Carlos Santana Ignites Creativity With Ron Isley For 'Power of Peace' [Interview]

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Photo Credit: Tim Miller from The Village Voice.

Carlos Santana is always transforming and creating musical revolutions. The legend sat down with Okayplayer to talk about Power of Peace, The Isley Brothers + growth.

From his younger days in Mexico playing for his father’s mariachi band to most recently supporting DJ Khaled, Bryson Tiller and Rihanna’s heavy sample use of his tune “Maria Maria” for the single "Wild Thoughts," it seems that every time Carlos Santana is in the room there's an otherworldly jam session about to happen.

His newest album, Power of Peace, is an intoxicating collaboration of cover songs between The Isley Brothers, (Ron and Ernie) and Santana and his wife, Cindy Blackman Santana, that's due to be released July 28th. There's an energy that is potent throughout the album. In the way that Santana likened John Coltrane’s sound to something that rearranges molecular structure, the collaboration of these powerhouses is almost too much to reconcile. The excitement was palpable at the House of Blues in Las Vegas in June where they played songs from the album and the combination of Ernie Isley and Carlos on guitar, Ron’s vocals and Cindy’s drumming was both pyrotechnics on speed and a masterful, meticulously created, detailed sonic painting.

"I was a big fan of Santana," Wyclef Jean said by phone about working with him on the multi-Grammy winning album, Supernatural, "As a producer it was my dream to work with him. And it was crazy for me to work with somebody who played with [Jimi] Hendrix. I wanted to know then what was the Santana era like, did they feel like they could change music?"

Santana's story, of course, spans decades. In his first decade he mixed blues and rock originally as the Santana Blues Band, playing at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, jamming with Jerry Garcia, performing at Woodstock, collaborating with Leon Thomas, hanging out and playing with Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis, and being influenced by John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. For the following decades he has played and sang with everyone from his band members like Buddy Miles, Pete and Coke Escovedo, Ricky Wellman, Alice Coltrane, Andy Vargas, Michael Shrieve and Greg Rolie to collaborations with just about everyone including Wyclef Jean, Eric Clapton , and Dave Matthews.

Unlike some mishmashes where superstars have come together for a mission album ("We Are the World," anyone?) Ron Isley and Carlos Santana may seem on the surface like an unlikely duo, but they are spiritual brothers. Coming out of the late '50s and '60s, where The Isley’s were confounding the world by blending genres—singing Burt Bacharach, rock-n-roll, doo-wop, gospel, R&B ballads, up-tempo funk, their commitment was to their artistry and it manifested itself in some level of freedom they were able to command in forming their own label, T-Neck Records. In the early incarnation of the band Jimi Hendrix played in the group and lived with the brothers for a period of time. It's easy to see how they influenced Jimi and Jimi influenced them.

Like Santana, The Isley Brothers have outlasted many groups with 30 studio albums, countless awards and collaborations, and still remained committed to their artistry, constantly making new music.

@Okayplayer got the chance to talk with Carlos Santana and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana about the new album.

Santana isley e1499982568753 Source: Best Classic Bands.

Okayplayer: I was pleasantly surprised to see a Leon Thomas song, "Let the Rain Fall on Me" on the album. Wanted to talk to you about what his impact on you was—how he fit into what you were trying to do at the time that you brought him into the band. I know he was only in the band for a short time. And then why you chose that particular tune?

Carlos Santana: The time I spent with brother Leon Thomas was a time when the original band was dissolving and all the kingsmen couldn’t put it back. Everyone was aspiring to make their own music outside of Santana whether it was Journey or this or that. I'm always close to the drummer, so Michael Shrieve and I—we had this convenant of constantly searching. I was constantly learning from singers like Big John Williams, who I could trace pretty much to where Leon Thomas was coming from, although he started yodeling and doing things that were totally uniquely his sound. So Michael and I, we were hungry to just jump into the unknown we didn’t know what we could do. Seems like I played out the B.B. King era and kind of the Max Roach era, so we were embracing Brazilian music and this music and that music and we didn’t have a singer. We were just playing all instrumental. I'm like I think we need to go back and get a singer. He's like who should we get. I'm like Leon Thomas—what do we have to lose, maybe he will say yes.

To our great surprise he said yes and we went all over the world. For me, just being around him to hear the way he would sculpture "Black Magic Woman" in his own way. It was a wonderful experience of learning and being around a great man, a great master.

OKP: You two went to Nicaragua together...

CS: Yes, it was a benefit for the earthquake that happened over there. It was my second benefit. I did one with The Rolling Stones and Cheech and Chong, but this was one we played in this soccer stadium with Leon. I have fond memories of 1973, incredible year with this band.

By the time he came into the band I was really into the spiritual path. There was a time and era where people were doing drugs and a lot of other stuff. I chose music and [points towards the sky]. This seems to get me higher. My mother told me to not do anything you're going to be embarrassed about the next day.

OKP: When, how and where did you and Cindy meet?

Cindy Blackman Santana: When I met Carlos I was at the point where I had stopped dating, I didn’t want to see anyone, because people I was being exposed to at the moment weren't on any kind of spiritual level that I was interested in. I was into keeping my consciousness in what I felt was the correct mode for me. When I met Carlos I was happily surprised and delighted that he was on a path that was in line with where I was at.

OKP: And with your spirituality in tact, you guys were able to relate to one another even stronger because you both had a background in jazz?

CBS: Yeah, for me I'm a jazz drummer. I love playing all kinds of music, but in my heart and the way I was designed, I'm a jazz musician. I love creativity. That, to me, is the most advanced music. It takes a lot of discipline to play classical music, it takes a lot of discipline to deliver an incredible melody. It takes a lot of discipline to do a lot of things, but to be able to have all of that facility, all of that delivery, all of that feeling is immeasurable. When you look at the best of jazz and then they're improvising in such an incredible way, when you look at Charlie Parker or John Coltrane or Miles Davis or Thelonius Monk—when you look at that level of musicianship and accomplishment and delivery. That to me is the ultimate. So we have that love in common because we both adore and cherish Miles Davis and Coltrane and Billie Holliday. These are people we listen to all the time. I don’t think a day goes by where we don’t listen to Miles. Not a day goes by that we don’t listen to Coltrane or Herbie or Tony Williams or Wayne Shorter.

CS: The frequency and the energy of this CD with and for Ronald Isley is the same intentionality of A Love Supreme. We are utilizing what is bestowed and innate in us to create a frequency that would permeate this planet and bring hope. Hope not in the sense of I wish, but in, you will it. There's a difference between wishing and willing.

OKP: Why did you choose Ron Isley to work with?

CS: I adore him. Cindy and I talk about this all the time. How do you get yourself out of a comfort zone to ignite creativity. I have a thirst for adventure.

OKP: The album is cover songs, re-making some of the classics ones like Billie Holliday's "God Bless the Child" and Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground". How did picking those songs come about?

CS: Cindy said, "Hey, can we not do 'Higher Ground' like everybody does it. Just the way she said it was like, "Oooh, okay! Heaven forbid we do it that way, how would you like to do it? [laughs]. Why don’t you go to the drums and show us." Soon as she started playing, I was like, "Oh, like that." I wish I was in the room when Stevie Wonder gets to hear the song. It's gonna be like this [nods head] or like that [covers face and laughs].

Santana x The Isley Brothers' Power of Peace is available on all platforms on July 28, 2017. 

Ericka Blount is a journalist, professor, and author from Baltimore, Maryland. Her book ‘Love, Peace and Soul: Behind the Scenes of Soul Train’ is available on Amazon. Please follow her (and us!) on Twitter @ErickaBlount.