Salvador Santana: Living The Dream and Loving It!
The musically gifted and uncomplicated lead singer, songwriter and keyboardist of the Salvador Santana Band opens up
Belinda Quesada, Contributing Writer
Salvador Santana is living the dream. As the only son of Mexican American music legend and business entrepreneur, Carlos Santana, he has some pretty big shoes to fill. Yet, if you met him, you'd be struck by his authenticity and charm.
Published on LatinoLA: July 24, 2012
No Hollywood attitude or unresolved childhood anger issues here. Salvador is polite, intelligent, laser focused, articulate, and surprise, has a wicked sense of humor.
This is one cool cat. Truth is Salvador can't help himself. Literally, creativity oozes through his veins. His lucky lineage runs on both sides of his famous family. Beginning with his African American and Dutch mother, Deborah, who herself is a published poet and author and understands quite well what it's like to have a famous father. Her father was legendary blues guitarist Saunders King, who before his passing in 2000, lived to play on stage with his famous son-in-law.
On his paternal side, Salvador's grandfather, Don José Santana, led a very popular mariachi band and was well known for his exquisite violin playing. If that weren't enough, let me remind you Salvador's father is the uber-famous, Latin music icon, multiple Grammy winner and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honoree Carlos Santana. Imagine for a moment what that household was like.
Salvador recalls the moment he knew that keyboards and piano -- not the guitar -- were his musical instruments of choice. He reflects with pride. "A funny thing that happened to my dad also happened to me. My father was introduced to the violin by his father -- but it didn't speak to him. Then he picked up a guitar and discovered that was his love. I had a similar experience, when I first tried out the guitar, it didn't speak to me but; when I tried the keyboard and piano it suddenly made sense. I believe I was born to do what I'm doing now."
Largely due to his multicultural background, he was not pressured to play any particular type of music. Classically trained Salvador leaned into music with the same passion his father has demonstrated over the past five decades.
It's a life most musicians would dream of. At age 29, despite having toured and collaborated with his famous father, completed two CD's, (SSB and Keyboard City), mingled with music royalty, this musical genius is not content to rest on his laurels. Nope, he's no slacker.
In fact, it's precisely because of his love of music that he requires only five or six hours of sleep each night. Claiming he doesn't want to miss out on being creative and producing music, he has too many important goals to reach. Although, he admits that his friends tease him claiming he's the only Mexican they know who takes a siesta during the day.
Santana's philosophy on life is uncomplicated, He says he just dives in. "I'm grateful for all of the decisions I've made in my life. They have led me to the person that I am today. I like being known as a musician who is a Jack-of-all-Trades; I'm not a one-trick-pony. I don't want to be defined by titles or labels. Heck, I might play opera or Country Western. I'm in it for the love of music and making people feel good about music. It's pure."
Musically gifted though he might be, his parents insisted he be formally trained and he was sent to the San Francisco School of The Arts High School. Studying classical piano, and jazz and even played drums in his high school band. In addition, he attended college where he met his future wife, Megan. As a result, Santana believes this formal training and variety helped shape his musical repertoire and prepared him for the next level.
This interview with the prodigal son was by phone with one condition; I was only allowed one question about Salvador's famous dad, Carlos Santana. Cool by me. After all, I loved Salvador's music and wanted to interview him, not his father. (See Q & A below for Santana's response.)
The following is the rest of my interview with Salvador Santana, lead singer, songwriter, and keyboardist in the Salvador Santana Band.
BQ: What surprises people most about you?
SS: The fact that I'm unpredictable on stage. As artist we have set lists of what we are going to perform. I read the audience and change the set depending upon the mood of the crowd. Trying to keep the energy flowing and interesting by combining and changing tempos. If it's a feel good audience, I might tell the band to change the music to up-tempo. It's good to have a road map but it is also good to be open to changes, Open and focused. Plus, coffee helps.
BQ: When you look back on your life 20 years from now, what will you think?
SS: I hope to have little Salvador's running around. To be blessed with a great family like I had growing up would be awesome. And continue to grow and contribute to the world through music. Even though I live in Los Angeles, I don't ever want to go 'Hollywood.' I'm from the Bay Area. We keep it real.
BQ: How do you describe yourself and your music?
SS: One word, eclectic. I come from the San Francisco Bay Area and grew up ethnically diverse. I'm multi-cultural, really all the colors of the rainbow, Latino, African American, Irish, little bit of everything. But I think my sisters got the better looks. I'm light skinned, that's just who I am on the outside and I can relate to almost everyone. My Wife, Megan, is Eastern European, Polish and Irish, grew up in Orange County. She's beautiful and culturally diverse; we met in college. Can't always judge a book by its covers, you know?
BQ: Describe a typical day?
SS: On the road, waking up in a new town. If day off, I explore and absorb the area. On a performance day I work out a bit if there's a gym. I might be on the treadmill, or doing pushups or crunches. I am musician, not a weight trainer. It's all about preserving the voice. Though, at the end of the day, we're there to work. If I'm in LA, at home, I practice and compose music, answer email, work out, and walk the dog. Oh, I also do some chores around the house. I'm learning how to manage my time. In the evening, I might be in the studio with artist or producers working on music.
BQ: The Salvador Santana Band is known for supporting charities and giving back to the community, explain?
SS: Yes, that's really important to us. Example, we played some Colorado dates a few weeks back and we knew the community was completely impacted by the devastating fires. Being from California, wildfires are nothing new to us, but it was the worst Colorado fire in history. It was pretty epic. It affected so many people in a negative way and our band just wanted to make sure that we gave back to the people of Colorado to show them some love. So a percentage of all of the proceeds was donated back to the community.
BQ: Who are your music idols?
SS: Wow, they are so many. Jazz legend Herbie Hancock. I met him and he's one of my musical hero's. He was so humble, down to earth, his laugh is great, just a super, super intelligent, Geek. It was an amazing meeting that happened a few years back at a Clive Davis awards show or party and my dad asked me to perform keyboards with him on stage. Before that performance, I sat with Chick Correa and Herbie Hancock and it was like I was having a discussion with the Masters of Renaissance Art like Pablo Picasso and Leonardo Da Vinci, or something. All that talent and collective wisdom. It was unbelievable.
The best part about that evening was when Herbie Hancock told me he heard my CD and how he thoroughly enjoyed it. I remember looking up to the sky and saying 'God you can take me now." Nothing will compare, it was high praise for sure. Other artists I admire are Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, and Tupac. I admire his musical genius. Although, I don't use profanity in my music and I feel I can make a difference my way.
BQ: What inspires you?
SS: Goodness, other than music, I guess life itself. This is going to sound vague at first, but it's the ups and the downs. Really everything. I like being conscious and aware; I watch the news but try not to get too caught up in it. The person that inspires me is my mom; she is incredible. My sisters too because truthfully, they helped shape me. I have two beautiful sisters and they are not afraid to tell it like it is. My wife certainly inspires and supports me and allows me to grow. And she is my Stylist too. I trust her. And truthfully, I'm inspired by all different types of people I meet.
SS: Yes, and I do chores around the house. My wife is a Hollywood costume designer and wardrobe manager and we met at the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts) college in Southern California. When I think about my marriage, I remember something very profound that someone (can't remember who) once said to me, "Love is like a feather. It takes two people to keep it a float." That just makes so much sense to me and my wife. We want children one day in the future. For now, we a Shiba Inu, named Bandit. It's good practice.
BQ: How do you make a difference in the world?
SS: Listening and helping others. One day at a time, one person, one song, one note, I love the line of work I am in because I get to distract people and share my love of music. It's a wonderful opportunity and music is the language and the art. If people get joy from my music, then I know I've done my job. I want t people to have fun as much as I had creating the music.
BQ: How did school help with music?
SS: I attended the California Institute of the Arts College and it made a tremendous difference in my approach to music. But what I learned from my father was much more valuable. He believes that all musicians have to have a sense for rhythm, pitch, and tempo (time). I learned this at an early age. I learned to play the guitar, keyboards and piano with this in mind.
Over the years, I've had different instructors. My dad always said, "Whenever you are displaying your creative art. If women are not dancing or moving, you are not doing your job correctly." It's my job to find the balance not forgetting myself but to keep it fun and keep it moving. If I'm having fun, others will too.
BQ: What was your most memorable moment in childhood?
SS: That's a good one. I usually don't get asked that question. It's random and not necessarily related to music. I remember as a kid, we went to Marine World Africa USA theme park with the whole family to celebrate my ninth or tenth birthday. Back then, Marine World in Vallejo, Ca., was less commercialized and more like an interactive zoo. As a birthday present, my parents let me pet a Bengal Tiger, of course with zoo attendants. It was a magical moment. The tiger was majestic and I have always loved animals. So it was a big thrill.
BQ: Favorite food?
SS: Toss up; I'm kind of like my mom. I love pizza, salsa, red wine, love me some spicy tuna rolls and other Sushi, really anything spicy.
BQ: Favorite fan moment?
SS: Tough question, probably when all the young people come up after a show and tell me they thoroughly enjoy the music.
BQ: What was the toughest moment growing up?
SS: Everyone has his or her preconceived notion about me. I'm philosophical about this. Over time, I've just told myself it's up to me to convince them about my music and me. If I can't, then I don't' worry. Just stay consistent, keep improving myself everyday. Then it's awesome. If there are not interested, it's all good, it's all love. Basically, I've learned to just get out of my own way.
BQ: When did you know you really made it?
SS: I don't take anything for granted and the best way to describe it is a song by Bob Marley, "Belly Full, But Hungry." Because I'm not satisfied, there's always room for improvement and so much more to do and improve upon. I am motivated to keep moving, always setting goals.
BQ: What's the kindest thing you've done or the kindest thing someone has done for you?
SS: The kindest thing I've done happened many years ago was when I was driving back to LA from Northern California. I stopped for gas and noticed a gentleman with his family in the car, struggling to push their car up hill. At the time, no one else was helping and I walked over and started to help push the car up the hill. We were pushing the car inch by inch because the rest of the family was inside and soon other cars stopped to help and eventually we got it up the hill with the daughters and the Mom cheering us on. It was a moment I have never forgotten. We just all wanted to help this family. It felt good.
The other time when some did something for me, it was at my dad's house in Las Vegas. My wife and I thought we lost our little puppy, Bandit. He is a Japanese Shiba Inu.
My dad and me looked all over for Bandit and couldn't find him.. After what seemed liked hours, I could hear my dog barking furiously way off in the distance. It was faint and about two footballs fields away. I could see this elderly couple trying to circle him in their golf cart trying to help. I was so grateful. I don't think I ran that fast since high school. This really sweet elderly couple was trying to help. It was so kind. That was three years ago. It was a blessing because in Las Vegas there's lots of wildlife and with the heat, he was just a puppy, and might not have survived. I told myself, I'm not going to lose him, not on my watch, that wasn't going to happen. It's sort of like pre-training for children.
BQ: What's your objection to music labels?
SS: From a business standpoint, I understand why labels are needed. However, I don't like labels, they're too limiting. I incorporate all genres and like my music to capitalize on the eclectic sound I make. Walking around in silence doesn't make sense. I'm like a chef. I combine sushi with orange chicken, machaca, and pizza, with curry, people love it, and sonically it's still tasty. Musically, it just flows. I'm just trying to share my love of music with the world.
BQ: What scares you?
SS: No one thing in particular. What everyone is afraid of I guess, the fear of the unknown. It's okay to be scared, but I remind myself of my relationship with the higher presence, I'm at peace. I try to not to offend to others. I keep it neutral and respect others beliefs.
BQ: How do you feel about being in music?
SS: It's an honor and privilege, understanding that this is what I've been born to do, meant to do. My family and close friends always encouraged me to move toward my passions. My mother always supported me. Her influence can be found in my music. In my most recent single, "Into the Light", the lyrics honor her because she said that if 99% is negative, we should chose to think about 1% that is positive. Follow your heart and you'll free your mind and stay true to yourself, you'll be okay. I apply this logic to life and business.
BQ: What is your favorite movie, actor, or TV show?
SS: I try not to watch a lot of TV. Definitely like sports. I used to play basketball in high school so I follow all of the NBA games, despite the business disputes. I like is Pawn Stars filmed in Las Vegas. Since my dad lives there, we go a lot and I would hear things about the show. There was this one episode someone brought in some original, rare Jimi Hendrix photos taken backstage by a young fan and I thought that was cool.
My favorite actor is Benicio Del Toro and a lot of people think I look like him. I also like Salma Hayek; she's so beautiful and smart. I met her once and spoke to her for quite awhile. She's really down to earth.
My favorite movie is, now don't laugh, it's Blazing Saddles. Because at the end of the day, I love to laugh. I think it was Jimmy V, coach of North Carolina State who said, an epic day would be if you could laugh, cry, be around your loved ones, and feel happiness that is the secret to a good life. I like that.
BQ: What makes you want holler?
SS: There are a lot of things. You're making me think! I guess right now, Southern California drivers. There are some special people on the road that I do cross paths with. Even though I have lived in Los Angeles on and off for some 10 years now, I still can't believe the traffic and the drivers. My Northern California attitude stands out here in LA and when I go home, my LA driving stands out. Zip through traffic, etc.
BQ: How do you feel about politics?
SS: I go back and forth, things I believe in and things I wish I could change. I use my lyrics to speak my truth. I'm realistic though and I know that we live in a capitalistic society. So, at the end of the day, it's all about the money
BQ: If you could turn back time? What would you do?
SS: I would like re-live the Bengal Tiger experience at Marine World. That changed my life forever. Also, would like to relive meeting Herbie Hancock. That was a sweet memory, he said he enjoyed my CD! Oh, and I can't forget Bob Marley, I would have loved to attend his concert. In fact, my father was scheduled to perform with him and sadly Marley died a month before their concert tour.
BQ: Why Los Angeles for your music video?
SS: I'm a California boy, no matter where I am as long as I'm in California, I'm happy. Going on tour with my dad has made me appreciate being exposed to different cultures, I'm a little bit of everything, LA works for me, everyone is here. Works comes to me here; I'm on my way.
BQ: Musically: Whom would you love to play with?
SS: I would love to jam with Mozart. Because he is interesting on so many different levels, so cool to learn and absorb, see everything takes place at the time. In the present, I'd love to jam with Damion Marley. We have so much in common, he's doing what I'm doing. Really all the Marley children are honoring their father and his legacy in music. Damian is stepping out the box and really being true to his own. That's what I'm trying to do. I met Ziggy and Rohan, who is married to Lauren Hill, but not Damian yet. That would be so cool to meet him, artist to artist and as a fan. Holla back D!
BQ: What does success look like to you?
SS: When I can take a nice deep breath and look up at the sky and enjoy it all. Success also means being of service to others, making others happy through my music that's important to me. It means a guaranteed and sustainable income and being set for life. Most of all, I know that success is not something that happens overnight, it takes work. It's not the destination it's the journey.
BQ: What was it like growing up in your home with two sisters?
SS: It definitely made me a real man to be raised by women. I understand them better. When I went on tour it made me humble, it's a softer side, not so rough.
BQ: Final question: What would you like people to know about your dad?
SS: Good question. I am in awe of how has he been able to sustain this music for as long as he as? The more his life goes on, the more he loves it. People grow older and sometimes change and forget their dreams. My dad has been able to sustain his love of music, creating and performing for a wide, diverse audience for over five decades. Who gets to do that? Not many artists. It's rare. He loves helping others, giving back; he's very humble. I'm proud of my dad
Salvador Santana loves his fans and is hip to social media. For a list of tour dates, please visit:
BQ: What's your current touring schedule?
SS: We are still touring Central and Southern California this summer and back up in the Bay Area in mid October. If people are interested, please check out our touring schedule at www.salvadorsantana.com, www.facebook.com/salvadorsantana, and http://www.twitter.com/salvadorsantana.
He welcomes and responds to all his own fan mail, electronic or otherwise.
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