Courtesy of Rogers and Cowan
After the Latin rock band Santana released Supernatural
in 1999, bandleader Carlos Santana put out a casting call that he needed a singer. Andy Vargas, a guy who grew up listening to both mariachi music and R&B responded, thinking he had the right kind of musical background to get the gig.
He figured right.
He’s now been singing with the band for almost 20 years and comes to Blossom
with the group when it performs with the Doobie Brothers on Wednesday, Aug. 7.
Vargas clearly remembers that first audition.
“I was recording an album with RCA/BMG,” he says via phone from a Los Angeles tour stop. “I was working with [producer] Lou Adler. He put the connection together. I walked into Carlos’ office. Everyone was rehearsing in the back. They wanted to see if I could cut it. It all went by really fast. I met everyone in the office, and I loved that rehearsal space there. It was a quick hello. [Santana] said, ‘Let’s start something.’ He gave me a microphone, and he played the introduction to [Supernatural
’s] ‘Smooth.’ They just went for it. I had to get in there and find my space within the music.’”
The audition went well, and Vargas joined the band for a three-week East Coast tour. Supernatural
became a massive hit, and Vargas stayed on with the band as it embarked on a world tour in support of the album.
“That was surreal,” he says of the world tour. “I was getting on tour busses and seeing the country and playing in front of large audiences. I have to give my love and band members to the other band members who took me under their wing. At the time, Tony Lindsay, who was also singing with Carlos took me under his wing and so did Raul Rekow, the conga player. He took me under his wing as a little brother. They all took me under their wings. These guys became my family. Looking in their eyes on stage, you see the humility and a relaxed musician who’s not nervous or pretentious or worries or concerned. Looking in their eyes and feeling comfortable gave me the opportunity to build my own personality and my own musical chops. Carlos gave me that opportunity. It brought me into a level of musicianship and spiritualism that now follows me everywhere I go.”
The current tour celebrates both the 20th anniversary of Supernatural
and the 50th anniversary of Santana’s performance at Woodstock.
“It’s been great,” Vargas says of the jaunt that started earlier this summer. “It’s refreshing to sing some of those [Supernatural
] songs. You can see that everyone is waiting to hear the songs. You can see the smiles and feel the energy in the audience. The songs are amazing. [Producer] Clive Davis was involved in helping Carlos choosing the songs and pairing him with the artists. Those songs are hit songs. Every single one of them can stand alone. Those artists had such an audience and were such major artists. They sing and speak the truth. If you take all of that and put it under Carlos’ leadership, it’s designed for greatness.”
Vargas adds that the group will also use some visuals from its performance Woodstock during the show at Blossom.
When he’s not performing and recording with Santana, Vargas plays with Souleros, a group that plays a blend of soul and boleros influenced by classic funk and R&B/soul music. After the Santana tour, Vargas will release a full-length solo debut album that’s been preceded by several singles, including a guest appearance from Santana on a new version of “Oye Como Va.” Vargas’ previous single, “The Beat,” was featured by ESPN’s Music of the Month and was released in both English and Spanish versions. A collaboration with R&B/soul singer Frankie J, “We’re Still Here Together” just came out this summer too.
“He’s a good friend of mine who has been on the scene for a long time,” Vargas says of Frankie J. “The song, as we wrote it, rose to the surface because of its message. There’s so much music out there that talks about being players and breaking up and money and greed and gangs and violence and things. We wanted to write something current that had a classic soul/R&B feel. It’s about falling in love with someone and being able to withstand the trials and tribulations of being in a relationship these days. There are so many divorces and breakups and maybe marriage and relationships aren’t for everyone, but we wanted to write a song about the success of a relationship.”
Vargas also runs a music education program in San Bernardino that he sees as his extension of how he inspires people through his solo career and his performances with Santana.
“My purpose is to inspire endangered youth through what inspires me,” he says. “I aim to educate and inspire music production and recording and writing collaborations with youth and with the city of San Bernardino and with the city college. We have a lot of eyes and help. I want to start these music programs throughout the United States. We’re also focusing on scholarship programs for high school grads going to college. Kids are following their mentors. Their heroes are preaching negative viewpoints. There needs to be more hope.”
Both on his own and with Santana, Vargas makes music that crosses many borders. It mixes genres and appeals to both Latin and non-Latin audiences alike, something that’s key at a time when the U.S. president seems obsessed with constructing walls and instituting racial barriers.
“Personally, it’s important for us to unify and not separate,” says Vargas. “Music is a universal language, and now in the digital realm, it’s world-wide. I’m a firm believer of spreading a positive message. I’m grateful to have this opportunity to make a difference. Music is the universal language, and if we can unify and try to find solutions to our problems, that will make for a better future for our children.”
Santana, Doobie Brothers, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, Blossom Music Center, 1145 W. Steels Corners Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, 330-920-8040. Tickets: $47-$173, livenation.com.
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.