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Leon Patillo - From Santana to Hosana

Talented singer Leon Patillo uses the phrase"From Santana to Hosanna" to capture not only the imagination of fans but sum up his life and career. Patillo was the lead vocalist for Carlos Santana prior to embarking on a solo career in 1979 that saw him cross over from mainstream music to Christian genres. Along the way he established himself as a premiere talent on this side of the music ledger just as he did when he was crooning the words to "Black Magic Woman." 

Many fans of both Santana and Christian music remain fascinated that such a talented and successful individual crossed over to sing Christian music after being part of one gold and two platinum records. Does he resent the attempt to link him to his past or the intrigue that remains? "There is still intrigue about that and I think even more in the last two or three years with him (Carlos Santana) hitting a high note again (no pun intended). In fact, I ended up going to the Grammies myself when all those nominations hit. My nephew works for Virgin Records and he said, 'Hey unc' I've got tickets for you to go the Grammies.' I said what Grammies? He said, 'Santana's got all those nominations. Do you want to go?' I said okay." 

With one of his warm belly laughs, Patillo describes the scene, "It was so embarrassing because every time Santana would win, I would jump up and scream. People were wondering why this guy (Patillo) was jumping up and screaming."

"I know when you leave that world (pop Latin music) and come to Christian music people always want to ask how in the heck you left the money and fame. There have been a ton of lead vocalists with that group but I just happen to be one of the fortunate ones to do three albums with them. I enjoyed that whole era," he says. 

In fact his roots with Santana lent themselves to the reworking of "Black Magic Woman" into the song "Born Again Woman" that appears on his recently released Live Experience II CD. "I was getting so many questions about that era (Santana) and people kept saying, 'I really liked that music but the words weren't saying what I need them to so I threw my albums away.' I thought maybe if I could take the music that they liked and put different music to it then we have a deal. It really worked out."  Patillo recounts his experience in one church shortly after he reworked the song: "When I first did it, people could not believe what they were hearing­the Santana sound in their church. I just looked around and saw everybody smiling. I looked at the pastor and he wasn't smiling because he was wondering what the heck I was going to sing." He says despite the fact the pastor wasn't smiling, he did notice him tapping his foot to the music. He also laughs and says he imagines the pastor was holding his breath in anticipation of the words to "Black Magic Woman" rolling out when Leon started singing the new lyrics to "Born Again Woman." "He started to smile and I could see him go whew!"

Patillo says the song was so well received by his fans that he decided to include it on the Live Experience II album. He says, "It was one of those songs that I just felt everybody would enjoy reminiscing about. We do have a lot of baby boomers coming to the concerts and that was the reason for that song."

Live Experience II was the first live recording Patillo had created since his Live Experience I record in 1983 (which for the younger set, really was a record). He says the vibes picked up from his fans suggested the first live experience and his concerts were appreciated to a greater extent than his studio productions despite the fact they also did well. It led Patillo in two separate directions, the first to master the Live Experience I record onto CD (available through and to work on Live Experience II

"I incorporated songs like "J.E.S.U.S," "Sky is the Limit" and "I Can." I wrote a song about my mother ("Mama Dear") about all the high fives I want to give her and all the hugs I want to give her. I wanted her to know how much I love her and how much I appreciate her years of investment in me and my ministry," he says.  Another song that made the cut is "Sky Is the Limit," which he says is one of Colin Powell's favorite songs that Patillo performs. 

Through a friend of his at Crossroads Community Church in Las Vegas the facility was made available for the recording. The church choir is featured on the album. 

Although he has created nineteen solo albums since leaving Santana and has another project in the works that will feature most if not all of his children, Patillo has not lost his focus concerning why he sings. His heart is firmly entrenched in ministering to others. When he penned the song "Rise Above" it was his response to the high school kids hurting after the Columbine tragedy. "I just wanted to have a song to be able to sing back to these kids. I wish I could put a tee shirt out for the kids, "Rise Above." The more we rise above the closer we are getting to the Lord."

The later statement prompts me to ask him what aspect of his walk with God he enjoys the most. He responds without hesitation and with contagious enthusiasm, "It would be the one two punch of loving God and loving my neighbor. Those two are the biggest for me. I find it a challenge every single day when I get up to find time to go to my prayer closet. I think that directly connects me with God and His spirit of anointing. I think when I don't take the time it takes away from what God wants me to have in my life." He says often during a concert he will feel led to go in a different direction with a particular song or point that he wants to make and attributes that to spending time in prayer and reading the Bible daily."

Like most of us there are days when the temptation is we are too busy to find time for God and want to push it back to tomorrow, Leon Patillo is just as human. "I really feel that I have to push myself to spend with God. David put it best when he said, 'Sometimes we have to command our souls to praise God.'"

Patillo says the commandment to love our neighbors starts in his life with spending time praying with his wife and together spending time in God's word. It also extends to their six adult-aged children and eight grandchildren. He says he makes sure he phones all of his children each week. 

Now at the point of his career where he refers to himself as a Renaissance man, Patillo is a storyteller whose feet you would love to sit at for hours and just have him reminisce. Whether he is talking about his encounters with Colin Powell, someone he deeply respects, or his singing the Russian national anthem for Mikhail Gorbachev, to his respect for the late Christopher Reeve of whom he says, "Christopher Reeve was a person that I think went through an awful lot to show people that even though you are impaired or incapacitated you can still live a life and have the ability to touch others. If I was like that I would never come out of the house. I would just say bring the camera to me. When I first heard him tell people they could achieve anything that they want to in life if they believe in their dreams, I just went my goodness this guy's attitude is so outstanding."

His longtime friendship with Philip Bailey, lead vocalist for Earth Wind and Fire, ranks up there at the top of the list for people he has come to know. "We met some years back when we toured together in Europe.  Santana was on one side of the plane and Earth Wind and Fire was on the other side. I had just become a Christian. I decided to go over and talk to the Earth Wind and Fire group. My Bible was in my hand and he (Bailey) saw it. He asked me, 'do you know anything about that book?' I said I am just getting into it but I believe it to be true. He said,  'well why don't you teach us something out of there?' I said great."  Patillo remembers that every day after the gigs Bailey along with other members of Earth Wind and Fire would get together in Leon's room to discuss the Bible. "Those guys ended up making a commitment to Jesus before the tour was over."

Over the years, Leon Patillo has ministered in numerous settings but none seems to have touched his heart more than the series of concerts performed during the early nineties just prior to and after the collapse of the former Soviet Union. He talks about being overwhelmed by the generosity of a people who had so little yet still wanted to give you something without the expectation of anything in return. They did not have enough Bibles to distribute to the audience and although some may consider it radical the people who received Bibles removed pages from theirs to share with the people who didn't receive a Bible. He says, "My series of concerts in Russia were some of the best that I have ever experienced."

After twenty-six years as a solo artist and seven prior to that as a member of Santana one simple statement of Leon Patillo's sums him up best, "The greater the opportunity to (share Jesus) with somebody the more excited I get."

By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague. 


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