Twenty years have passed since Carlos Santana made music history by tying Michael Jackson’s record for most Grammy Awards won in a single ceremony. And even though his head was spinning that night, he still remembers how unusual it was. “On the actual night, I kept making fun of it, saying, ‘I feel like a doggy retrieving a frisbee,’” the guitarist says now. “I kept going back and forth, back and forth.”
On February 23rd, 2000, Santana claimed eight trophies, including the highly coveted Record of the Year and Album of the Year awards, for his blockbuster Supernatural LP. The album, which came out the previous year, quickly became a Number One hit and has since been certified 15 times platinum. Mega-hit single “Smooth,” his unshakable collaboration with Rob Thomas, earned him two statuettes, while “El Farol” and his Eric Clapton collaboration “The Calling” won in the instrumental categories; “Put Your Lights On,” with Everlast,” earned Best Rock Vocal Performance; and “Maria Maria,” with the Product G&P, notched him a Best Pop Performance award. The recognitions came at such a fast clip that Sheryl Crow thanked Santana “for not being in this category” when she won for Best Female Rock Vocalist.
“It was very daunting to not be there for 30 years and all of the sudden, one day, they give you everything,” says Santana, who had been nominated for several Grammys prior to 2000 but had won only one, for his 1987 solo album Blues for Salvador. Later that year, at the inaugural Latin Grammys in September 2000, Santana won an additional three awards for Supernatural. When he looks back at his wins now, he’s still humble. “I’m grateful for anything and everything,” he says.
What do you remember most about your big Grammy night now?
I remember people looking at me — people, I guess, who knew what was happening. I didn’t know what was happening but some people knew what was going on before I knew, and they had a certain sparkle in their eyes and a certain smile from the side of their mouth, like, “You’re in it now” I was like “Wh-what?”
Who are you thinking of?
Bob Dylan [who presented him the Album of the Year award with Lauryn Hill] was one of the ones that kept pointing at me, because before he even opened the envelope, it was kind of like he knew. He just kept looking at me and pointing at me like, “You’re going to get it.” I’d done a couple of tours before with Bob, one in ’83–’84 and one in ’95, but I never seen that look before that. It was like a divine rascal look with a lot of empathy with me, a lot of oneness with me.
Do you remember how it all felt in the moment that night? Were you able to appreciate it, or was your head just spinning?
All of the above. I kept thinking, “I’m looking at the audience and everything is going into slo-mo now.” I’m seeing Harry Belafonte. I’m seeing Clive [Davis, Supernatural coproducer and Arista Records founder]. I’m seeing Eduardo Olmos — a lot of people that I really respect. What I really remember out of the whole thing is saying, “I want to dedicate this to John Coltrane and John Lee Hooker.” I think that’s the last thing that I said.
I also remember playing “Smooth.” We don’t lip sync, because when you play for real, people stand up. The electricity when you’re playing live is different than when you lip syncing. As soon as we went into “Smooth,” I remember seeing Gloria Estefan and Sting, and they just shot up out of their seats. So it was a real surreal moment.
You won eight awards that night. Was it difficult to come up with something different to say each time?
I remember some people were going on like, “I want to thank my cat and I want to thank my canary” so someone told me, “Don’t make it so long, so we can move on.” After a while, I just said, “Thank you,” and then I grabbed the next one and I walked out. I was pretty good at being obedient but after the last half an hour, when the last three went — which is the Record of the Year and the Song of the Year, that’s when I started feeling like you can say something a little bit longer.
So I remember thanking, of course, Clive because he is the one that was the architect, to make his company believe that they should invest in this Mexican who hadn’t had a radio song since 1972. He is the one that had to go to bat for me with the people who funded Supernatural. I remember that it took a lot for him to go and convince radio people that this thing was gonna be something that would touch the four corners of the world.
Bob Dylan and Lauryn Hill presented you with Album of the Year. What did that mean to you?
It was like I’d been knighted by Bob Dylan. The last time I toured with him, they said “Bob Dylan wants to talk to you,” so I went over there, and he put his hands on my shoulders. He looked at me and he goes, “You’re one of the few who are carrying on the principles.” And I was like “Oh, my God. I’m being knighted by Bob Dylan!” And it means the world because I think the world of Bob, like I did with Miles Davis. There’s certain people who … I call ’em “bigger-than-life people.”
So when he was giving me this award, him and Lauryn Hill, things just stop. Gravity disappears, time disappears. It’s almost like in that moment there’s a corridor to eternity and immortality, because they’re reaffirming that you’re not the flavor of the second. This is going to stick around for a while. This album is now going along with the Eagles’ Greatest Hits and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I just thanked everybody from the center my heart, because there’s like a parade of people, like engineers, producers, artists, accountants, lawyers, and everybody was really in my corner. It felt really endearing that people would go out of their way to cheer for me.
You tied Michael Jackson for the number of wins in one night. Did he call you to congratulate you?
Yes, because my brother Mr. Quincy Jones said, “Hey, how are you doing? I got someone who wants to talk to you.” So we just talked, and he wanted to invite me to play on his next album. There’s a child in me who is still bananas about Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye and Miles Davis, even though I’m in the same stage with them to a certain extent. But there’s a child me that still feels the respect and wonderment with Michael. I always will. It’s like I’m looking to people like that like they’re bigger than life.
People look up to you that way, too.
I’m finding that out, too.
Did you think you’d win so many awards that night?
I was taking a shower before the whole thing happened, and when I came out, my ex-wife Deborah said, “Hey, how does it feel to be nominated nine times, mister?” She was kind of making fun of me. I was like “What? What are you talking about?” She goes, “How many ones are you gonna get?” And my kids were like, “Yeah. Dad, how many do you think you’re going to get?” I go, “I don’t know, maybe one or two?” This is the truth: I was not invested emotionally in how many I was gonna get. I came in with a no expectations, blank mind, blank heart, like, “Whatever happens, I’m grateful for it.”
Of the eight Grammys you won, which meant the most to you?
I appreciate the one I won for “El Farol.” I was writing that song with my son when I received a phone call that my dad had just passed. So they give me an award for that one, and the one with Eric Clapton. That’s a whole other story because Eric was so gracious.
How was Eric Clapton gracious?
He called me up and he says, “Carlos!” I say, “Hi, Eric!” He says, “Listen, I just found out that you made a call to invite me to your new album, but my manager,” or ex-manager, I don’t remember which, “didn’t tell me about it.” He was kind of upset. He says, “Is there still time and room for me to play on it?” I said, “Sure.” So Eric came in and I said, “Eric, I’m sure a lot of people are expecting you and I to do ‘Dueling Banjos.’” He started laughing, and I said, “But I want to do a mood like this, kind of like [Sly and the Family Stone’s] Larry Graham.” So I’m writing the song with him and we did it in one take.
Less than a month later, I came to the office and everybody’s looking at me kind of strange and I go, “What’s going on?” And they go, “Well, the bill came.” “What bill?” “Oh, Eric Clapton sent a bill playing on your album. He had to charge you, because he’s under contract.” I said “OK, I know this. So what’s goin’ on?” They show me how much he was requested to get paid. And when I looked at it, I went blank. I was like, “Wow.” It was almost like somebody took the air out of my lungs and the blood out of my brain.
How much did he ask for?
Eric Clapton charged me one dollar to play on my album. Can you believe that?
That’s incredible. So after you won all of the Grammys, how did you feel for the rest of the night?
I felt really, really high. It was like I was like seven feet off the ground. I couldn’t sleep that night. It was very intense because I was still doing press to say thank you to the Grammys. And people want to know, “Well, what’s it like?” I remember Jeff Beck kept looking at me and I go, “What’s goin’ on Jeff?” And he goes, “It must be really something being you right now.” I’m like, “Man, I don’t know what it’s like being me right now.” I’m just like almost numb to the situation. It is very overwhelming, man. I still see myself as the dishwasher who came from Tijuana who made a commitment that I could possibly be onstage with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead and Michael Bloomfield. That’s how I still see myself and it’s happening! So this Mexican dishwasher is having a long dream.
Where do you keep all the trophies now?
They are in Las Vegas. We have a new office over there that is really, really beautiful. When I look at them, I always think of three people: [the late concert promoter] Bill Graham, Clive Davis, and, of course my father. Then I think of [late Santana band percussionist] Mr. Armando Peraza who, with Bill Graham, really homed in on me as like the sensei guys, the master teachers. When I look at those trophies, I think of how they went out of their way to connect me with B.B. King and Tito Puente. They’re the ones who opened the door for me in many, many ways.
I’ll always cherish the whole day at the Grammys. I kept hearing Bill Graham’s voice saying inwardly, in my heart, “You are the voice for the voiceless. You give voice to all the dishwashers, all people who clean sheets, clean toilets, pick the food, all those people who you never see them unless you want to ask them to stick around for two more hours to babysit your kids. You are the voice of them.” When he said that to me a long time ago, it really meant a lot.