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Carlos Santana is Still Smooth

carlossantanaFitting that one of Carlos Santana's albums is called "Shaman".

Talking to the guitar legend is like visiting a guru who likes to speak with closed eyes and in oblique metaphors.

"In the past few years, I've learned to think in a new way," says Santana, 61, holding court in anonymous Marin County offices flanked by a car repair shop and a coffee importer. "I know now when eternity nears, time disappears."

After a fairly quiet decade since his Grammy-gobbling 1999 comeback, "Supernatural," Santana will reappear in a big way Wednesday in Las Vegas, the kickoff to a two-year residency at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's The Joint.

Santana says he "never thought he'd do the Broadway thing, night after night," but "everyone has the capacity not to be stuck in old ways."

"Supernatural Santana: A Trip Through the Hits" will take over The Joint for 36 shows this year, and more dates are planned for 2010. The guitarist says the beginning and end of each show will be packed with signature tunes. "But in the middle we'll do a backward flip into the unknown," he says. "The band won't know where we're going, just I will."

He dismisses the suggestion that playing hits repeatedly will render them stale. "To play something like 'Black Magic Woman' is an honor anytime you do it," he says. "I can remember the first time I ever played that song, and that's the place I need to go to."

And he'll go there without the aid of mind-boggling stagecraft that accompanied the Sin City residencies of Celine Dion and Bette Midler.

The Joint feels like "one of those great older clubs that you might have seen Santana in back in the day," says John Meglen, co-CEO of AEG Live/Concerts West. "It'll be a great experience, but not like a stadium show."

Santana in Las Vegas "is definitely about experimenting," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the touring industry publication Pollstar. "Santana's shows aren't known for their glitz. It's about seeing if he can appeal to that broad demographic that makes up the people who go there to gamble."

Santana remains unconcerned. "Vegas is an illusion, and I want to bring something genuine," he says. "Vegas is about having luck and fortune. But I'm bringing you grace."

He runs the gamut in 45 minutes of conversation from politics to preaching, with a digression about how he'd like his band to headline soccer's 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

He's also candid about having been through some rough times after his divorce in 2007 from wife Deborah, whose 2005 memoir "Space Between the Stars: detailed the rocker's infidelities.

"I've been to a place where death looks like relief from so much pain," he says, eyes shut. "But if I see something shiny, or a candle, or the sun on the window, that's where my wife, two daughters and son are. In that light, everything is new. There is no blame going around."

If anything, he's in a redemptive mood. He says he'd love to move to Maui and start his own church. "We'll see what God wants to do with me, but I'd like to do that. I aspire to affect human consciousness. I know that my life has meaning beyond my musicianship."

That could be behind a pulpit. Or a desk. Never one for a lack of ideas (he runs a foundation, a shoe company and a restaurant chain), Santana leans forward, closes his eyes, then opens them.

"You can put this in there, too," he says, jabbing toward a notepad. "I'm looking to start a 24-hour TV channel dedicated to beauty and excellence."

Has he made headway?

"It's in the works," Santana says, leaning back in his chair. Then he smiles. "I've got an aerial view. And I'm very patient."

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