The Resurrection of Santana
I. They’ll Smile in Your Face
Mingo, the conga player, keeps a pasteless toothbrush in his mouth all through the trip to the restaurant; at the cafe (partly owned by estranged Santana member Gregg Rolie), pint-sized timbales player Chepito spends a good half hour directing offers to groupies at other tables — “Fourteen inches, gringa, fourteen inches” — and hurling spiced cauliflower sprouts at Herbie, the production manager; across the table Tom Koster, who’s taken Rolie’s place in the group, on keyboards, thrusts out a judo chop-straight left hand: “Lookit this ring. It’s been on this finger nine and a half years.” He pulls out his wallet, taps it on Chep’s arm several times. He wants to show pictures of his baby boy. “Fourteen inches!” Chepito Areas yells over Koster’s right shoulder. “I love sex!” he exclaims later. “It’s my only problem!” And Carlos, in a booth with Mike Shieve (the only other original Santana member left) and new bassist Doug Rauch, has turned away from his salad. He is watching the two young men on the little stage, playing decent banjo and guitar, harmonizing on Beatles and Cat Stevens tunes. Decent music for a sandwich bar in Seattle, Washington, and Carlos Santana almost looks intent.
That’s fine. It means that while the rest of the band, and gringas, roll off to see Tower of Power, Carlos will keep his appointment — to talk, to break the silence for the first time since the formation of Santana.
For the first two years of that silence — interrupted, of course, by three gold albums full of speed-paced Latino-based music that went from imitative to innovative — there wasn’t that much you would want to know. A bunch of kids taking drugs, flashing blades, from the brown-collared Mission district of San Francisco, making noise and plenty of money. And outside their music, a member would say now and again, Santana had nothing to say.
But in the third year of that silence, the stories began to circulate: dope and other busts; Chepito near death from a brain hemorrhage; the band leaving for a tour without him; disaster, deportation from Peru; the band splitting up — bass player David Brown quit, then fired, now working with his sisters; conga-player Mike Carabello fired; organist and lead vocalist Gregg Rolie split, along with Neal Schon, who’d joined the band after Abraxas, to share lead guitar with Carlos; lawyer and accountant — Where’s the money? — fired; Carlos turns to Jesus, jams with Buddy Miles, prays together, plays together with Mahavishnu orchestra leader John McLaughlin, hires five new band members, changes musically from “Evil Ways” to Yogananda vibrations, songs of reincarnation in a Caravanserai; dumps communal manager Stan Marcum, who’d dumped Bill Graham two years before; and, finally, just last week, Carlos Santana has cut his hair — from Jesus long to Mission High, Mahavishnu mid …
But now Carlos feels ready to explain himself, to open up, and the old members, old associates are quick to follow. So, in the last two weeks, sad, funny, and sordid tales have been spilled out to me, from inside a hotel room, a lawyer’s office, an attorney’s visiting room at county jail, a recording studio, a courtroom hallway, a manager’s office in a castle-like Marin County house, and Bill Graham’s office overlooking the remains of the Fillmore West, the succeeding promoter’s “To Be Announced” marquee broken up by missing letters. Dozens of stories about sex and drug habits, money and music problems, personality conflicts and power struggles. And for whatever reason — mostly having to do with maintaining pride and/or possessions, almost none of one person’s version of any story agrees with anyone else’s, when they get down to who did what to and with whom.
Imagine you’re in the heat of summer in the city, in the barrios, and a fierce fight ensues for some reason — say a combination of macho love and mucho money — among the Latinos: the Chicanos and the Puerto Ricans and the Nicaraguans, battling it out with fists and knives. Other browns and whites and blacks join in with chains, guns, brass knuckles. Some parents, a squad of police, and several attorneys try to break in to achieve a peace with honor and take depositions. And there are these four gurus, one to each corner, humming and meditating. All on a flimsy stage set up on a flatbed truck by the Neighborhood Arts Program.
And for theme music for this little party, try the harmonizing O’Jays:
They’ll smile in your face
(All the time they try to take your place)
The back-stabbers …
II. Why the Freeway Is So Crowded
We begin with Carlos Santana, here in Seattle with the five-eighths new Santana, in his 26th floor Hilton Hotel room, which he has gone to great lengths to turn into a meditation room. Coltrane on cassette, Spiritual Sky brand coconut incense burning, the only light coming from a tapered white candle near the door, illuminating an oval laminated plaque bearing the likeness of Jesus Christ. In my sacrilegious way, I ask for some light across the room, at the table where we’ll talk, and proceed to move the candle. No sooner than I’ve re-placed the candle, Carlos has dipped into a duffel bag, found another candle, and lit it, to maintain the glow near Jesus.
This is before the haircut, and he still looks like the Carlos Santana you saw grimacing at the Fillmore, at Alta-mont, at Woodstock, and at your local ballroom. He wears a knit shirt, white bellbottoms, is barefoot. Talking, he’ll massage his left toe now and then, but mostly he looks off, out the bay window, to the Space Needle in the distance. On a medallion around his neck he wears the likeness of Sri Chinmoy. He is shopping from among four disciplines: Chinmoy, Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Satchidananda and the Self-Realization Center. His voice is low, quiet, sometimes almost tearful as he talks about getting the spirit. He has a house in Marin, a German-styled house on the Panoramic Highway that puts Mill Valley up against the forest-like Mount Tamalpais — where he often goes “to relate.”
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