Q&A: Carlos Santana
The historic Woodstock music festival of August 1969 introduced Carlos Santana to the world more than 49 years ago. “For me, Woodstock is everywhere all the time,” says the 71-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. “The thing that’s consistent is utilizing music as a template for imprinting innocence and a thirst for adventure.”
Santana’s musical adventures continue. He spent a solid portion of 2018 touring Europe and now he’s gearing up to extend his Las Vegas residency show at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay into its seventh year: tickets are now on sale for concerts in January and February.
I caught up with the guitar legend ahead of his next House of Blues shows (Oct. 31-Nov. 11) to talk through an ongoing musical evolution.
It’s pretty amazing that Woodstock was almost 50 years ago and here you are, still doing what you do.
When I think back to that time now, the thing that is consistent to me is how music keeps bringing unity and harmony to the world and breaking down walls, and hopefully other people still have this in mind. There’s a reason I love the Doors. They always sound to me like I’m (a kid) practicing in a garage and their music could take you to the four corners of the world. I utilize that and Bob Marley and John Lennon and John Coltrane and Marvin Gaye, all the ones I cherish, to keep working and transforming fear. People tell me I sound like a hippie. Well guess what? I am a hippie.
You toured Europe all summer long. Did you visit any new places or venues?
We did a couple new ones and also hit some spots we haven’t done in a while. What’s amazing to me at my age is these places are packed or sold out and we see grandparents, parents and teenagers. A lot of young people come curious, like, what’s the big deal with this? Then they hear it and it’s (different) because we don’t lip sync or play (recorded tracks). You feel this avalanche of really powerful energy.
How was the experience touring with your current band different from the last incarnation?
With all due respect and honor to every musician who’s ever played in this band, this band has the most energy consistently. The thing we have in common is everyone is dead center with passion and emotion and is feeling a sense of purpose, good pride and clarity. There’s no doubt in this band, no uncertainty. And we play with humility because we remind ourselves how wonderful it is to still have people after all these years come and pay. I have what I have because of people.
That show was much different from the Vegas show, right?
The live shows outside the House of Blues, especially in Europe, we get to take more liberties with improvising. We have pockets and islands in the middle of the set where we just go, people just follow me and we improvise on the spot. We might create a new song right there or revisit a song from Marvin Gaye or Miles Davis. At the House of Blues we have a 90-minute set or two hours at the most. But we know the people want to hear yesterday, today and tomorrow and no matter where we are, we bring freshness and newness and fun. We know people want to hear “Black Magic Woman” and “Smooth,” but how do you make it new? It’s a good question. It’s important to crystallize your soul and spirit to dance with the holy ghost so by the time your brain is telling your anatomy what to do, you’re imbued with newness and freshness. When you live in your mind too much, you become pathetically predictable and miserable with self-doubt. It’s not a good place to be. Step outside your brain, practice doing that and your breath will change, your energy will change, your motive will change and your enthusiasm will change.
Are you planning to make any big changes to the residency heading into 2019?
You know, I said something to Joe Cocker before he died—we played together at Woodstock and at many places and I went to see him at the Oakland Coliseum when he opened for Tom Petty. I said, “You know you and I, we used to be charcoal but now we’re diamonds.” He stopped what he was doing and looked at me and was like, “Oh, I like that.”
So you’re constantly polishing.
I like that word. And I like “crystallizing.” It’s about prioritizing your focus.