Santana Brings 1001 Rainbows to Niagara Falls
Carlos Santana is having a great day. For someone whose deep spirituality was rooted in 60s-era peace and love Hippie culture, there’s rarely a day that isn’t great in the life of this iconic guitar hero. Like Jimi or Janis or Elvis, the name Santana is an instantly identifiable moniker, one that evokes thoughts of guitar wizardry, of timeless music, and of rock and roll royalty. From his fiery introduction to the world at Woodstock, through a string of epic Latin-infused, label-defying albums, to the pinnacle of his success, 1999’s 30-million-selling Supernatural LP, Santana has transcended his humble roots to become an international superstar.
On the day of our conversation, Santana is relaxing at his home in Hawaii, about to embark on his new 1001 Rainbows tour that brings him to the stunning new OLG Stage in Niagara Falls June 24th. The legendary guitarist is in his usual state of vivid reflection, remembering a previous visit to the Honeymoon City that, as tends to happen, turned into a spiritual experience – one that identifies the origin of his eternal life force.
“One time I was in Niagara Falls, I took LSD at 12 o’clock at night,” said Santana, now 75 years old. “I was witnessing the sound and the incredible power of Niagara Falls. Like a vacuum cleaner, I sucked it up into my body and into my heart. Years later, I went to Jerusalem. I stood in front of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and I felt exactly the same power of Niagara Falls. So, that’s who I am. I identify with energy and frequency and vibration.”
In a rambling conversation with GoBeWeekly.com, the rock legend talks about his music, his legacy, and that epic Woodstock performance.
GoBe: It’s been over five decades since you performed at Woodstock as a relative unknown and here you are, 54 years later, in 2023, a legend, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, and a literal God to millions of guitar players. How far has the reality of your life and career surpassed any dreams you may have had as a young guitar player? Did you feel bound for such success back then?
CARLOS: Yes I did. When I was a child, like everybody, we always have steps to climb, rungs in the ladder. For me, I wanted to be like my dad (*a mariachi musician). Women, children, everybody loved my dad. He was very charismatic. Later on, I wanted to be B.B. King, I wanted to be Eric Clapton, I wanted to be Jimi Hendrix, Myles Davis, and Coltrane. I learned from all of them how to articulate this beautiful language of light and love and music.
GoBe: Well, now you have thousands of guitarists wanting to be you. You’re 76 this July, you’re just wrapping up the Blessings and Miracles Tour in May, and then it’s right back into the 1001 Rainbows tour. What drives that work ethic at this stage of your career? Is it simply a love of playing music or something deeper at this age?
CARLOS: It’s something deeper. Everywhere in the news you see about Russia and China and Korea and the Middle East threatening humanity with the atomic bomb. This has been around since I was a child in the ‘50s. They used to ask you to hide under the desk in school just in case. Now it’s here again. So I play music basically to say, fuck you to fear, you know? I’m going to have fun. Fuck you to fear. I’m going to have fantastic fun. I’m going to celebrate my light and my divinity. And I’m going to do my best to help people claim back their own deep sense of self worth. That’s basically why I play music.
GoBe: What is the inspiration for the name of this tour, 1001 Rainbows? Is that related to that thought process?
CARLOS: Pretty much. Cindy and I, my wife, live here in Kauai (Hawaii). Here you get to witness every day breathtaking rainbows and waterfalls. So I decided to call the tour 1001 Rainbows because it just sounds very positive and reassuring.
GoBe: It sounds beautiful and spiritual in a way.
CARLOS: It is both. Thank you for saying that.
GoBe: Music itself is a blessing and a miracle, as suggested in the name of your last album (2021’s Blessings and Miracles). It has both the power to heal and to bring people together. There’s definitely something spiritual woven into the sounds you create. Do you consciously try to infuse your music with a degree of spirituality, or do you think that’s something that just happens organically when you create it?
CARLOS: It’s something that happens organically since I’ve been born. I was born with the gift to bring unity, harmony, and oneness. Santana, like Bruce Lee or Bob Marley, we represent an epicentre. For example, Bruce Lee, for anyone from China or Japan or any of the Asian places, as soon as you say Bruce Lee, that brings it all together. In soccer, it’s Pele. That brings it all together. And so, I love being the epicentre of something that means healing, fun, celebration. I learned from the hippies at lot. From Gerry Garcia and Bill Graham, I learned how to articulate language where we’re all in it together. We don’t leave anybody out.
GoBe: I saw the effect that Santana music can have on people last year. Last summer I spent a weekend on a friend’s boat. For three straight days he played nothing but Santana music, which was great, because I was reminded of the depth and breadth of your musical stylings, from Latin infused blues to soul to rock to jazz fusion. Is there a style that is closest to your heart in terms of comfort and personal preference you enjoy playing most? – a sound that physically and spiritually transports you when playing?
CARLOS: Yes, thank you for asking that. For me it’s like a soup. The ingredients, the components, the elements, it’s a bowl of number ones. In that bowl it’s John Lee Hooker, John Coltrane, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Myles Davis. And of course, all the women, Billy Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Nina Simone. All of them are me and I am them. I take from all of them, that note that is the umbilical cord with humanity. I don’t mention names just to drop names. I am them and they are me. We want the same thing.
GoBe: You’re one of a handful of artists who has had crossover success on all the charts, including rock, pop, blues, and Latin. When I worked rock radio Santana was still part of the playlist while you were off playing other styles. In your opinion, what is it about your music that has allowed you to switch so fluidly and seamlessly from one style of playing to another with such success? What is the secret to your appeal?
CARLOS: I would say God’s grace. He gave me that gift to be a multi dimension of sound and I can complement anyone that gets in front of me. Whether that’s Adele, or Sting, or other musicians that I like to share. Widespread Panic, Derek Trucks. There are a lot of musicians with who I share an affinity. It’s just a matter of finding the right song where we can all blossom together.
GoBe: You talk about the right song. You were 35 years into your career when you released Supernatural in 1999, which sold a staggering 30 million copies worldwide, becoming your first #1 album since 1971 and winning 9 Grammy Awards, breaking the record Michael Jackson set with Thriller. Did you know in the studio that you had created something special, or were you surprised as much as the entire industry might have been at how the album was embraced globally by music fans?
CARLOS: I was really surprised. All I wanted to do was bring seven songs and my brother/friend Clive Davis would bring seven songs. We would put them on the table together and we would shuffle them, and we created this album. Michael Jackson and the Eagles, we’re all at that level that you sell so many records in a week or a month that it becomes mind-boggling. I’m very grateful and honoured. All my life I have had a person like Clive Davis or Bill Graham or Myles Davis or B.B. King or Tito Puente, people who go out of their way literally to show me the ropes and share with me. Miles Davis wasn’t known for being very giving. With a lot of people he was and a lot of people he wasn’t’. With me, whether it’s Miles or Stevie Ray or Jacko, my phone was always ringing. For me, it’s about learning, with the great geniuses inviting me into a sandbox. Bring a shovel, bring a bucket, and just play. Music in not competition. That’s the Olympics. Music is to complement, complement, complement. That’s what music is about.
GoBe: You talk about learning from others. To progress you have to continue to learn. As a guitarist, has there been any lessons learned late in your career, discoveries of new techniques or sounds you could create that you’ve integrated into your guitar playing to move your skill forward? Or simple life lessons you’ve learned from those mentors you respect?
CARLOS: I’ve been listening to a lot of Wes Montgomery. There’s something very fatherly. Nat King Cole, Wes Montgomery, Duke Ellington. I’ve been discovering a lot of their music. Nat King Cole, when he died, he had his sheet music and his Bible, borrowing from the Psalms. I love any book, not just the Bible, given to humanity for humans to be better human beings. Instead of being monkeys and donkeys, we remember that we are angels and arc angels. We can also create and heal, give blessings and miracles. We can heal one another, because the infection is fear. We’ve been infected with fear for a long time on this planet. The concept of the original sin – don’t taste the fruit, you know? A lot of that is Godzilla, not God, because God is love. It’s not about the 10 Commandos where if you do something wrong God is there to punish. That shit isn’t for me. Since I was a kid I saw too many scary movies, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, Dracula. I get bored with that. I need the other stuff, the stuff that says you are worthy to walk like a God. With humility and with wisdom. To be God-like is to be compassionate and kind with willingness to constantly heal and enhance. That appeals to me. Being a rock star is kind of boring and predictable. But being God-like, not comparing myself to Jesus like John Lennon, but saying the same thing Jesus said. God and I are one, I am that I am. I am the light. If you can stay at that frequency, you should be able to manifest things beyond your physicality and your mortality.
Go/Be: I agree with your analogy. I see the Bible like your guitar, a tool to be used to communicate through your music. There are many ways to use that tool of course. Your guitar playing clearly transcends definition given the number of styles you have embraced through the years. In his book Keith Richards explained his use of a five-string guitar and open-G tuning to get his signature sound and get his message across. Are there any secrets, any signature devices, or tricks you have leaned on with your tool of expression, your guitar, that have helped you define your sound, your magic, your gift to the world?
CARLOS: The only secret that I have is, I focus on remembering my first French kiss. And I want every note to feel like the kiss of a beautiful woman. She was drinking rum and Coke and she was eating a cherry, because her drink still had a cherry in it. She was really gorgeous, like a mulatto lady. For some reason she just walked up to me while I was playing guitar and she just put her arms around me and gave me a wet French kiss. Dang, you know. That’s how I want to play every note.
GoBe: You just made me remember Camille Bruno, my first French Kiss, so thanks for that.
CARLOS: You’re welcome.
GoBe: You’re playing the new intimate 5,000 seat OLG Stage in Niagara Falls. What can fans expect from this 1001 Rainbows tour, who’s joining you on stage? And what do you do differently when performing to a more intimate crowd rather than a giant stadium?
CARLOS: We turn down the volume and play stronger. I love intimacy. I love giving people chills and multiple orgasms. A person without a hug, without an orgasm, they’re not pleasant to be around. They become a curmudgeon and mean. So I invite the audience to feel safe, to feel confident, that you’re worthy to share divinity and physicality without turning to hell. Let me give you some songs. “Blowing In the Wind,” Bob Dylan, “One Love,” Bob Marley. “A Change is Gonna Come,” Sam Cook. “All You Need is Love,” The Beatles. You get the point. I have all these songs that I think about when I go on stage, a love supreme, that brings divinity, harmony, and oneness. I like to believe that Santana is an epicentre sound that everyone connects with, from Irish, Japanese to Apache, Korean. Everyone celebrates with Santana. We celebrate our own light, our own divinity. Anyone who doesn’t believe you’re not divine, you’re not going to have fun at my concert because you’re going to be like a shrimp at a Bene Hannah grill. You’re not gong to have fun. If you believe just for second that you’re worthy of God’s grace, then you’re going to have fun. The most important thing in this planet, this incarnation, is to have fun.
GoBe: Given that definition of your music and your purpose here, what do you see your legacy being?
CARLOS: A thought adjuster. A unifier. A person who every time he played, like Desmond Tutu or the Dali Lama, he brought to the table a higher consciousness, not just entertainment, but a higher consciousness.
GoBe: I’ll wrap up with a question that revisits a bit of your rock history. Any fan of Santana will know the story of your Woodstock performance and the “medication” that fueled your epic performance of “Soul Sacrifice.” What do you remember most about enduring that surreal experience, how close do you come naturally to hitting that kind of hypnotically induced state when performing? Does music itself manage to transport you in some way to another realm or level of consciousness when playing even without the benefit of psychedelics?
CARLOS: The first part of this question, the main thing that I remember is Jerry Garcia’s face right next to my face, smiling like a Cheshire Cat, a twinkle in his eye, and the conversation: ‘hey man, what time are you going to go on man. We’re going on three bands after you. Well, we’re not going on until 12 o’clock at night.’ I was like ‘damn, I guess we’re going to go on at 3 o’clock in the morning.’ And he opened his hand and he had these mushrooms, and he goes, ‘by the way, here you go.’ I said ‘yea.’ This was like 12 o’clock in the afternoon. I was thinking I would have time to go there and come back and be ready for our set. Unfortunately, they told me I had to go on now. As soon as I clicked with the mushroom frequency, someone said ‘you need to play now or you’re not going to play at all.’ I was like, oh Lord, okay. I just trusted God and I said please help me stay in tune and in time. And I’m very fortunate that I didn’t poop in my pants in front of everybody.
GOBE: Yes, that would have been a very different performance. God must have been with you to help you benefit from the magic in those mushrooms.
Carlos: I’ve always felt very fortunate. Everyone from my brother Jimi Hendrix to other musicians, they go damn, what was that about. One word man: energy. Energy energy energy. Santana, that’s what people can expect when they come to see us right now. We are probably one of the most energetic bands in the world. I can say this with a lot of respect. A lot of people bring nostalgia, something from the 60s. But as far as energy, it’s not the energy I love being around. I don’t want the energy that I’m on a rocking chair on a porch while 90,000 people are in front of me. I need to move them. I can’t play music like I’m in a rocking chair. I’d rather not play. I need to move you out of you so you can discover a new fresh energy in you. I need to do it for myself and for you. Music for me is to illuminate, transform, and elevate consciousness. If you want to be entertained, go see a bear riding a motorcycling juggling balls. But if you want to be moved to your core, to your spirt, a place where you can believe where you are destined for greatness, come see Santana.
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