[Interview] Carlos Santana

This is a preview of Santana’s 2010 concert at Rivervend followed by a review of the show.

Carlos Santana pioneered Latin rock with his band’s self-titled 1969 album. He was one of the breakout stars at Woodstock that same year. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He ranked No. 15 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists.

With his legacy secure, he has turned his attention to a new challenge: bouillabaisse.

Excuse me?

“Every year I create some kind of goal for myself and all of them have to do with transforming fear,” says Santana, who brings his band to Riverbend Tuesday night. “For example, this year — and the year’s not over — I plan to learn to snorkel and cook bouillabaisse.”

Well, it’s good to have a to-do list. But for fans who won’t be dining at the house, Santana is also working on a project sure to strike a chord with his baby boomer constituency.

“We’re doing this CD called ‘Guitar Heaven.’ The songs are very Mona Lisa like,” he says, rattling off “Little Wing,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Can You Hear Me Knockin’,” “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Smoke on the Water,” among others.

“You know, the Mona Lisas.”

Like his last two original albums “Supernatural” and “Shaman,” Santana has called upon a long list of friends to sing and play with his band. Among the guests are Joe Cocker, India.Arie, Yo-Yo Ma, Rob Thomas and Jonny Lang.

“I’ve been doing this (playing with other people) since ’67, when I was playing with Michael Bloomfield and Peter Green,” he says, name-checking two guitar masters of that era. Green, the former Fleetwood Mac member, wrote “Black Magic Woman,” which Santana turned into one his band’s signature songs.

Collaboration is important to the man.

“All of these artists, all of them on ‘Guitar Heaven’ and ‘Supernatural’ offer me the greatest gift that can come from somebody’s heart and that is trust. That’s how you create beauty and grace.

“Trust creates thrust.”

It does indeed. And thrust creates the energy for a project like “Guitar Heaven.” Will the, uh, bouillabaisse, if you will, of Santana’s unique sound, mixed with the individual styles of the guests, keep these iconic rock songs recognizable?

After a long pause, Santana says, “Completely new; totally familiar.”


While Santana is looking at the past with his future album, he insists that in his daily life he ignores both.

“I’m more in the instant right now,” he says when asked if he ponders his legacy. “This is where I feel most comfortable … The past is gone, you cannot change it. And the future is uncertain with fear.

“But this moment right now is when I can go onstage with Eric Clapton or Buddy Guy or Andrea Bocelli and close my eyes and bring out the best of myself with them.”

Santana’s record shows that he is a great guy to have on your team. At Riverbend, his friend Steve Winwood (Traffic, Blind Faith) will open the show, and that could provide its own excitement.

“I plan to play with my brother (Winwood) … but I don’t want to play Steve Winwood’s music or Santana music. I would rather go to the other side of the tracks … and grab some black music for white people.

“That’s my request and we’ll see how it manifests. I would love to do three or four songs with my brother Steve because I love him very, very much.”

The plan could make fans love both of them very, very much.

“The ground that I would like to sit in with him is Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley, you know, like (Gaye’s” ‘Inner City Blues’) … I’m bringing a whole kind of new invocation for him (Winwood), if you will, and let’s see if we can meet at a place where it’s completely new.”

This recipe has the taste of greatness written all over it.

This is the review of the Riverbend show in 2010

To tweak the opening line of “Smooth” a bit: Man, it was a hot one at Riverbend Tuesday night.

The heat generated by Carlos Santana and his cohorts, mixed with the already sweltering temperature, left everyone in the big crowd dripping with sweat, but with smiles on their faces.

A night with Santana is more like a street party than a concert. The groove never stops as percussionists Karl Perazzo and Raul Rekow won’t allow people’s feet to quit moving, and Dennis Chambers pounds on his drums to remind folks if they think it’s time for a break.

When trumpeter Bill Ortiz and trombone player Jeff Cressman aren’t blowing the roof off the joint, they chime in on any number of percussion items. Freddie Ravel is the current keeper of the famous keyboard riffs. Bass player Benny Rietveld is the traffic cop, letting the players know when to stop and start while Tommy Anthony provides depth on rhythm guitar. Singers Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay share the spotlight when words are used with the songs.

But since the band is called Santana, everyone knows who the big kid on the block is.

He is the host, the soon-to-be 63-year-old guitar legend who, in his words, “is of the generation of Woodstock … and still a hippie,” preaching “Love, Peace and Happiness” during the final song of the night. He commands the attention of the audience as fans wait for the next hair-raising solo they know is coming in the songs they have listened to for more than 40 years.

When the familiar opening notes of “Jingo Rock” started 45 minutes into the two-hour show, it marked the start of the night’s high point. “Black Magic Woman” followed, which segued into “Oye Como Va,” and everyone who was old enough to remember 1970 jumped aboard the way-back machine.

After some instrumental noodling, the boys in the band returned to the early days with “Evil Ways,” which eventually turned into “A Love Supreme” and set the stage for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s second audience interlude of the night.

Santana has always seemed to straddle a spot between the spiritual and the carnal. After shamelessly flirting with the “females” in the audience earlier in the night, he stepped to the microphone to offer his “deepest gratitude and respect” and told folks to remember the principles of John Lennon (“Imagine”), Marvin Gaye (“What’s Going On”), and Sam Cooke (“A Change Is Gonna Come”), among others.

Then he urged “Brother” Barack Obama to end the wars that America is fighting, and to legalize marijuana (“Not for me, I’m still high from Woodstock,” he said), and to use the weed money to support education.

To thank the fans for listening to his rap, Santana broke into “Smooth,” his Grammy- winning hit that was co-written by Walnut Hills High School grad Itaal Shur.

After a short goodbye, the band returned to clips from Woodstock on the video screen, and played “Soul Sacrifice,” the song from the 1969 concert film that made the original group famous.

There must be something about music that keeps the soul young because the guitarist on stage didn’t look that much different from the one on screen.

They were both very smooth.

The encore left no time for the hoped-for collaboration between Santana and opener Steve Winwood, but the British virtuoso didn’t need help to make the early arrivals glad they were in their seats by 7:30.

Diving into a catalog that also spans more than 40 years, Winwood sampled  the Spencer Davis Group (“I’m a Man,” “GImme Some Lovin”), Traffic (“Dear Mr. Fantasy,” “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”), Blind Faith (“Can’t Find My Way Home”) and his solo work (“Higher Love,” “Dirty City”).

This is the second time Winwood has opened at the venue in two years (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in 2008), and each time he has reminded people that he is a headliner who is humble enough to be happy as a working musician.

Isn’t it time for him to play PNC Pavilion as the main event?



Each week, Bob Hust and Bill Thompson feature the best songs – old and new – from artists they have loved for many years and others they have just discovered. The best songs transport people to a time and place. That’s the foundation of BS&B.

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