NEW YORK — Carlos Santana has never been one to follow the record-industry map to success.

Though the guitar great is now one of the world's best-selling artists, thanks to the 25-million selling "Supernatural" and its best-selling follow-up "Shaman," Santana took the long route to the top. In fact, he recalls being told more than once that his career was on the verge of collapse.

Santana usually heard such comments when he eschewed more commercial material to pursue his dreams, whether it was jamming with jazz greats like Herbie Hancock or deciding to take off time to focus on his family.

Santana's detours off pop's path never caused any long-term damage, however, and at 58, he remains among the music world's elite. This month, he released his latest album, "All That I Am," which again pairs his frenetic guitar licks with some of today's hottest acts (Michelle Branch, Mary J. Blige and Big Boi). And like his previous albums, "All That I Am" has become a best seller.

AP: Why do you think collaboration albums with veteran artists have become so popular?

Santana: For me it's not a formula or a gimmick or shtick or anything. I started in San Francisco learning from everyone from John Lee Hooker to Miles Davis. If you look the list of all the people that I've played with all my life, this is just an extension of it. It's just because of "Supernatural," other people catch onto it. But a lot of people tried it, and it didn't necessarily work. I think it's the intentions. Do you wanna do it just to cash in, or do you want to really intertwine with the person's soul? If you only want to do it just to make money and just to cash in, it's not going to go that far.

AP: How do you respond to fans who want you to return to your free-flowing roots?

Santana: Well, they can have that in the next CD that I do. It's probably 80 percent done. There's no singers; it's just guitars. It's basically just what I did for 30 years. . . . (His) wife is the one that put the (collaborations) thing on me. She said, "You know I think it would be nice for you to try something different and reconnect with (record mogul) Clive Davis." It was Deborah who was the architect, helped the vision. She connected us both again, and to my great surprise, Clive Davis was open to collaborating with me again.

AP: Why were you surprised?

Santana: Because it had been so long. I remember the last time we were in the studio together, he told me, "This CD doesn't have one single; it's not going to sell that much." It was still platinum, but he was right. You know, I've been accused of committing career suicide many many times. They said if you play with Wayne Shorter or Miles Davis or Herbie Hancock, that's like career suicide, because they're not pop or whatever. So, I'll just commit career suicide. . . . Those are people I love and treasure hanging around.

AP:You're very vocal in your spiritual beliefs and your concerns about the state of the world. Have you ever worried about backlash from expressing your views?

Santana: No, I don't have any fear. If my intentions, motives and purpose, or at least my principles of creating a CD have people get upset, then I say drown in a glass of water then, because I have to swim in an ocean. But if you're going to be a multidimensional spirit like myself, it will not threaten you. It will invite you to become a conscious participant. A conscious participant understands one thing . . . you can do something from your heart, make a difference in the world and still be profitable. Give the money back to people who need it, because you can't take it with you anyway. How many homes, how many boats? How much bling-bling? When you start healing your neighborhood?

AP:Have you ever craved the bling-bling?

Santana: No. I just wanted to keep my promise to my mom. When I was child in Tijuana and we didn't have running water or electricity, she was washing in the river, and I said to her, "Someday I'm going to get you a washing machine, a dishwasher in your own house." I've tasted just about everything, but I don't like being that person that doesn't care for other people. Ice cream — everything tastes better when you share it — except your wife! (laughs)

AP: You've said the demands put on you after spectacular success of "Supernatural" in 1999 almost wrecked your marriage. But you've toured a lot over the years — what made this different?

Santana: It was different because my children needed me more at home and (my wife) needed me more at home, because they were starting to gang up on her, as teenagers do, so she needed me to be there with her and back them down to the point of reasoning. I've been married for 32 years, and Deborah and my children, they are first, middle and last. Everything else will fit in between or it won't fit in at all. I just made a decision. I said that's it. Most people would say, the iron is really hot, you've got to hit it. We said stop. For a whole year we just stopped, at the peak of it — we said stop. And here comes another career suicide, but we're still here. My family doesn't have a price tag on it.

On the Web: