40 years after Woodstock, Carlos Santana is still inspired, in love and on tour with a new album on the horizon. He plays Atlantic City Saturday with Steve Winwood.
About two years ago, following a string of three successful records on the Arista label (starting with 1999’s Grammy-winning Supernatural), Carlos Santana decided to make a few changes in his life.
The 63 year-old guitarist and bandleader decided to do all the things he said he would never do.
Like having a casino residency in Las Vegas. Like playing golf. Like making an album — featuring a slew of guest appearances, as has been the norm for Santana in recent years, and to a fruitful outcome — that pays tribute to the greatest guitar classic hits of all time. (Guitar Heaven is due out Sept. 21, also on Arista.)
Oh, yeah, and getting married.
Earlier this month, on stage at a concert near Chicago, Santana popped the question to his part-time percussionist, Cindy Blackman, a one-time drummer with Lenny Kravitz’s band.
Black said yes and the crowd during that July 9 concert helped the newly engaged lovebirds celebrate.
About a week later, Santana, who comes to the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City with co-headliner Steve Winwood on Saturday, July 24, spoke to Atlantic City Weekly about a wide range of topics, including the 1969 Atlantic City Pop Festival, his current 72-date residency at The Joint at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and how he always wanted to go snorkling.
[Note that Santana begins the interview and the italicized portions are the interviewer’s words]:
Hi Jeff, how are you?
Good, how are you, man?
Oh, inspired. That’s better than tired.
Tired? We don’t know tired.
Well, I’m sure you’re a little tired talking about the 40th anniversary of Woodstock as well as the first Santana record [last year], but thinking back to that period, in 1969, do you remember playing the Atlantic City Pop Festival, which was held at a race course a few weeks before Woodstock? You played on the first day.
Yeah, yeah. It was amazing, because it was Bill Graham who made it possible because nobody knew us from Adam, we didn’t even have an album out yet, and we started playing first in Dallas, Texas; then Atlanta and then Atlantic City. Basically Bill Graham was preparing us for Woodstock, because we went from like [playing in front of] 2,000 to 20,000 to 40,000 to 50,000 people.
[Q&A format switches here]:
All within a coupe of months, right?
Yeah, yeah! Like I said, nobody knew us from Adam because the only place we had played before was like, of course, California and a little bit in Seattle and maybe one concert in Arizona, but we’d never been on the radio, had never really been out of California so it was completely new territory for us.
Do you have any specific memories of the Atlantic City Pop Festival? Woodstock kind of overshadowed this festival, but it boasted three days of amazing musicians, most of whom would play Woodstock a few weeks later.
I think Little Richard was there, too.
Exactly! He was there, too.
All I remember really is that the same resonance and remnants of people wanting peace at the peak of Vietnam — you know, we wanted the war to stop — and we felt that we could make a difference. Whatever we were calling each other back then — freaks, heads or hippies or whatever — but it all came down to people who have tangible faith and hope that humans could coexist with unity and harmony. And the festivals [like in Atlantic City], were a way, not only for socializing or picking up ladies or whatever — or a man — but to accentuate that we were different than the Frank Sinatra crowd. Not that one is better than the other, but we were different. You know, it was our generation — the Doors, the Who ...
Hendrix, of course, and James Brown and the Beatles. It was just different than Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole or that generation. We had a continuity of consciousness revolution. Not so much about drugs, but the ideals — Oh! That’s a good word. The ideals were a little different. Were a lot different.
With the late concert promoter Bill Graham bringing you guys to the East Coast, he must have had a lot of faith in Santana. Would you say he was a major player in helping your band become as big as it did?
Yes, Bill Graham was an architect and very instrumental in Santana aligning ourselves with Michael Lang and Woodstock and [then Columbia records executive] Clive Davis. Those were two humongous doors to walk in through. Woodstock to me was a door that you open up, and the next thing you know you’re in front of the whole world, you know? Literally. And same thing again with [1999’s] Supernatural with Clive Davis. I’m just very grateful, you know? If you know anything about Santana, the reason things gravitate to me, I mean I don’t go chasing after them. They come to me. And that’s because I am grateful and I am mindful that there’s a supreme force that listens to you. To your heart. Especially, when you try too hard be a rock star or a billionaire or this or that, you know, I never think like that. I think more like, Can I be on stage with B.B. King, Tito Puente or Eric Clapton, you know, and share something from my heart that it could be at the same level of significance and meaningfulness? That always appealed to me, and it still does. And so, I’m really grateful that here we are in 2010 and [Santana is] still relevant; we’re about to come out with a new CD called Guitar Heaven.
What’s the release date for the album?
Sept. 21. And when people listen to it, um, to hear a song like “My Guitar Gently Weeps” with Yo-Yo Ma and Inida Arie and yours truly, it’s pretty phenomenal.
Sounds amazing. Was it recorded in the studio?
I mean, it wasn’t live.
No, hopefully later.
Congratulations on your engagement.
Thank you. We’re so in love, I don’t even know what time it is. Or where I am. Gravity disappears, time disappears. My heart is just like beaming.
How long have the two of you known each other?
I met [Cindy Blackman] in 2005. She was playing drums for Lenny Kravitz, but then we really met this last May in Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Joint.
Does she play drums for you?
She only substitutes for my main drummer Dennis Chambers. She has substituted a couple times and she’s an incredible musician, man. There’s nothing cute or clever about it; she can play, play, play and play.
And she was on stage playing drums at a recent show when you asked her to marry you?
Yeah, she came and sat in in Chicago [on July 9] and my heart just said, Pop the question.
And she had no idea?
No, no. And I can tell by the way people have been receiving it that they are happy for our happiness.
Back to your new album, what other guests appear on it?
Joe Cocker, Scott Weiland, Rob Thomas, Nas, Pat Monihan, Chris Cornell, Ray Manzarek, Scott Sapp, Chris Daughtry, Jonny Lang.
Wow, that’s quite an assortment of talent from different musical eras. Do you and Manzarek do a Doors tune?
Yeah, we did “Riders on the Storm.” We [also] did “Little Wing,” “Bang a Gong,” “While my Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin,’” “Sunshine of your Love,” “Back in Black,” “Dance the Night Away,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Smoke on the Water,” “Fortunate Son,” “Photograph” and “I Ain’t Superstitious.”
Sounds incredible. Your Vegas show at The Joint. For people that don’t know about your run in Vegas called Supernatural Santana: A Trip Through The Hits — what’s it all about? It sounds like a unique show for Vegas.
Well, what makes it unique is that we’re not into entertainment or show business. And when you hear the band, because we don’t play to track or lip-synch, we allow the holy ghost to come in. We allow musicians to play beyond what they know, and we don’t require musicians to look like a backdrop for me. So it makes the music more in a panoramic setting. The best way to describe it is if you come in we bring it all with us. Some people only bring one portion of humanity, you know, whether it’s Puerto Rican, or Cuban or Irish. We bring everything with us. At the same time. And that has a different resonance and a different vibration about it.
And how long have you been doing the residency in Vegas at The Joint?
About a year and half now.
Has it been something that’s been more successful than you imagined?
Yes, it’s extremely successful. Basically about almost two years ago I decided to do everything that I said I would never do.
Was getting married one of them?
Yeah! Snorkling — we want to learn snorkeling — golf, body surfing, cook — I want to cook the bouillabaisse. There are a lot of things that I — I’m in a place now where I can actually look in the mirror and say, Let’s do all of the things that we said we would never do.
And playing Vegas was one of them too?
And are you in a contract to perform for a certain amount of time over there? How long will the residency at the Joint last?
Probably until the end of February.
You should bring the show to Atlantic City.
And you also have a restaurant that you’re involved with — Maria, Maria.
Yes, Maria, Maria, Maria, Yes, We are very grateful that people aligned themselves with us and for me it allows for more energy and funds to go to help children. I do this so I can do that. Santana is a combination of a lot of things that I grew up in the ’60s with: Mother Theresa, Cesar Chavez, Dr. Martin Luther King, the Dali Lama, Desmond Tutu, Harry Belafonte, and Tito Puente, B.B. King and Miles Davis. That’s one thing, so we do this so we can do that.
How many locations does the restaurant have? Any thoughts on bringing it to Atlantic City?
Atlantic City would be fantastic. I think right now there’s one in Florida, there’s one in Austin, Texas, which is incredible, one in Arizona, which is absolutely my favorite, and then a few in California — two in the Bay area and one in San Diego.
To bring things full circle, 40 years ago you were on top of the world in the music field. How do you look back on those days in terms of your entire career? Were they your best times? Worse times?
Neither one of those. It was a time. But the best time is right now because everything that we know, everything that we learn is very clear and who I am and who I am with is a lot more inspired and clear. Thank you so much. I’m going to go get something to eat now because I have to have some breakfast.
Santana, Steve Winwood
Where: Trump Taj Mahal
When: Sat., July 24, 8pm
How Much: $66, $86 & $121
Twelve days after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took mankind’s initial steps on the moon, Atlantic County braced for another first — the staging of the Atlantic City Pop Festival. The roster of acts spanned the musical spectrum.
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