All That I Am represents Carlos Santana’s third foray into what he calls the “maitre d’” style of album making - using outside singers and musicians to complement his very unique guitar playing. This album, like Supernatural and Shaman, brings in a variety of players, everyone from Michelle Branch and Anthony Hamilton to Kirk Hammett and Wes Scantlin.
A man of grace and style and infinite patience, the 57-year old guitarist found time in an insane schedule to talk about his life and what success has brought to him.
[Note: the interview was taken before the release of Santana's album "All That I Am"]
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Carlos, how are you?
Carlos Santana: I’m happy. I’m very grateful, I’m very happy, man. Life is beautiful.
It has certainly been the decade of Carlos Santana: you played Woodstock in 1994 and that same year a comic book was put out on you; you were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and then the success of Supernatural and The Grammy Awards and the follow-up success of Shaman. With all of this under your belt, is there an expectation when you went in to do this record that your fans wanted to hear a certain type of music from you?
Well, first of all to quote Wayne Shorter or John Coltrane, 'It’s the same eggs, it’s how you scramble them.’ So, the spices that you use are the same notes, melodies, rhythms. I love being a maitre’d where I accompany singers. In this, particular case it was Mary J. Blige and a few other new singers, male and female, but I also get to do [the guitar thing]. There’s a CD coming out with Wayne Shorter and myself in ’88 [they toured the U.S. and Europe in that year and also played the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 14th as the Santana/Shorter Band]. We just did a concert last summer for Claude Nobs [the festival promoter] and Montreux with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Stevie Winwood, on and on, all these incredible people, and we did songs by Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, John Coltrane, Curtis Mayfield, the new hymns of tomorrow.
This CD is almost completed, the one we’re doing with Clive; it should be out by May or June. Plus I have a CD which is mainly instrumental, just guitar, very few vocals. So, there are about seven things to come out between now and next spring. So, I really don’t think too much about what people like or don’t like; I’m just going like a chef. Every time I go into the studio, I get rid of menus and start with a whole new one, make a whole new one. But it’s the same spices, it’s onions and garlic and salt and this and that. So, it’s the same eggs, it’s just how you scramble them, it’s melody and rhythm. I’m very grateful that I have the capacity to make the music fresh. I’m into a place now where I don’t see any superiority or inferiority; I don’t see, like, Coltrane being a in a very, very incredible place and Kenny G being down below. To me, it’s all in the middle. If Coltrane was here, I know he’d be compassionate and wise enough to talk to Kenny G. I think only people who are not in the center of their light, they see superiority and inferiority. You know? If you’re in your mind you’re going to see separation, you’re going to see that your fingers are different than your knees or your elbows are different than this and that. But if you’re in your heart, you’re going to see that it’s just one body. And can you complement; can I complement whether I play with Placido Domingo or Wayne Shorter or Billy Joel or Elvis Costello or whoever? Can I complement what they put in front of me? And if I don’t, then don’t play.
Do you find more joy and satisfaction from backing these various artists than you do in having a constant band with one singer? Like in the early days of the Santana band?
|"My ego doesn't dictate who to play with and who not to play with anymore."|
Well, it’s still my band, my band is still backing up whoever gets in front of me, you know? So, the only thing that has changed for me is that I’m not so close-minded; my feeling is not as low as it used to be. I have a high feeling now, I’m able to play again whether it’s Wayne Shorter or Britney Spears. One justifies the other; if I play with Britney Spears, then all his money goes to Desmond Tutu and Harry Belafonte for people in Africa. My ego has disappeared in the sense that my ego doesn’t dictate who to play [with] and who not to play [with] anymore. It’s not about Carlos, it’s not about being like Jimi Hendrix who you only do this or Coltrane that you only do that. Now, it’s more like water - who’s thirsty?
Was Supernatural the album that opened you up to these possibilities? Where you could work with a rap artist or a singer from a rock band or …
… An Iranian, or Hebrew, or Palestinian, or Japanese or whoever. Yes, all of the above. The beautiful thing about it is when you reach a certain place of a spiritual center, then like I said, you don’t feel threatened. In the begininning, I really never really cared what people think about me anyway. So when people say you’re committing suicide by playing with Wayne Shorter or Herbie Hancock or Tony Williams, I went like, 'OK, well watch this; I’m gonna commit seppuku.’ But at the same time the lesson I learned from them, and the lesson I that I learned from B.B. King or John Lee Hooker, when I do play my music, I’m able to be invited to anywhere in Africa; when I go to Chicago, my phone rings and it’s Otis Rush or Buddy Guy, so I’m one of the few musicians who’s able to just not be like a little fish in a little fishbowl. I don’t quite swim in the Pacific Ocean like Wayner Shorter, Charlie Parker, Coltrane, or Miles, but I’m in a big lake, a big lake. I’m not in a swimming pool anymore, I’m in a big lake.
Where did this record start gaining shape? Have you been collecting guitar riffs since the recording of Shaman or were you listening to songs brought to you by Clive Davis or other musician friends?
By opening my heart, my mind will follow. My mind, like your mind, is built to sabotage everything about you. The mind is always built to put doubt and fear, guilt and shame, all that stuff that the Catholics sell all the time. That’s the mind religion; the heart religion is everything is possible and attainable and there’s possibilities and opportunities. The heart just sees opportunities and possibilities; the heart doesn’t see, 'Well, you know I could do this but with my luck I probably won’t be able to do it.’ That’s the mind. So, at this point, for me, I feel really grateful because I did learn having played with Stevie Ray and John McLaughlin and everybody, I learned that I can actually be of service to a CD like Supernatural and play with Dave Matthews or Eric Clapton or whoever and actually bring something to the table. That they say, 'Hey, we’re gonna invite you back because we really like what you did; can you also play on my album?’ So that means that your willingness paid off because people say the beauty in your effort. And that’s really what it’s about, man, do you have the willingness to complement whether it’s Billy Joel or Elvis Costello or Kenny G or whoever. There’s no separation with me anymore like it used to be. Before I used to be like a street rebel, 'Oh, I would never play with Julio Iglesias or Engelbert Humperdinck.’ Well, now it’s not like that anymore; now it depends in the song, is the song soulful, sincere, real, and true enough?
Yes, there was a part of me back in, say, 1975, that was not evolved enough to see that it’s all the same man. Kenny G and Coltrane. Some people may go like, 'What?’ And I’m like, 'You can think what you want to, man,’ but see, to me, if I can work with Placido Domingo and POD, surely if the song is true, real, and honest, I should have the same passion that I do when I play with Otis Rush or Buddy Guy that I have with playing with Billy Joel.
Like Bono, he does what he does, and then he’s able to work with Africa. Bono and I want the same thing, the same thing with Bob Dylan or Bob Marley. We utilize music to help the world.
If the criteria for a song is soulfulness and sincerity and realism, how to you match the player to the track? In other words, on a song like 'The Calling’ with Eric Clapton, was that song written and then you thought, 'This is perfect for Eric.’ Or was that song written to embrace what Eric does best? Was it written with him in mind?
All of the above. When Eric Clapton came to the studio [the Supernatural track was recorded at Fantasy Studios in San Francisco], he flew from New York straight to the studio and then he was going to L.A. so we only had like two hours to record something. We talked about an hour-and-a-half and in the last half an hour he says, 'Oh, we gotta play.’ So I said, 'Listen, I have a couple of little grooves here, man,’ and so we started playing. So I had in mind just a groove and fortunately we went for it.
[But] all of the above what you said [is true]. Sometimes someone would bring a song to me like Wyclef from their heart, make it on the spot, look in my eyes and just make it on the spot. 'Maria [Maria’] was made on the spot; 'Smooth’ was made in New York and it was brought down to me. If someone writes a song from their heart, for you, wouldn’t you at least listen to it and try and to complement it? So, Supernatural, Shaman, and the next one, it’s all built on just being open and let it happen. Some things come from me and the songs that I write, if they don’t fit on the Santana- [type] Supernatural, Shaman, or the next one, I can put it on my own instrumental album. Which will probably be called Shapeshifter.
From the Native American mythology?
Exactly, someone who can turn into a jaguar or a bird or an owl. Shapeshifter. So, by the grace of God, I get to have both; I get to do something in the center arena. I mean, how many guys who are 57 years old, can play a solo on MTV and on the radio right now?
I can’t think of anyone other than maybe Clapton.
Not many. So I get to participate and do that and I get to play with Wayne and Herbie, I get to talk to Desmond Tutu and Harry Belafonte. Dude, life is good, you know [laughs].
With all this success, it would have been easy for the spiritual part in you to have disappeared. But it seems that as you become more successful, you’re even more willing to embrace different styles of music and allow musicians to develop their own voices.
It’s beautiful to invite people to [reveal their] courage, to their own light, to show their own convictions. A lot of people, like I said, are like little fish in a little fishbowl, and when you want to clean the fishbowl, the little fishbowl, because it’s dirty, and you put them in a big bathtub, they only swim around in [the space of a] little fishbowl even though they’re not in a fishbowl; they don’t use the rest of the bathtub. So, in other words, the mind has this little arrangement it creates and whether it’s you or myself, I’m always trying to challenge myself to get out of that little fishbowl.
You’ve recorded with Clapton but you’ve never done anything on record with Jeff Beck. You’ve had a relationship with Jeff for some time now.
|"It's easy for me to work with anyone because I bring my heart and it's not like playing scissors, rock and paper."|
I toured with him in ’95 but we did a concert in ’87 in Japan with Steve Lukather. I’m open to work with anyone. Sometime people have arrangements - like the little fishbowl that I was telling you? I don’t know what his arrangements are but it’s easy for me to work with anyone because I bring my heart and it’s not like playing scissors, rock and paper, you know? It’s not a competition thing, you know? Anytime that he would ever call me or if I ever call him, it would only to do something that both of us could take it to a different dimension. Like Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. But, we’ll see. He might be open to work with me, he is my friend. And he’s never been rude to me or cruel or anything like that. So him and Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, including Keith Richards, everyone has been kind to me. I don’t have any weirdness that people show on me at all so I’m just really, really fortunate. I guess they know my intentions, my motives and purpose is to complement and not to compete. So they don’t fuck around like that.
I don’t know if you remember this but many years ago, probably in the mid-eighties, I came to your house to interview you. I had just arrived and you said, 'Do you play tennis?’ I said I didn’t but you gave me a pair of your tennis shorts and a racket and we went outside to your court and played. And what you did with me is exactly what you just explained. I think you wanted to see if I was willing to break out of my little fishbowl of never having played tennis and see what I could do. And you ran me ragged but you were sort of testing me, in a very positive way, to see what I had. And then we went back inside for the interview and it turned into a wonderful day. Do you remember that?
Yeah, you surprised yourself and you surprised me. If you don’t try, you won’t ace me. You gotta try, otherwise how do you know what are you capable of? I wasn’t trying to be a bully but it’s an invitation to your excellence. If you didn’t try, you wouldn’t ace me.
Absolutely right. And I think on Supernatural and Shaman you truly saw what you were capable of and on this new album, certainly you’ve taken that to the next step. Can you talk about some of the music on this new album?
There’s a song called 'I’m Feeling You’ with Michelle Branch; it’s like drinking 7-Up for the first time, it’s got a lot of bubbles. When you see somebody pour champagne and you see all the bubbles constantly just bubbling, that song has that with the acoustic guitar. For me it always takes me back like in the middle of the summer in ’67 with Vietnam and everything, in the summer something validated us to jump and down and say, 'We can change it, we can make it different.’ It’s funny how a song by the Rascals like 'Groovin’’ or the Doors 'Light My Fire,’ I always look for songs, Joni Mitchell or whoever, that takes you beyond the brutal reality of the meat and potatoes world. Into a place where there’s ecstasy and kind of like an orgasm without the guilt thing. So, yes, 'I’m Feeling You’ has that innocence.
It’s funny because everything in me is pointing me towards music in the next two years that I’ll be going towards the garage bands of purity and innocence. Not even high school but junior high school garage bands with the Farfisas and ’96 Tears.’ Everything in me wants to go that way now because I think it’s important not to take yourself seriously and to get more lighthearted. And there’s something about junior high school music in a garage, it’s unstoppable. Like Nirvana and Santana and Metallica and Led Zeppelin before we had record contracts. That music before even the masses discover you, that unstoppable joy. And that’s what this song has for me. So that’s what I look for in a song; it’s a very immediate invitation to joy.
I love Michelle Branch so much, man, and this song is ever better than the last time ['The Game Of Love’ from Shaman] as far as getting to be 14 or 15 years old in the back of for [the first time] on a weekend. It’s got that thing. I like youth, innocence, purity.
The guitar is still Paul Reed through Boogie and Dumble. I basically play through Boogie and Dumble at the same time; I couldn’t have one without the other.
The amps are wired in series?
Yeah, I’m wired to two amplifiers at the same time. The Dumble gives me the belly tones and the chest tones which is a tenor saxophone, and the Boogie gives me the head tones which is like a soprano.
You started working with Dumble amps on the Shaman record?
Yeah, a very new discovery for me although I didn’t realize Stevie Ray and Robben Ford and Larry Carlton have been playing them for years. I just made friends with him [Howard Dumble] the last four years and I won’t go back. But I won’t also abandon the Boogie; I’m a Boogie guy and both of them work for me.
So you’ve met Howard? He used to live in this strange old castle-type place in Pasadena, California; were you ever there?
Yeah, [but] I’m happy to tell you that we moved him; we were instrumental in moving him out of there. He’s living in a bigger place now and he’s out of that dungeon.
You’ve been playing the PRS since 1979 and before that you experimented with the Gibson SG [Woodstock] and Les Pauls and the occasional Stratocaster. What was it about the Paul Reed Smith instrument that so captivated you?
I did play Yamahas and I play Strats at home; I did play Strats on the Shaman album and on this new one on one or two songs. But the way he [Smith] makes guitars, he puts a lot of love in it. If you play a guitar like a vintage Les Paul and then you play a PRS, it’s almost like the same thing but this one’s got turbo. I wouldn’t say steroids but it’s got turbo in it. It doesn’t have any batteries in it to make it louder or whinier or anything; it’s just the way the wood is made. I can just tell you truthfully, every time he sends me a guitar and it arrives, it arrives in tune. So that tells you something about the guitar right there.
You designed a type of signature Santana PRS guitar? The SE?
|"I always look for songs that takes you beyond the brutal reality of the meat and potatoes world."|
That one, I basically told him, 'Listen, you need to have a student model because young people in junior high school and high school can’t afford $8,000 or $11,000 for a guitar. So I think that you should think about making a guitar that people who are in junior high school can afford.’ And so we went and did that together, basically him, and the majority of that money we sent to The Milagro Foundation to help all the youngsters all over the world. So, it’s a win/win situation; I find myself now, besides being 57 and the music, selling shoes and cologne, and other stuff like that but it’s OK. Paul Newman sells salad dressing and popcorn and it all really gives to help the world, all over the place. Books for young people, education, healing, feeding the world. I’m not the one alone: Sting, Stevie Wonder, Prince, everybody digs in their pockets and very quietly we’re doing something that we believe the government and religious people are not doing.
Is there an actual Santana signature model PRS?
The signature model is the number II right now and it’s something he made in ’79 for me. I’ve stayed with that one, I like the body and the weight of it. That’s the Santana II and there’s a Santana III; I don’t think there’s a Santana I anymore. After Supernatural, I got offered a lot of money from a lot of companies like Fender and Gibson and Yamaha, but I chose to stay with Paul because I went to his place and I saw how he builds the guitars. I saw this group of people with Mohawk hair and suit and tie and blacks and Latinos and whites, people from all walks of life literally, building these guitars with so much attention and passion and love that I said, 'I gotta stay here. This is a family thing.’
[Note: The PRS II guitar is made of a carved artist grade flame maple top with rippled abalone purfling; the back and neck is composed of mahogany and the fretboard is made of Brazilian rosewood. The neck is cut in a custom Santana wide fat neck configuration. It is fitted with a PRS tremolo, a PRS 14:1 phase II low mass locking tuner assembly and Santana zebra bobbin treble/bass pickups and a volume/tone control with 3-way toggle selector switch.
The PRS III model is a less ornate guitar made from a one-piece South American mahogany body and a two-piece curly maple to with East Indian rosewood fingerboard. Santana phase III pickups are controlled by a 3-way selector switch in an arrangement that contains master volume and tone controls].
All the PRS guitars you play are made of mahogany for the body and have rosewood necks. Have you ever experimented with, say, maple necks or alder bodies?
No, not for the Paul Reed neck; if I want a maple neck I play a Strat, straight up. Because on the Paul Reed, the maple neck would make it hurt your teeth, it would be too thin or too edgy. Unless you know how to play soprano and you can sound like Wayne or Coltrane, if you don’t know how to play soprano then you sound like a really whiney clarinet. I don’t like the clarinet; I understand it’s beautiful and Pete Fountain and a lot of people, but I don’t like the sound of the clarinet. That’s why I went to the saxophone because I had to play clarinet to play a tenor saxophone. So I said, 'You can have it, I’ll play guitar.’ It’s the same thing with my guitar; I don’t like my sound to sound too thin and edgy because it hurts my teeth. I gotta have the balance of the tenor and the soprano.
And that is the definition of the Santana guitar sound we’ve come to recognize?
Right, it’s got soprano and tenor, a combination.
Returning to the new album tracks, how would you define 'Twisted?’
That’s real soulful, man; it’s kinda like a Bill Withers and 'The Ghetto’ from Donny Hathaway kind of song. Anthony Hamilton wrote it and it has that 70s soul Santana stuff. I’m very honored and very grateful that such soulful musicians would share their songs from their heart for me and with me, so I don’t hesitate in validating, compensating, and celebrating Clive Davis, Pete Gombar, and all the artists who wrote the songs and sung the songs because they’re all offering me their heart. And all I can do is offer it right back with my best effort to complement.
This new album and the last two have followed the same format of using outside artists to come in and sing and play with you. Does it still feel fresh?
It’s not really a gimmick or a gadget or a formula, it’s none of those things. Supernatural and Shaman and All That I Am is more really like in incredible buffet and I’m the maitre’d. I get to make sure the water is pure, the smile is sincere, the apron is clean, the flowers are fresh, and I hope that you’re hungry because the best chefs have prepared these wonderful songs. And if you’re not it’s OK, we’ve still got desert for you. And that’s how I look at the music, it’s exactly how I look at the music. It’s not work, it’s not a formula, it’s more like an offering, a service.
Are these records still challenging to you as a musician? In the same way it was making the first Santana album for instance? Are you still taking chances?
Yeah, you’re taking chances when you’re doing something with Mary J. Blige but because of this album, All That I Am, the next one will follow that’s an all instrumental called Shapeshifter with just my band. Because on this album I get to work with Kirk Hammett, Rob Thomas, POD, Placido Domingo and what I’m trying to tell you is it’s all the same to me. If I play with Mr. Harry Belafonte, Desmond Tutu, Wayne Shorter, John Lee Hooker, Stevie Ray, Jaco Pastorius, or Michelle Branch, it’s the same thing for me. Because of the dimensions of being 57 years old and playing with Shakira and being on Clear Channel Radio and MTV, I get a chance to play with Wayne Shorter and it also makes it possible for me to play with McCoy Tyner. And I bring the same thing to the table that I bring with McCoy or Michelle Branch - can I complement? Do I have the courage to not care what people think about me? Because only my brain is going to tell me be insecure with what people think. To me, it’s the same adventure of Caravanserai and Welcome as much as Shapeshifter or in the future working with Ben Harper or Trey Anastasio or Billy Joel or Elton John. I’m in a place, spiritually, where I don’t see any difference anymore; some people might but I realize it’s all one body now.
You play this very regal sort of line on 'Just Feel Better,’ that melody that makes your heart soar.
[laughs] It’s really funny that you say that because my youngest daughter was making total fun of me, man. She was just chopping me like a shrimp at a Benihana joint. She was just slicing me and dicing me because I play exactly the same intro on this song that I did with JC and I didn’t realize I played it [sings the line]. For me, it’s something that I just hear. Sometimes, if you ask Picasso or DaVinci they’ll say, 'Man, I can’t get horses out of my head, everything I paint is horses, you know?’ To hear you talk about this regal melody, all I can think of my daughter cutting me down in pieces and saying, 'Man, how many times are you gonna play that solo as an intro?’ And it’s like, 'Damn, I didn’t realize my daughter was that critical of my playing.’ So I just laugh and she did it in front of everybody so all my friends started cracking up at me. And I go, 'Oh, I didn’t realize, oh, you’re right, it’s the same intro.’ It’s a little different but it’s still the same notes. So, listening to you say this thing, to me it’s funny because the two perceptions - my daughter just like totally mercilessly chopping me down to size and then you telling me this thing.
I’m really flattered and at the same time it’s OK to repeat yourself. I’m probably going to go into the studio to change that intro because if you liked it in there, you’re gonna like it even more on the JC song, 'If I Don’t.’ As soon as I hear the same melody that you like, it brings my tears a little faster to my eyes on the JC song so I may have to change it a little bit and go in a different direction.
That’s the song with Wes Scantlin [Puddle of Mudd]. That’s more like Chad Kroeger [singer from Nickelback who appeared on the track 'Why Don’t You And I’ from the Shaman album]. It’s the other side of the tracks but it’s still really soulful and beautiful and man, this guy has got an incredible voice. When he goes for it, he’s really a phenomenon, the way he goes for the notes. So, I’m really honored that he’s on the album. All of 'em, Uncle Cracker ['Brown Skin Girl’], Anthony Hamilton, it’s a joy.
When you were recording for this album, or any album, are there a sort of set group of scales or lines you tend to work from?
|"That's how I look at the music. It's not work, it's not a formula, it's more like an offering, a service."|
I don’t know because I never consciously wanted to know. It’s not that I take pride in being ignorant, I’m not giving excuses because I don’t think like that, I don’t think like a victim, I just didn’t want to consciously know what I’m doing. The only Dorian I knew was a girl I went to school with way before my wife so it’s cool. But beyond that I take more precaution not knowing consciously what I’m doing. I’d rather approach it like the first time I’m jumping into a swimming pool naked or the first time that I’m French kissing; I don’t wanna think, 'Well, the last time I kissed this girl I used Crest, this time I’m gonna use Colgate.’ That to me would be like, no; I’m gonna go more like John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy and Otis Rush and approach the guy like I don’t know how to play but whatever I play is like cutting a lemon in half and squeezing all the juice out of it.
Were you musically aware of what Puddle Of Mudd did, the types of records they made?
No, this is the beauty of my children and also Clive Davis. They’re always turning me on to things that I don’t know. Because I don’t really listen to the radio that much; there’s a station here in San Francisco that plays six to eight hours straight of Coltrane on Tuesday and that’s about it [laughs].
So, reconnecting with Clive Davis on the Supernatural album was sort of coming full circle for you [Davis originally signed the Santana band to Columbia Records]?
It’s like Woodstock all over again; Clive and Woodstock, that analogy is a humungous door to walk into.
While we’re talking about Woodstock, you were at the original concert in 1969 and then you appeared at Woodstock II in 1994. Did you feel any connection between the two events?
No, and especially at the last one because they did three of them. The second one was less and less, the last one was more like the stock market than Woodstock. It was mainly just for sponsors and Coca Cola or whatever it was. The original Woodstock, I don’t think there was any sponsors or anything to do with managers or lawyers or accountants or record companies. It was basically to let the world know that there was enough people in the world, in the streets, not only smoking pot, but thinking differently. Thinking we don’t need to be in Vietnam, 'Hell No We Won’t Go,’ and I call it the consciousness revolution. The 60s was like the best of the hippies aligning themselves with Che Guevara and the Black Panthers and saying, 'You know what? We don’t have to go along with this world economics and world government stuff. This ain’t it.’ Hell no to Vietnam, and hell no to Iraq. We’re still here; some people sold out, some people became Yuppies, and I haven’t. I still carry the principles of, I guess the best way to say it is, the power of love replaces the love for power.
You also played some shows at the Fillmore West after it reopened following the 1989 earthquake. How did that feel?
I played there with Buddy Guy and Los Lonely Boys many times and every time I play there, you can feel Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix. It’s like the Appollo [Theater] on the East Coast and over here it’s the Fillmore West. When you go there, you definitely feel the fingerprints of Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, everybody who played there.
I know this is jumping around a bit but when you touch on these ideas, it brings up all these different subjects. When you played Woodstock in 1969 and the Fillmore shows and you were developing your relationship with Bill Graham, when Janis and Quicksilver Messenger Service were around, the Dead and the Airplane, could you sense how magical that was? That diversity? And at a point in time, did you know it was going to end? Or, in your life, has it come back in some respect with the Supernatural and Shaman albums, and with the new album? In terms of bringing together musically and culturally different artists in one place? Is there a magic still alive here in 2005?
It’s the same totem pole, it hasn’t changed. I still stay in contact with Robbie Krieger from The Doors, I keep in contact with a lot of musicians. When I see Bono, it’s the same principles. All the new bands from today, they have to go through us to get to their stuff. And just like they have to go through Sly and Jimi and The Doors and Santana and Grateful Dead and Bob Marley, we had to go through what we had to go through, and they have to go through us to get to their own thing, to find their own fingerprints. To me, it hasn’t stopped because I still believe that everything I learned from Bill Graham and the Haight-Ashbury and everything, I still implement it everyday in my everyday life. So, when I work with Clive, I’m open to him bringing songs that are radio-friendly because I don’t know anything about that. But I still have to have a song that talks about the principles Geronimo, Zapata, and Che Guevara, and people who are still very alive to counter world-domination by the tyrants. But without antagonizing; it’s more like transformation than elimination. I think that’s the best way to describe the new revolution; the new revolution is about compassion and love and light. It’s not about bullets and guns and the power of brutality. So, I’m still a hippie, man. I still go to Haight-Ashbury once in a while, go hang out on hippie hill and just reminisce about that time.
Bob Dylan can tell you because he told me to my face, he says, 'You are of the few ones who carry those principles of that time.’ Bob Dylan told me that less than two feet away from my face. So when Bob Dylan told me that, to me it was like, the queen can knight Sir Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney, they can have it. When Bob Dylan tells me that I carry the same principles as him in the 60s, dude, they can have the Sir thing. You know what I’m saying? When Miles came to my house, when Bob Dylan talks to me, and Quincy Jones, this is a different kind of royalty, my friend.
And then 'Brown Skin Girl’ has a very funky feel.
I love that song. It’s 'Black Magic Woman,’ we’re talking about the same person, my wife. I’ve been married for 32 years with her and I’m fascinated with this person so when I heard the lyrics I said, 'Oh, yeah.’ Uncle Kracker is all heart, man. I called him to thank him from the bottom of my heart as soon as I heard his vocal track. Then he called me back and I don’t lie to you, man, he started crying on the phone. I wasn’t talking to him because he left a message but I could hear he just broke down and cried. He says, 'Man, I’m the one who’s thanking you because I have never felt like this, I have never heard myself sound like this.’ I could tell he was really moved, man. He was really crying from his heart; the same way that I feel if I play with Stevie or Jaco Pastorius I have the same kind of admiration and freshness and respect.
After the vocals have been cut and you go back in and put your guitars on, have there been times when what you recorded didn’t work?
Yeah, sure. I take it over night and I listen to it and I go, 'OK, I gotta come back.’ So I take a little bit of pillow time, two days, to live with it, and I go, 'I gotta go back and do it again and approach it from a different place. I’ve got to listen more to the vocalist and not be so quick to play.’ I gotta do what Miles says, 'First listen, then play.’ When you listen to something before you play, don’t play the first thing that you hear; play the thing around it.
What about 'Roule’ which is the track you wrote?
'Roule’ is the same thing: Santana, street, Woodstock, panhandle, an alley, a bar where there’s no floor, just dirt. It balances this thing of Santana coming from the street. I don’t feel comfortable anymore; I can play the same thing at the Vatican that I play in Tijuana or Bali or Mali or in the alley in India. To me, it’s the same now. I carry Woodstock with me; it’s not a place or a location anymore.
Will bands like Puddle of Mudd and Metallica and Los Lonely Boys have the same kind of impact 4o years from now as Santana has had the past 40 years?
Yeah, Metallica will; Metallica is like Led Zeppelin. They’re gonna be here.
You really think so?
|"If you feel good, you're gonna be healthy. It's just really that simple."|
Oh, yeah, Metallica is really, really important. I can see that when they play at St. Quentin and they do the concerts that they do, their have their own thing just like the Grateful Dead had their own thing. Oh, yeah, Metallica definitely. It all depends on the intentions of your heart and that takes you on the long road; if your intentions are shallow then you’re not gonna be here.
In talking about Metallica, there’s a song called 'Longing’ that features you and Kirk Hammett?
Yeah, with Kirk and Robert Randolph. It’s something I learned from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, that singer from Pakistan. He just passed about four or five years ago.
When you were working with Kirk, you were obviously aware he came from this heavy metal rock band called Metallica. As you’re standing there in the recording studio with your PRS in hand, in any way are you trying to recreate the mood or sound of Metallica Santana-style?
No, we don’t think that way. We think like Wayne Shorter would say, 'Everybody has a shovel and a bucket and we’re all in the sandbox.’ We may not even speak the same language, but the kids are gonna play anyway.
If I’m backing Michelle Branch or Anthony Hamilton, it’s the same thing. I bring the same thing, man; I bring my heart, my spirit, my cajones, whatever I learned from B.B. and Albert and Freddie and all that stuff, and I just wait and wait until there’s a space for me to play. I don’t want to step on the singer and then once I hear what he’s talkin’ about, I know what part of the anatomy from my body to hit it with, you know?
And we also mentioned Los Lonely Boys a moment ago; there’s a track you did with them?
'I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love,’ this was fun; they’re fun people, man. They’re for real they don’t know how to lip-synch, man. They wouldn’t know what to do if you tell them to lip-synch; they’re like, 'What? We don’t know how to do that.’
And there’s a really soulful song I did with JC Chasez called 'If I Don’t.’ That’s song is gonna be like 'Wishing It Was,’ the song we did on Supernatural with Eagle-Eye Cherry. It’s gonna be a sleeper but that’s one of my favorite songs, too; it’s very soulful.
'My Man’ with Big Boi and Mary J Blige, for whatever I know, that’s the song that is like 'Maria’ and 'Smooth.’
There’s a really, really happy Caribbean, African celebration called 'I Am Somebody.’ Will I Am wrote it [Black Eyed Peas] and it’s a beautiful song. It’s almost like souk music, very happy [music] from Africa[mainly Morocco].
Are you always acting as the conductor of these sessions? Do you oversee every vocal and track that is recorded?
The majority of it; some of it is done in Miami, some of it is done in New York, some is done in Atlanta and then I just put my thing on it. But, when you close your eyes and get in it, we’re all in the same room. If I play with Yo-Yo Ma or Wayne Shorter, they may fly in [their performances] from Japan, but when I’m in it and I close my eyes, I’m there, I’m there with Wayne and Yo-Yo Ma or whoever I’m recording with. So, if you know how to use your imagination and you know how to get inside the sound, there’s no separation of time and space and distance.
So you like working in different studios, playing in different rooms with different gear and different engineers? Does this bring out different parts of you or, as you said before, is it still just using the same ingredients scrambled in different ways?
I’m not afraid of all of it; I’ve been recording since ’68, I’ve been used to recording all at the same time for so many years, but because of things available today, I’m open to all of it. All of it is good. It’s like playing in Woodstock or playing in a club, it’s all the same to me; as long as the people are there and I’m wet and I close my eyes and I’m wet, it’s the same.
I can understand why you’re happy - there’s so much going on.
Right; the new album may be titled All That I Am and there’s Shapeshifter which will be the instrumental album. And then there’s Hymns, the one we did with Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, Stevie Winwood, Angelique Kidjoe, and all those kinds of people. And of course the Santana/Shorter which we did in ’88. And I also did six songs for the new Buddy Guy album which I produced but they might only use two or three. I recorded also with Herbie Hancock on his new album. I want to stop playing with a lot of people; I’ve got to say no. My heart doesn’t want to but I’ve been invited to play with Chick Corea but I’ve got to stop playing for a while with people because I’ve got seven things to come out and I don’t want me to get tired of me and for people to get tired of me.
And now the plan is to …
…Make people happy. Yeah, make me happy and make everybody happy. That’s the whole goal; if you feel good, you’re gonna be healthy; if you don’t feel good, you’re not gonna be healthy. It’s just really that simple, no matter what doctors you have.
Then success has not spoiled Carlos Santana?
I don’t know success or failure; those are two imposters that don’t hang around with me.
2006 © Steven Rosen