Salvador Santana Sets His Own Path

Can you imagine what it must have been like growing up in a family of Bay Area Music royalty? Salvador Santana did just that in his family’s Marin County home, and today, at 31 years old, he has made his family very proud of the talented instrumentalist, singer, and composer he has become. But much more than that, Sal has become a mature, forward-thinking young man who is totally grounded yet has his head high in the sky.’s Kenny Wardell and photographer Steve Roby got a chance to go backstage at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View on July 28 to interview Salvador Santana after his soundcheck for that evening’s performance opening for his dad. For clarity and continuity, some of the text has been edited from the original interview. If you prefer the extended version, click on the mp3 link provided below.

BAM: What was the first music you ever paid for?

Salvador Santana: It was at Tower Records… I was allowed to purchase it with my own allowance, Nirvana’s Never Mind and The Chronic by Dr. Dre.

BAM: I asked your dad the same question, and his answer was Little Walter, the first Doors album, and The Kinks.

Salvador: Good answers… better than my answers. [laughs]

BAM: What was your first car?

Salvador: A 1988 Volvo 740 turbo. It was a good car until it died on Fillmore Street… going up the hill. I was 16 at the time, and going to high school [in San Francisco]. My folks said, “You can’t use this car to go into the city,” so they hooked me up with another used Volvo that served me better. They wanted me to be safe, and Volvos are safe.

BAM: Your dad’s answer was a little different. His first car was an Excalibur!

Salvador: Did he tell you how the police pulled him over and drove him home because he was going 35 miles per hour on the freeway? Maybe even slower… 25.

BAM: [laughs]

Salvador: He could afford the car, but the license was further ahead.

BAM: You and your two sisters grew up in Bay Area rock & roll royalty. What was it like growing up in the Santana household?

Salvador: Well, there was never a dull moment. We’re Latino and African-American, so we have really big families on both sides. For me, it was normal, and I’m so grateful for having the opportunity to grow up in the Bay Area… such a unique and diverse part of the world, and that’s what I try to offer in my music… that eclectic sound that you hear in my music. It’s paying homage and respect to the variety that was offered to me from the Bay Area, whether it was historical, cultural, or even the cuisine… music, art… everything! Growing up in that household helped shape the person I am today.

BAM: Did you go on the road with your dad back then?

Salvador: Absolutely! My first trip was when I was seven weeks old, and I flew to Japan… According to everybody, I was a good baby on the plane… I slept all the way, which meant when we landed, I raised hell. [laughs] I was “up and at ’em,” and ready to go. Having done it so long with my father, it’s just part of life, and second nature for me. As tough as it is sometimes, I’m really grateful for it.

BAM: I hear you first started to play music when you were five years old. Back in the day, I saw you right here at Shoreline with the Santana band, banging on a drum like there was no tomorrow. What’s it like for you to come back here 25 years later to play again with your dad?

Salvador: It’s incredible! Anytime my dad and I get to share the stage together, it’s awesome! It’s just as special for me, jamming with my father, as it is for him jamming with me. That’s fun for us, and we feed off the excitement that people get from that. It’s an honor to be back at Shoreline. This is home cookin’ for me… coming here as a kid, watching my dad perform, and now having the opportunity to perform with my own band on the same stage as him… it’s an honor and a blessing.

BAM: What was the best advice you have ever gotten from your dad or anyone else?

Salvador: Two things. One is actually from my mother. She told me to never have any expectations, because when you have expectations, you’re setting yourself up for a plan that may not go the way you’d like it to… and the emotions that make you feel like a failure. Just present yourself at your best at all times. My father taught me to be street smart, and my mother, business smart, and I think between the two together, it really helped prepare me for life.

BAM: To date, you’ve had two successful albums, and your music has been described as a combination of hip-hop and jazz. How would you describe your music? In addition to your dad, who were some of your other inspirations?

Salvador: Great question! There’s definitely some hip-hop, jazz, rock & roll… growing up in the Bay Area and a household where music was just constant… I would say my music is one thing or another. I used to call it a new blend, but now I’m starting to call it an eclectic blend. It’s a little bit of everything… all that wonderful music that’s out there, and combining it so it’s joyful for everybody. It’s definitely a fusion… but I don’t want to make my music limited to a certain audience, and create borders and boundaries… and at the end of the day, [I] hope people enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it. As far as my inspirations go… Herbie Hancock. Hands down! A genius, and I’m so honored to be able to call him a friend of mine. He’s not just somebody I looked up to. He constantly reinvents himself, and I’ve always admired that and apply that to my music.

BAM: Do you have family plans in mind?

Salvador: [laughs] Somewhere down the road, but right now I’m just enjoying performing music… I’m at a point where I’m focused on making sure that my career is not only stable, but that I’m able to enjoy it and allow it to unfold.

BAM: Do you like what is going on in the world of electronica music? Have you ever mashed-up some of that classic Santana music?

Salvador: Yeah! We definitely live in a digital world now more than we ever did… I like to validate the good music that is out there, and I like to combine a duality of analog… real sounds… authenticity… with the digital stuff. I have mashed-up some original Santana music, and in fact, we’ve experimented with something last night in Irvine at the Verizon Amphitheatre. And you’ll hear tonight, but you have to be real hardcore Santana fans to know what this tune is and what we’re going to do with it. A lot of people are starting to get to know my dad through Supernatural, but the real die-hards are going to be able to understand what we’re going to do later.

BAM: Some of us at BAM have been talking about wanting to do a showcase of our Bay Area progeny. People like Tommy Johnston’s daughter Lara Johnston, Greg Kihn’s son Ry Kihn, Neal Schon’s son Miles, Bill Champlin’s son Will Champlin, and Carlos Santana’s son Salvador. Do you think we can make that fly? I’d buy a ticket to that show!

Salvador: I would be honored to be a part of that… I don’t think that’s ever been done before. You could throw some of the Marleys in there… back in the day we could’ve called it the next generation, but now we can call it this generation. It’s nice to hear other guys and gals are doing their thing and following in their parents’ footsteps.

BAM: What was it like to see your dad receive the Kennedy Center Honor last year?

Salvador: That was an incredible experience… to be there with my family and support my father for all of his achievements… to be at the White House and meet the President.

BAM: What’s next for Salvador Santana?

Salvador: I just came out with this record [Fantasy Reality], and for a limited time, listen to it for free… I’m just letting my career unfold, and I’m at point, without being paranoid, [where I] throw stuff against the wall and see if it sticks. Hopefully, this record will be a launchpad and a prelude of what is yet to come.

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Interview transcription, photos, and audio production by Steve Roby.