Legendary guitarist Carlos Santana has been to Las Vegas many times, but never as a tourist. He first visited in 1967 as the opening act for the Grateful Dead. His memories of the experience — as well as the venue — are, let’s just say, more than a little hazy.
“I was on acid,” he says, laughing. “I don’t remember.”
In 2009, Santana commemorated another Vegas first when he became the first resident artist to rock the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel. Through 2010, the Joint will be the only place west of the Mississippi where fans can see him live. His show, “Supernatural Santana: A Trip through the Hits” is true to its title, featuring songs that span his entire career, from his first Top 10 hit, “Evil Ways,” to his latest hit “Into The Night.”
Along with Santana on lead guitar, the band line-up includes: Freddie Ravel (keyboards), Karl Perazzo (timbales), Benny Rietveld (bass), Dennis Chambers (drums), Raul Rekow (congas), Andy Vargas (vocals), Tony Lindsay (vocals), Tommy Anthony (rhythm guitar), Jeff Cressman (trombone) and Bill Ortiz (trumpet).
Dressed casually in a button-down shirt, jeans, slip-on shoes and a custom-made necklace with a charm of the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis, Santana spoke candidly about his show, his music and his unlikely residency in Vegas during a recent interview at Wasted Space in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Q: How did you end up as a resident artist in Las Vegas?
A: I came here because I made a conscious decision to start doing things that I said I would never do. The opportunity came for us to come here, and as we were traveling all over the world and spending so much money and energy on planes and hotels, this was a chance to stay in one place. It gave us an opportunity to really hone in on the music, it’s a lot more pristine.
I came here because I don’t want to escape, run away or hide. I came here because Santana is all about crystallizing and bringing together all the things that I’ve learned.
Q: Why would you “never do” Vegas?
A: In my alignment I always found Las Vegas was a grand theater for illusion, like Hollywood. I found that people who play here were superficial, plastic or pathetic … and with me being a hippy … Then I started thinking, Nat King Cole played here and Sinatra, and there’s nothing pathetic about them. So I started realizing it was a misalignment on my brain.
The people who come here are actually like children coming to a playground. This is like a huge make-believe in luck, fortune, chance, like a huge sandbox with a shovel and a bucket, thinking the more you keep shoveling something the more you’re going to find a prize underneath it , you know, and sometimes people do find it.
I feel the music I bring is actually a good thing in Las Vegas. I’m not a show business guy. I’m not an entertainment guy. I admire people who do that … but we’re not about that. I never really learned the skill of entertaining or show business. For me, it’s about music from the heart. Pure communication … it’s about a love supreme.
When people hear Santana, it’s more than the music, it’s more than the song, my name or even me. It’s bringing collective consciousness and awareness, because when we finish playing, it’s not over, you take it with you … [Music is ] a spiritual sensuality that needs to be validated, it’s God having a ball through physical bodies. It’s one love. It’s healing. It’s creating some kind of bond between the females and the males.
Q: Have you always had this theory on music?
A: I was pretty much born the way I am, it’s just that it took awhile to … it takes time for the body and soul to become one free force. My mom was an incredible woman, my grandma, two daughters … I am connected to women, I am not gay, but I am connected. I’m probably one of those people if I went on Oprah’s show, she wouldn’t make me cry. People who go there, they always cry because they’ve got something either guilt or forgiveness or something that needs to heal. I don’t have any of those things. I am happy the way I am, and I’m a work in progress, so I have nothing to feel guilty about.
Q: Sounds as if a place like “Sin City” could use your message.
A: Thank you. The opposite of luck and fortune is trust, and a sense of self worth is more than winning all the money in Las Vegas. Donald Trump or Michael Jackson have had a lot of money and they weren’t necessarily at peace. The real joy is not a position and a destination, it’s a condition. I choose to do something with my life knowing that I’m beautiful. I don’t need people to throw flowers at my feet or praise me in the media. I have more self worth than that.
Q: Are Vegas audiences different than your typical audience?
A: They’re still human. I haven’t seen anyone from Mars or Venus.
I like seeing mohawks, and a suit and a tie, I mean a whole dimension of consciousness, you know. I go from my room or to a restaurant [in the Hard Rock Hotel] and these people who are in their 50s or 60s stop me and say, “You know, we came from Paris to celebrate on my birthday, will you take a picture with me?” Then there’s a guy, 19 or 20, he says, “Hi, I came from St. Louis, man.” So I’m aware people are actually flying in from different parts of the world to come and see us. I’m not bragging, I’m just saying.
The people who come … music has been part of their families. People get married to “Europa” and have babies to their favorite songs. I’m really, really grateful.
Q: When was the first time you visited Vegas?
A: I never came here as a tourist. I only came here for the first time in ’67 to open up for the Grateful Dead. I did that three times.
Q: Did you play at Sam Boyd Stadium?
A: I don’t know, I was on acid, I don’t remember. I know because they told me.
Q: How is performing as an artist in residence different from putting on a typical rock concert?
A: We have to jam less. We’re more present with each note. I want everything to be kind of like you’re walking out of the shower and you get a French kiss. There aren’t any airs, there’s nothing superficial about it. It’s very real. And even though we’ve played the same songs since I can remember, making love should never feel the same, the sunrise is never the same. So it’s all about rearranging my brain and the brain of my fans, to go into that place where it’s completely new, totally unfamiliar, not like the first time or the last time.
I think, don’t go on automatic, don’t be mechanical, don’t be superficial and think about what you’re thinking when you’re playing that note so that when you play that note you give yourself chills and you give other people chills.
Anyone who thinks of making love is mechanical and routine, then that’s the “F” word, it’s not love. Love is always heavenly. As you can tell, with me music and sex is the same, it’s energy and it’s how you honor it and not be ashamed or be uncomfortable, because it’s a gift from God to be aroused. Music is like sexual intercourse, it begins, it ends, you have an orgasm and you begin again. You can’t separate sex from music.
Q: Just think of all the babies you’re responsible for.
A: Let’s just say, we helped inspire …