The High Times Interview: Carlos Santana

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Carlos Santana

In the pantheon of rock’n’roll greats, two guitarists transcend all the rest: Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana. Both played Woodstock in 1969 and delivered legendary performances.

Sadly, Jimi died in 1970. But Carlos plays on.

To call Carlos Santana a living rock god is hardly an exaggeration: He has sold over 100 million records and reached more than 100 million fans worldwide. At 69, he continues to tour internationally, and his concerts grow more passionate and musically diverse with each passing year. He’s been a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for nearly two decades and was also the recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors Award in 2013.

HT: Tell us about your history with marijuana.
CS: When I was a child, I worked in an herb store. I’ve seen and smelled weed all my life, because I grew up in Tijuana. But people wouldn’t do it around me; they purposely would go in the alleys and places. Other doctors called it “mumbo-jumbo”—even though they make mumbo-jumbo in the laboratories.

I’d forgotten that my mom used to use it. She used to whisper to me, “Get me a lid.” So I brought her a lid and she’d dip it into alcohol, leave it there about a day or two, then use it for different ailments. How the hell did she know? It’s innate. Your DNA allows you to remember something that was dormant.

I first started smoking around 1967. I came to San Francisco around the time when it was ground zero for conscious evolution, with the hippies in Haight-Ashbury. I remember after I took my first toke, I said to this guy in the band that “when you smoke a joint, you forget all of the shit that you can’t play right.” They were like, “What?”

I wanted to go a certain way playing. But then I realized it was like rubber-stamping: Certain things don’t have to go like that every day. The thing about music is that, unless it’s classical music, the music that we love is all about improvisation. You learn the mechanics and then you let you go.

I noticed that the music I was listening to suddenly became a sphere. I was listening to Jeff Beck and the Yardbirds—“Over, Under, Sideways, Down”—and then I was listening to “For Your Love.” I was like: “Oh, this sounds so different!” I had heard the song about four or five times already, and I realized that my whole sensory of hearing and feeling was different. Actually, I wasn’t clear what I was listening to—instead of a black-and-white TV, I had big surround sound and high definition.

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