Carlos Santana needs little introduction. His appearance at the original Woodstock festival in 1969 and at Woodstock II in 1994 is testament to his longevity as a musician.

UniVibes: You introduced Jimi Hendrix's step-sister Janie on stage at Woodstock II - is she a musician?
Carlos Santana: Not that I know of. I know she just wanted to get something off her chest and we allowed her the opportunity to do so, and we felt very honoured to share the stage with her. The whole sky was grey most of the time but when we got to that portion of the presentation, when she came onstage, it was like one of those Walt Disney movies where this brush appears in the sky and then all the sky turns from grey into golden pink peach, kinda like a cloud. We went 'woah', you know. And there was specifically one cloud that just stood in front and it looked like an angel - it had the wings and everything. Everybody noticed it, you know - this was all happening while she was crystalizing her views on where Jimi's music is today and what needs to be done for her to rescue the music from the lawyers.

UV: Are you friends with the Hendrix family?
CS: No. You know, I've been trying to make connection with them but... See, I'm the kind of person that would rather deal with Mitch Mitchell and Al Hendrix. Unfortunately because when I did the "Live Forever" album I didn't have the confidence that they would have the power to give me permission for what I needed. So, you know, I went with Alan Douglas. I feel in my heart that I can work with Alan Douglas and Al Hendrix and drink the water - I'm not going to get poisoned. And I'm not going to poison them so my business is clean. Whatever they have to do between each other I would encourage for them to solve it. If push comes to shove, I'm for Jimi Hendrix - I'm not for lawyers and promoters or anything like that. I'm for Jimi Hendrix's music to be celebrated. And also in my heart I would like the family to be vindicated and not be short-changed but be compensated. Being the musician I am it's obvious where my interest is at, which is with the family 'cause they're the ones that should reap Jimi Hendrix's energy.

UV: Were you tempted to play any Hendrix songs at Woodstock II like 'The Star Spangled Banner'?
CS: Thanks for asking this question, man. You know, Jimi Hendrix has a beautiful rendition of 'The Star Spangled Banner' from Woodstock...and we put additional footage like from the '60s of the war and the riots and all that kind of stuff and we were going to introduce... I was ready to say, you know, 'We have today with us Jimi Hendrix in spirit and uh, and in the flesh we have his step-sister Janie." But we couldn't do that because at the last moment the lawyers from Woodstock, they said they would be sued for millions and millions of dollars because they know about Alan Douglas and Warner Brothers... Can you imagine not being able to play Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock? Because of the, you know... So after a while I was getting fried because I realized that the business thing - the business world that Jimi Hendrix's legacy left - is very, very tangled up and I didn't feel like I had the strength or the notion or the energy to untangle this for him. So what happened was the whole day was like Jimi Hendrix was present a lot, you know... 'Cause we wanted to play that tape - we had already made it. We couldn't do that so we had to change gears.
We found out that Eric Gales who is a Jimi Hendrix disciple - I feel I can say that [laughs] - wanted to play so we invited him to play so the whole day was kinda taking on a Jimi Hendrix configuration for me, you know. And not until his sister spoke was I freed - I felt like Jimi Hendrix had me in a headlock for the first half of the concert and not until I heard his sister talk that I felt free. Free enough to say 'OK, that is done, now I'll play my music and I can feel more...' You know, before that I felt like a lake that has a lot of ripples - you can't see the moon straight, you know. And as soon as his sister spoke I felt like my mind was like glass... Sometimes before you hit a note, and it's a perfect note, you've got to hear it and feel it inside before you press on it on your guitar. And I felt like that - I felt very peaceful once she got her piece off her chest, and then it was easier for me to play also.

UV: I believe you met Hendrix two or three times - one of the times was when he was recording 'Room Full of Mirrors' and you've talked about that in other interviews. When were the other times that you met him?
CS: At the Berkeley Community Centre [30 May 1970]. I think those were the only two times that I remember. I saw him at Santa Clara Fairgrounds in San Jose in '69 [25 May 1969] but I didn't get to talk to him then - I still didn't know him. I think that was the best concert that I ever heard him play. He had supreme confidence that day. There was nothing in his mind about business of chicks or anything that I could tell because he just came out like Michael Tyson, when Michael Tyson would knock guys [out] in 3 seconds. There's a certain 'stance'. That's what Miles Davis said: 'I can tell whether a person can play just by the way he stands, you know.' He had a certain stance, man. He was all over that Strat and had supreme confidence, that's all I can say.

UV: Did you speak to him at Berkeley?
CS: Uh, we spoke very little because it was... It was kinda embarrassing [laughs]. No, it was embarrassing because at that time there was like, uh, 'lady swapping', you know, and his old lady [Devon Wilson] would, you know, check the rounds and he knew that she was checking the rounds so... I dunno. It was awkward for me - I don't know whether it was awkward for him... 'Monitor'! I used to call her 'monitor' because she used to say everything about everybody, you know. I used to say, 'I don't wanna hear anything [laughs]! I don't wanna know anything, I just wanna like learn about the music, I don't wanna know about the other "stuff", you know. You keep that to yourself, you know.'
But there was a family that we used to call 'The Cosmic Family'. And it was the same family that hung out with Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis - it was the same group of ladies. Uh, I won't go into names but it was like about, almost ten of them that just like... Uh, like moons, they would just gravitate around certain things, you know. That's why it was awkward for me. Of course I wanted to ask Jimi about everything and anything but as I say, with them it was kinda awkward...

UV: Have you got a favourite Hendrix song or album?
CS: I think all the first three are still my favourites like anybody else. The first three albums by Jimi - it was like being captured and put into a space ship and they take you on a trip and they bring you back instead of like jumping in a Mercedes or a Rolls Royce. I especially always like it when Jimi Hendrix would play the song and then he go on to, uh, Chainsaw Massacre Tazmanian Devil Aurora Borealis Galaxy - I like it when he start with the feedback. And I saw Stevie Ray do it one time too. I'm sure he did it many times but I only saw him do it one time were he where the guitar became like an Aurora Borealis and all this colours of sound were screaming out of it even though he wasn't putting his fingers on it. That's kinda like invoking ghosts or something and that's my favourite part that I miss about Jimi is when he would open up certain channels and let certain demons and angels dance together, you know what I mean - that it was beyond 'B' flat or 'C' flat. That's when it's music to me. Anybody can play music just like anybody can think. Very few people are conscious and very few people can do something beyond the note. So thank God that Jimi had that kind of spirit that...the foundation was the blues but he also was a very cosmic person [laughs].
You know to this day I haven't heard anybody... I mean, I heard a lot of people pick up what Jimi completed or he was doing but I haven't heard anybody complete it or really pick it up. Not only from the volume or the approach to the sound or the tone but the philosophy behind it... Jimi didn't just play like that because he could strangle a Stratocaster or a Marshall, he played like that because he saw it a certain way and he took certain things that made his spirit be stronger upon his playing. Otherwise, anyone could do it - you just pick it up, lift it off from the CDs, you know, or the records. No, you had to have some kind of thing like the Blues Brothers' mission from God or something, you know. But you have to have some kind of inner fueling, inner anger or inner passion, some kind of really, really emotional spill-over on your playing otherwise it won't sound like that even if he had the same amplifier and the same guitar and everything - it still won't sound that way. I crave to try to create an album that basically goes that way, more like Sun Ra and Sonny Sharrock and Jimi Hendrix, you know, with a little bit of lyrics and very little vocals but mainly the electric guitar and the Hammond organ and the congas. Tell stories of interplanetary or galactical or celestial time rather than just earth time. I think that's what Jimi Hendrix used to call 'Sky Church Music'.

UV: Do you know how many Hendrix live tapes you've got?
CS: No, but I have a lot. And I have a lot of friends that have even twice as much than I have, you know. It's amazing because most of this music comes from Indian reservations [laughs], of people who are doctors and medicine men in Indian reservations and the stuff that they stack up is just two people - Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, you know. So there's a big pool of things that are yet to come out, you know, from both.

UV: Jimi Hendrix's music has become very popular again in the last four or five years. Why do you think his music stands the test of time whereas a lot of people from that era don't so much?
CS: Well, it's because, you know, the principles of Jimi Hendrix and, uh... I'll say Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton and the Grateful Dead - they are people still here, you know, and they're here because the music was just as valid today as it was then. Music that is not necessarily to sell lollipops or trucks or beer or anything like that. You know, it's music to pick up hearts like a crane and put hearts in a different place because a lot of hearts, they're like in a swamp, you know, and guitars are like cranes to pull people's hearts from self-imposing misery [laughs]. How's that?! And then they put them in a place where people can fly and say... You know, I used to be a loser because I learnt how to play guitar from this person or that person, Sonny Sharrock or Jimi Hendrix and now I feel like I'm a winner because everytime I play in a certain place I can tell that I command the attention without having to be phoney or flash. In other words, the music of Hendrix and people like that wake people up to their possibilities. It's more than just dreaming about being a guitar hero. What Jimi did, the electric guitar was an extension of his goals and his goals were like to literally live in a world that wasn't screwed up like it was in the '60s. When every time you turn around Martin Luther King, or someone really important, was getting shot. All of Jimi Hendrix's music tells a tale of the '60s and also of the future. It's not just about Cherokees or black Americans or the blues. Those are just the pencils and the brushes. The colours and the emotions to me are stories that we can learn so we don't have to make the same mistakes.


This interview was originally published in `UniVibes' issue 17, February 1995. UniVibes 1995 - reprinted by permission of UniVibes, International Jimi Hendrix Magazine, Coppeen, Enniskeane, County Cork, Republic Of Ireland