One man’s guitar heaven is another’s guitar hell.

At some point your heroes become sell-outs.

There was a time when the release of a new Santana album was a reason to check my wallet, grab the car keys and head off to the record store to get it the same day it came out.  Now I buy most of my new music online as there aren’t many record stores to drive to and it’s been a good decade since I greeted a new Santana album with anything but a sigh and a yawn.  

I have not heard Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time and the chances are excellent I never will.  I haven’t paid much attention to anything Carlos has done since 1999.  He caught lighting in a bottle with the mega-selling sensation that was Supernatural.  But like Michael Jackson who spent the rest of his career vainly trying to recreate Thriller,  Guitar Heaven  is just the latest entry in the formula Carlos and his svengali, Clive Davis came up pairing the aging guitar hero with “superstar” guest sings.  I have grown very tired and bored with this formula as it has resulted in a series of dull, calculated albums (Shaman, All That I Am)  that sound as if they’ve been created by accountants, not musicians and have turned Santana into a supporting player on his own albums.  

Do I really need to hear Scott Weiland, Chris Daughtry, Gavin Rossdale, Chris Cornell, Joe Cocker, Nas, India.Arie and Yo-Yo Ma working over the likes of “Whole Lotta Love,” “Bang A Gong” and  “Smoke On the Water” while Santana himself again plays the role of sideman on his own record?  Why bother when there’s no way they’re goiing to improve on the original (and when did “Riders On the Storm” ever qualify as a great guitar song)?   

Santana has a faithful and loyal fan base, but here is one particular fan  that would be happy for Carlos the Collaborator to go away and return to just being Santana and his band minus all the superfluous guest appearances. 

"Guitar Heaven" ain't raising no hell.

Back in the day when he was off on a spiritual trip as “Devadip” Carlos Santana, he made some truly weird albums such as Illuminations with Alice Coltrane on harp and the mammoth Lotus, a three-record live album featuring Leon Thomas on vocals, perhaps the worst singer Santana ever had who introduced yodeling to rock.  

Santana’s 1972  collaboration with John McLaughlin Love Devotion Surrender was an eclectic, but blistering collaboration that went far beyond the expectations of what even  jazz-rock fusion fans were expecting.  He would push the envelope further with Welcome (1973), the second in a series of albums (Caravanserai, Welcome, Lotus, Borboletta) departing  from rock and exploring the frontiers of jazz fused with the classic Santana percussion.   Any one of those albums are bolder and edgier than the vapid pop sludge Carlos currently cranks out  

I would rather pull out those underrated albums or the Brothers album with his brother Jorge and nephew Carlos Hernandez.  I wish THAT Carlos Santana would come back  instead of  this wuss and his lame duets with even lamer “rock” singers like Chad Kroger of Nickelback.  

Carlos needs to ditch Davis and his formula in the worst way.   Guitar Heaven might have more appeal if Santana  paired off with guest guitarists, not vocalists.  Trading licks with Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen would have been a thousand times more exciting than another tepid try at coming up with another “Smooth.”   

What genius thought Nas rapping  “Back in Black” or India.Arie and Yo-Yo Ma—two names that do not rock–on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was a masterstroke?     

I haven’t  given up hope Carlos will ever again make a record again worth buying and I’d still go see him if he came to town because Santana playing live is never boring.   After finally running out of ideas on Borboletta, Carlos recalibrated his sound and with Amigos (1976)  celebrated his return to rock n’ roll relevance.  

I just wish he’d stop cheapening his immense talent in pursuit of another massive mega-hit song.   Most artists don’t get even one big hit in their careers.  Hoping to manufacture another one has left Carlos mostly spinning his wheels with ever duller and unimaginative albums.   That’s what happens though when you stop making music from the heart and start chasing dollars.  

It’s no fun to watch a guitar hero turn into a hack, but the evidence of his sloppily paint-by-numbers approach to music leads me to conclude that is exactly what Santana  is dangerously close to becoming.     

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4 thoughts on “One man’s guitar heaven is another’s guitar hell.

  1. Carlos Santana, cover artist.

    Sounds like a real step down for one of the greatest guitarists the world has seen. I saw the album last week over at Target (they have 2 versions – one a “deluxe” edition with a DVD…) and shook my head looking at the track listing. “Wonder what Jeff is gonna make of this.” I mused. Now I know.

    You might want to take a stroll over to Santana’s web-site, you can hear the tracks for free and see if it changes your opinion. I saw Carlos and Chris Daughtry perform last week on some TV show and while the music was pleasant enough there was nothing special about the performances.

    Perhaps that’s the greatest flaw with this scheme – Carlos is a great guitar player, but nothing he does as a cover is better than the original.

    • I really will be just as happy remaining in state of blissful ignorance about this new album from a guy who’s been a guitar god to me. I don’t want to pollute my good memories of what Santana was by listening to this soulless grab for cash. If Carlos and Clive Davis were honest they would just fess up and call the album, We don’t have any new ideas. We just want your money. Even the Stones don’t pretend they have anything to say any more. They just go on tour, charge a couple hundred for tickets in the nose bleed seats and watch the suckers line up.

      Instead of hearing this earache, I’d suggest reading this review from Allmusic.com and the ones for Shaman and All That I Am. Going from one of Santana’s biggest fans to a confirmed critic of his lazy-ass Muzak of the past decade isn’t easy for me, but he’s making it on hard to look at it any other way.

  2. That clip is 4 1/2 minutes of smoking hot fucking AWESOMENESS!!! Dayamn! Where was that (and is that 4th guitarist in the spangly tank top Matt “Guitar” Murphy?)

    Man, I miss the days of hugely talented musicians who could rip it up on stage like these guys without all the bells and whistles, tweaks and gimmicks of today’s sorry-ass excuse for “pop stars”. Music has devolved into no-talent hacks (e.g. American Idol) dolled up my music engineers into semi-singers backed by snoresville instrumentation. I haven’t bought any music in …must be 2 years at least. First because I haven’t given in to the whole MP3 thing, second because nothing has made me excited enough to want to buy it. Now I listen to my satellite blues station and wonder where all the true musical talent went.

    • I’m pretty sure DG, that guy in the glitter shirt is playing bass guitar and he looks a little young (and slim) to be Matt “Guitar” Murphy. The guy on the keyboards is Jan Hammer from Miami Vice theme fame. I know Jeff Beck used to gig with Hammer’s band a lot.

      Besides when you already have Beck, Santana and the underrated Steve Lukather on stage, any more guitar slingers is just overkill.

      I share your lament about where did the true musical talent go? I interviewed George Duke for a jazz website last month and he has to tour most of the year to make any money from music since there are so few radio stations playing jazz and jazz recordings make up less than 10 percent of music sales. I haven’t seen a rock show since Peter Gabriel some six or seven years ago and I used to go to concerts ALL the time.

      I hate to sound like an old fart, but I am so happy I don’t care about new music anymore. I admit to liking “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga, but 99.9 percent of the shit that is called hot stuff today I wouldn’t walk across the street to listen to if it were free.

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