“It’s like heaven on earth,” says Carlos Santana about making a home on Maui. “It’s whipped cream.”
Dividing his time between living on the West side and in Las Vegas where he has an extended residency at the House of Blues, Santana will make his first public concert appearance on our island in about 19 years when he plays the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Feb. 28.
Of all the musicians who rose to prominence in the late 1960s, only a handful continue to perform with the extraordinary passion and vitality expressed by this legendary musician. Santana has continued to fuel hearts and souls with one of the most distinctive sounds in contemporary music.
So what does he think has aided his remarkable longevity?
“Gg,” he says. “God’s grace, because I don’t believe in chance fortune or fate. I also live in Las Vegas and a lot of people there believe in chance or fortune and that kind of stuff. I believe in God’s grace, and that never fails me.”
Santana’s instantly recognizable sound was formed absorbing the music of many of our greatest artists. Seeing blues legend B.B. King perform at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium in 1966 inspired him to leave home and become a full-time musician. And the free flowing, spiritually infused jazz of saxophonist John Coltrane significantly impacted his vision.
“I pride myself in closing my eyes and immersing myself in the spirit of John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Miles Davis and John Coltrane,” he says. “It’s important to me when I’m playing music, that’s whom I’m soaking myself when I’m playing ‘Black Magic Woman,’ so she never loses her sensual attraction. And being present makes everything eternally virgin.”
The group first came to national prominence in 1969 with a phenomenal appearance as the Santana Blues Band at the original Woodstock festival. The momentum of that star-making set was sustained by their landmark debut album released later that year. Powered by the signature hits “Jingo” and “Evil Ways,” the album sold in the millions and popularized Latin rock.
Blending such disparate genres as blues, flamenco, jazz, rock and salsa into an intoxicating brew, this guitar virtuoso has constantly sought to expand his musical boundaries. A pioneering fusion artist, he has delved into jazz improvisation with John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, mined the blues with John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells and Eric Clapton, and explored Africa’s vital rhythms with Salif Keita, Mory Kante and Angelique Kidjo.
Whatever style of music he embraces, one always feels moved by the pure tone of his guitar. The incredible passion that still distinguishes his playing today can at times almost feel like painful ecstasy I suggest.
“Thank you, I’ve never heard anyone quite put it like that,” he responds. “But it’s a good word. Someone called me the other day and said, ‘Bro, you play with the intensity of a demon and the accuracy of an angel.’ Painful ecstasy or the intensity of a demon and the accuracy of an angel, that’s just me where I belong and who I am. I’m like Bob Marley and John Lennon and Marvin Gaye and Stevie Ray (Vaughan). I’m one of them and I’m still here. So when people get a chance to come and see Santana, it’s a resonance of a band that is merged with Olutanji and Miles Davis and Coltrane – we don’t come in alone.”
After topping the charts at the turn of the century with phenomenally successful albums including “Supernatural,” “Shaman” and “All That I Am,” Santana next teamed with an array of guest vocalists to interpret a bunch of rock classics on “Guitar Heaven.”
The covers ranged from Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” (with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell) and Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” (with Joe Cocker) to George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which featured India.Arie and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Interpreting a host of seminal songs was initially daunting.
“I love conquering fear,” he reveals. “I was scared to death to do an album like that. You’re always scared when you start thinking, well, what will people think? And if you say I don’t give a beep, then I’m going to have confidence that my light will complement the songs.”
One can imagine receiving a call from George Harrison’s widow Olivia Harrison congratulating him on his cover of her husband’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” certainly helped.
“She said, ‘I listened to the song and I started jumping up and down and crying and laughing’,” he reports. “That’s incredible in itself, an affirmation from George Harrison through his wife that he loves what I did. Now the other thing is to close my eyes and I’m playing with Yo-Yo Ma and India.Arie. And I’m not competing or comparing myself to Eric Clapton. I’m in a place where I have confidence to complement. That’s a key word for any musician. Do you have the confidence to complement?”
Santana’s most recent album “Shape Shifter,” features an inspired collection of mostly instrumental compositions.
“All the songs were written within a 10-year span, and they were instrumental songs that didn’t go on other album,” he explains. I would like to do three albums this year, one a ‘Supernatural’ with mainly Latin and African people, and an album of African rock songs, garage-ghetto rock songs like Fela Kuti, and the Doors and Question Mark and the Mysterians’ ’96 Tears.’ I’m inviting Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page and Neil Schon. I don’t know if they will show up, but I’ll send them the music and hopefully they’ll want to do something with me. I want to call that album ‘Filthy Mcnasty Swamp.’ And when people say, ‘Well, what kind of music will you play?’ I’ll say, filthy mcnasty swamp, which is the music I love from Africa, but at the same time with the essence of the funkyness of John Lee Hooker. I also want to do an album of beautiful ballads, instrumentals for lovers.”
His future recording wish list also includes teaming with Willie Nelson and slide guitar virtuoso Derek Trucks.
“I’d like to do something with Derek Trucks and Mr. Willie Nelson, a Bob Marley song,” he adds. “I love him (Trucks) and (Nelson) is the master of masters. He’s the chairman of the board.”
Santana dedicated “Shape Shifter” to Native American Indians.
“Samoans and Maoris, Aborigines and American Indians, all the sisters and brothers need to be presented in our universities,” he suggests. “The universities and schools should invite wisdom keepers of Maui and all the islands and teach youngsters how to be connected with the supreme universe. The shamans and wisdom keepers and the first people of the land of Maui are more connected to the universe than computers and telephones and telescopes. We should bring the teachers to teach us how to respect, be firm with compassion and the first principles of being alive.”
With our interview time coming to a close, I wonder what he loves most these days about being Carlos Santana the musician.
“Everywhere I go, children and older people, their eyes light up. Something happens – it’s like when a dog shakes water. They’re, ‘Oh there’s Santana, let’s get a picture with him.’ All kinds of people, people with Mohawk hair or a suit and tie or a tie-dyed shirt. When people want to take a picture with me and they’re excited to just be in my presence, I feel the same way about them. So that’s what’s really neat at this point about being this Santana fellow. It’s cool.”
* Santana performs on Feb. 28 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Pavilion/Amphitheater. Show begins at 7:30 p.m. (gates open at 5:30 p.m.) Tickets are $65, $79, $89 and premium seats at $129; available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
It was a historic night, one of the most exciting shows presented at the MACC in years when Mick Fleetwood hosted an evening of talk story and music on Feb. 13. During the first half, the legendary drummer, assisted by guitarist/vocalist Rick Vito, regaled a sold-out crowd with intriguing Fleetwood Mac tales. The duo fielded questions like, what is Mick’s favorite early period and later F.M. songs – Peter Green’s “Love That Burns” and “Honey Hi” from “Tusk.” And both, in answer to another question, praised their mums for never doubting their emerging talent.
Then it was time for some mighty rocking blues. Kicking in gear with some old chestnuts, the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band roared into life, with the early set reaching a crescendo with an astonishing take on “World Turning,” demonstrating Vito’s talent as one of America’s greatest guitarists and Mick’s phenomenal thundering power on drums.
The rumors that had swirled about the pssibility of Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie showing up proved true as the great British singer and composer stepped onto the Castle stage to rapturous applause. The show marked the first time she had performed live with Mick since retiring from the Mac in 1998.
Having been content to stay out of the spotlight, she had traveled from London to Maui with Mick and had obviously become entranced with the magic of our island. Announcing she was a little rusty, Christine launched into “Get Like You Used to Be” from her early Chicken Shack days, which led to Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler’s entrance to blast through Peter Green’s “Rattlesnake Shake” (which he said inspired him to become a musician) and Elmore James’ “Shake Your Money Maker.”
An encore of “Albatross” was followed by a house-shaking finale of “Oh Well” and Christine’s Mac classic “Don’t Stop,” which had the entire audience jubilantly rocking on their feet.
“It was a really blessed evening,” enthused Mick after the show. “It felt like being with a bunch of friends. It couldn’t have been more special. And the fact that Christine got up on stage is a lovely tribute to the island. She felt comfortable. It was a major thing for her.”