^ Photo: Marylene Eytier
Words like “icon” are often thrown around these days, but Carlos Santana is an artist truly worthy of the term. A genuine visionary, the impact that Carlos’s five decade career has had on PRS Guitars, the electric guitar itself, and the greater culture cannot be overstated. A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Carlos has amassed ten Grammy awards, not including his three Latin Grammys. He is a recipient of both the Billboard Latin Music Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award and the Billboard Century Award. Next month, Carlos is set to receive the 2021 Legend Award at PBS’s 34th annual Hispanic Heritage Awards. From humble beginnings emerging from the 1960's Bay area counterculture scene to his legendary performance at Woodstock - Santana has grown into a cultural institution. Santana is currently on the road in support of his forthcoming twenty-sixth studio album, Blessings and Miracles.
PRS: Looking back over your forty-plus year relationship with Paul Smith and his guitars, what are your fondest memories?
Santana: I can still remember the first time I met Paul and the energy, tenacity, passion, and vision that he had and still has. He is like a kid in a candy store. I believed in him from our first meeting. Back then and even today, Paul and I share a commonality vision to be authentic, genuine, honest, sincere, true, and for real on every note. Paul knows how to turn this vision into a beautiful reality of tone and craftmanship that is second to none.
Anytime I see Paul is a joy. Besides being a tone master and electronics genius, Paul is a gifted player as well. There are countless times where he has joined me on stage to share music together and I have joined his band on occasion too. Some years ago, Paul asked us to play in Baltimore to help raise funds for PRS’ flagship charity the Living with Cancer Resource Program at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. That was a moving evening of music that I’ll never forget.
I love how Paul is always moving forward and always looking to create and improve upon his masterpiece.
^ Photo: Adriono Scognamillo
PRS: Your influence on the creation of the original SE model is well known. Twenty years on, and the SE has blossomed into its own distinct line of accessible instruments. Had you anticipated that the SE line would be so wildly successful?
Santana: I always knew that the music of Santana is assigned and designed to be received by everyone from grandparents, parents, to teenagers and to kids, so it was obvious to me that there was a need to make a quality guitar that is accessible to everyone. It took Paul a few years to come around to this, but in the end, it has been igniting a passion fire around the globe of younger PRS players and really anyone who wanted to play one but couldn't. I love the SE line and regularly play one. They sound incredible and they are inspiring to play.
PRS: Your new album Blessings and Miracles is about to drop, what would you say is the overarching message behind this new record?
Santana: Blessings and Miracles comes from my belief that we’re born with heavenly powers that allow us to create blessings and miracles. The world programs you to be unworthy of those gifts, but we have to utilize light, spirit and soul – they’re indestructible and immutable. Those are the three main elements on this album.
This record is like waves of light, and I'm a surfer riding those waves that become songs by different artists, creators and architects. I’m very fortunate that I have the opportunity to do that. It’s a gift I don’t take for granted.
PRS: Throughout your career you have inspired countless fledgling guitarists to pick up the instrument. What or who was it that initially inspired you?
Santana: My Dad, José Santana, was a violin player and he taught me the foundation of music through the violin. I tried it, but I couldn't get a sound that was elegant like he did. I was immediately drawn to the shape and feel of the guitar. He bought me a guitar and taught me about melody, but it was watching Javier Batiz in Tijuana that opened my eyes to new things. From there it was BB King, Freddie King, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Michael Bloomfield, Jerry Garcia, Peter Green, and today I am still inspired by Kirk Hammett, Derek Trucks, Quinn Sullivan and so many others. I find inspiration everywhere.
PRS: As a living legend in our industry, give us your opinion on what the future holds for the electric guitar.
Santana: The future is bright. Kids are learning that you need to step away from the phone, the computer and the video games and touch people’s hearts. I see organizations like Little Kids Rock and the amazing work they do to inspire kids to be creative and find their musical voice. I look out in our audience and speak to young fans on social media. We are just getting started.
Below you can watch Paul Reed Smith and Carlos chat in an episode of "Long Distance," our candid interview series where Paul calls popular artists around the globe.