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Santana On The Velocity And The Vibe Of His Band, Past And Present

Carlos Santana and Journey play Mohegan on the release date of 'Santana IV'

Some of the most iconic clips in "Woodstock," the 1970 documentary about the watershed rock festival, capture four long-haired Santana musicians — organist Gregg Rolie, drummer Michael Shrieve (at 20, the youngest musician to perform at the festival), percussionist Michael Carabello and, of course, Carlos — jamming their faces off on "Soul Sacrifice," at the end of the band's Aug. 16, 1969, set.

That quartet, along with Journey guitarist Neal Schon (who joined Santana in 1971 for "Santana III," when he was only 17), reunited last year for "Santana IV," a jam-heavy new album due out Friday, April 15 — the same day Santana's "Supernatural" band teams up with Journey for a concert at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville.

Carlos Santana spoke to CTNOW about the early days of the band and the making of "Santana IV," which also features singer Ronald Isley on two songs.

Q: What was the vibe in the studio during the recording of "Santana IV?"

A: The vibe was pretty much like it was for the first three albums, where everybody becomes one flow, one breath. We're not like we used to be, in a sense. We used to be very brutal and curt: "That sh*t ain't going to work."

When you work with someone, you get to a place where you say, "You know, I champion that you feel like that. I don't agree with it at all, but I champion that you do." What was really surprising and very gratifying was how willing we were to validate one another. In the past, we were too urgent. Three guys wanted to do it one way and the other guys wanted to do it another way. What was really fun this time around: it was just as intense, it wasn't wishy-washy or anything, but the intensity went toward collective arriving, a collective win-win situation, and that to me was very endearing. I'm ready to do a trilogy.

Q: Did feel pressure to live up to certain expectations?

A: Nobody is more brutal with you than you. Now we have arrived at a place of validating and celebrating and compensating — all of those things that humans need, like watering a plant. It was really fun. There's a chemistry in Santana. As soon as we're in the room with Gregg Rolie and Michael Carabello and Michael Shrieve and Neal [Schon], there's an immediate sound that arrives. It's not the guitars anymore. It's not the keyboards so much. The person is the sound.

Q: Were you and Neal together in a room, playing live? Was there any overdubbing if you didn't quite get what you wanted?

A: Everything happened live. If there was anything to overdub, it became, like, 10 percent, if that. I love first takes, with everything that happens. I get married, if that's the word, to the first track no matter what happens, good or bad.

It was a lot of fun with Neal this time. I'm the one that invited Neal in the band in the first place. I was watching that Peter Green had another guitar player with the original Fleetwood Mac. I was watching that Eric Clapton was going back and forth with Duane Allman, and that the Allman Brothers had two guitar players. It seemed like two guitar players was what was happening. It felt natural to me to invite Neal. The best part of it is that Greg is right in the middle of it. There's a guitar solo, an organ solo and another guitar solo. We're leapfrogging each other. Gregg is the best musician to be between Neal and me to balance that kind of expression and electricity.

Q: Why is that?

A: Gregg Rolie is an intense dude, man. You had so many organ players: Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff. When you hear Gregg Rolie, it's like Santana, like Neal or Carlos. You hear one note, and you know it's Gregg Rolie. That became part of the immediate identification, Greg and I, even before Neal. It's the sound of Woodstock and the sound of Abraxas. We must have had something, because Miles Davis kept calling the studio: "Hey!" He would come to the gigs. It was like: Wow, we must be putting something down if Miles Davis is calling the studio and coming to the gigs.

Q: There's a jam on "Santana IV" called "Fillmore East." Was there any question that, when everyone returned to play together, that you'd be jamming and letting people hear that on the record?

A: When we started working on "Fillmore East," I specifically advised the band: Look, let's go back into the studio right now, and everybody start playing, and remember the patchouli oil, the weed, the Doors, the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, Miles Davis, Charles Lloyd, Ravi Shankar... Let's go play like that.

If you could actually scrape the walls of the Fillmore East, this is what it would sound like. I'm pretty good at inviting people and giving them words that paint a picture, so that people say, "I know what to play, I know what not to play." I said, "Just pretend you're at the Fillmore East, and let's start playing." That's what we got.

Q: On "Santana IV," Ronald Isley sings on two tracks: "Love Makes the World Go Around" and "Freedom In Your Mind." How did those songs evolve with him in the studio?

A: His music was playing when I married Cindy in Maui a few years back. If you get a chance, listen to "Hymn of Remembrance" by Keith Jarrett. It's a song for the lady to walk up the aisle, when the father gives her to you. She says, "I do," and you say, "I do." But the first song that you dance to with her is "The Look of Love" by Ronnie Isley. He did a whole album of Burt Bacharach material. I already had this great aspiration to work with Ronnie. We were calling each other back and forth. I just wrote those two songs, "Love Makes the World Go Around" and "Freedom in Your Mind," in 20 minutes, both of them. I said, "I want to send you these two songs. I wonder if you would be so gracious as to sing them, and I'll do your whole album." And we did: We recorded 15 songs in two days with Ronnie Isley, and they're killing. The album is going to be called "The Power of Peace."

I asked Gregg specifically, because he's the singer: "Would you consider having Ronnie sing two songs?" He said, "Are you kidding? Just to be in the same room as Ronnie Isley, man..." [Isley] was doing "Twist and Shout" before the Beatles went on Ed Sullivan. So we did it, and I feel really grateful.

Santana is about velocity. Velocity means you see it, and then it's in front of you. More than ever, the velocity for me is manifesting. If I said to you, "I want to do something with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock and call it "Supernova," or whatever," and I make a phone call, they'll say, "Yeah, let's do it." I'm not bragging. I'm just affirming that, if you do something from the center of your heart, you acquire the velocity of manifestation. It's not chance. It's not luck. It's not any of that. It's a law, like gravity.

Q: Going forward, will this group of musicians on "Santana IV" tour together?

A: We're going to do three concerts to see how it feels, because we haven't done that in awhile. I want to try to combine the original band and also try to do some of the music of "Supernatural," because that album is supremely important. It's like Michael Jackson's "Thriller." That album got that many awards in one sum, so I can't ignore "Smooth," "Maria," all of that. I'll do 75 percent of the original band from the first three albums and "Santana IV" and then 25 percent of what I call the Supernatural band, all integrated together.

SANTANA & JOURNEY perform at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on Friday, April 15, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $90 to $120. Information: mohegansun.com.

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