Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Spiritual Sayings of Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana is one of my guitar heroes.

I spent a good part of my teenage years listening to him, and it became a ritual of sorts -- I had to have my daily one-hour fix of Santana. While his music played, I pored over his interviews, re-reading them over and over again in magazines like Guitar Player, Musician and Guitar World.

The idea for this column came from a music journal I used to keep as a kid. And as a true Carlos fan, I devoted several pages to his quotes which I entitled 'The Spiritual Sayings of Carlos Santana'. These are just some of them.

I dedicate this column to Carlos.


"When music starts playing you, you don't play music anymore. Music starts playing itself through you instead of you trying to make it happen."

"The most beautiful music goes beyond the musicians who played it. Certain people, like Jimi Hendrix or John Coltrane, don't play just for themselves or their immediate families. They play for a whole generation."

"The main thing is the cry. That's what I'm trying to do with the tone."

"The tone is more important to me than anything else because it will disarm the listener to let go of whatever is in their mind. That's what people try to do when they go to church."

"The tone, first of all, is your face. So why do you want to look like somebody else?"

"Unless you have a good engineer, the first thing they take from you is the ghost sound, the spirit sound -- so they leave you really dry. Without the ghost tones, I may as well be doing gardening or something else."

"I would say about 25% (of the tone) is in my hands. The other 75% comes from my legs, my guts. After I play a solo my throat and my calves hurt. This is projecting."

"I can just about get (my tone) from any guitar. But I really go out and jam with a lot of people, and a lot of times, as soon as I put my finger on a guitar, the guitar will say to me, "Who are you and why are you playing me this way."

"With my guitar, it's like, "Where do you want to go?"

"If you put your whole being on that note, man, your hair stands, your spine tingles."

"B.B. King hit the note and it changed everything for me."

"I'll take sincerity over soulfulness anytime. Whether you play fast or slow, if you're sincere, the people will pick it up."

"Deception, ego. Those are the things that block pure creativity. Ego to me is like a dog or a horse. Make him work for you. Don't you work for him."

"You can tell what people have in their eyes -- malice, expectations, the beauty of things."

On guitarist Bola Sete: "Mortal music deals with my baby left me, I can't pay the rent, or whatever. Bola's music tells you that inside, we have roaring cosmic lions."

"A lot of times, I can't stand my playing. Other times, I can't believe that it's coming out of my fingers."

"A note is like a rose. It can be closed, or halfway open, or all the way in bloom. Choose how each note is going to be. You want to present the best possible bouquet."

"Play like you don't know how to play. Take chances and make new mistakes. Go for what you don't know and make it brutally honest."

"A good way to develop (your sound) is to get a tape recorder and for half an hour, turn out the lights and then just play with a rhythm machine."

"Universal language (of music) is deeper than the surface. That way, when you play cowboy music, even the Japanese will be doing a hillbilly dance."

"I needed to know about discipline. Now I know that out of discipline comes freedom."

"When Tony Williams plays the ride cymbal, there's a lot of melodies in there. Listen to those melodies. A lot of times it's not the pianist who states the theme. It's the drummer."

"Actually, if you don't read music, that doesn't make you ignorant. Birds don't read. Birds can go out there and they'll still have a song in the morning."

"Whatever happens between the 23 hours that you're not onstage is going to affect you when you come onstage."

"When things get too crazy with the world, you can click a switch and go into your own sanctuary and play music that is stronger than the news."

"Whether you are doing it in the bar, the church, the strip joint, or the Himalayas, the first duty of music is to complement and enhance life."

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