Santana IV: Chatting with Carlos Santana & Gregg Rolie, Plus Zona, Lexi Baker and Ninet Exclusives

Santana IV: Chatting with Carlos Santana & Gregg Rolie, Plus Zona, Lexi Baker and Ninet Exclusives
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Santana iV album cover

A Conversation with Carlos Santana

Mike Ragogna: Carlos, it's Santana IV. What was the energy like when you came together to record these sixteen tracks...and I imagine you might have recorded a couple more?

Carlos Santana: Yes, we probably recorded close to fifty, but this is what was most ready to come out. These songs are not in an embryonic state like the other ones. It felt like the end of New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July, right before the end of the fireworks, when you know they're going to let them all out.

MR: [laughs] Sounds orgasmic.

CS: Yeah, exactly. That's a very good word. Thank God for that word, and thank God for the experience.

MR: Not to be crude but it seems that word is appropriate when it comes to the group Santana. You seem to have a real naturalness when it comes to the concepts of sexuality and spirituality.

CS: Thank you for saying that. They're absolutely both a gift from whatever you want to call it. Marvin Gaye was totally with that frequency. I think that the thing that would dismantle laboratories creating Viagra and all those pills is if people would remember that when you're between twelve to seventeen, you don't need any of that, because you're always thirsty for adventure. Innocence is an incredible thing. It doesn't mean that we have to corrupt it or defile it or stain it, but it does mean that you should not misplace it or convince yourself that you don't have it anymore. You will have it until the day you die. You don't need anything outside of your own innocence. So people need to take a deep breath, especially men who think too much. The thing about sex is that it's not thinking, it's feeling the center of your heart and then your body reacts. It's kind of like clicking switches on a 747. It won't get off the ground unless you know what buttons to click. It's a psychological, emotional, activation of remembering your innocence and your thirst for adventure. That's what sexuality is. Sexuality and spirituality are both extremely necessary to humans because we need to feel a sense of self worth, which is spiritual. We need to feel gratified physically and treat the other person as we treat ourselves.

MR: Carlos, I think Santana's music is about the body in motion, whether it be a body of music or as you're saying right now, the a physical body. It seems to me that you put your finger on the union where all of that stuff comes together.

CS: Exactly. Those are rhythms and melodies. Melody is the woman, rhythm is the male, it is the activation of both of them that ignite the person at any age. Even children feel activated. We shouldn't apologize because we have this gift of sensation, which is to procreate and to enjoy the activity. Touching, looking into each other's eyes, a French kiss, holding hands for the first time... I think there probably should be a curriculum in school, and they shouldn't even call it "sex," they should call it "honoring the celebration of quality activity." We all go through that anyway, so we should teach in school how to celebrate and honor the gift that spirituality and sensuality is. Not religion, not anything that is degrading to woman or man. I just feel like people are thirsty, not only for water or food or hugging; we're thirsty for righteous thinking.

MR: Your new album starts with "Yambu," a very primal-feeling song, and that line about "Yambu" follows through to the end. When you sequenced these songs, did you have a progression in mind?

CS: Thank you for saying that, you're very perceptive in your diligence to know what's going on. When you hear the first thing go, [screeches] you look at the album cover and you hear my guitar doing that. If you're with the right person and you pass by Victoria's Secret and you both go [screeches] at the same time, that's a good thing. If you both growl in a primal, divine way when you see something that is deliciously, sensually arousing and you're not embarrassed or weird about it, again, it's validating. Santana and Marvin Gaye... We don't apologize for stimulating the listener to feel divinity and sexuality. That's a good thing to be accused of.

MR: Let's look at "Shake It." The jam that occurs at the end of the song is one of the album's most emotional, primal moments.

CS: The combination of Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie and both Michaels and Benny Rietveld and Karl Perazzo... There's a way to honor in a sacred way, the first time you get inside the sheets, and you're grown enough to understand that you have the curiosity to go inside the sheets and have your first French kiss. There's something really beautiful about that innocence of not degrading or anything like that but discovering. When I hear Santana, especially this one, we didn't intentionally sent out to do anything like that. But symbiotically, that's what happens with Greg, Neal, myself and the two Michaels and the rest of the musicians. It's just going to go there. "Shake It," reminds me of Fleetwood Mac's "Alright." There are a lot of elements of Santana from growing up at the Fillmore; that was our alma mater. At the Fillmore, we'd go see Procol Harum, the original Fleetwood Mac, Sly Stone, Jeff Beck, all of that. And all of that is in Santana. It just symbiotically goes in there.

MR: That connection to the Fillmore is on the album, and it does conjure the stoney vibe of that era.

CS: Thank you so much. We were thinking of honoring The Grateful Dead, Ravi Shankar, Miles Davis, The Doors... Just go there, go to that place where you can still smell the patchouli oil and the weed, you know?

MR: The one-two punch for me is "Love Makes The World Go Round" and "Freedom In Your Mind" with the line "We are the ones we've been waiting for." It's like, "Why wait for a messiah? We have to make this happen."

CS: It's important to understand that this band and I are, together, the continuation of John Lennon and Bob Marley. "One Love," "Imagine," Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On," "All You Need Is Love," we are that. We believe that. I believe that. This is not plastic product, we don't do that. I still believe in the principles of liberty and justice for all, equality, fairness, and justice, I believe that. I'm an activist outside of being a musician. I'm constantly investing in schools. I walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to a perfect balance of being a musician and an activist. That's what John Lennon was, and so was Bob Marley and this is who we are right now.

MR: It's like you're an activist for love and our getting back to our roots.

CS: Yes. There's nothing more basic and rooted than reminding people that you are worthy of blessings and miracles and you can create those, too. No matter what God you believe in, God doesn't care what you call him, as long as you call him.

MR: Nice. "Love will never be misery, we can change the world and bring peace." How much better a mission statement do you need for humanity?

CS: None. Because of my relationship with my brother Ronnie Isley, we recorded sixty songs in four days, my wife Cindy and I and him, that's going to follow Santana IV and it's called "The Power Of Peace." We start with "God Bless The Child" and we end with "Let There Be Peace On Earth." Everything in between, you're going to be really, really blown away by the sixteen songs that we did in four days with Ronnie Isley and his brother Ernie. Around the corner we're going to work with mister Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and Marcus Miller, Cindy and I. I love Santana, but at the same time I'm always pushing the philosophy of creativity. I need to create, not because I'm bored or I'm afraid to stop, but because the more I feel connected to my creator, the more creativity flows from me.

MR: What are your thoughts about the current political climate?

CS: This is 2016, why are people still acting like West Side Story, with the Jets and the Sharks? Like John Lennon and Bob Marley and yours truly, we are one family of light. The sooner we can do away with flags and borders and all that division and separation, the sooner we will arrive at world peace and really, really, really heal the planet and each person with integrity of the highest dedication, highest compassion. There will be less graffiti and less trash and less crime. The prisons will not be full. But you have to embrace the concept that patriotism is prehistoric. It's just that simple. We are one family, whether we like it or not, we are one. When I see the politicians acting like a Ku Klux Klan rally... A lot of the politicians that you see, you don't see black people or brown people, you don't see Mexicans or Jewish people in there, you only see a certain color. In the states, Hollywood's really good at staging things. Look at the movie Wag The Dog. I live in Las Vegas. Everything about Las Vegas is staged. Every tree, everything is staged. It was just rubble a hundred years ago. It was staged. All of these politicians' rallies are staged. They're not real. Most of those people get paid to attend and to look enthusiastic. Can't you see that?

MR: You know what's ironic? They're all calling each other liars, and they're all right.

CS: Thank you for saying that! I think that in the future, we need one more app on Apple, an app that you put your thumb on and it reads your integrity, if you're full of s**t and you're a liar. And if you're full of s**t and you're a liar, you can not serve any kind of position to help humans. You can do other things, but if you're going to represent the highest good of all humans, then put your thumb in here, just like you'll do at the airport in the future. You put your thumb in here, you say, "Hello," they look at your eyes and they can see everything about you. They can read the frequency of your intentions and your integrity. I've been pushing Apple to do this. Create an app that you put your thumb in and it reads the quality quotient of your integrity and intentions. That will eliminate all that wasted money on promoting liars and people would know integrity.

MR: Carlos, what advice do you have for new artists?

CS: Feel it. My advice to any artist is grab a watch and in thirty seconds, keep track of how many times you give yourself chills. If you can not give yourself chills in thirty seconds, for God's sake, do us all a favor and find another profession. We're in the business of giving people chills. We're in the business of making people cry, laugh, dance, and like a dog shakes water, shake off the fragments of fear. That's what real musicians do, and then the music becomes very memorable. So I would say to the new artists, get a watch, time in thirty seconds how many times you can give yourself chills. If you can not give yourself chills then people will not get chills when you play, either. So learn to give yourself chills.

MR: After all these years, do you feel your chills are getting even more intense?

CS: Yeah! They're more immediate. If I think of being in the same room with Aretha Franklin, I'm like, "Oh my God!" I get chills all over the place.

MR: I'm always honored, Carlos. You're a beautiful being, thank you very much.

CS: Stay precious, Mike!

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

photo courtesy of Santana IV

A Conversation with Gregg Rolie

Mike Ragogna: Gregg, my interview with Carlos was pretty spiritual and high concept. May I ask you a couple of the more nuts and bolts questions?

Gregg Rolie: [laughs] Of course. However, those are nuts and bolts to him, so you have to understand that.

MR: Oh, yeah, I get it. So how did this variation of Santana come together? Whose idea was it to literally "get the band back together"?

GR: It really started with Neal Schon. My end of the story is simple, I was playing with Ringo Starr in the Pacific Rim, right behind me was Carlos with Steve Miller and behind him was Neal. Neal was calling Carlos and calling me and saying, "Hey, we're going to put this together." Neal just pretty much steered everybody into it. As Carlos says, "Everywhere I went, there he was." It was about doing a guitar thing first, with a bunch of well-known guitarists and having a big show, that's what Neal wanted to do. They changed it over and Carlos said, "What if we got the band back together?" I told Neal, "I'll wait to hear from Carlos about doing this. I think it's a great idea, but I'll wait to hear."

When I got back from the Pacific Rim and Carlos got home, I gave him a week or so to rest up and then I gave him a call and sure enough, that's what up. He goes, "Are you into it?" I said, "Absolutely." He's already named it Santana IV. He said, "The band stopped at Santana III." I said, "That's brilliant." The whole thing is just beautiful. That's pretty much how it went. Then the first meeting that we had--without Benny and Karl, the bass player and timbale player--was fantastic. It was just like riding a bicycle. It was something about how we grew up together with this music and playing with each other, it was really a jam band, that's how our music was created.

That's what we did the first couple of days; we just drank and jammed. We didn't have a bass player. I was playing on a Hammond, which I don't do that well. It had feel beyond belief, there was some great stuff going on. That was the initial thing to let us know, "Okay, let's do this." It's been a phenomenal experience to go back and get with the guys and get with Carlos again and play music at this level. I'm very pleased with it, I'm getting nothing but raves about this music when they do it here. It's been a great experience that a lot of bands can't go through, because of what Carlos was probably talking to you about, the spiritual attitude of this is beyond playing. You either connect or you don't. It's either you all get it, or you don't, but it's there.

MR: This album represents what Santana is to me, the perfect merging of sexuality and spirituality.

GR: Absolutely. Music and sexuality in Santana is absolutely synonymous. It's the way it's all played with heart. If it doesn't feel, then we don't do it. It doesn't matter if it's fast, slow, or in different times, it's just got to feel.

MR: Speaking of feel, I love how you guys kicked off the album with "Yambu." That reminds everybody of the primal connection of earth and spirit, it's a very grounding start that reminds everybody about the roots of this band.

GR: Yeah. I like all the tracks for different reasons, it's very eclectic, there's a lot of different stuff in there, but there's no doubt that it's Santana.

MR: What's your take on "Anywhere You Want To Go?" You know, people are going to compare it to "Oye Como Va."

GR: Well, sure. It's the same seven guys and the same two chords, but the point is, it's not. It is and it isn't, but it has the lope and the fee; it's what everybody loves, and I do, too. I wrote that a few years back with Santana in mind. I played it in my own band, but nobody plays it like this. That came together immediately. We played that once, twice maybe. All the stuff was done fresh, and that's why it sounds the way it does. There was more music that we had to put by the wayside when we picked which ones we were going to take.

MR: I heard there were almost fifty embryonic pieces that the band came up with.

GR: Oh, yeah, and the cream rose to the top. We were all in agreement, "Yeah, that sounds good." Once again, it was a very enjoyable experience and I loved the results.

MR: Since the main band members have gone down their individual musical paths, it seem there are some Santana techniques and approaches that have evolved as well. For instance, that end jam on "Shake It," is like, "What did I just listen to? I know it's Santana, but..."

GR: I'm glad you said that! It's great, I love it. Neal Schon played one of the best solos I think I've ever heard him do, and he came up with the riff for that song and then we wrote it and it ended up being a little bit different, but it has that roll of Santana, it's nothing but a groove on a heavy line. It'll get you right away. The playing on it is phenomenal between Carlos and Neal.

MR: "Mature" isn't the right word, because it usually conjures images of geriatrics...

GR: [laughs] Not yet dude!

MR: Ha, right, but what I'm trying to say is that this is a more mature--in a good way--Santana. Do you know what I mean?

GR: Really what we did was try to go back with everybody's knowledge. We're better writers, we're better with people, we're better all the way around as human beings, and that leads to the music. If you're having a good time with the talent and the people that are involved, it's going to be good. Not everyone's going to like it, but it's going to be good. With that mindset, when we sat down, everybody wanted to do it. We were all on the same page about doing this, so it was joyful. And it was not difficult, it was an experience.

MR: Songs like "Fillmore East" make it clear that Santana values jamming.

GR: Well, all the music was a jam. Whether it came with a song or not, it was the first time I heard it, first time anybody else heard it, and a lot of it was made on the spot, like we always did. That's how we wrote music. Even if we took somebody's song, we made it what we would do, and it was based off jamming and playing off each other, and that's what you're hearing. Everybody listens. Benny Rietveld, the bassist, said, "It's like a garage band from another planet." It just is. Everybody plays off each other. The one thing that was interesting about "Fillmore East," Carlos said at the end of it, was "Boy, it's a good thing somebody stopped us, or we'd still be playing this."

MR: [laughs] Just like being at the Filmore.

GR: Yeah! And it was. We were just tripping along with this. It was great.

MR: Carlos said that that song is a tribute also to the Jerry Garcia and the parade of musicians and bands that went through that period, and you can really feel it, even without the lyrics.

GR: I agree. At first we were going to do it a little shorter, and next thing I know it was the full length and I went, "All right, let's do it. We can't get hurt." You can't think that way, so we didn't. We went for what we play and what we do, which is what we did originally.

MR: The one-two punch on this album conceptually was "Love Makes The World Go Round" and "Freedom In Your Mind." The lyrics in those songs are so deep, positive, and spiritual.

GR: That's Carlos' writing. Carlos has been living this and thinking this for forty years, if not longer, so for it to find itself in a song, it's exactly what he feels. And shouldn't we all? It would be a much better place if things like this happened. And having Isley sing it was awesome.

MR: What was it like having Ronald Isley on those songs?

GR: Carlos asked me, "What do you think of that?" and I said, "I think it's great!" I mean, Ron Isley, are you kidding me? I feel like I'm honored to be singing on songs on the same album that he is. I grew up with him as well. It's awesome stuff.

MR: How did he get brought into the mix? Were they good friends already?

GR: I'm not sure, either they got in touch with each other, or Carlos usually pursues people if he wants to do something with them. He just asked me if I thought it was cool and I said, "Yeah, I think it is." We've always had different players and singers, we've done that all the time. If the music's better, we should do it. We can't get hurt, we're the ones that are making it, so why not?

MR: I love that. "We can't get hurt."

GR: [laughs] Yeah, it's simple!

MR: Some people would call this blasphemous, but the Carlos Santana crew reminds me of the Miles Davis crew. It seems like the center of the creativity is around this genius person with unintended vision. Everybody brings their own genius, of course, but there is something in particular that is beyond with these kinds of artists.

GR: Well, spiritually, you already know. He's already answered any questions you had, and that is Carlos. Musically, it attaches to his spirituality. When he explores music he explores everything. He throws things out and a lot of them are from left field. Years ago, I used to go, "Are you kidding?" When we did this [project], either I've changed greatly or it made so much more sense. I don't know which, all I know is it was great. Carlos always has thrown things out that were from left field and you would do something with it. I remember when they brought up "Oye Como Va" to me, I said, "What am I going to do with this?" It turned out to be one of my favorite songs I ever did. But it was the exploration, and he's always done that, and it takes a leader to do that. He'll express himself in so many ways while he plays, it's unbelievable. He pulls out melodies where you go with it because it's there. That's the idea of jamming music together. Whoever's taking the lead here, you go with it. In a lot of respects I think that's kind of how that is. He's become Carlos. He's carried this on for forty years past discovering his sound, and he's taken it all over the place. As far as Miles, he loves Miles, so that would be a great compliment to him.

MR: It's almost like when you're in the sphere of people like that, it makes a demand of you that nurtures your living up to that expectation. I imagine Carlos has that kind of effect with you guys.

GR: The proof is in the music. A lot of it is stuff, I would never come up with, but it still strikes a note with me and therefore, it becomes what it is. It's hard to explain it.

MR: The album ends with "Forgiveness," which is a powerful song about forgiving yourself, but the forlorn sound also kind of says, "Aw guys, do we really have to end the album now?"

GR: Oh, that was in the middle of recording things and it was one of those days. We were coming in to record and Carlos was already there and he was playing this stuff at a hundred and eighty dB and I said, "I guess this is what we're going to do here." So that's what happened. We jammed that and that's it. Then I jammed the vocal on there and I wrote to that. The forgiveness part about it is that the world needs it. The whole world needs to forgive. Forgive yourself, forgive others, "Let them hear me." It was really based upon the guitar playing. It sounded to me as though there were two religious towers talking to each other and trying to say the same thing and speaking back and forth. It just had that vibe to it, so that's where it came from.

MR: So in essence, that was really a duet.

GR: Yeah, it really was. It just happened. We were just playing and it was, "Wow. Who could play that and could we ever play it again?" But that's the band! That's what we do. It doesn't matter, it's on to the next one.

MR: Can you pinpoint how you've evolved as a musician?

GR: I was actually going into the project and the whole idea of forgiveness was completely on my mind. I used to get so angry at things and I don't now. Going into this was like, "This is going to be great! Or it's just going to work anyway," with no expectation other than, "Let's go do this." I took a positive role on doing something, which is really the way it ought to be when you do anything. Don't look at the negative before you get there, my God, it will show its ugly face fast enough. [laughs] Everybody was so positive about what was going on, and through the process it was the same. You were speaking of maturity, there is some maturity. Hopefully, as you get older, you have a sense of that and start to realize that the things that used to bother you are really ridiculous. Can you remember what they were? Usually not. If you're moving forward in a positive nature, you can remember the good stuff.

MR: Do you think this helps when, in the future, you have those, "Hey kids, get off my lawn," moments?

GR: Oh yeah. Unless they're doing damage to it, then they're dead meat. [laughs]

MR: [laughs]

GR: But yeah, live and let live. It'll sort itself out. Just take care. That's where I come from, and everybody seems to be in the same boat. Carlos certainly is. He opened up the doors to doing this, and he didn't have to. You must remember, he didn't have to do this. He wanted to do this. It had to come from him first or it wouldn't have gone on. We brought up a million good ideas, I mean I've always thought about it, but until everybody's in the same plane it just won't work.

MR: So in some respects, he invited the kids from the lawn into the house.

GR: Yeah, if you want to put it that way. I'm no kid and I don't play on the lawn anymore, but yes.

MR: Speaking of kids, what advice do you have for new artists?

GR: All I can say is music, no matter what, is good for you heart and soul. If you can sit down and play anywhere and do something, if you're a budding artist and you want to get out there and show the world your stuff, you have to dig in and do it. Even if you don't make it, the most important part is that it is so soothing to be able to sit down and do something if you want to, if there is nothing else around and it is just you and you're reaching for notes and playing and singing and writing and nobody else can do it except you, there's a lot of healing in that. Hopefully, if they're looking to be a professional musician, the luck hits them like it did with us. You've got to be ready for the luck when it's with you, so get out there and work.

MR: Although forty-five years passed since the luck hit you.

GR: Yeah, thanks for reminding me, man. [laughs]

MR: [laughs] So after forty-five years, is there anything you would want to tell the younger Gregg Rollie?

GR: Mainly, I just did. Just get on with it. If you're going to do it, dig into it. I would tell him the same thing my dad told me: "No matter what it is you do, I don't care what it is, give it a hundred percent or don't do it." That's what happened. I've approached all things that I do that way. You give it your all and hopefully the stars will align. There are other people involved with it in your career to make you do what you do. Keep your eyes and ears open and keep working.

MR: Now that you've finished Santana IV, what are you working on now, and ideally, what do you still need to work on?

GR: I don't know, I'll find out when it shows up. I'm going to be doing some touring here with Santana and I'm still working with Ringo Starr this summer, I love playing with him, he's a phenomenal guy. I don't know what happened to retirement, it just went up in smoke. I just keep getting phone calls and saying, "Hey, I'm in!" Who knows what'll happen. I have another CD of my own that I put on hold because doing this Santana thing was too good to pass up. Santana became foremost, and still is. We'll see where this goes. I would love to go tour a lot of this stuff and we'll see what happens.

MR: Congratulations. It seems you have an amazing dude in your band named Warren Ham.

GR: I like Warren, Warren's cool, man. He sings in the trees, he plays great sax, harmonica, plays keys, there's not a lot of guys who can do that. I'm certainly not one. I'm the Muddy Waters of keyboards. You hire me, you get this style. If you don't like that, you should get somebody else.

MR: And I should also ask you what do feel that you bring creatively to Journey that's different from what you bring to Santana?

GR: Well, originally, with Santana, it was all jamming and it was minor, blues-based...completely different. When Journey first got together, it was a fusion rock band in a way, so it had some of the same elements of that, there was the same kind of thing, and then it turned into a vocal band, which I'd never done. The vocals became predominant and we were writing for singers, not for soloing necessarily, so it became a little different, although we kept some of that element while I was in the band. I could give more of that. But it was a more difficult transition because it was from minor to major. It was totally different notes, kind of a different mood. It went into rock, and Santana was based on blues and Latin and rhythm. It's like apples and oranges. It was a little more difficult for me to adjust to journey because I was just raised on the other stuff. Then at the same time I learned some better writing skills with Journey, to write songs with a few more changes to them and how to get a chorus out that would stick out. Song structure was more predominant there, whereas with Santana, we thought we were writing songs but we just jammed them and remembered what we did and that was it, "There's your song." They were just totally two different animals.

MR: Did you find yourself bringing your Journey chops to writing with Santana?

GR: No, not at all. It was more, "Just let it fly." There was no direction as far as I was concerned. It either suited what we were doing or it didn't. And it became self-evident as you heard. It is that feel. We all played that when we were young, so it was pretty automatic to just go to that and not try to steer to anything. Sometimes too much thinking just gets you in trouble.

MR: How does it feel to be a member of two majorly successful and iconic rock groups?

GR: I feel like a very lucky guy. It's pretty amazing to be able to have done that. When I look back on it, a lot of it is who you know and when you know them. The timing of everything is so much the truth of all of life. I've hit things at the right time with the right people. I'd like to say it was all me, but that's not true.

MR: Do you have any parting words?

GR: The only thing I can say is what a great pleasure it was to do this album. It ended up more than I'd hoped it would be. It really healed a lot of wounds and revived a lot of music that was budding and just waiting to come out and here it is.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


photo credit: Justin Frost

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