Carlos Santana’s list of high-profile admirers makes for quite the read, even considering the PRS-playing pioneering electric guitar star has boasted the likes of Miles Davis, Eric Clapton and B.B. King as fans across his career.
But in a recent conversation with Forbes, Santana recalled the time he met another one of his guitar heroes, who in turn gave the emerging guitar player a much-needed confidence boost.
When asked about his experiences as an up-and-coming musician finding his own voice and melodic sensibilities, Santana reflected on the time he crossed paths with Jimi Hendrix, who paid particular praise to Carlos’s approach to phrasing.
“One of the things that really gave me a lot of confidence is when I was with Jimi Hendrix,” Santana explained. “And he said, ‘Santana, right?’ I say, ‘Yes.’ He grabs my hand. And he goes, ‘I love your choice of notes.’”
Praise really doesn’t come much higher than that, and those sentiments would have no doubt been especially influential for Santana. After all, he is a well-known, die-hard Hendrix fan, and once ranked him above Eddie Van Halen during an interview with Billboard.
But at that particular point in his career, Santana was already well-versed with receiving such compliments. Elsewhere in his interview, the blues-rock veteran recalled how even as a youngster he’d be singled out for praise.
“In Tijuana, being next to my father, I remember somebody saying, ‘Well, that gentleman is really good, but his son is like something else,’” he said. “My dad kept entering me into this radio contest and fair contest. I would play a fair or a radio contest, and I kept playing Fascination, with my violin and I kept winning. I would just win.”
As mentioned above, Hendrix wasn’t the only star to tip his cap to Santana. As the Latin rock master further explained, he was also lauded by a suite of other blues virtuosos who helped instill a strong sense of self-belief in the young six-stringer.
“So when I'm playing Concierto de Aranjuez and Miles Davis goes, ‘You know how to do it right. A lot of people don't know how to play it right.’ So when I get a compliment from Miles Davis and Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King, I must be pretty good,” he mused. “After a while you just accept that you are the real deal.”
But that’s not to say Santana took such praise directly in his stride. Instead, the absence of “a deep sense of self-worth” meant such compliments made him feel “uncomfortable”.
“And first in the beginning I used to feel uncomfortable because I wasn't used to getting adulation and so much attention,” Santana admitted. “I was like, 'Ooh like give it to somebody else.' And that's because like most people, I didn't have a deep sense of self-worth.
“Now when I say a deep sense of self-worth, that doesn't mean you're arrogant. It means that you have a knowing that you're priceless and you're precious because God loves you and He believes in you.”
Though Santana and Hendrix never became close collaborators, the PRS signature artist did develop a musical partnership with one of his other admirers: Eric Clapton.
The two have shared the stage on numerous occasions across the decades, and most recently joined forces to close out Clapton’s Crossroads 2023 star-studded festival with a performance of Black Magic Woman in tribute to Peter Green.