Spirit Talk with Carlos Santana

It reminds you that you and I, we're angels, that we traded our wings for feet. You know, we're beings of light. And then you hear the music. Then the music starts flowing through your heart and through your fingers, and then people know that.

-Carlos Santana

Photo by Jay Blakesberg

Improvisation to Collaboration

Thinking about the progression of your music, if you look at the earlier work we were discussing there's a lot of focus on raw guitar excursions. If you look at some of the newer stuff like Ultimate Santana and Supernatural, there seems to be somewhat of a move towards a more mainstream, poppier sound with more vocals and collaboration. I'm curious how you see that dynamic and what sort of led to this stylistic change?

Carlos Santana by Jay Blakesberg
I got instructions around '98, '99 that this angel named Metatron was going to take me into a place, a new arena in radio that I'd never been before. From '72 to like '97, I wasn't on the radio and I just played music that I wanted to play, which was hanging around Alice Coltrane or Wayne Shorter or Pharaoh Sanders. That music wasn't getting on the radio, so I had years and years and years of knowing what that's about. All of a sudden, I got different instructions to be gracious, grateful, patient and [to] stay open. And that people like Clive Davis [founder of Arista Records and current CEO of RCA Music Group] and Lauryn Hill and Eric Clapton, everybody was going to come over, and they did. All of a sudden everybody started calling, and when we would call some of them back they would say, "We want to work with you," or "We know we need to work with you because every time I turn around your name is in front of me. It was like God telling me to work with you."

And that was like Eric, Lauryn Hill, Dave Matthews, anybody, Rob Thomas [Matchbox 20], they were all saying the same thing. They never played my music on the radio, and all of a sudden I get in a cab and I'm blasting. So, my instructions were once you get into the center of the arena tell the world, invite everyone, to create a masterpiece of joy out of their life. Don't be slipping and sliding and shucking and jiving. My instructions through all of this was not to be concerned what people think, because people are going to say, "Oh, you sold out." I get a chance to be 60-years-old and to work with Kirk Hammett [Metallica], Yo Yo Ma, Justin Timberlake, Andrea Bocelli, practically anyone in the world from Buddy Guy to anybody who wants to share their heart with me. Why would I complain? All I have to do is just open my heart because they're bringing a song to me. Whether it's Chad Kroeger [Nickelback] or Rob Thomas, I mean, they write a song at home for me. All I have to do is be gracious and patient and grateful. Where I am right now is with the Ultimate Santana. It gives me a chance to do this. I'm also working with just instrumental music, no vocalist and just the music that I have done in the other 30 years. That's going to come out next summer. We also jam in the middle of the set. We allow like half an hour to just, no script, just go, just because we love Coltrane and we love Pharaoh Sanders. So, how bad it is for me, man? I get to have my cake and eat it too!

In terms of performing live, you did mention that there are those 30-minute jams. Do you still get the same thing - whatever that thing is - do you still get the same thing out of doing that you did 35 years ago?

Oh, yeah. It's like your first French kiss - it's always awkward, it's always new, it's always innocent, it's always fresh. There's something really beautiful about uncertainty. Or as Wayne Shorter calls it, "backwards leapfrog into the unknown." If somebody invites me to jam, whether it's Widespread Panic or whatever, man, I can jam. I can definitely go there because I do this sort of thing so much that I'm actually craving to just get onstage with Derek Trucks or Robben Ford and just bug out.

You're clearly one of the most important guitarists that we've ever seen. Has your approach to the guitar changed at all as your career has developed? Have you seen what you do differently? Do you see new options? Has the manner in which you play guitar changed?

No. My objective is to make a melody a real hug. A real, real hug, or as Wayne Shorter would say, "Don't go around the block. Get inside the sheets. Really visit the note." They tell me I play a lot of Dorian scales. The only Dorian I know was a girl at junior high school, that's about it. Like Buddy Guy, I don't really pay too much attention to the theory of music or chord changes or this or that. I can hear the melody and whatever you put in front of me, and I think that's enough. I'm not saying that ignorance is bliss. It's just that Wes Montgomery and Louis Armstrong couldn't read a lick, man. But there it is.

Continue reading for more with Carlos Santana...

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