Carlos Santana has a vision for a syndicated TV show originating in Las Vegas, and baby, is it unique.
“I want, for a half-hour in the morning, children arriving, showing that the only way to arrive on this planet is through the love canal,” the guitar great says. “I want to see a baby being born, every day, for us to see the eyes, the stuff that makes miracles, the pureness and innocence.”
More babies, less violence, is the message.
“I want babies,” Santana says. “If we can do ‘Rambo’ and 007 in this world, show all the killings and all this violence, then we should be able to show something as precious as a baby arriving with new promise … it would be a heck of a thing.”
No doubt. This sort of whimsical diversion is characteristic of a conversation with the 69-year-old Santana, forever embracing the counterculture of Woodstock and the late 1960s. His performances at House of Blues are a buoyant mix of his greatest hits — among them “Soul Sacrifice,” “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman” — and seemingly unscripted, spiritual forays (his latest series of shows runs through Sunday at Mandalay Bay).
You might not know his artistic destination in these freewheeling performances, where he jams for several minutes at a time, even during his familiar numbers. Even his backing musicians, eyeing him with great intensity, seem unsure where the rock legend is heading. But it’s always a fantastic voyage.
“We have worked on new beginnings, new middles and new endings,” Santana reveals, setting the general strategy behind this residency, which began in May 2012. “We make everything new and fresh. We are not rubber-stamping it here.”
New to the Vegas performances is vocalist Ray Greene, late of Tower of Power, whose powerful voice and capacity to play trombone is “a win-win for us,” as Santana says. Behind the drums, once more, is Santana’s wife, Cindy Blackman Santana, who joined the band in January after a 23-year run with Lenny Kravitz.
During the House of Blues shows, Santana frequently shifts to face his wife as she thunders away on the drums. The energy between the two is palpable.
Does he ever worry that the intense artistic collaboration might affect their personal relationship?
“I think I used to have this fear of being together too much — on stage, in bed, in the kitchen, in business, all with the same person — because you might get on each other’s nerves,” Santana says. “However, Cindy and I have shattered that notion.
“She is a soft, kind, considerate person who is also mighty when she plays the drums. She’s all of that, and when you hear her, you hear someone who has known since age 7 that all she has wanted to do is wear a big Afro and make a significant, meaningful, musical message.”
Santana’s own musical message has been a return to his roots with the reunion of many of his backing musicians for “Santana IV,” released in April. He recruited guitarist Neal Schon, keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie, drummer Michael Shrieve and percussionist Michael Carabello for what he termed a follow-up to the first three Santana albums, issued from 1969 to ’71. Their ensuing reunion concert was recorded for a DVD and CD to be released Oct. 21.
Santana says further collaborations with those bandmates are possible “if we can work out the logistics.”
Santana, a Las Vegas resident since 2009, is as passionate about philanthropy as he is about music.
His Milagro Foundation has provided grants to charitable organizations around the world. Locally, Santana has made donations and personal visits to Three Square Food Bank and Opportunity Village and has furnished dozens of guitars to students at Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy.
That relationship might well lead to a more formal partnership between Santana and Agassi and his wife, Stefani Graf.
“I’d like to see what’s cooking in their stove as far as what they would like to see implemented here in Las Vegas, and take it across the world, like Starbucks has,” Santana says. “I want to have a meeting with them and do something that will lead to more education and less incarceration. I want something that the rest of the nation can copy, but starts here in Las Vegas.”
Santana has used his stage to make cultural and political statements, frequently promoting the legalization of marijuana and supporting the re-election of President Barack Obama during his early shows at House of Blues. He’s curtailed some of that oratory, though away from the stage he says he supports such actions as NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustice in America.
But Santana’s show is not a protest experience, nor is it filled with overt political messages. It’s more about establishing a vibe.
“By now, people know who I am and what I am,” Santana says. “I’m playing more intensely and talking less. If you recognize yourself, your own light, I don’t have to tell you who to be or how to be … what matters is finding your energy, and to use it for the higher good.”
It’s an unfailingly positive message from a man who is reborn every day.
John Katsilometes’ column runs Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the A section and Friday in Neon. He also hosts “Kats! On The Radio” at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on KUNV-FM, 91.5, and appears at 11 a.m. Wednesdays with Dayna Roselli on KTNV-TV, Channel 13. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter and @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.
Who: Carlos Santana
When: 7 p.m. Friday-Sunday
Where: House of Blues at Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Tickets: $89.50-$350 (702-632-7600)