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“The Ultimate Destination for Guitar Players is to Create Heaven and Wonderment”: 5 Spiritual Lessons for Guitarists by Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Happy birthday to Latin rock pioneer Carlos Santana!

In addition to being a great friend to Guitar Player over the years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has endeavored to fire up the magazine’s creative juices by hipping the staff to noteworthy under-the-radar guitarists, as well as sending us music that has inspired him.

But his influence runs deeper still.

“I’d like to talk about intangibles,” he said when he spoke to us about a cover story back in 2008.

“I’d like to get beyond those physical things and think about the roles of the heart and mind in making music.”

Here are five great lessons from that inspirational interview…

Dec 2008 Guitar Player issue

(Image credit: Future)

1) Be of Service

There’s a part of me that loves learning from musicians such as John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, B.B. King, and Miles Davis. But there’s also a part of me that wants to invest – like Desmond Tutu or the Dalai Lama or Harry Belafonte – in the healing of the common man.

So it’s not enough for me to play music, learn from all these guys, and be recognized worldwide. I also want to serve – to be of service.

We are capable of creating miracles ourselves, and the greatest miracle is to create a masterpiece of joy out of your life with no excuses.

2) See the Connections 

When people have asked me to define “multi-dimensional,” I say that it’s not being stuck or stuck up. When you start thinking that you’re superior or inferior – that’s being stuck. Your fear has betrayed you.

Being free is seeing the beauty of you in everybody else

Carlos Santana

Being free is seeing the beauty of you in everybody else. You say, “I can see myself in this guy and that guy. I want to phrase like Otis Redding and Nat King Cole and Wes Montgomery.”

You see the connections between what you do, and what all the musicians before you have done, and between what every musician is doing right now.

So I’m grateful that your magazine is here, because you remind people that we’re all in it together. Guitar Player is multi-dimensional.

Carlos Santana

(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

3) Let Go

Everyone has a heart, of course, so it typically comes down to how much you are willing to let it come out. How fast can you get to your heart and not let anything get in the way – children, the rent, the set list, taxes…

How fast can you get to that place in your heart where you don’t even have to think about what to play, because the notes will play themselves? Those are the best notes.

Listen, carrying a melody is very difficult for a musician, because in order to carry a melody, you have to let go.

A lot of people carry chords and speed. Let them go. Let go of everything you have learned, and, in return, receive the thing that will be channeled through you.

4) Be Willing

What is this intangible world that Jimi Hendrix and Beethoven dipped into? You can call it hocus pocus or whatever, but this world exists. How often are you willing to dip into it? Do you dip into it at all?

Hendrix is another name for a bridge to the unknown

Carlos Santana

…I love music that makes me feel like I’m seven years old, going to the movies for the first time and experiencing Panavision. That’s why we love Jimi Hendrix – he assaults all of our senses. His music has a wide circumference.

Hendrix is another name for a bridge to the unknown, because what he was playing, even he couldn’t reproduce sometimes. He couldn’t quantize it – as much as he might have tried to get back there by taking seven tabs of acid and a little bit of wine and some coke.

Sometimes, it’s nothing – just the willingness. The willingness to take a deep breath and take what was given to you. It’s inside you, as John Lee Hooker said, and it has to come out.

Carlos Santana

(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

5) Use Your Imagination

I don’t need to take acid or mescaline to trip anymore, but I learned enough from that stuff to realize what Einstein meant when he said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Your imagination is your best equipment, and you cannot learn it or earn it – it was given to you. Take it. It’s yours.

Your imagination is your best equipment

Carlos Santana

You don’t have to go down to the crossroads, and wait for a black cat or the full moon. You don’t have to sell yourself to the devil. What for? You have God’s love, and what can be better than that?

Whether you’re Yngwie Malmsteen or Steve Vai or Joe Satriani or John Scofield, you just need to shut everything off and utilize the main television – your imagination.

You see, the ultimate destination for guitar players is to create heaven and wonderment for both themselves and the listeners.

If you’re not doing that, you’re just shucking and jiving.

Order Santana's Blessings and Miracles here (opens in new tab).