- 20 Jul 20
Happy 73rd Birthday, Carlos Santana! To celebrate, we're revisiting our classic 2002 interview with the guitar legend – ahead of his performance at Marlay Park, Dublin.
By any measure, Carlos Santana’s return to the international spotlight has been unprecedented in the history of popular music. His most recent album, 1999’s Supernatural, his 36th in a 35-year career has sold in excess of ten million copies. In 2000 it dominated the Grammy Awards, winning nine gongs including, Album Of the Year, Best Rock Album, Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year for ‘Smooth,’ his worldwide smash hit collaboration with Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas.
“I’m really flattered that Supernatural reached such an astonishing level of success,” says the 54-year-old, speaking down the phone from his manager’s office in Los Angeles. “Although I did feel at the time that I had a masterpiece in my belly. Clive Davis believed in it and that was important to the project. He asked me was I open to working with other people and I said yes. I feel now that it’s one of those albums, whether it’s U2s’ Joshua Tree, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On or Jimi Hendrix’s, Axis Bold As Love, that will have a place in history. The musicians who participated on it (Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, Dave Matthews, Rob Thomas, Everlast, Eagle Eye Cherry and the Dust Brothers, amongst others) were all on the same wavelength and the energy level was incredibly high.”
“The most gratifying aspect of it was that it seemed to unite different generations,” he adds. “People started writing letters to me saying, ‘When I put the CD on in the car I spoke to my son for the first time in years’. When grandparents, parents and kids are into the same music it has to be a good thing for everyone.”
Born in the Mexican village of Autlan in 1947, the young Carlos was introduced to traditional music by his father Jose, an accomplished mariachi violinist. The family moved to the border town of Tijuana in 1955, where he took up the guitar, inspired by the sounds of B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, T. Bone Walker and other greats of the era which he heard over the airwaves.
Moving to San Francisco in 1961 with his family he found himself in the midst of the burgeoning music scene which culminated in the Summer of Love in 1967, when he formed his fist band, the Santana Blues Band. Over the next two years, the group built up a huge following, appearing regularly at Bill Graham’s historic Fillmore West ballroom. But it was an appearance at the Woodstock Festival in August, 1969 which consolidated his reputation and won him worldwide acclaim for his incendiary playing.
The debut album Santana, released in 1969, featured the hit single ‘Evil Ways’, but it was the classic 1970 follow-up, Abraxis which included a version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Black Magic Woman’ as well as a version of Tito Puente’s Latin classic ‘Oye Como Va’ which would become the definitive Santana album. At the same time he became a devotee of Indian guru, Sri Chinmoy and to this day he remains intensely spiritual.
“I wasn’t prepared for things to happen so suddenly,” he says of those heady early days. “But we learned a lot very quickly. One thing I did learn was that I was faced with a choice of putting heroin in my veins or of bowing my head to a Supreme Being. I’m very blessed that my parents taught me at an early age to listen to my inner voice. I like to keep it real, you know. So, you either do cocaine or heroin or you run towards the light. I chose the latter – I always hated needles anyway!”
His own take on religion is practical and universal embracing all beliefs and creeds as he sees it. “It’s like when you look at a chandelier and you see the light-bulbs,” he explains, his voice lowering. “Each light-bulb is God, whether it’s Jesus, Krishna, or Allah and the crystals are the Angels. But without the current and the electricity running through it they won’t light up and won’t mean anything to anyone. So the message I have for everyone is, ‘Hook up to the light, man!’.”
Since the success of Supernatural Santana has taken to the road playing to massive, sell-out audiences once again. How has he coped with this level of success, the second time around in his career?
“For a lot of people, when this happens you tend to swap your 50-year-old wife for two 25-year-olds,” he laughs. “But I am a better person than I was and I’ve just celebrated being married to the same woman for 29 years. I have my daughters and my mum around me too. I consider myself to be blessed and very aware of the females around me. They keep me grounded in reality.
So what can the thousands who will undoubtedly pack Marlay Park in Dublin in a couple of weeks time expect to see when Carlos Santana and his band take to the stage?
“We approach it as a complete show. It goes on for at least two and a half hours. We do songs from today, from yesterday and from tomorrow. I don’t have a problem playing songs from my past. Those songs have been important to me and to the fans. I never get tired of playing songs like ‘Jingo’ which reminds me of the first time you play hide and seek and you find yourself in the bushes with a beautiful girl and you start to sweat. It has that sensual feeling. It makes me feel alive again and we give thanks to God for being sensually aroused which is a great gift.”