Carlos Santana Opens Up About Blues, Jazz and More in 1988 Guitar World Interview
Here's our interview with Carlos Santana from the June 1988 issue of Guitar World, which featured Yngwie Malmsteen on the cover. The original story, which started on page 18, ran with the headline, "Another Kind of Blue: Carlos Santana has embarked on yet another musical adventure, one that has a lot to do with theory, and everything to do with the guitar."
He’s sitting on the bed of his hotel suite, playing his Paul Reed Smith guitar, staring out the window on a rainy day in New York and thinking about where his new direction might take him.
“I know I’m not the kind of person who’s gonna wind up a walking jukebox, like many rock ‘n’ roll artists,” says Carlos Santana. “They just play their hits and that’s it. That doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t wanna just go out and play ‘Black Magic Woman’ and ‘Oye Como Va’ all night because that was part of the seventies, and my watch says it’s 1988. So I wanna get into ’88 and not look back.”
A little over a year ago, I chided Carlos in a Guitar World record review of Freedom. "Scrap the sappy, safe, predictable, slick pop arrangements and get back to playing the guitar, man," is what I said, or words to that effect.
I don't know if he ever saw that review, but he must've been thinking along the same lines himself when he recorded his recent Blues For Salvador, his 22nd LP for Columbia. This album kicks my ass around the block every time I give a listen.
Killer guitar on every cut. Eight of the album's nine cuts are instrumental, featuring Carlos' signature singing, stinging guitar lines. For guitar fans, it's a dream come true; easily his most exciting, most scintillating, most inspired display of ax magic in over a decade. Ah, welcome home, Carlos!
And he's not playing the hits, either. No lame pop structures or hook-laden wimp fare like the highly saleable radio hit "Winning" from a few years back. No cheesy vocals anywhere in sight. Sure, sure, it 's good to go gold and bring home the bacon. But I just couldn't deal with that limp radio-play pap with the sounds of Abraxas or Caravanserai still fresh in my ears and the sight of Santana burning up the Woodstock stage on "Soul Sacrifice" still imbedded in my memory banks. That's like munching on Yodels and Ring-Dings after feasting on fine French cuisine.
You drop the needle anywhere on Blues For Salvador and you get the real deal. The man redeems himself for any past lapses. "Bailando/Aquatic Park" revives the memory of "Soul Sacrifice." The lyrical ballad "Bella" is played with a soulful Wes Montgomery tone that allows the nuance of Carlos' expression to shine through beautifully. His adventurous guitar synth work on the mood piece "Mingus" is highly ambitious, if not monumental -- or even characteristic. And the sheer conviction that Carlos displays on the title cut, a duologue with keyboardist Chester Thompson, is positively Herculean.
There's more. He stretches like in days of old on the live jamming vehicle, "Now That You Know," recorded during his band's '85 World Tour. He burns red-hot on the Latin percussion workout of "Hannibal," which segues to a loose, bluesy swing feel at the tag. He cranks out some vicious wah-wah licks, reminiscent of Jimi in all his glory, on the funky "Deeper, Dig Deeper." And he unleashes with a vengeance on "Trane," which is powered by old-time runnin' buddy drummer Tony Williams.
There may not be any displays of two-handed tapping, wang-bar theatrics or scalar pyrotechnics on Blues For Salvador, but nevertheless, it gets my vote for Top Guitar Album Of The Year. It's a strong statement from a national treasure. And it seems that this powerful, expressive album is now serving as the bridge to a leap in a new direction for Carlos Santana, as well.
''I'm planning to do more of this from now on," the once and future guitar hero explained recently. "I have come to the conclusion -- and I don't know why it took me so long, but nevertheless, I'm here now -- that a lot of people tell me they don't get enough guitar on my albums. So I decided to do an album where the guitar would be the singer, playing the melody. And it feels really, really good. I have come to a point where I'm not afraid to be the main vocal in there. I mean, if cats like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul can see that I can cut it, I guess I can cut it. It gives me a certain kind of confidence to be able to play with musicians of that caliber. So it 's easier for me now to embrace this vision of the guitar being the main, primary vocal."
He's referring to recent collaborations with jazz heavyweights Hancock (Monster, Columbia), Zawinul (This Is This, Columbia) and Shorter, whom he's been jamming with a lot lately. Those artists tapped Carlos for his unique quality, his Signature sound, not for his knowledge of scales and chord inversions.
They were after the feeling he projects in his playing, the conviction behind his notes. Yet Carlos admits he's at a point now in his career where he would like to learn a thing or two about theory so that he can make the leap to the next level.
"I have been accused of being a very simplistic, very lyrical player, and that's okay. That just comes from the blues, which is my background. But every day you wake up and transcend. You can't ever rest on your laurels. Every day you wake up is an opportunity to go beyond, and that 's why I let my band go right now. For the first time in my life I'm just roaming around, vagabonding.