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Santana Works Magic


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Santana works magic

Susan Whitall / The Detroit News

If guitarist Carlos Santana seems relaxed, even buoyant this Saturday at DTE Energy Music Theatre, there's a very human answer: He's in love.

The divorced, Mexican-born music legend (he moved to San Francisco as a teenager) has found a new love. "It's wonderful to understand that I don't have to touch the ground right now," he says, his grin apparent even over the phone line. As for her identity, "You're not cleared to have that information yet," he laughs.

Santana does have a lot to say about his forthcoming solo album, "Guitar Heaven," cover versions of famous rock songs done with guest singers, which he was coaxed to do by longtime mentor and music titan Clive Davis. Even though it's the same formula that fueled his wildly successful 1999 "Supernatural" album, it took some convincing.

"I was afraid to touch the Mona Lisas," the guitarist explains. " 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps,' 'Sunshine of Your Love,' 'Whole Lotta Love,' 'Riders on the Storm,' 'Back in Black.' "

But Davis convinced Santana that he could do it, "that there's genuineness in the pristine clarity of purpose that I would complement. I know the music and who recorded the songs. They know I wouldn't do something inappropriate."

Davis chose the singer for each song, among them Joe Cocker (on Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing"), Nas ("Back in Black") and his "Smooth" collaborator Rob Thomas ("Sunshine of Your Love").

"There's a pristine balance in when to trust the Holy Ghost in people, to receive a present," says Santana of his trust in Davis. "When someone offers me a present like 'Supernatural' or Woodstock, all you have to do is get the hell out of your own way!"

Speaking of Woodstock, the 1969 granddaddy of all outdoor rock concerts, Santana's rendition of "Soul Sacrifice" was a highlight of the festival. It was before the world knew about Santana via "Evil Ways," "Abraxas" and "Black Magic Woman."

Santana is honest about the back story.

"I was definitely at the highest point of mescaline/LSD or whatever it was that I took," Santana admits. "I remember asking, 'God, please help me stay in tune and stay in time, and I promise I won't do it again.' Of course, I broke my promise. But at least my intentions were good, I didn't say, 'Make me rich or famous or look good,' I just wanted to be in time, and in tune."

Santana's music, with its then-exotic Latin elements and African rhythms, excited audiences in 1969-70. Today it probably would be relegated by corporate radio to the dusty "world music" bin.

"We didn't have what we have now, little cookie cutter compartmentalizing," he says. "We had Billie Holiday and Mahalia Jackson and Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson ... human music, on this planet."

Santana's own influences on the guitar are, refreshingly, all over the map.

"Definitely the Kings -- Freddie King, B.B. King, Albert King," Santana says. "And before that, the root, John Lee Hooker, who is from Detroit, Lightnin' Hopkins and Jimmy Reed. Then as I got sophisticated, I went toward T-Bone Walker. When I got to San Francisco, my whole consciousness changed, because this was ground zero for consciousness expansion. Over here you could listen to Monk or Miles Davis or Johnny Mathis or Ravi Shankar or Otis Redding. San Francisco was the center of everything!"

He pooh-poohs the idea that raw blues like Hooker's is too simple. "There's nothing more elemental than honesty and sincerity. I admire Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, who are harmonic geniuses, but they can still play with the intensity of John Lee Hooker or Marvin Gaye. They have both things, the simplicity and complexity, with heart and soul. The proof is in the pudding. When you can make people of all ages, of all nationalities, of all enfoldments of evolution cry and jump for joy at the same time ... you're in it!"

Santana declares that Detroit is "blessed" because Motown, along with the Beatles and San Francisco music, "got us through Vietnam" and the many assassinations of the '60s. In fact, for Saturday's show with Winwood, Santana has a plan. "I'm going to convince Steve in a soulful way, not imposing, that we have to do (Marvin Gaye's) 'Inner City Blues,' some Marvin Gaye, and some Bob Marley. We'll see what willingness his heart is bringing."

You can hear him smile.

swhitall@detnews.com (313) 222-2156

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