Carlos Santana: The Ice Cream Man

By Jeb Wright

Carlos Santana will release his latest album, Shape Shifter, on May 15th. The album, mostly instrumental, features songs written over the past decade and a half that have been lying in the vault waiting to see the light of day.

In the interview that follows, the iconic guitarist tells Classic Rock Revisited why he came to release these tunes, what the DOW is, why Paul Reed Smith guitars are important to him and how he and his wife stay spiritually horny.

Jeb: Tell me about how you came to have so many unreleased instrumental pieces lying around.

Carlos: All of the songs on the album were recorded from 1997 to 2007. There were songs that didn’t go on albums like Supernatural that were instrumental. Something told me inside my heart to go and get in the closet and take these songs out, put them together and see what happens. To my surprise, there is a story in there, a story of continuation. The last time I did something like this was with Blues for Salvador. I got the most shining compliments, at the time, from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Beck. Jeff Beck does this type of thing all the time; he rarely works with singers, but I was still really grateful to get those types of compliments.

Another thing that I need to say, and that people don’t know, is that it takes more discipline to makes songs for radio, like “Smooth” or “Maria, Maria” than it takes to make this kind of music. With this kind of music, I just close my eyes and go forward. It really is freedom more than discipline.

Jeb: Do you just close your eyes and channel this type of energy to make this music?

Carlos: Yes, I do. Last night, I saw my brother, Paco de Lucia last night. He was absolutely supremely brilliant. He played beyond anything that he knows. He went into a place and he channeled this pure, superlative music. I went backstage and talked to him about it. I feel very grateful that my peers, from the past to the present, from John McLaughlin to BB King to Buddy Guy to Derek Trucks…my friends have something in common with me, and I have something in common with them…we love excellence.

Jeb: Tell me why you named the album Shape Shifter.

Carlos: I got that from the American Indians but I also got it from the book A Course in Miracles. In the book, they talk about how change is inevitable but growth is optional. I changed myself. I told myself, three or four years ago, when the DOW in me – by the way, DOW is something that people need to get acquainted with. DOW means “Devine One Within.” Now, that is not in conflict with Christ, Buddha, Ala or any of that. DOW immediately raises the stakes within you when you are doing what you need to be doing. Don’t listen to the screaming and shouting monkey voices of illusion, fear, separation or dissidence. If you try to play a guitar solo when you’re thinking of those things then it is going to be out of tune and horrible.

Jeb: How long ago did you learn to apply your spirituality to your music?

Carlos: I think since I was born, but I wasn’t conscious about it until 1972 when I started hanging around John McLaughlin.

Jeb: When you went back and revisited these songs, were they complete or did you have to rework them?

Carlos: They were completed; I just needed to mix them. Instrumentals like this are done in one take. I did not overdub on any of them. It is like Billie Holiday said, “You just open the faucet and the water comes out.”

Jeb: Santana fans will want to know how much other stuff is in the vault.

Carlos: There is still a lot of music in the vault. I am ready to go into the studio and make a lot more. I have been listening to a lot of music from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s that I call Afro Beat music.

Jeb: You are famous for having the Latino influence. You are now expanding yourself, musically. What keeps you moving forward?

Carlos: I am going to use two words together that are not used together. Sometimes, when I say this, I wake up the next morning and I think, “Maybe I should not have said that, as my daughters and my son are going to read it.” You know, I will say it—what keeps me vibrant and wanting to live life to the fullest are those two words. The two words that I am not in conflict to saying are “spiritually horny.” It is okay to be spiritually horny. Some people say, “Wow, I can’t believe you just said that!” If you take those two words and make them into one word, then that word is ‘energy.’

Jeb: I would never have thought of this type of concept.

Carlos: It is passion; it is something delicious and something endearing. I would not say that Sunday morning in Church, but that is what it is.

Jeb: Has your relationship with your wife brought more to the table in this aspect?

Carlos: Have you seen her play drums? The answer is yes. It is important to validate the gift that has been given to you. Devine energy and divine expression help hold relationships together. Over fifty percent of special relationships end up in divorce and it feels like it is ninety percent. Those relationships would not break up if they were to say to each other, “I am willing to bring you all of the flavors—Baskin & Robbins, Ben & Jerry and Haagen-Dazs—in bed. I will bring you all the flavors when I look across the table and I see your lips and your eyes.” I look at her and say, “You turn me on without doing anything.” When she says that to you and you to her, then when you play music together nothing is predicable.

Jeb: How important is your Paul Reed Smith guitar when it comes to conveying your music from your soul to your fingertips?

Carlos: Thank you for asking that. Paul Reed Smith created a sphere with strings and wood that goes where you want to go. When you bend a note on a PRS, it is like grabbing a piece of glass and putting it next to the sunlight; a prism of all of the colors appears. Another great thing about Paul Reed Smith guitars is that they arrive at my house in tune. When you go to a restaurant and the cook really loves what he is cooking then it comes out so delicious; it is the same thing with Paul Reed Smith guitars. He has a passion for what he does and it shows.

Jeb: Last one: You included a poem from Chief Yellow Lark of the Lakota Tribe. What made that so important for you to reprint it on your CD cover?

Carlos: I did it because most people are fragmented, disconnected and totally invested in fear. Some people have invested way too much in the illusion and the concept of sin, and not being worthy of their own light—that is why I included it.