You might think Carlos Santana was drawn to Michelle Branch because of the title of her 2001 album, The Spirit Room.
But the spiritual Grammy gobbler didn't know he wanted to work with the spirited teen until his songwriters handed him "The Game of Love." Then the spirits swooped down and whispered in the guitarist's ear.
"Pretty much like with Supernatural, a lot of stuff was made in the inner world, with the inner invisible ones, angels and archangels," he said in typically cryptic fashion. "The songs just create crystal slippers that would look for Cinderella or Cinderfella. The songs cry what kind of person we should look for."
When the word was spoken, the organizational wheels starting to turn back down on Earth. Santana's people contacted Branch's manager — via telephone, not telepathy — and relayed the message to her while she was on tour.
"I was obviously more than excited, I was ecstatic," Branch enthused. "I'm a huge fan, ... so to be asked to work with such a legend was really phenomenal."
The collaboration appears on Santana's new Shaman, the follow-up to 1999's multiplatinum Supernatural. The percussive, Latin-tinged pop tune is receiving strong radio play, and the two artists are making the promotional rounds to plug the ditty.
For Santana, "The Game of Love" is a positive song for uneasy times and a reminder of the kind of music he used to hear during the heart of the Vietnam War when he was releasing albums like Abraxas (1970) and Santana III (1971).
"You had the Young Rascals' 'Groovin',' and music by Laura Nyro and Carole King was hitting high," he recalled. "Those were the perfect types of summer songs to ease life from all turmoil that was happening. And now it's just like Vietnam with all the sniping and we're apparently getting ready to go to war again. So we need songs that make you see the other side of fear and anger."
Branch said she feels like "The Game of Love" was written especially for her and she loves the way the song's structure lets Santana's guitar magic shine through without overpowering her vocals.
"He has the most incredible guitar tone and he plays these beautiful melodies along with the song," she said. "Sometimes there are guitar players that play solos and it kind of takes over and it's out of place and strange, but he always knows where to put the music."
Branch, who's working on a follow-up to The Spirit Room, has vivid memories of her mom playing Abraxas.
"I was 4 or 5 years old, and my mom is the biggest fan. She always listened to 'Black Magic Woman' when she was making food for people to come over. And I always remember her playing it and turning it up in the car. It really helped create my love for music."
Santana and Branch recorded their parts for "The Game of Love" separately, so the first time the young pop star played onstage with her childhood hero was at a Santana show in Los Angeles on October 12. They've taken the stage together several times since, but Branch remains awed by her good fortune.
"Every day before I go on, I still sit there and psyche myself out," she said. "Like, 'I'm going onstage for Carlos! Oh my gosh! I need to do my vocal warm ups, I need to do this, I need to do that.' And I start to freak out because when you are up onstage and you turn to your right, and your hero is next to you, it's a little bit intimidating."