Carlos Santana builds his legacy with a new album, Santana IV and a new memoir, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light
By Harvey Kubernik
For more than four decades—from Carlos Santana’s earliest days as a groundbreaking Afro-Latin-blues-rock fusion outfit in San Francisco—Carlos has been the visionary force behind artistry that transcends musical genres and generational, cultural and geographical boundaries.
Santana arrived in the era-defining late 1960s San Francisco Bay Area music scene with historic shows at the Fillmore and other storied venues. The group emerged onto the global stage with an epic set at the Woodstock festival in 1969, the same year that its self-titled debut LP Santana came out. Introducing Santana’s first Top 10 hit, “Evil Ways,” the disc stayed on Billboard’s album chart for two years and was soon followed by two more classics — and Billboard #1 albums — Abraxas and Santana III.
More than 40 years and almost as many albums later, Santana has sold more than 100 million records and reached more than 100 million fans at concerts worldwide.
Santana has won 10 GRAMMY® Awards, including a record-tying nine for a single project, 1999’s Supernatural (including Album of the Year and Record of the Year for “Smooth”) and three Latin GRAMMY ® Awards. In 1998, the group was ushered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Among many other honors, Carlos Santana received Billboard Latin Music Awards’ 2009 Lifetime Achievement honor, and, he was bestowed Billboard’s Century Award in 1996.
On December 8, 2013 Carlos was the recipient of the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors Award.
And, with the 2014 release of Corazón, Santana surpassed the Rolling Stones and, along with Barbara Streisand, is one of only two music acts in Billboard history to score at least one Top Ten album for six consecutive decades from the 1960s on.
Santana’s album Corazón (RCA/Sony Latin Iberia) released May 6, 2014 was a collaborative effort with the biggest names in Latin music including ChocQuibTown, Lila Downs, Gloria Estefan, Fabulosos Cadillacs, Juanes, Ziggy Marley, Miguel, Niña Pastori, Diego Torres, Samuel Rosa of Skank, Cindy Blackman Santana, Romeo Santos, Soledad, Wayne Shorter, and more.
This is Santana’s first Latin music album of his iconic career. The album is certified U.S. Latin Double Platinum and was the top selling Latin Music album in the United States for six consecutive weeks. HBO Latino & HBO Latin America celebrated the release with multiple HBO specials through a two part TV event: a behind the scenes reality themed special called “Santana: De Corazón” and the airing of his mega concert and documentary “Santana-Corazón: Live From Mexico, Live It To Believe It.”
In September 2014 a DVD/Live CD of the event was released documenting the show in its entirety. Both specials, and the DVD, include performances from the all-star lineup that graces the album Corazón.
During 2015, Carlos Santana released his memoir The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light which offers a page-turning tale of musical self-determination and inner self-discovery, with personal stories filled with colorful detail and life-affirming lessons.
It’s a profoundly inspiring tale of divine inspiration and musical fearlessness that does not balk at finding the humor in the world of high-flying fame. Publishers Weekly hailed it as “The big musical memoir of the season.”
April 15, 2016 marks the release date of Santana IV, the wildly anticipated studio album that reunites the revered early ‘70s lineup of guitar icon Carlos Santana (guitar, vocals), Gregg Rolie (keyboards, lead vocals), Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Michael Carabello (percussion) and Michael Shrieve (drums).
The album signifies the first time in 45 years – since 1971’s multi-platinum classic Santana III – that the quintet has recorded together.
Santana IV features 16 all-new tracks written and produced by the band that burst with the same unparalleled energy and superlative musicianship that made Santana a pioneering force in world music and a household name across the globe.
Joining the core Santana IV band in the studio are current Santana members Karl Perazzo (percussion) and Benny Rietveld (bass), with the legendary vocalist Ronald Isley guesting on two cuts.
The origins for the reunion go back several years, when Schon suggested that he and Carlos Santana record together. Santana liked the idea but went one better, proposing that they recruit Rolie, Shrieve and Carabello for what would be called Santana IV.
After initial writing sessions and rehearsals took place in 2013, the group recorded throughout 2014 and 2015, amassing 16 spellbinding tracks that combined all their signature elements – Afro-Latin rhythms, soaring vocals, electrifying blues-psychedelic guitar solos, and irrepressibly jubilant percussion work – with widescreen hooks and melodies that will lodge themselves in the thicket of listeners’ senses and stay there.
The band’s signature sound arrives forcefully on the album opener “Yambu,” a righteously gritty and soulful stomper teeming with swirling B3 organ hooks and walloping guitar crunch.
The first single, “Anywhere You Want to Go” is written by Gregg Rolie. It’s an unmistakable tip of the hat to the inescapable cha-cha/Latin jazz charms of “Oye Como Va.”
Ronald Isley (The Isley Brothers) is a special guest on two tracks. His vocals highlight the feverishly impassioned Latin-rock workout “Love Makes the World Go Round” and the hard-edged and funky “Freedom in Your Mind.”
Guitar fans expecting fireworks from Santana and Schon will cherish Santana IV from front to back. “All Aboard” is a no-holds-barred guitar jam of the highest order, as is the slinky, soulful metal cruncher “Caminando,” which explodes with tectonic axe force. And on the unabashedly British blues-tinged “Shake It,” the two go toe to toe on not one but two extended solo runs that will have lovers of unhinged fretboard work rejoicing.
“Carlos and I feel more connected than ever,” says Schon. “We get super-aggressive when we play, but also melodic and poetic. We have an incredible dialog with each other on our guitars.”
Santana’s recurring themes of love and tolerance are common threads throughout Santana IV, most dramatically on the epic tone poem album closer “Forgiveness,” a languid and breathtakingly gorgeous atmospheric groover.
Music fans familiar with the “roaring lion” artwork on Santana’s 1969 debut album will instantly greet Heather Griffin-Vine’s graphic for Santana IV as a gloriously realized update of that iconic image. “I really think the music goes along with the cover, and vice versa,” says Santana. “It all fits together beautifully.”
Santana IV is released on Santana IV Records and is distributed by Thirty Tigers/RED Distribution. The album will be CD, Double 180 Gram Vinyl with Download Card and Digital configurations.
As a special offer for fans attending select shows on Santana’s upcoming Luminosity tour, a CD copy of Santana IV is included with every pair of tickets.
This offer will be redeemed via a promo code at MusicRedemptions.com
Beyond music, in the lifestyle and entertainment realm, River Of Colors (ROC) has enjoyed tremendous success with the Carlos by Carlos Santana and Unity by Carlos Santana brand names. Founded in 1997, ROC is dedicated to bringing products to market that embody the passion and integrity of Carlos Santana — and that are true to his distinctive style and taste.
ROC’s endeavors encompass products including shoes, handbags, headwear and sparkling wine, as well as signature musical instruments including electric guitars and hand percussion instruments. ROC products are distributed at better retail stores internationally. For more information, visit www.santana.com
The arc of Santana’s performing and recording career is complemented by a lifelong devotion to social activism and humanitarian causes. The Milagro Foundation, originally established by Carlos Santana and his family in 1998, has granted more than five million dollars to non-profit programs supporting underserved children and youth in the areas of arts, education and health. Milagro means “miracle,” and the image of children as divine miracles of light and hope—gifts to our lives—is the inspiration behind its name.
Carlos Santana was born in Mexico. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with his wife Cindy Blackman Santana.
Carlos Santana Interview
Your new Santana IV has members of original and early Santana bands recording with you.
It was magical. We didn’t have to try to force the vibe — it was immense. From there, we then needed to come up with a balance of songs and jams that people would immediately identify as Santana.
What was the energy in the room like when you first sat down to record?
It was the opposite of entitlement. It was gratitude and appreciation. We have arrived at wisdom to appreciate values and to celebrate everyone’s contributions. There’s no completion anymore. I see Greg Rolie and Michael Carabello. We used to go to the Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco in 1966 and we thought that place was huge. Like Madison Square Garden in New York or the Cow Palace in San Francisco.
“Bill Graham’s Fillmore was like a laboratory to try out all things all the time. But being with Michael Carabello, Michael Shrieve. Greg Rolie and Neal Schoen just by closing your eyes and taking a deep breathe the sound is there. You don’t have to feel the need to conceive or create.
“When you can go back and break new ground with joy and determination – and some whoop-ass energy – it gets you going. I think we achieved something very rare. This music was screaming to come out of us. It wasn’t about nostalgia. It was about passion.
Ronnie Isley is heard on Santana IV album.
Because when I got married we played the “Look of Love” and I kept playing Ronnie singing Bacharach and David. I have this incredible love for Ronnie Isley because he’s the last one. Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway. All of that. Some people say Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson. But they’re not him. He is on a whole other level like Aretha Franklin. She and Ronnie are supreme royalty.
“People in the band say “when I play with you something happens and you bring something out of me that I can’t bring out of myself.” And when I’m alone and digesting this kind of thing, well I feel the same way about all of you too. However, when they play with me they are hearing some serious rolodex portfolio of black African music. When they are not with me they are not hearing it. That’s the sound I love about Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon.
“So we have in our experience, in our pockets, a big portfolio. A big rolodex and we know how to crystalize the sounds of Coltrane, Mahalia Jackson. And make it sound universal. It’s not even United States anymore. It’s the whole heart of a collective baby in this planet and the earth is the womb.
You’ve recently written your autobiography The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story To Light published by Little, Brown and Company. USA Today reviewed the book as “The most musically generous of the fall’s memoirs.” You collaborated with Ashley Kahn and Hal Miller on the endeavor.
I wanted to share a story of how it can be done. I was at a picnic in San Jose many years ago. In one corner there is mariachi music and over at another place was Latin music, like Tito Puente and another part was a band playing sort of blues and I’m hearing the whole sound at the same time. ‘Yeah! OK. I get it.’ Out of that picnic I walk away with, my favorite word, ‘we can crystalize all that you can imagine.’ I wanted to do songs that were slow and fast. God just gave me this mind.
“I wanted to honor my mother. She’s the one who rescued me from myself many times. I was destined to be dead already or be in jail in Tijuana is I would have stayed there.
“Here I am in Tijuana, watching this women with tussles at a strip club. ‘Wow.’ It took a lot of talent to shake her body five different ways and walking through the drummers. I my book I wanted to tell the story in my book that the drummers in Tijuana are so close to the strippers and also the music. Strip joint music. To me, as a kid I was fascinated with the musical Maria. And in the strip joints it was the same thing.
“I remember poor adobe houses. I can’t remember ever being sad. I don’t think anyone denied me anything for too many years. I have always been in places and circumstances where people offered me a kit if things. Even in Tijuana, people offered me to play lead guitar rather than bass because they felt I had a feel for the guitar. The main thing is that I am grateful because out of a lot of people, I’m chosen to carry on a certain way of life, a certain way of manifesting music. A lot of people give me attention.
“Mi historia comienza con un desfile. My story starts with a parade. But really, we could start at any point in my life and that would be cool. It’s like the set list for a Santana concert. You could just rip it up, throw it up in the air, then put it back together. Anything you start or end with can work, really. It’s all the same circle, and it all connects.
“I have this good friend Hal Miller for a long time, and Ashley Kahn. The publisher made a suggestion of writers to help me. One was presented. ‘Absolutely not!’ I said no to a lot of things and wanted to go with Hal Miller and Ashley Kahn. They are going to milk stories from me wherever I will be. South America. France. Australia. I will bring them to different places. I have [manager] Michael and my sister to really be my editors and take the high road. This is not about gossip and getting even. If your name is not in my book I did you a favor. (laughs).
“Miles said to someone, ‘Not everything I write needs to be heard.’ I had a lot of help with my sister and Michael who read everything ‘Are you sure you want to go there?’ ‘OK. I don’t want to go there.’
Your autobiography is candid and honest.
I got in trouble when I said there are only two kinds of people. Artists and con artists. I really learned, with my sister and manager Michael to balance to take the high road. Look at the aerial view. See the big picture. Like with Arthur Ashe. Walk with grace and elegance.
I really enjoyed the anecdotes and insights into your friendship and relationship with both Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis.
I’m grateful to both of them. Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis. It’s the highest honor as a musician to be validated by Miles. He either liked you or didn’t like you. My phone would ring at 3:00 am and I would hear that voice. ‘What you doin’? Having fun? You’re always gonna be doing this.’
“It was gracious and complimentary to me as a person. One minute Miles could be Darth Vader and then the funniest. He was funnier than Richard Pryor when you hang around Miles. I loved saying that in my book. God loves characters. God loves all people but especially characters like Etta James, Minnesota Fats. Characters is another word for Divine Rascals. Who just about get away with everything. I’ve asked Wayne and Miles questions people would never dream about.
Bill Graham is a recurring charter in your book and he managed you for many years before his death in 1992.
Bill Graham is still present in my life every day. I make decisions thinking of him. Of course. I call it ‘putting on the Bill Graham hat.’ When it comes to merchandising, t-shirts, bookings. There is symmetry to sound, colors and what we call merchandising. I’m really grateful to him. I did learn not to say, ‘I’m just a guitar player and don’t have to think about that.’ Copyrights, masters. That’s what I learned from Bill Graham: How to mind the store. Don’t look the other way. It’s your store. If you go broke it’s your fault. So you need to monitor the people who are monitoring and maintain.
Your book also describes the big impact FM radio had on you in 1967.
It blew my mind when I found it. They played the whole songs of Vanilla Fudge, Country Joe & The Fish, the long version of Traffic’s “Smiling Phases,’ the long version of ‘Light My Fire.’ ‘Wow. This is really, really cool.’ Taking LSD and listening to Frank Zappa. Listening to the news. They had a guy [Scoop Nisker] who would report the news and say, “That was the news today. If you don’t like it go out and make it yourself.’
“For me, being right out of high school, and listening. And really listening, it gave me a vast awareness of ‘where do I belong it all this?’ And I looked at B.B. King on my left and Tito Puente on my right. And that was a peak on acid when I saw this. ‘You can do both. You can be both.’
“The only thing the Santana band never wanted to do was succumb to phony. We were watching what was all unfolding with Sly Stone and Jim Morrison and it was becoming too much for all of them. Becoming victims of an avalanche of illusion by not being prepared mentality to not deal with mass quantity adulation. I’m not dependent or addicted to mass adulation. That stuff makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m not afraid of it. I have learned to balance it.
A big leap was made with Caravanserai your fourth album issued in October 1972. It was a big departure sound-wise from your first three LP’s. Lots of instrumentals and no hit singles.
There were also changes in band personal. It was the last Santana album to spotlight Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon.
The music shift really surprised a lot of people, including my mom. ‘What are you doing? You’ve got the keys to every room.’ Everybody thought we should just duplicate Abraxis over and over. And I said, ‘No. That was then. We need to move forward.’ Even though it’s dangerous as everybody is saying it’s dangerous. ‘There’s no singles in here. There’s no this or that.’
“After a while when the dust settled, it was just Michael Shrive and I. Because at the time, Greg and Neil wanted to go a certain way and that’s Journey. I didn’t want to go that way musically. With all respect to Journey. I want to hang out with people like Wayne Shorter and people to me who are like oceans. And I don’t want to be afraid of the wave.
And you’ll be playing with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, Booker T. and the Stax Revue and Cindy Blackman Santana at the Hollywood Bowl on August 24th as Mega Nova, a tribute to an earlier Shorter Blue Note album, Super Nova.
I was listening to the album Super Nova and thought wow. “Most of these people are alive. Would it be great to put this band together?” I called Wayne. ‘Something in me wants to do this. Do I have your permission? May I start a rumor to have Mega Nova?’ Herbie heard about it. One thing led to another.
“I feel like a seven year old kid with a lot of innocence. I don’t know what I can and can’t do or if it is cool.
Harvey Kubernik has been a music journalist for over 44 years and is the author of 8 books. Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik wrote the text for photographer Guy Webster’s first book for Insight Editions published in November 2014. Big Shots: Rock Legends & Hollywood Icons: Through the Lens of Guy Webster. With introduction by Brian Wilson). In November of 2015, Back/Beat/Hal Leonard published Harvey’s book on Neil Young, Heart of Gold.