“I just had an epiphany!” says Carlos Santana, during a rehearsal at the Las Vegas House of Blues. His band, Santana, has just finished the raucous 1971 track “Everybody’s Everything.” “This song is like a nice filet mignon,” he continues. “We can play it in the set right after ‘Evil Ways’ and ‘Soul Sacrifice.'” The group starts “Love Makes the World Go Round,” from their new album, Santana IV, but Carlos stops it abruptly. It seems Michael Shrieve is hitting his drums a little too hard. “I don’t want it to sound like Bruce Springsteen,” Santana says. “Try it softer.”
If the band sounds a bit rusty, there’s a good reason: It hasn’t played a full show together since 1971. After a nasty breakup, the members headed in all directions, ending up everywhere from other famous bands to jail. Although Carlos carried on under the Santana name – eventually selling 11.8 million copies of 1999’s Supernatural – his group’s classic lineup cast a long shadow. These were the guys who forged Santana’s signature sound, who cut hits like “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va,” and who played a stunning set at Woodstock, after Carlos took a hit of mescaline from Jerry Garcia and tripped so hard he saw his guitar neck turn into a snake.
By the time Santana take the stage at the House of Blues in front of a capacity crowd, the kinks from yesterday’s rehearsal have been worked out. The band opens with a long version of the 1969 instrumental “Soul Sacrifice,” with every member taking a solo. As Shrieve re-creates the iconic drum solo he played at Woodstock, Carlos beams with pride from the side of the stage, and the rest of the set smokes. “We can now offer each other 45 years of acquired wisdom,” he says the morning after. “We all have a deeper appreciation for one another, and now we have a second chance.”
They first came together as the Santana Blues Band in San Francisco’s Mission District in 1966. The group’s name was eventually shortened to Santana, a decision that singer Gregg Rolie swears (almost convincingly) never bothered him. “‘Rolie’ would have been a terrible name,” he says. “I’ve tried to focus on the positive side of things rather than who got the name and who didn’t. The music’s incredible, and I was part of that.”
Seventeen-year-old guitar prodigy Neal Schon joined their ranks for 1971’s Santana III, though by that point the group was starting to melt down. “The rock & roll lifestyle was killing people,” says Shrieve. “I can watch old videos of us playing and just smell the cocaine. Man, that’s evil stuff.”
Santana, whose thoughts routinely veer toward the mystical, has a different take: “I never took drugs – I took medicine. I wanted to open the door to something I didn’t understand, so I took peyote. I took LSD. A few times I tried cocaine and my whole body said, ‘This is a distraction from the spirit and it will throw you in a ditch.'” But drugs were not the only issue. “We were too young to appreciate it the first time around,” says Santana. “I was so invested in my agenda. It was my, my, my, my, my, my. Also, nobody was equipped to handle the adulation.”