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Santana marvels at 'Supernatural' success

He wanted to make "spiritually healing" music to counteract the depressing stuff he says pervades today's music. But he never dreamed his latest album would gain such a following of young and old alike.

By Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


Just how big is Santana's Supernatural?

Whether you look at numbers or critical acclaim, the mix of vintage Santana and collaborations with stars such as Rob Thomas, Lauryn Hill, Dave Matthews and Everlast is among the hugest records of all time.

More than 20-million copies have sold worldwide. It has been on the Billboard 200 album chart for more than a year, last week perched at No. 24. It claims two singles on the current Billboard Hot 100 list: Smooth (for 53 weeks; 12 at No. 1) and Maria Maria (25 weeks). This year it won an all-time record-breaking nine Grammy Awards.

Carlos Santana, who burst onto the national music scene at the 1969 Woodstock festival, has said he made Supernatural to fight "all the arrogance, cynicism and sarcasm permeating the airwaves of the United States today on all channels of TV and most radio stations.

"As a result of all that," he told his hometown newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, "young people between ages 7 and 27 start falling into depression and frustrations. They start thinking they're victims and outcasts."

Santana, well-known for his own spirituality, said he set out to create "spiritually healing" music. But he said he was amazed at the magnitude of the hit he made.

"I wake up in the morning and say to myself, "That was a strange dream,' " he told the Examiner. "And then I hear Smooth and realize it was not a dream. It's still happening. And I'm very grateful. For me, it's amazing to see how grandparents, parents, teenagers and little children are all claiming Supernatural as their own.

"For the first time, it's a reality that teenagers can get into the car with their parents and listen to the same music without feeling weird."

The decided unspiritual world of marketing, too, played a role in Supernatural's success.

Adam Sexton, a 36-year-old Arista Records vice president who as a young guitarist spent hours learning Black Magic Woman, says he set out to reach older Santana fans and find a new fan base in the youth market.

He recently told Advertising Age that he targeted the 30-to-55-year-old group first, placing ads before the record's release in magazines such as Esquire, Fortune and Time. He also said Santana's appearances on morning TV shows such as Good Morning America helped in this effort.

To reach the youth market, he went online. Amazon.com featured an interview with Santana and auctioned a signed guitar. Amazon and America Online featured exclusive prerelease sample downloads of the music. Plus, the band toured extensively.

Sexton told Advertising Age he knew he'd done his job when he saw a cartoon in Newsweek showing a teenage girl on the phone. The caption: "I'm just listening to Santana with my parents."

Information from the San Francisco Examiner and Advertising Age was used in this report.

At a glance

Santana with Macy Gray, 7:30 tonight, Ice Palace, Tampa. The show is sold out.

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