Few artists embody the peace-and-love ethos of Woodstock in 2017 quite like Carlos Santana, who went into the festival a relative unknown and led the San Francisco band that shares his name in a career-defining, LSD-enhanced performance.
Nearly five decades later, the man remains a true believer in the healing frequencies of music, still preaching the “Power of Peace,” as he titled a new album that finds him collaborating with the Isley Brothers and Cindy Blackman Santana, the drummer he proposed to on the Universal Tone Tour in 2010.
As Santana explains it, “From John Coltrane to John Lennon, the music that I love is about inviting people to remember that you are divine, that you have light in you and that you can create miracles and blessings. That’s what I’m about.”
Here’s what else he had to say in an interview.
Q: Tell us about “The Power of Peace.”
A: Cindy and I, when we got married, the first song we danced to was “The Look of Love” with Ronnie Isley singing. When you listen to Ronnie Isley singing Burt Bacharach songs, he sculptures every note in such a way that you go, “Oh my God, how can somebody do that?”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Ravinia, 200 Ravinia Park Rd, Highland Park
So Cindy and I, we were in the frequency of doing something in the future with Ronnie and Ernie. And that opportunity presented itself when we met him, for the first time, in St. Louis. His sister was singing background with Rod Stewart and we were on tour with Rod Stewart.
She said, “You know, Carlos, Ronnie is actually a big fan of you.” So we got together backstage and I told him that I wanted to do this CD and the songs that I wanted to do.
Q: When is this that you met?
A: About three years ago?
Q: Wow. I’m surprised you hadn’t met before.
A: I think the first time we crossed paths was in ’75 or so at a CBS convention because they had Earth, Wind & Fire, the Isley Brothers and somehow Santana was in this convention with a lot of black soul. I’m not surprised because I’m a black man myself. I mean, in the way that I learned how to articulate African music a long, long time ago.
I keep saying with total certainty the future of music on this planet is coming from Africa. And it’s a language that I absolutely love and understand. I feel really grateful that God gave me the facility to articulate it.
Q: What appealed to you about “Power of Peace” as an album title?
A: This planet is infected with fragmented fear. And the power of peace is something I learned in the ’60s from the hippies and Woodstock. I learned from people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and people who lived their lives with and for peace.
There’s something magnanimous about them because peace is more powerful than fear and hate.
What’s happening in Paris and London and everywhere, I think that if this music was played in shopping malls and elevators everywhere, you would see a difference because its frequency would change the heart. It would pierce the heart of the beast.
Q: You speak of universal tone, and it’s interesting because what people often talk about as far as your guitar work is your tone. Is there a connection between this universal tone and getting an actual tone out of your instrument?
A: My tone is my heart. I can play any amplifier, any guitar and I’m still gonna sound like me. I don’t use any pedals, other than the wah-wah pedal, because I don’t want a mask. I like my face. I like my sound.
Anyone, whether it’s Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, everybody that I love, in one note, you know who they are. Whether it’s Stevie Ray Vaughan or all the Kings, Albert, Freddie, B.B., John McLaughlin, all the guitar players that I love, in one note, they remind me of these universal principles.
It’s not how fast you play or how clever you are, it’s how deep you penetrate the heart of the listener. As Les Paul would say, “Nice playing, kid. But would your mother recognize you in one note on the radio?”
Q: You’re not especially fond of the new administration in America.
A: Who is? Other than the Ku Klux Klan, I mean, who is? It’s not unity and harmony. It’s fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. It’s built on monetary interests. I have endured as a person LBJ, Nixon, Ronald Reagan, the two Bushes and this guy. It’s the same guy with a different face, you know?
Q: How do you stay hopeful in the face of all the fear?
A: Well, thank you for asking that. Every day, when I wake up in the morning, I thank God for life and existence and I especially thank him for Nikola Tesla, because he invented the remote control. I pick it up and as soon as I see Donald Trump, I change the channel or turn it off. So he has absolutely no power over me whatsoever.
I just turn his a– right off. And I listen to birds. I listen to the clouds passing. I don’t give him anything at all from my attention, energy or concentration. I just zap him right out of my house. He has no power over me. And that’s how I stay positive.
Ed Masley, USA TODAY Network