Carlos Santana keeps his music-legend persona at arm’s length: ‘I don’t even look at that guy!’ he says
A Kennedy Center Honors recipient and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, the Latin-rock pioneer is hitting the road with Earth, Wind & Fire for a joint tour that has been pushed back twice since 2020
There is one person Carlos Santana is careful to keep out of his home, and it’s ... Carlos Santana. Or, more precisely, it’s the famous Carlos Santana who you won’t find a hint of in the home he shares with his wife and band mate, drum dynamo Cindy Blackman Santana.
“I don’t have to be that guy who people call an ‘icon’ or a ‘guitar legend,’ or whatever,” said the famed Latin-rock pioneer, adding for emphasis: “I don’t. I don’t even look at that guy!”
The famed guitarist’s Las Vegas home does boast albums, photos and mementos of some of his musical idols.
But Casa Santana has virtually nothing to indicate its owner is a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and Kennedy Center Honors recipient. Likewise, there isn’t anything in his home that even hints at his 10 Grammy Award wins, three Latin Grammys and dozens of platinum albums (worldwide sales for his 1999 album, “Supernatural,” alone total more than 30 million).
“There’s nothing of Santana in the house,” stressed the veteran musician, who grew up largely in Tijuana before moving to San Francisco in his mid-teens.
“There’s Coltrane, and Miles (Davis) and Jimi Hendrix, but I don’t have anything to do with Santana at home. I do have some things at the office, because we’re grateful for the platinum records, and for this and that. But I keep both separate, even though they’re one.”
“I have tried my best and have been successful at not becoming a product of anyone — including myself,” Santana replied. “I’d rather be like a cloud that is constantly changing. A cloud that has water in it and is going to rain somewhere later, but it’s constantly changing shapes, you know?”
Now 74, the man born Carlos Humberto Santana Barragán will open his band’s joint 2022 summer tour with Earth, Wind & Fire with a sold-out show tonight at Chula Vista’s North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre. The tour was pushed back twice, first from 2020, then from last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During that time, Santana and his wife hunkered down at their home in Kauai. There, the couple completed the newest Santana album, “Blessings and Miracles,” which was released last October.
Modeled, in part, after “Supernatural,” it features a host of guest artists, including Steve Winwood, Chris Stapleton, Dave Matthews, G-Eazy and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett.
The fact that half the album was recorded via Zoom — because of the pandemic — doesn’t faze Santana. Neither does his tour being pushed back two years in a row.
“I’m not addicted to being on stage or to people giving me a standing ovation,” said the mustachioed guitarist, who rose to global fame after his band’s electrifying performance at the 1969 Woodstock festival. A major documentary film about him is now on the works, to be directed by Rudy Valdez and co-produced by Brian Glazer and Ron Howard
“If performing is not available, I can still be with Cindy,” Santana elaborated. “And we can take drives in Hawaii, or here in Las Vegas, and discover new trails, or read new books, or re-read passages from old books.”
Yet, when asked when he might stop touring and recording, his response is instantaneous: “Never!”
Santana spoke with the Union-Tribune last week. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Q: In 2020 I interviewed your wife, Cindy, about her then-new album, “Give the Drummer Some.” She said you had encouraged her to make an album that would feature her singing, and that she replied: “I was like, ‘That’s okay, honey, but thanks. I just just because I love drumming so much my first thought about making any music is to get on the drums and create with people.” Then she told me you kept encouraging her, and that she ended up agreeing and singing on the album. I’m wondering, does that work both ways? Is there something she has encouraged you to do that took you out of your comfort zone?
Her 12th and newest album features Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Living Coulour’s Vernon Reid and more
A: Yeah, she does that every day. But it’s a beautiful way she does that. Her ultimate favorite group is (drummer) Tony Williams’ Lifetime with (organist) Larry Young and (guitarist) John McLaughlin. And I think that invites me to put (my favorites) B.B. King Albert King, Freddie King and T-Bone Walker aside for a minute and just focus on Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and, you know, jazz.
She has inspired me to embrace jazz even more... It’s one thing to listen to it and another thing to get inside it, which is what she’s helped me do.
Q: In 2007 we spoke about your live album with Wayne Shorter and you told me: “There’s the Pacific Ocean, a lake and a swimming pool, and I know I could never get into the center of ‘How Deep Is the Ocean’ or ‘How High the Moon’.” Can I assume that now you feel more comfortable taking a deeper dive as a guitarist?
A: Yeah, it’s a form of improvising, articulating. See, I think for jazz musicians are playing around with the unknown and with unpredictability, which is pure improvisation. They’re always improvising. That’s how they write songs. Their composition is an improvisation. From that, they take the form the melody, and the symmetry of it...
I was more directed to learn songs. So I learned some, like “My Favorite Things.” And I learned from my father to visit and honor the song, the melody, the theme. But, now, I’m learning to do even more and why it’s important to do what Miles (Davis) told his band members: “Play like you don’t know how to play.”
It’s all about purity and innocence; improvise with purity and innocence. And don’t worry, don’t think too much about what you think or what other people think... Just do it. Just let it come out.
The pioneering Latin-rock guitarist, who grew up in the Mexican border city near San Diego, hopes to launch annual fundraising event in 2023. His most Tijuana performance was a 1992 homecoming concert
Q: One of my favorite musical memories of you is memorable even though you didn’t play one note. It was at your 1992 Tijuana homecoming concert at the bullring by the sea. As I wrote in my review: “The first highlight was the spirited afternoon opening set by Tequila, with special guest Jose Santana on violin. The elder Santana was joined on stage by his famous son, who was accorded a standing ovation by fans in the then only half-filled arena. After a father-son embrace, Carlos briefly played air guitar as the elder Santana and the other mariachis performed “Por tu Maldito Amor.” What do you remember about that day?
A: I remember that it was very deliciously dangerous. Because there are some elements there that are like the movie “Sicario” or kind of like being in Ukraine... But at the same time, it was beautiful to see my father and my son next to me and to have Tijuanans be very, very proud of us. Because we took the music from our hearts to the rest of the world. And wherever I go, I bring Tijuana with me.
Q: Is there any footage of that concert at the bullring that might be used in the upcoming film documentary Rudy Valdez, Brian Glazer and Ron Howard are making about you?
A: That might be a good idea. Thank you for suggesting it.
Q: Let me take you back. You’re 14 years old and you are the bassist in Javier Batiz’s band, Los TJ’s, playing in Tijuana nightclubs on Avenida Revolucion. At that age, were you just having fun playing music? Or did you have a sense that either you had found your destiny. or your destiny had found you?
A: When I was young, discovering the electric guitar was pretty much like seeing a white whale for the first time, or entering a UFO mothership! I learned I can go anywhere I want to. Once I found that I can go on the stage, not only (in Tijuana), but in San Francisco with Michael Bloomfield and Jerry Garcia and Eric Clapton, it gave me something my (mariachi violinist) father had instilled in me since I was child.
And that is a real tangible confidence. Not arrogance, but confidence. Confidence that, with anything that gets in front of you, wait your turn, and when it’s time for you to do what you got to do, you take it higher, make it wider, expand it and complement it.
That’s my what my father taught me. Because I could do something with a note (on a guitar) that a lot of people cannot. That is, I can make that note reach the four corners of the world. And as soon as people hear that note, they rejoice, they have fun. ... With one note, you can convince people that there’s a place in them that they need to celebrate
Q: You’re in a rare position where you can go on stage and improvise, while you play songs that people have grown up with — and that their parents may have also grown up with. How do artistic and commercial success connect for you?
A: It’s very easy. There’s no conflict for me. Some people have a conflict with, you know, they want to be elite. And they think that anything to do with radio and commercial reality is ‘selling out.’ But I agree with (the late jazz drum legend) Tony Williams, who said: “If you sell one one record, you have already ‘sold out’ ...
But I don’t look at it like a negative thing. For example, probably the most commercial song ever on the radio, or in life, is “Mona Lisa” by Nat “King” Cole, and it’s a beautiful song. Or “Misty” by Johnny Mathis. I just don’t think that being on the radio by creating “commercial music” is bad.
Q: You are married to a great drummer. Have you upped your game, musically, since she became the drummer in Santana?
A: Yeah. With Cindy, I find myself thinking and playing like Miles Davis: “If anybody goes up and down, you go from left to right.” I have learned from my awesome Cindy to bring contrast — someone brings this, you bring that. Being with Cindy is fun more than anything; really, really fun. We are like children who want to see who can splash the most water out of the bathtub!
Santana, with Earth, Wind & Fire
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre, 2050 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista
Tickets: Sold out
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.