You know the name of the guitar player in the band, but for 25 years the man in front of Santana has been singer Tony Lindsay.
He’s earned 11 Grammys, written songs on Santana’s biggest album, “Supernatural,” and been the soulful source of lyrics—in English and Spanish—on tours all over the world.
Now, he’s touring on his own, including a stop at Gilroy’s District Theater on Saturday, his first visit to the city, for what is billed as “A Night of Funk.” He’s playing a show of R&B, blues, funk, soul and rock backed by a band that includes Santa Cruz guitarist Donnie Caruth. Some performers say they are winging it and improvising, but actually have setlists. Not Lindsay. He plays what he feels at the moment.
“We may do a Santana song, ‘Evil Ways,’” he said. “But not like any version you’ve heard.”
Lindsay was hired by Santana almost three decades ago after piano player Chester Thompson saw him in the Silicon Valley band Spang-a-lang. Thompson suggested he audition for an opening in Santana. He was the last of 13 singers to try out and he got the job.
It lasted for a decade before he was unceremoniously laid off for a year, while Carlos Santana experimented with another singer. The band leader never talked to him. He got the notice from a manager. A year later, Lindsay got the call back. He joined up again, asking only that if he got laid off again, Santana let him know. He stayed 15 years, until the end of 2015, when Santana’s manager again let Lindsay know his services wouldn’t be needed.
“After 25 years, I’m really not going to complain,” said Lindsay, 61, who keeps fit with daily trips to the gym, swimming and basketball. “I’m grateful for the time I had. It gave me the opportunity to make a great life for myself and my family. I’m still working with no problems.”
Lindsay, who lives in San Carlos, is touring with several bands. He’s in a Santana tribute band that tours Europe and also features another former Santana, singer Alex Ligertwood. He has a local band—the Soul Soldiers—that is playing both the Monterey and San Jose jazz festivals performing the songs of Lou Rawls, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers. That band started as a Ray Charles tribute band, but grew into a big draw adding the work of other soulful writers.
They’ve sold out shows in San Francisco and Santa Cruz. He also has a band that tours Australia and Brazil.
“I’m not someone who can stop working,” he said. “I have to keep doing something or I go nuts. I’m not someone who can sit in front of a TV and do nothing.”
Bandleader Carlos Santana is similarly restless, changing the musicians who back him as often as some people change fashions, saying he needs to be continually challenged. Last year he reformed his group from the 1970s with Journey founders Neal Schon on guitar and Gregg Rolie singing and or an album and some shows. This year he’s changed it again, adding Tower of Power’s singer Ray Greene on vocals.
Before he got the Santana gig, Lindsay was singing jingles and doing vocal tracks with soul producer Narada Michael Walden. He was in commercials for Burger King, Hot Wheels and Mazda and already had a busy schedule, when he was asked to join one of the most famous bands in the world.
What if he’s called back to work with Santana?
“They know they can call me anytime,” he said.
Tickets for the show are $11.54 and available at thedistricttheater.com. Showtime is 9 p.m.