Carlos Santana Saved My Life

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by Anthony J Garcia


(Opening with Seven Generations.)


Seven Generations of history

Seven Generations are yet to be,

Seven generations that went before,

And seven generations to come.


Discovering La Bamba


I was 12 years, and like every kid my age at that time, I picked up a guitar. No one in my family had every played, but here I was obsessed with picking at those six strings every minute of the day. I played while eating, while reading, while watching TV, which drove my brothers and sisters crazy because as good as I thought I was, I really did suck.


I even slept with my guitar, as if by cradling the guitar like the soft, sweet girlfriend I wished I had, I would actually get a soft sweet girlfriend. After all, that is what every 12 year old male in the 1960s dreamed, to be a guitar hero, but during those you actually had to have  guitar playing skills to be a guitar hero.




Seven generations that we must teach,

Seven generations our voice must reach,

Seven generations that learn to grow,

So seven generations will know


If you did not play guitar you got no play. So, I grew my hair long and I played. I wasn’t very good, I had no formal training, my ear was not very developed, and my voice, well it sounded like me.


I asked a friend of mine, Daniel Valdez,  who is often my collaborator, and who also has done numerous recordings with people like Linda Ronstadt, how long it took him to get used to the sound of his voice. He told me it took him, “17 years.” Well for me it has taken much longer. But that hasn’t stopped me from doing it.




Within ourselves their spirit lasts

The songs they sing, of voices past

The earth one day will reclaim itself

Where we begin, we will end


So at 12 the guitar became a primary measure of my identity. I lived in a world, at the time, when we called ourselves Spanish-Americans. Although I looked no more Spanish than Cochise and my long hair made me look even more like my Apache ancestors.


Denver in the 1960s was a very segregated town, most of the people who looked like me, were located in a barrio in the center of town known as the Westside. The first time I traveled outside of the neighborhood, I was confronted by some white guys in a pickup. ( ‘cause you know that’s what they all drive.)


They shouted insults at me. Like beaner, greaser and worst of all Mexican. Mexican! I wasn’t a Mexican. Mexicans lived in Mexico. Mexicans were poor. Mexicans were lazy.


I was a Spanish kid.


Then one shouted, “ Go back to Mexico”. This brought me to a standstill. You see I had never been to Mexico, my parents had never been to Mexico, three of my grandparents, were born in New Mexico. Now in the interest of full disclosure, I will say that my mother’s father was born in Jalisco, but he came to the United States to work and die at Colorado Fuel and Iron company. My mother was only 8. This was in 1930.


But it didn’t matter to these little bigoted assholes. I was a Mexican.


But what did I know about being a Mexican, here I was making myself over as mod rocker, musician guy who gets a bunch of girls and these guys were fucking that all up.


I continued banging on my guitar, somehow it seemed the really banging type of rhythms seemed to work for me. I broke a lot of strings.



I was feeling real bad I asked my family doctor just what I had,

I said Dr. (Doctor)

Mr. MD ( Doctor)

Can you tell me what’s ailing me?

And he said yeah, yeah yeah, yeah

All I really needs is good lovin


Someplace in the middle of the songs something happened. Good lovin became, “ baila bamba.” What the hell was that? Where did that come from? I tried to focus on the Young Rascals, instead words, started coming out of my mouth from someplace I had never known existed.




Para Bailar la Bamba

Para bailar la bamba

Se necesita una poca de gracia

Uns poca de gracia y otra cosita y arriba arriba


Baila Bamba, Good lovin, Baila Bamba, Gimme that good lovin.


Don’t get me wrong I had heard Mariachi music before, but let’s face it who the hell listens to it. There are usually firecrackers, children screaming and fajitas sizzling. And who can listen to music, when you’ve got food on your mind?


But here I was channeling some ancient heart sacrifice loving deity, through genetic memory. Was it Huitzilopochtli? The Aztec god of war, who demanded hearts in order to keep the sun in the heavens, or Coatlique she of the skirt made of serpents, I was envisioning skulls, and obsidian shaped knives and feathers, lots of fucking peacock feathers.


Maybe it was Quetzalcoatl returning to restore peace love and understanding to the ravaged world. By 1968 we were surely on the steps of the apocalypse, the world would never be in worse shape then at that moment. Everyone was predicting it was going to end.


Viet Nam raged, there were cities being burnt and heroes being murdered. And I found myself unconsciously channeling  a 17 year old Chicano rockero. As I sang a voice in side of me cried out,” Ritchie”.


Richie Valens, nee Ricardo Valenzuela. The silent casualty on the day the music died. We remembered Buddy Holly and even the Big Bopper, but who was Ritchie Valens, and why was he speaking through me.


I found out that I knew all the words to La Bamba, and unlike Ritchie, who spoke no Spanish, I understood them. What’s more, I could play the Huasteca version of the song.


Yo no soy marinero,

Yo no soy marinero

Soy Capitan, Soy Capitan

Baila bamba, baila bamba.


But I tried to go back.



Baila Bamba, Good lovin, Baila Bamba, Gimme that good lovin.


But it was no use. Once you crack, you can never go back. Things were so bad I even knew verses of the song that no one sings.



Para subir al cielo

Para subir al cielo

Se necesita una escalera grande

una escalera grande otra cosita y arriba arriba,

Y arriba arriba ire por ti sere, port ti sere


Baila bamba, Baila bamba good loving gimme that good lovin


I understood what Ritchie was saying, he was like me. Not a real Mexican, he didn’t speak Spanish, he played electric guitar, but he wasn’t a real American either, he sang in Spanish, he played new and interesting rhythms on his electric guitar and he called himself Valens, when we all knew his name was Valenzuela. I was Anthony, not Antonio, unless I did something wrong, then I was, “ Antonio cabron”.


But Ritchie like so many others before him felt he had to disguise who he was, and the source of the subversive music he was bringing to the masses.


Trini Lopez and Elvis


Now Chicanos were always infiltrating the main stream, well make that Chicano culture.


Exhibit A.


( Slide show begins )


You all recognize the pictures of Elvis Presley circa the late 1950s. The other pictures are Chicanos from the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial in 1942. You have to hand it to Elvis though, he was the perfect marketing combination. He was a white guy, who sang like a black guy and dressed like a Chicano.


Chicano roqueros had always been around playing Mexican influenced rock n roll. Sunny and the Sunliners, Santo and Johnny, Mando and the Chile Peppers, all had regional hits, and some national success. They all played Vegas. Las Vegas was a hot spot for Chicano bands, because as we all know the devil lives in Las Vegas, and Chicanos also enjoy the evils of liquor, gambling and prostitution.


This is not say that casino owners were color blind, but green is not a color it is window of opportunity. Many people didn’t know the performers were brown until they showed up. We knew, but it didn’t matter. The casino owner thought. “ okay it is getting harder and harder to hide the fact that these performs are Mexican, but what if we made them look not so Mexican” The Chicano bands thought, hey we’ll wear suits, we look good that way also, and so was born the career of Trini Lopez.


Many of you might not know or remember Trini Lopez, but he was a Chicano from Dallas, who sang in Spanish and in English. He was clean, and really polite.


But Trini always kept it upbeat. There was an “aw shucks” attitude about him. It was peppy. Trini also did folk songs, which he also made peppy. He was a happy Mexican. Remember Mexico is the, “Amigo Country” okay it used to be, until we pissed them off. So he sang Lemon Tree, Trini’s accent ratted him out as he sang Limon Tree, which he played in a moderate Guapango.


( Demonstrate Guapango)


Dicen que por las noches

nomas se le iba en puro llorar,
dicen que no comia,
nomas se le iba en puro tomar,
juran que el mismo cielo
se estremecia al oir su llanto;
como sufrio por ella,
que hasta en su muerte la fue llamando.

Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay,… cantaba,
Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay,… gemia,
Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay,… cantaba,
de pasion mortal… moria

Limon tree very pretty, but the limon flower is sweet,

but the fruit of the poor limon is impossible to eat




If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning,

I’d hammer in the evening all over this land.

I’d hammer about danger, I’d hammer out a warning

I’d hammer bout the love between my brothers and sisters all over this land

And then he did something completely different. He sang

Ooh ooh ooh ooh.


Now I got in trouble with this song years later, when I got the chance to perform with Pete Seeger. Woody Guthrie’s pal. Pete wrote the song so many years ago, that hammers were probably considered advanced technology then. I suppose it was a step up from the rocks that people had been using.


Anyway, I found myself at a microphone next to Pete, where all the performers were coming together to ask the musical question, “ If I had a hammer?” Before the show Pete said, “ Okay at the end of the show, we’ll all do, If I had a hammer? as an encore”. He said it like we all knew his entire catalog. The rest of the guys in the group were looking at me, like what are we supposed to do. I said “ No sweat. I got it. Just follow me”


One problem. I did know the song, Trini Lopez version of the song.


Pete sang.


( Imitate Pete Seeger.)


If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning,

I’d hammer in the evening all over this land.


Trini Lopez sang “ooh ooh ooh ooh.”


At the critical moment in the song, I sang with total confidence “ooh ooh ooh ooh.” Pete’s head snapped toward me. Since everyone in my group had been following me, when I stopped, there was a massive chain reaction of collisions as my group struggled and stammered to recover.


Pete was later treated for whiplash. After the concert one of my band members, expressed a bit of disappointment that he had told friends we were performing with Bob Seeger. It is possible this would have killed Pete.


Trini was romantic and sexy in a kind of “Latin Lover I may seduce you, but what I really want is to marry” you type of way. He sang


When the sun is hot here upon the beach,

I feel your body vibrating near me,

It is the palpitations of hearts,

It is your face,

It is your hair

It is your kisses. Woah oh

When the sun heats up.


Cuando caliente el sol,

Aqui en la playa

Siento tu cuerpo enbribrar

Cerca de mi

Es tu palpitar

Es tu cara

Es tu pelo

Son tus besos. Mi estremesco whoa oh

Cuando caliente el sol


I started to discover all the Mexicanism in rock music. Some for all there mimicry were what I would consider racists songs.




In a little café on the other side of the border.

She was sitting there giving me looks that made my mouth water.


This was not some blonde high school chick, this was some Latina butted brown girl making our poor, border hopping white boy sweat.

So we were all about sex. This was okay with me. But let’s face facts the girl in that song was a puta. In the song she returns to her boyfriend, after causing the poor little guerito slumming in Tijuana, to pee in his pants.


The British Invasion hit and we heard.



Listen do you want to know a secret?


Another question


But we knew it was really


Crei que tu vida era mia


Nonetheless I could live with that because for all my desire for a sexy, Latin musician image, that would drive the girls crazily into my arms. I still had never driven any girls crazily into my arms. Like Trini Lopez I was romantic, peppy and safe. Until.


(Chords for Oye Como Va)


Oye Como Va


What the hell was that? Like a pre-Columbian flute playing through me. And then the words called me.




Como va?

Le va bien


Pulsating through me, Carlos Santana attacked his music with all the sexual passion that Trini Lopez only teased. Carlos was all brown. And he had drums man, congas, bongos and timbales. Holy Shit. Timbales! They  twould up the ante on the rhythm, when the entire band in a Tito Puente  Afro Carribean emphasis pounced on the downbeat together.


And the words, man the words were unapologetic, “deal with me”, they shouted to the world in no uncertain terms. What we had been afraid to say for 500 years. For the first time in my life, I danced and celebrated my non-whiteness. I sang along.


Oye como va, mi ritmo

Listen how it goes my rhythm

Bueno pa gozar, mulatta


Good to be enjoyed, my dark skin, African, India mestiza woman with large firm breasts. Okay I added the part about the breasts, but do you remember the Album cover?


(Show Album cover)


Samba pa ti


Man it was amazing. I was lost in a dizziness of my own identity. I found the eagle with the serpeant and it was perched on my radio.  I was all those mixtures, and all of them were good enough. I had known at a very early age from looking in the mirror that I would never pass for anything, but what I was. Look at the way I dress, I can’t  even pass for Tlingit.


But what the fuck was I? I now knew, I was a mestizo, and everything that had ever been done to my ancestors to destroy them. To destroy their way of life, their religion, their gods, their universe only made us stronger. Yes, I was a bastard, one tough little bastard.


Yes, I was a half breed, and that gave me two breeds to speak many different truths. I reveled in my Mestizaje, and was now free to explore every direction of my history.


Daniel Valdez


In the summer of 74, I had joined Su Teatro and was on my way to the land of my ancestors. It was my first time in Mexico, we were on our way to the first encounter of Chicano and Latin American theaters. We were going to perform in Mexico City.  We were outside Laredo, Texas getting ready to cross the border.


I had never been to Texas. Why would I? I was from Colorado and the only thing we disliked more than people from California, is people from Texas. Why you might ask? It is really very simple all they do is talk about how great it is in California and Texas, as if the world revolves around California, and Texas has the best of everything. It is as if they had been exiled to Colorado.


People live in Colorado, for the same reason people live in Sitka, because we want to. I live in a state that people want to live in. Now, having been to California and Texas, I can understand why people might not want to move from there.


Everyone in California is waiting on a movie deal, and I had never seen such poverty as I had seen in Texas. When we were passing through Lubbock, Buddy Holly’s home town, I saw houses bordered up, and people living in them. For a kid who grew up living in Denver’s housing projects, I was shocked and saddened. I had understood the suffering of the poverty of the soul, that racism and oppression imposed. While we were poor, and I do remember missing meals, and yes there were times in our house when hid from the rent collector, perhaps because of my parents and my own ignorance, it seemed tolerable because that was just the way it was.


We pulled into the community center where we were to spend the night. I was sleeping with some other sweaty actor leaned up against me. The summer Texas humidity made us all stink, our skin felt like it would stick to anything. I awoke as our van bumped to a stop. What I heard was a magic, entrancing otherworld beauty. It was emanating from a blue van owned by a salt and pepper haired, Chicano actor named Cesar Flores. His ride was tricked out as I had never seen anything to that day, tuck and roll upholstery everywhere, and the inside wall was the image of the United Farmworkers Eagle, with a heart emblazoned in the center in leather, wrapped and sown seamlessly together.


What drew me in, was the sound coming from the speakers built into the doors of this traveling Chicanomobile. It was contemporary and hip, not as aggressive as Santana, the voice was an accented sweet male voice. The rhythms and intonations were Mexican, but he sang in English, not as if he were translating, but as if he were singing in Spanish, but he had added new words to the Spanish language that just happened to be English.


We were all amazed, we headed to the van all demanding to know the creator of this sound .Through his black and white beard Cesar answered that’s my carnal Daniel Valdez.




Now the wait of winters gone,

And once again we see the sun.

And the birds come out to sing

To tell the world she’s home again


Primavera, Primavera


I saw Cesar years later , his hair is now completely white, what hair there is. And he mentioned something about us being old together. My recollection was that Cesar was old when I met him. I did remind him of this. But I did thank him for the moment of introducing me to Daniel Valdez and his music. Danny’s album was titled Mestizo.


Her beauty makes men stop and stare

To gaze on loveliness so rare

It feels man with tranquility

And love for all humanity


Primavera, Primavera


We quickly learned every one of his songs.  He sang of America, as an ancient past, but also as a future of hope, and possibility. He sang of spring, as in a rebirth, which is exactly what we were going through. It was a Chicano renascence. La Primavera, the first sight was calling our Mexica souls to take flight. We know that life follows death. We had lived in death for 500 years, and now were about to be borne. With a new sense of what we were, what we have always been. So I was dead, and Carlos Santana saved me. He reached into my ancient heart, and grabbed it pulsating, and taught me to dance to its vibrant syncopated rhythms.


Duplicating the heartbeat offering it as sacrifice each time we sang.


And as she leaves she sings her song

That turns the leaves into a brown

For summers here and she can stay,

For that’s life’s law and nature’s way.


Primavera, Primavera

Primavera, Primavera


Years later we would write and sing that, “ Every generation must find its way” It was 30 years later that Daniel and I would produce our first work together. Yes Carlos Santana saved my life, Daniel unleashed my spirit, each step of the way there were others who returned to me pieces of my soul. It was a journey of one generation.  And tonight , I dedicate this to my grandson Isaac who spent time with me in Alaska, I offer it to the children I met at the ANB hall, the students at Pacific High, and Mt Edgecombe this is my gift from one generation to the next.


Every generation must find its way.

Seven generations of yesterday,

A lifetime spent so, that we will learn,

One day to the earth we return



Within ourselves their spirit lasts

The songs they sing, of voices past

The earth one day will reclaim itself

Where we begin, we will end


To all our relations, the earth is one,

With hearts that beat fire from the sun,

To all our ancestors within us we

Give thanks for what we’ve received


Within ourselves their spirit lasts

The songs they sing, of voices past

The earth one day will reclaim itself

Where we begin, we will end