, What's Going On, Marvin Gaye, Imagine, John Lennon, all these songs are a sign and design to take you outside of religion and politics because both religion and politics are now corrupt corporations. When you embrace spirituality is water, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola is religion and politics. Stay away from that. Stay with spirituality because spirituality is for the highest good of all. Thank you.

ezt: Santana, I can't tell you how much I appreciate your time today. This has been a wonderful chat. I really enjoyed it. I wish you the best of luck with the album and with everything in the future. All the best to you. I hope to cross paths with you again one day.

cs: Stay precious and splendiferous.

ezt: You too.

cs: Okay, man. Thank you.

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