June 12, 2024

Interview: Carlos Santana on the influence of Indianapolis jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery

WFYI’s Kyle Long (right) recently spoke with Carlos Santana (left), and they discussed Santana's interest in Wes Montgomery's music. - Kyle Long / WFYI

WFYI’s Kyle Long (right) recently spoke with Carlos Santana (left), and they discussed Santana's interest in Wes Montgomery's music.

Kyle Long / WFYI

Carlos Santana's guitar is one of the most recognizable sounds in rock music. But few music fans know Santana’s sound was deeply influenced by Indianapolis jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery.

Carlos Santana is a 10-time Grammy Award winner with 24 Billboard-charting records. In 2023, Rolling Stone magazine named Santana the 11th greatest rock guitarist of all-time. Santana’s innovative blend of psychedelic rock music and Afro-Latin rhythms influenced the sound of popular music around the globe.

WFYI’s Kyle Long recently spoke with Santana, and they discussed Santana's interest in Wes Montgomery's music. When asked to explain the importance of Montgomery’s sound, Santana compared the guitarist's music to a luxury car.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Carlos Santana: When you hear Wes Montgomery for the first time, it's like being inside of a Rolls Royce, his tone, his choice of notes, and his facility as a musician. You know, a lot of people don't know that John Coltrane wanted him in his band.

John Coltrane knew that the value of Wes Montgomery was immense, not only in musical terms, but Wes Montgomery was probably one of the first crossover musicians, you know, that went across the board. That's what Wes Montgomery was to me. It wasn't even jazz, or any of those terms anymore. It was just universally accepted music.

Kyle Long: Do you remember when you first heard his work? Is that something you can trace back in your mind?

Santana: Yes, I went to a friend of mine, and at that time, we had records, we didn't have cassettes or 8-tracks or anything, all we had was records. So we went to the house, and when we played hooky, we hung out with people who had records. So they had three records: Wes Montgomery, the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper's, and Jimi Hendrix’s Bold As Love.

I remember the sound of Wes Montgomery. It just sounded so evolved, with class and elegance. It really floored me, you know, as a guitar player, because I grew up with B.B. King. Like Michael Bloomfield and Eric Clapton, we were all disciples of B.B. King. When I discovered Gábor Szabó, Wes Montgomery, and Bola Sete, it was like discovering a universe, a galaxy, and my life was never the same.

Long: I think you were about 20 years old when Wes died. It was 1968 and he was 45 years old. He had a sudden heart attack. It was a shock to the music world. Do you have any memories of hearing that Wes had died? And what did that mean to you?

Santana: It felt like someone in my family had left. You know, I remember feeling like I was frozen in time, and I felt a loss in my heart. I said, “I want to go buy some more albums.” Because to me at that time, I loved driving around the streets of San Francisco playing Wes Montgomery’s music.

That was it, that was, you know, that was the thing to do. You know, he turned everything into a classic the way he touched it. And I'm still recuperating, you know? I'd get in the car and play Movin’ Wes and I’d play certain songs. He just makes the day better, you know? He fills my life with gladness and gratitude, his notes.


Support independent journalism today. You rely on WFYI to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Donate to power our nonprofit reporting today. Give now.


Related News

Caitlin Clark rallies Fever past Liberty 83-78 with first triple-double by WNBA rookie
Olympic swimming, diving trials continue for Hoosier athletes
History was made over the weekend at U.S. Olympic swim trials in Indianapolis