Midway Between Disneyland And The Barrio
SAN FRANCISCO — “I still feel like I just landed in this country from Tijuana, and it’s been like a non—stop Disneyland,” says Carlos Santana, checking the incense that burns nearby as he sits cross-legged on the floor. “I’m a kid and I’m having a lot of fun.” Santana has had a busy week, doing a flurry of interviews and spending a day on Baker Beach filming the video of “I’m The One Who Loves You,” an old Curtis Mayfield tune that is the second single from his new album, Beyond Appearances. In two days the guitarist leaves on a US tour in support of the record, with what is estimated as the 32nd incarnation of the Santana band.
“Sometimes it seems like fantasy, but I don’t mind,” he continues, “I don’t mind if fantasy can be this good. A lot of times people live in reality and it’s all negative and destruction and they don’t trust anybody. If that’s reality then I’d rather be in this kind of fantasy, where I can talk to John Lee Hooker and B.B. King and be their friend.”
There may not be a better testament to Santana’s ability as a bandleader than Beyond Appearances. It’s not his most experimental record, that’s for sure. With Val Garay, producer of hits with The Motels, Kim Carnes and Joan Armatrading, the 1985 Santana is trying to reach a mass audience. Where Carlos would usually just take the band in and do it, here he is using all recording options available. “We go to LA every seven, eight years to do that. Val Garay was a big part of that,” says Carlos. “Mainly because I don’t listen to the radio as much as I used to, so it’s important to have somebody that does listen to the radio, like a Val Garay. He helped out a lot. And I did have a lot of fun with (drummer) Chester Thompson, (bassist) Alphonso Johnson, and (keyboardist) David Sancious.”
Carlos figures it was either Bill Graham or co—manager Ray Etzler who picked the producer. “They’re too chicken to produce it by them-selves, you know,” Santana jokes. “The last one he (Graham) produced was Zebop (1981). I like it when Bill and I just produce, because it’s different. But I did like the quality, a lot of the positive attributes that Val Garay had. He has a lot of conviction, and I like that in a producer, because I also have a lot. He’s not going to take me to his territory and I’m not going to bring him to mine, so we have to find that middle place where we can find material and moods and lyrics where we can reach the younger audience. That’s the goal. People my age only buy something when everybody tells them it’s happening. I know a lot of people my age didn’t buy Tina Turner until they couldn’t stand it anymore — they gotta go get it because they hear it so much and it’s happening. But the younger people take more chances.”
Beyond Appearances marks the return of explosive vocalist Greg Walker to the fold, joining Alex Ligertwood, the sparky Scot who has been with the group since the Marathon (1979) album. Val may have instructed Alex to do his best Phil Collins on “How Long.” Ligertwood also shines on “I’m The One Who Loves You,” and on “Right Now,” a spirited tour de force that may be the record’s best cut. Walker shows off some tremendous chops on the tune as well, and is equally irrepressible in the lead vocal role on the hit “Say It Again.” The Garay—Goldstein-LaPeau composition goes straight for the heart, and Carlos revs up his blues licks at the end to give it a big lift. The bandleader handles lead vocals himself (or lead rapping) on the band jams “Brother hood” and the percussion flavored romp “Who Loves You,” featuring the master Orestes Vilato on timbales. Santana, who has dedicated concerts to John McEnroe and albums to Muhammad Ali, writes a song here for the former Oakland NFL football team, “Touchdown Raiders.”
“I got away with a lot, considering it was supposed to be a Hollywood-commercial concept,” Santana says. “Well, we fought a lot, but it was constructive fighting. Like I said, he can’t take me totally to his territory, it’s not me. And I can’t totally bring him to the Mission District, because it’s not him.” Santana is actually fairly elated over the reception his new album has received, having just returned from a successful promotional trip to Europe, and just performed two numbers before an enthusiastic crowd on a season-ending Saturday Night Live show. Still, like a true artist, Santana is already thinking ahead to his next project, a solo album that he hopes will feature drummer Tony Williams, Jimmy Cliff, and John Lee Hooker. “I’m really grateful I got a chance to do an album and I can relate to people, so that hopefully their attention will still be there when I put out my other album with Tony Williams. It’s not commercially oriented, and I don’t think it’s fusion. It’s just music, you know. I think the foundation is still the blues, but I like the blues. Although I’m not from Texas or Chicago, it’s still my first love.”
Carlos has been recording tracks for his upcoming solo record at The Plant in Sausalito with bassist Pat O’Hearn (Group 87, Missing Persons) and the drummer Williams. “I’m having a lot of fun with Tony,” he says. “It’s like Miles says, ’I don’t think there’s anybody alive that can play what this cat plays.’ He has absolute conviction. I don’t think question mark or doubt is in Tony Williams’ vocabulary. When he hits it, it’s just so solid. It’s almost scary. I told him that George Lucas could do a movie on one of his solos alone. It’s a fact that people have not invented the microphones to record his sounds. They try all kinds of different positions and different things, and they don’t sound like he sounds. He can go from a whisper to a scream—loud, man.”
Santana not only likes Williams’ drumming, but his songwriting as well. “Drummers don’t get to play melody a lot,” he says. “They play thematically with the drums. When they do come up with a melody it’s really strong because they keep it in for so long. One of the first drummers I got into was Chico Hamilton because of that. Coming from a drummer, melodies are just stronger because they aren’t doing it all the time.”
Santana gets a faraway look in his eyes for a moment, then continues, “Someday maybe I can get away with doing a sabbatical. I’ve been thinking about doing a sabbatical the way Miles or Sonny Rollins did, and really take some time to work with somebody like Robert Fripp and learn more theory on music. Sometimes I feel like I need to just stop and listen for a couple years and learn more before I can keep doing all this music. Something motivates you, and I think when the joy would stop, that’s when I would have to stop. Sometimes it is tempting to stop, especially now with children, and experiencing the way he (my son) sees a cow for the first time — that stuff is appealing, you know. Sometimes you’re going so fast you don’t get a chance to really taste and assimilate life. But if I do,” he says, “I would definitely go to school all over again. I want to learn orchestration. I listened a lot to Wes (Montgomery) and those arrangements fascinate me, how oboe or whatever can just create a mood. I’ll just take it one day at a time right now. It’s tempting to stop sometimes and re-learn all kinds of things, but I’ll probably just keep playing the old blues.”
On his recent promotional trip to Europe, Santana wound up not talking about Beyond Appearances as much as he talked about his concern over the growing number of teenage suicides all over the world. “If you watch TV, man, it’s ridiculous, all the flying with cars and everything. You know, the parts for Blacks and Mexicans are still guys with the Mexican hat and the cactus, and the black guy with the watermelon, or he’s a pimp. I’d like to change that, basically, because I think that’s a big part of the confusion, frustration, and ultimately the destruction of teenagers. Nowadays with all the suicide, that’s a strong reality. To me, it’s a lot of promises being nipped in the bud. That’s how I look at teenagers. And the lyrics on Beyond Appearances are really geared towards that, if people really take the time to check them out. Its about bringing people to a place where they can see that we do have options and alternatives. And that you haye to follow your heart, Sometimes you have to put your parents, your teachers and your country aside, and stand up as an individual. And this way, like a dog shakes off water, you can shake off the pressure.”
Pressure is something Santana has learned to handle, being the band that’s almost as much an institution in San Francisco as Coit Tower. “I don’t take it too seriously,” he says. “People I admire have those qualities that one minute they’re totally brilliant, geniuses, and the next second they can’t tie their shoelaces. And I’m finding out that that’s part of it—that sometimes I feel totally inept, like anybody can walk out in the room from the streets and just blow me away.
“Now I accept it——it’s a fact that the spirit flows through everybody, and in order to find yourself, you’ve got to lose yourself. A lot of times if you look like a total bozo out there, it’s because you’re looking for something. People who always look like they’re in control don’t have the latitude that I love. I like Thelonious Monk, for example. He plays things that I hear my 2- year—old son play, and then he plays like Art Tatum plays. It’s a tact that to find yourself you’ve got to lose yourself. And when you lose yourself, you’re going to look like a how, no matter what. So it’s OK.”