When Carlos Santana released his 1999 CD, "Supernatural," few expected It to generate much more than the respectable million-or-so copies his albums typically sold. To date, 25-million copies have been sold. Supernatural won nine Grammys.
Next month, Santana is hoping to surprise us again with his follow-up to "Supernatural," a CD he calls "Shaman." Santana is 55 now, and since he first electrified the audience at Woodstock 33 years ago, he's always been full of surprises. And when we first sat down with him when "Supernatural" was released, he had a lot of unexpected things to say about his life, his work and a childhood trauma that became the catalyst for his comeback.
Charlie Rose reports.
Santana's sound is a unique fusion of music from Africa, the American South and his own native Mexico.
He is a product of the 1960s, a true hippie, and today the man once called Cosmic Carlos still talks like one.
"Sound immediately rearranges the molecular structure of the listener. And that's something that I'm really really passionate about," says Santana.
When asked about his New Age veneer, he says, "If they equate Cosmic Carlos with something that they don't understand because they're too much on the frequency of meat and potatoes, it's OK....There's something about music that makes your hair stand up. Behold, it rearranges your molecular structure."
If Santana comes across as if he's stuck in the 1960s, that's part of what hurt him in the 1990s. Five record companies turned him down, dismissing him as a relic from Woodstock, until an old friend and mentor, Arista Records president Clive Davis, agreed to see him.
"He wanted to see what is this man about," recalls Santana. "That's when I said...'I want to reconnect the molecules with the light, man, you know?'"
Explains Arista's Davis, "What he means when he says 'connect the molecules to the light' is in essence that he wanted a radio-friendly album."
"There's something about Carlos when he talks like that, and it's natural," Davis says. "He has the essence of dignity, the essence of grace and spirituality....So that although he'll talk about the molecules and the light, he'll talk also in very sensual terms about his music."
Davis agreed to work with Santana. The result was the album "Supernatural." The album's hit first single, "Smooth," was co-written by someone who was not even born when Santana first made it big: twentysomething Rob Thomas from the group Matchbox 20.
"If he had never - if he had never had "Black Magic Woman," if he had never had "Oye Como Va," he would still be out there every night in one of these little clubs out here playing somewhere," says Thomas.
Santana is too big to play little clubs now. Thirty years after Woodstock, the world has rediscovered Santana.
After Supernatural became No. 1 in the United States, Santana became the answer to those wondering if America can entertain a second act. He represents, he says, "That it can be done. That the world doesn't belong to 17-, to 27-year-olds."
All this is a long way from his roots in rural Mexico. His father introduced him to music, first the violin and then the guitar. By age 11, Carlos had begun his professional career, playing for American tourists on the streets of Tijuana.
"'Song, mister; 50 cents a song, mister.' That was my mantra," recalls Santana.
"You know my father brought us this box of Chiclets," Santana says. "It was just kind of cheap Chiclets. And he just cracked it in half, and he gave half to my brother, half to me, and he says, 'Don't come back till you sell it.'"
"So OK, my - my brother is selling Chiclets and shining shoes, and I'm like, you know, selling Chiclets, and, you know, 'song, mister; 50 cents a song,'" he adds.
By age 13, his musical education took him to the strip joints of Tijuana. He was already playing the music of American blues legends such as B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters.
"I would work from 4 o'clock in the afternoon to 6 o'clock in the morning," Santana says. "We played for an hour; the hookers stripped for an hour. I thought it was great... Who wants to go back to junior high school?"
As a teen Santana knew Muddy Waters, along with Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker and Lightning Hopkins. He knew the musicians who played the border towns, where "the real gut bucket,...cut and shoot music" is performed, he says, explaining, "If they don't like it, they cut and shoot you."
At 18, he joined his family in San Francisco and became an American citizen. San Francisco in 1965 served as ground zero for a musical and cultural revolution, which came to a head four years later at Woodstock.
Santana recalls his own experience taking LSD. "My guitar is like - like (an) electric snake. So that's why you see my face, you know, like making all these ugly faces, like, 'Stand still,' you know."
"Intuitively I just said, 'God, please help me. I'll never do this again," he says.
"That was my mantra," Santana says amid laughter. "It was a very, very frightening experience. I don't recommend it to anybody."
He gave up drugs until a few years later, but the experience did ignite his career. His first three albums sold millions and for the next three decades he played the world to packed houses. Along the way he moved into a house in Northern California with his wife Deborah and their three kids.
On his property is a virtual museum for his musical history and tastes, not a shrine to his profound religious faith but to his muse. He has meticulously saved thousands of hours of music and video.
There are countless photographs and pieces of artwork depicting his musical heros. The audio and video collection documents almost every show he's ever done. The attic is full of one-of-kind T-shirts by his favorite Bay artists.
Santana built this place in 1983, about when he began smoking marijuana after 10 years of abstinence. In 1991 he was arrested for misdemeanor possession, and his wife Deborah insisted that he give it up for good.
Four years later she demanded something else: "He needed to make some changes in his life on a grand scale in order to be with me and in order to be the father that our children needed," Dborah Santana explains.
"I was very angry at one point - and I didn't know that I was so angry," Carlos Santana recalls. His wife told him around 1994, 1995 and 1996, "It concerns me that you're always angry," and that he acted this way around the children. She urged him to seek a therapist.
Carlos Santana reluctantly agreed. "On the seventh time, (the therapist) interrupted me in the middle of the session," he recalls of the breakthrough session. "She goes, 'What makes you think or believe that the world wakes up to screw you every morning?' And that was it," he says.
"It made me realize that I was thinking wrong, like a victim. I mean the issues of, being child molested, were surfacing," says Carlos Santana. He reports he felt angry because as a child he had been molested by a man, from 1957 to 1959.
For almost 40 years Carlos Santana had kept this secret. He never talked about it publicly. Even his wife didn't know the whole story. "It's a very, as children say, icky part of your life," he now says.
Telling his story is changing him. "I'm free," he says. "By the grace of the holiest of holiest, I am free from feeling guilt, shame, judgment, condemnation), fear."
"Because of that is the CD," notes Carlos Santana of his turning point. "This is the reward of myself facing my so-called demon." The work it produced has reclaimed him for another generation.
But to Carlos Santana, the big story isn't the comeback, rather it's where he's come from. And that is what gives his success meaning, he says. "I know what it's like to - to live in a neighborhood with no running water, no electricity, no toilet," he says. "When I go to Hong Kong, Tijuana or India whatever - whatever it is, it smells the same."
"People who identified with me from - from those places who are - not so well-to-do on this planet, they claim - you know I represent them to a certain extent," he says. "That is my reward: to be connected with just people."