VOICES OF LATIN ROCK – MICHAEL SHRIEVE –
“A Conversation with Michael Shrieve – Part 2″
PEKKA RANTA (in Finland):Hi Michael! I am a huge fan of Doug Rauch. How was he as a bassist, from a drummer’s point of view? Did you stay in touch or work with him after you both departed from Santana? You and Doug on “Caravanserai”, “Welcome” and “Lotus” produced some of the best and most exciting rhythm section work ever…thank you! Doug was an amazing musician. Do you have any special memories that you want to share of working with this sorely-missed individual?
MICHAEL: I met Doug on the “Soul to Soul” trip to Accra, Ghana in Africa in 1971. I was with Santana and Doug was playing with a group called the Voices of East Harlem. What I remember is standing on the side of the stage and talking with Doug about funk music and funk drummers, in particular Bernard Purdie and David Garibaldi. He was a huge fan of the new funk scene, which included the Ohio Players, Kool and the Gang and others. He was completely into this music and we talked for quite a while. David Garibaldi was a good friend of mine, and his band Tower of Power were really happening in the Bay Area. In fact David lived with me at the time. I invited Doug to come out to the Bay Area, which he did, and he moved in with me. He got a gig with a band called The Loading Zone, which Tom Coster played organ in. Doug had a really unique way of playing. He was one of the first to play with the thumb and popping technique that was later made famous by Larry Graham and Stanley Clarke, and I think that Doug should be credited as the first to really develop that technique into a comprehensive playing style. Doug started to be known around the scene as a super-funky player by guys like Garibaldi and Mike Clark, who later played with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. In Santana we ended up encountering some problems with David Brown’s drug use, which debilitated him and his playing, so Dougie became a member of Santana. Doug’s joining us also had to do with the fact that Carlos was really getting into John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra and so was Doug. He was really, really good at playing odd time signatures like that band did, and he utilized his thumb technique doing this as well. When we went into the studio to record “Caravanserai”, Doug brought in the song “Waves Within,” which was in 9/4, I believe. That song is an example of where Doug was going. Doug was always a sharp dresser and almost exclusively wore velvet suits with his red shades and huge afro. He was very cool. Kind of super cool, actually, with strong opinions about everything from music to cars (Citroen) to drinking water (Perrier)! Doug enjoyed a good relationship with Gregg Errico, the drummer from Sly and the Family Stone, and they did some recordings together with Michael Carabello’s group “Attitude.” Doug was a dear friend and a real inspiration. Unfortunately he got into heroin and eventually died of an overdose, which shocked and saddened us all.
OSCAR: On a technical level as a drummer, what was it like to “lock in” with Doug on Santana tours?
MICHAEL: Playing and locking in with Doug Rauch was like being on a train. A Bullet Train! Everything was based off of 16th notes, primarily, and then the 16th notes would be accented, and this is where that thick funk came in. His playing was constant 16th notes but felt really good and drove the music forward. –Propelled– the music forward!
PIERROT, VICENTE M. & MC: Do you remember where the recording of the “Caravanserai“ album took place? As those sessions progressed, were you aware of the ethereal, universal and timeless sound taking shape on the new album? Despite it being a turbulent time for the band, there must have been many incredible moments during the making of “Caravanserai.“ Can you share a few of them?
MICHAEL: The recording took place at the CBS Folsom Street Studios, I believe. Recording the intro to “Eternal Caravan of Reincarnation” and piecing that together was fun. I wanted crickets and the sound of the stillness of night to open the record, so engineer Glenn Kolotkin went home and recorded crickets outside of his house and brought them into the studio. We also got the sound of a brook or a stream. Then I had Hadley Caliman come in and just play for a long time, just harmonic tones and things on the sax, and then I edited it into what you hear. That little sax intro alone took over twenty edits…that’s cutting tape editing, not Pro-Tools! Then the sound of Tom Rutley’s bass and the jazz-feel ride cymbal set the tone, with cymbal swells and tuned metallic sounds… gentle, with Wendy Haas coming in on Fender Rhodes with vibrato. The whole vibe is copped from “Astral Traveling,” the lead track from Pharoah Sanders’ record “Thembi.” From there, the intro to “Waves Within” featured some kind of filter that Dougie Rauch set up. “Waves Within” was Dougie’s baby, even though Gregg Rolie contributed some changes to it. The odd time signature, the vibe was Doug Rauch. Doug was completely into odd times at this point, being a Mahavishnu fan, but all you have to do is go to the next track, “Look Up (To See What’s Coming Down)” to hear where he was at with his funk playing. Doug was WAY ahead of his time, and was a true innovator on the instrument. “Future Primitive” was Chepito and Mingo, but the soundscape behind it was my idea and had me playing piano, vibes (backwards on tape) and cymbal swells. That piece goes into “Stone Flower” with the same atmosphere. By the time of “Caravanserai” I was really into Brazilian music and Antonio Carlos Jobim. We had been in Europe touring and one night after a show I had put on a Jobim record and had written lyrics to “Stone Flower.” I think Tom Rutley sounds really great on “Stone Flower.” Gregg Rolie, bless his heart, put up with Carlos and I all up in his face trying to get him to play B3 Organ like Larry Young! And you know what? He sounds fabulous! Wendy is there again on electric piano, and Carlos is playing both cuica and agogo bells. Arrangement-wise and sound-wise, “Stone Flower” was all me and Carlos, and Carlos and I did the vocals. “La Fuente Del Ritmo” also has some of my favorite drum playing. “Caravanserai” was Carlos’ and my baby conceptually, and I believe that we drove everyone crazy doing it! When Clive Davis visited the studio to hear what we were doing he couldn’t believe it and said something like “You’re committing career suicide.”
MC, OSCAR & PJ: Your composition “Every Step Of The Way” is such a powerful piece of music, and was truly awesome when performed live. Many of us at the Café consider it one of Santana’s crowning achievements. Do you recall how you were inspired to write this masterpiece? Opening with an “In A Silent Way”-like groove and closing with colors that evoke “Sketches of Spain,” did you envision this song as a tribute to Miles? Is there anything notable about the recording session and/or preparation for that track that you can share with us?
MICHAEL: Thank you again. I’m playing “Every Step Of The Way” again with my new band Spellbinder and will release a live recording of it soon. Well, the first half of the tune was completely informed and inspired by the “In a Silent Way” vibe, but also other Tony Williams material and style. On the second half you are close with the “Sketches of Spain” reference, because it’s all about Gil Evans, who arranged the whole “Sketches of Spain” project for Mile Davis. We had recorded ”Every Step Of The Way” with the band, and had Hadley Caliman come in to play that intense, hard Jeremy Steig-style breathy flute solo. We had two more tracks left to use and I asked Tom Harrell to put together an orchestra and write an arrangement that sounded like a cross between “Las Vegas Tango” by Gil Evans and “Sketches of Spain”. It was exciting. We had never had an orchestra play on anything before, although we did have that television experience with Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which was somewhat of a disaster. Carlos played beautifully on “Every Step of the Way” and in retrospect should have shared in the writing credit because his melodies were so strong.
MC: Michael, drummers can be unsung heroes, carrying the whole band on their shoulders while the front men (such as a compelling lead guitarist, for example) get most of the attention. Even so, Santana fans can’t help but to have noticed your tasty and spectacular drumming on a long list of tracks including “Flame-Sky,” “Song of the Wind,” and “Toussaint l’Overture,” going all the way back to “Soul Sacrifice.” Which of your Santana drum tracks are you proudest of?
MICHAEL: Thank you so much. I like “Song of the Wind” and “Yours is the Light” with Flora Purim singing, and I like “La Fuente Del Ritmo.” There’s a funny story behind “Song of the Wind”. Carlos and Neal both played beautifully on that track…they both excel in that mode. I was getting tired of the fact that once the drums are down, which is done live with the group, Carlos and Neal could go in and overdub and punch in their guitar solos and make them just how they wanted them. They could make these perfect little masterpieces by punching in after the fact. Well, I loved what they played on this tune, but felt that I could do a much better drum part if I could redo mine. I could play to their solos and make it sound more cohesive. I was trying play in a Jack DeJohnette style and was really influenced by his playing on the Freddie Hubbard recording of “First Light.” Carlos was into “First Light” as well. So, I decided I wanted to redo the drum track on “Song of the Wind.” I spoke to the engineer, Glenn Kolotkin, when no one else was around and told him what I wanted to do. He said that if I messed up the whole song would be unusable. Still, I went home to my place on Bay Street where I had built a small 8×10 soundproof practice room, took a cassette copy of the tune from the studio and practiced it all night to get it just right. I was determined to get a really great, expressive drum track on that tune. Wendy Haas and I were living together there at the time, and we recently reminisced about that period. Wendy remembers the “Song of the Wind” incident and says I was a “maniac,” in the kindest way of course! The next day I went in to the studio before the other guys got there and said to Kolotkin “I want to do this.” He was freaking out, and didn’t want to take the responsibility of ruining this track that Carlos and Neal were both so proud of. Needless to say, I cut the track and that’s what is there today.
RALPH (in New Zealand) & MC: Hi Michael; thanks for taking the time for doing this. I read in Simon Leng & Etienne Houben’s article “30 Years Ago Caravanserai” that Santana recorded the Michel Colombier composition “Wings” during the “Caravanserai” sessions. I also remember reading that you have the master tape. Is there any chance of “Wings” seeing the light of day? Why wasn’t “Wings” added to the Columbia/Legacy “Caravanserai” reissue as a bonus track?
MICHAEL: I don’t know about that, honestly. I don’t have the master tape, and will have to ask Carlos about this. I know we used to play it live. Is it on any CD? I forget. I remember the tune, the melody. The album was called” Wings” and maybe the song was called “For Those Who Cannot Hear.” [ed: “Wings” was on some of Santana’s live set lists in 1972, and may also have been known as “Earth.” Michel Colombier’s 1971 LP “Wings,” described as a symphonic pop/jazz concept piece, included tracks entitled “Earth” and “For Those Who Cannot Hear.”].
VICENTE M.: Elvin Jones’ drum style is all over “Caravanserai.” Was that something that brought happiness and joy to your heart?
MICHAEL: Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette, Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, those were the guys that informed my playing then and still do today.
MC: You’ve revealed that it was Carlos who brought his “mean cuica playing” to “Stone Flower,” not Airto, as has been rumored. Still, Airto was around Santana during the recording of “Welcome” and “Borboletta.” Can you tell us about your interactions with Airto over the years, and your feelings about the contributions he’s made to the music world?
MICHAEL: I’ve been a fan of Airto since his early solo album “Seeds On The Ground,” the one where he’s buried in the sand on the cover. I’m still playing Airto’s tune “Xibaba (Shebaba),” in my group Spellbinder, it’s a song that we played in Santana [ed. “Xibaba” appeared on the “Lotus” album]. On that track Airto plays a samba with his bass drum and a 6/8 on his cymbal and snare drum. I just played it last night! I not only love Airto’s percussion playing, but the way he plays the drum set, too, and like to think that he has influenced me. Airto’s drumming on the first Return To Forever album “Light As a Feather” was some of the most beautiful drumming I had ever heard…such a unique touch on the drums, and of course his playing with Miles on stuff like “Live-Evil” was so great. Watching Airto doing solo work now is so powerful that it’s like watching a true Shaman at his spiritual peak. Even though I don’t see Airto and Flora nearly enough as I would like to, I truly feel a bond and kinship with them both.
Azteca’s debut album liner notes acknowledge your “great drums in the beginning.” “VOLR” mentions you and Neal Schon performing with Azteca for a crowd of 40,000 in San Diego. Were you and Neal both original Azteca members, and was there a time that you envisioned leaving Santana to play full time with Azteca? What can you tell us about the formation of Azteca, and were your ties with Wendy Haas, Coke & Pete Escovedo, Victor Pantoja, Tom Harrell and Mel Martin key to your involvement with that band?
MICHAEL: I think I did some rehearsals in the early days of Azteca, but don’t recall what gigs I played with them, and I definitely don’t remember playing a huge gig like that. I wasn’t involved with the formation of the band, and it wasn’t my intention to join them… I don’t think I was asked to. I was very aware of the whole thing being put together by Coke and Pete Escovedo, though, particularly since I was living with Wendy Haas and they asked her to be in the band. Lenny White was Azteca’s first drummer and then Terry Bozzio. Lenny was always over at our house, was always hanging out in the studio with Santana whenever he was in town. We were best friends back then, and we’ve just reconnected again recently, which is really nice. There was a lot of energy going on around the formation of Azteca, a lot of intention. Lenny was really into it. Their conga drummer Victor Pantoja was Michael Carabello’s dear friend, and had played on those great Gabor Szabo records that we all loved. Tom Harrell and Mel Martin were simply some of the best players in the area at that time, and Pete and Coke wanted the best for their band.
MC & VICENTE M.: Can you tell us of the significance of the name Maitreya that you adopted in the 70’s? You seemed to be on a spiritual quest that coincided with Carlos’ turn toward matters of the spirit and his decision to follow Sri Chinmoy. Were you a Sri Chinmoy disciple? If so, for how long, and what made you leave that lifestyle?
MICHAEL: Maitreya was the name given to me by Swami Satchidananda, who was my spiritual teacher, or guru. The name Maitreya means something like “loving kindness”. So, I was a disciple of Satchidananda, not Sri Chimnoy. Carlos and I had both been reading books by Paramahansa Yogananda. We were both meditating, trying to find an alternative to the rock and roll lifestyle. People were getting buggy and druggy all around us, and we had been getting buggy and druggy! It was strange and surreal. So we were looking for another way. We were like brothers in arms about this, and were basically looking for gurus at the same time. We went Guru shopping together! I assume that Carlos leaned toward Sri Chinmoy because John McLaughlin was with him, and I know John had spoken to him at length about it. Maybe Carlos was thinking, “Damn, if it makes John play like that, I’ll take some too, please, thank you very much!” I was with Carlos when he visited Sri Chinmoy for the first time. It was the day before we were headed to Europe, and we were in New York. We went out to visit Sri Chinmoy and we went to a small meditation room and waited for him. He came out and sat on a raised dais and began meditating in front of us. The room was filled with a white light. It was very strong, very powerful. We sat there for about half an hour and then left. In the car on the way back to the city, Carlos said, “Man, I think I’m going to go with him. That was really incredible! What do you think?” I said, “Yeah, it was really powerful, but I’m not convinced he’s my guy.” They say when you are looking for a guru you will know when you find him. Although Sri Chinmoy was very powerful, and was running marathons, painting a thousand paintings a day, writing a symphony a day, and doing all these superhuman things, it just didn’t resonate for me. I don’t know why, it just didn’t, so I went with my instincts. Later I met Swami Satchidananda and it just felt right. He seemed like an old friend, like a kindler, gentler guru, if you will! For years I was with him, and eventually it just kind of receded into the background of my life. It was all good, and it still affects parts of my everyday life. There was no falling out or anything dramatic, it just faded away. I’ll always be grateful for the experience. The spiritual path was never distant for me. I wanted to be a priest when I was younger, and was seriously considering going to a seminary after high school. My brother Rich did that. I used to ride my bicycle to Mass every morning at 6:30 AM before school when I was in grade school. I wanted to be a Missionary and work in South America. My patron saint wasn’t even a saint yet, Blessed Martin de Porres from Lima, Peru. Now he is a Saint, and I almost got to visit where he lived when I was in Lima last year with Carlos, but it didn’t happen. The point is, this wasn’t unusual behavior for me, wanting to be on a spiritual path.
SCOTT E: You were an essential part of composing songs with Carlos for “Caravanserai“ and “Welcome.“ Carlos was asked what his inspiration was for the “Caravanserai“ album and his answer was, “….learning to embark into the inner discovery of the divine in all of us”. What would you say –your– source of inspiration was during those sessions?
MICHAEL: Like I said before, it was the music around us that inspired me to want more than Rock and Roll music or the Rock and Roll lifestyle. I was excited to be a part of what was happening in the new jazz territories, and I was searching for spiritual fulfillment as well as musical fulfillment. A fundamental change needed to occur in order to move toward a new way of looking at everything around us.
MC: I love your quote about lyrics: “Lyrics are the recognition of common emotions that resonate with people. They give acknowledgement and dignity to what we go through in life.” You made several songwriting contributions to “Caravanserai,” “Welcome” and “Borboletta,” and your words to “Stone Flower,” “When I Look Into Your Eyes,” and “Yours Is the Light” stand out as particularly beautiful and poetic. You also sang on “Stone Flower.” Did Santana ever play the vocal version of “Stone Flower” on stage, or did you always perform it as an instrumental? Have there been any post-Santana projects other than Automatic Man that have featured your song lyrics and/or vocalizing, and do you envision any in the future?
MICHAEL: I’m glad you enjoy the lyrics, thank you. Like I said earlier, I love writing lyrics to existing songs with beautiful melodies…I still do it. Recently, the singer Greta Matassa recorded Pat Metheny’s song “If I Could” which I wrote lyrics to, and that worked out well. Pat liked it too. I’ve written lyrics to a couple of Bill Frisell tunes, as well as to the “Theme from the Deerhunter” and verses for Chepito’s tune “Baila Mi Cha Cha” from Abraxas Pool. I’ve also been writing lyrics for another band of mine in Seattle, Tangletown, and many of those lyrics have been more political in nature. I think I’ll be doing a lot more lyric writing in the future. As for my singing, the vocal I did with Carlos on “Stone Flower” was nothing to write home about, but still I think it would have sounded better a little up in the mix and not so buried. I believe we only played the instrumental version of “Stone Flower” live. On my first solo project, which has never been released, I sang a ballad in a duet with Wendy where I sound like Barry White! I’m not kidding! Will I be doing any more singing? No! No! I’m not a singer in reality! Only in my mind when I write the lyrics.
PIERROT & MC: Michael, what songs did you record on the Carlos Santana/John McLaughlin album “Love Devotion Surrender” [ed: hereafter referred to as “LDS“], and what was that experience like? Did you play alongside another drummer at some points during the session? Was “A Love Supreme” one of your tracks, and if so was recording that classic a big thrill for you as a Coltrane fan?
MICHAEL: I played on “A Love Supreme“ and I forget what else. I’m not happy with my playing on that record at all! I was in a weird place at the time, an “I’m not worthy“ kind of place, and I think it shows in my playing.
MC & PIERROT: Carlos and Doug Rauch toured with John McLaughlin for about six weeks in 1973, taking Billy Cobham to fill the drum chair. Why weren’t you a part of that “LDS“ tour, and were you disappointed not to have gone? Did that time off from Santana give you an opportunity to think, relax, recharge?
MICHAEL: Dougie and Carlos were complete Mahavishnu freaks, so when the opportunity came for them to play with Billy Cobham and John McLaughlin they were thrilled, and I was happy for them as well. I wasn’t jealous or disappointed in a way that I felt sorry for myself, I just don’t think like that.
PIERROT: What was it like to work with John McLaughlin on the “Welcome“ album?
MICHAEL: It was just the one track, “Flame-Sky,“ and it was great. John always brought such a powerful and positive vibration to any situation he was in, and this was no different.
MC: “VOLR” calls you “mastermind, along with Carlos, of the “Caravanserai”/“Welcome”/ “Lotus” album trilogy.” Tom Coster has said that you were “an authoritative figure” in the New Santana Band “but in a…pleasant and gentle manner.” Tom went on to say “Mike worked really hard for the band to be successful.” What role had you taken on in the band at this time…what tasks and responsibilities?
MICHAEL: I took on anything and everything I could. I had a lot to say about the music, primarily. I was an instigator of, or at least co-architect of, a lot of the music that we played live in the band at that time. We had made our bed with “Caravanserai,” and now we were sleeping in it! Well, anything but sleeping! That band was an incredible band. The two keyboards of Tom Coster and Richard Kermode were just smokin’! Richard had that Latin thing down, and the Brazilian thing, and Tom had complete jazz chops and was open to me and Carlos still bugging the organ player to sound like Larry Young at times! Tom contributed a lot to the band. Dougie was killing it on bass, and you had Armando Peraza and Chepito Areas on percussion. Leon Thomas was on vocals, which was a little strange, but that was my doing. I made the call to Leon after hearing him sing “The Creator Has a Master Plan” on a Pharoah Sanders record. Gregg was gone, and we needed a singer, so I called Leon out to do the “Welcome” album and it just went from there. I think Carlos and I were both playing at a high level during this period as well.
FROM MC: In the 1970’s, Armando Peraza was likely to appear at any San Francisco nightclub sharply dressed in one of his many hats, looking for a chance to dance or sit in. Can you tell us what it was like to know and jam with this master drummer, percussion innovator, and colorful personality?
MICHAEL: There is nobody like Armando Peraza. He was always a gentleman of the highest order, a man with incredible gifts, talent and energy, and yes, he can dance! He’s the kindest man, but don’t mess with him, because I think he may have boxed professionally at one time. I remember once we were in Australia, and Armando was always a bit of an insomniac. So one night he calls my room after a show and asks me if I want to go out. I said yes, and we went to a nightclub not far from the hotel. Armando is a great “people watcher” and just enjoys observing people. We’re in this club, and he’s probably 20 years older than anyone in the place. Some big guys were standing near us and one of them came up next to us and made a comment to Armando that I couldn’t hear. The next thing I know, this guy is on the floor, writhing in pain! He had made a racial comment to Armando and before the guy could blink Armando had decked him! Don’t mess with Armando!
SCOTT E: Michael, when I was discharged from the service in 1974 I was like many other Vietnam War vets, pretty lost and uncertain about my future. The “Borboletta” album helped me find direction in my life. “Life Is Anew”, written by you and Carlos, was the song dearest to my heart. What was your inspiration in creating this album in general, and particularly that one track?
MICHAEL: Thanks for your question Scott, and I’m happy that the music provided some kind of solace for you after such turbulent times. “Life is Anew” and “Give and Take” were the only tunes that I did any writing on for “Borboletta.” I had written some of the lyrics to “Life Is Anew” and some of the music to “Give and Take” with Carlos and Tom Coster. The thing about “Borboletta,” aside from the great instrumental stuff, was Leon Patillo’s singing, and his song “Mirage” I really liked as well. Leon was, and still is, a really great singer coming from that gospel place, but not straight gospel. It was fun working on that material with Leon and Tom Coster, and with David Brown playing bass. Things were changing in the band and it was a bit of a difficult time for me, but I still love all of the music on Borboletta. Even the tracks I didn’t play on, like “Aspirations,” I really love, and Carlos and I always loved “Promise of a Fisherman” by Dori Caymmi, a Brazilian writer. That song was from a great Sergio Mendes record called “Primal Roots.” “Borboletta” is a really wonderful record.
[ed: Dorival Caymmi, composer of “Promise Of A Fisherman” (“Promessa De Pescador”), is the father of currently active Brazilian singer/songwriter Dori Caymmi.]
PJ, MC & LISA MERCADO: Michael, you quit Santana in August ’74 on the even of the “Borboletta” tour. When the news broke, we fans were saddened. Your departure signaled a major transition, and for many of us it marked the end of rare artistic heights and music so incredibly special. Although Ndugu is a great player, we felt disoriented when he came out on stage in your place. You told Simon Leng that health issues and your desire to concentrate on your solo projects brought this decision to a head. Could dissatisfaction with Santana’s stylistic and personnel changes during the months between the “Lotus” tour and “Borboletta” have contributed? Had playing in or even co-leading Santana become less fulfilling than it once was? Were there any other significant factors in your exit? Of the “Woodstock era” Santana lineup, your partnership with Carlos was the longest and closest. Was your announcement devastating for Carlos or was he already resigned to your leaving and to his taking on a sole leadership role in the band, assisted by Tom Coster?
MICHAEL: Carlos and I had been a team, wide-eyed and with the freshness of new explorers, and I was a team player as much as I could possibly be, but by this time things had evolved into something else altogether. Carlos is notoriously hell on drummers, and it had now become obvious that Carlos wanted it his way. His assertiveness had become forcefulness, and it frankly it wasn’t fun anymore. I knew I was going to leave at some point soon, but didn’t know when. Then there was an incident that made my mind up for me. I woke up one night with an incredible pain in my lower back, pain like I’d never known. I could hardly move. My brother Kevin was living with me at the time, and I got out of bed and literally crawled down to his room and begged him to take me to the hospital. We got in the car and the pain was so excruciating, I really thought I was going to die. I made a promise to myself right then and there that if I woke up in the morning, I would do the things I’ve been meaning to do. So it turned out that I had kidney stones and they said that the pain of kidney stones is only comparable to childbirth. The next day, I knew what I had to do. I called the Santana office and said that I wouldn’t be going on the tour that was being booked now. They said, “The dates are booked, you can’t leave now!”, but I had made a promise to myself on what I had imagined to be my deathbed, so my mind was made up. I know it threw a real wrench in everything, but I was not going to budge. It was time to move on. It was time to leave the band. I don’t know what my departure meant to Carlos. He came to the hospital and asked me why I was doing what I was doing, and I told him it was just time for me to leave. It wasn’t done at all with any animosity toward Carlos whatsoever. Anything that had happened was really OK. I think it was just the natural order of things. There comes a time, and it was now.
MC: In 1974 you recorded a never-released solo album “Blessings In Disguise,” recruiting Wendy, Kevin, Michael Henderson, Todd “Bayete” Cochrane and Patrick Gleeson to play a mix of of soul, bop, funk, ethnic music, electronica and experimental sounds. The personnel and influences sound fascinating. What else can you tell us about the project, and might you ever release it?
MICHAEL: I sang funk and Motown on that record, including that duet with Wendy I mentioned earlier! I worked closely with Michael Henderson on “Blessings In Disguise.” He was playing bass with Miles Davis at the time and was also an incredible singer. [ed: readers may remember Henderson’s vocal hits “Valentine Love” and “You Are My Starship.”] Miles heard our tapes through Michael and hired Kevin’s friend, Sam Morrison, who had played sax on the record. Earl Klugh was also on it, and Pat Gleeson did a beautiful semi-classical piece that was written by Stomu Yamashta, whose music I was already interested in. That was before polyphonic synthesis was around, so Pat had to simulate every instrument on these huge EMU synthesizers that took up the whole wall. In the end, the label, Columbia refused to put it out, saying it was too ethnic and too electronic! It was a bit scattered, I admit! Sony has the rights now, and I don’t suspect they will be releasing it. If I dig up a copy, maybe I’ll post some on my website.
MC & PJ: How did you feel in the months after quitting Santana? Was it a relief for you, or a letdown? Was there any second-guessing or regret?
MICHAEL: I was a bit lost and a bit relieved. I went to Mexico for a month to a health spa and got really fit and healthy. It was the right thing to do and I didn’t regret it. I think in retrospect, it was maybe what Carlos wanted as well. I was the last of the original band, and maybe he wanted to be free of all of it at that point.
FROM MC: Stomu Yamashta’s Go, featuring yourself, Al Di Meola and Klaus Schulze, made two excellent studio records in the mid-70’s, plus a live album. The first studio session bore the prominent mark of Steve Winwood. The second (entitled “Go Too,” one of my personal favorites) brought bassist Paul Jackson (of Azteca and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters) on board, along with vocalists Jess Roden and Linda Lewis. I remember reading a glowing concert review from the “Go Too” tour…that band seemed to have achieved the perfect blend of jazz fusion, soul and rock, with electronic and classical tinges. What was it like to be involved in Stomu’s Go projects? Go would have seemed to be both progressive and commercially viable, so what do you think kept the group from having a longer run and greater success?
MICHAEL:I had begun listening to Stomu Yamashta recordings somewhere around 1971. I was always looking for interesting drummers or percussionists, and I was not afraid of experimental stuff. I was at a record store in Berkley and found this album that had the big gatefold where it opens up, and there was a picture of this Japanese guy leaping in mid-air with a tympani stick in his mouth, hair halfway down his back, and a stage full of percussion instruments all around him. I bought all the records they had of his, brought them home, put them on and loved them. Stomu’s music was very different than anything I had ever heard, so I sought him out, putting out inquiries, trying to contact his management. I think it was the last day of a 250-day tour, and I finally met him in Rome. We were staying in the same hotel. I went to Stomu’s room and he answered the door…a short guy, but with so much command and stature! “Yes,” he says, “may I help you?” I introduced myself and he said yes, of course, he had heard that I had been trying to get in touch. He was very proper and formal Japanese, but I had seen pictures of him playing and knew that he was very dramatic in the way he approached the instruments. Even tympani he played really dramatically, stooping low, with his face right down to the drumhead, and leaping and things like that. Anyway before the night was over, we were listening to music and we were both on the floor gesticulating and laughing and just having a great time. Stomu and I really hit it off, and decided to see if there was something we could do together. I wanted to do something with percussion and as it turned out, he wanted to do something in the rock/pop world, but –his– way, meaning a bit more experimental than normal. You also have to understand a bit of background with Stomu. Celebrated European composers like Han Werner Henze were composing pieces for him and he was on the verge of real fame as a timpanist and classical percussionist, but gave that up to start an experimental Japanese Theater Company called “Red Buddha Theater.” He was selling out The Roundhouse Theater in London for weeks at a time…huge Japanese puppets, lasers, very “theatrical.” So, Stomu said he had approached Steve Winwood who was up for doing something a bit different, and he told me about a German electronic synthesis master named Klaus Schulze. Stomu wanted to work with Al Dimeola as well, who I knew from when he first joined Return to Forever at age nineteen…Al was always up at my house with Lenny White. So the Go project was put together and I went to London to do it. I actually moved to London for about six months, because it turned out that my new band Automatic Man was just signed to Island Records, which was the same label Stomu was on, and the plan was that Automatic Man would work on our album around the same time as Stomu’s Go project. Sometimes I was running back and forth between two studios doing both those records. It was great. It was a pleasure to meet and work with Steve Winwood, who was always a real gentleman, and Stomu was a delight, and a real dynamo as well!
What I learned from Stomu is that if you do interesting things, interesting people will be attracted to it, and I was looking for interesting people…I was looking to broaden my horizons in terms of people. Stomu always had filmmakers, musicians, dancers, fashion people coming around. He seemed to be aware of so many aspects of culture and was very open to it all. It didn’t change his musical choices, but his being aware of so much that was going around him culturally informed him in his choices for production and vision. We played a couple of big shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Palais des Sport in Paris, which is where the “Live Go” album was recorded. The show featured lasers, orchestra, dancers, it was a big production and was the talk of the town. Jimmy Page was there, Eric Clapton, a bunch of people. It was wonderful. I was using my Impakt electronic drums doing some things with Klaus. Pat Thrall from Automatic Man also played guitar along with Al Dimeola. It was great. “Go Too” was a whole other ball game. Yes, it was great playing with Paul Jackson. I love our playing together on that record. Pat Gleeson took Klaus’ place. Al Dimeola played on the record. My brother Kevin did the tour and sounded great. Jess Roden was a great white soul singer from England. Stomu had new management, a new record label, Arista, which was Clive Davis. It was good but not as exciting for me as the whole first record and “Go Live.”
MC: Michael, you’ve said that at this point you “wanted to prove yourself outside of Santana, in terms of public acceptance.” In addition to your work with Yamashta, the mid-to-late 70’s found you involved with a couple of band projects that had the potential to help you do that. You’ve mentioned Automatic Man, which played some intriguing progressive funk-rock, and you had a later balled called Novo Combo which was a good, tight, reggae-influenced new wave group (as can be heard on the Wolfgang’s Vault concert tapes). Somehow, neither group broke through. Did a frustration with the group dynamic and the vagaries of the pop music industry motivate you to focus on your solo career and to turn toward electronic music and jazz?
MICHAEL: Yes, in a word! I put a lot into Automatic Man. We had great players, Pat Thrall on guitar, Bayete Todd Cochran, a genius on keyboards, David Rice on bass at first, then Doni Harvey. We rehearsed every single day at my house in San Francisco, I bought instruments for everybody, my girlfriend at the time, Maria Ysmael, cooked wonderful dinners every single night. Thank you, Maria! We moved to London to do the record, which we were really excited about. We just couldn’t seem to get it together live, though. We had a falling out and the rest of the band moved to LA and made another record without me, and that was that. After that I moved to New York City and put Novo Combo together, I think I was trying to prove that I could have a hit record outside of Santana, because I obviously had not learned my lesson yet! I really enjoyed the band: Steven Dees on bass, Pete Hewlett on guitar and vocals, great singer, and Jack Griffith on guitar, a wonderful conceptual player. I wanted to make sure that this band played live as much as possible, which I felt was one of the mistakes with Automatic Man. Novo Combo gigged frequently in New York City, playing anywhere and everywhere. Pete Townshend became a fan and invited us to open for The Who. We did two records. I wanted to play differently than I did with Automatic Man and I started playing more in a Santana groove, but without the Santana music. Some of it sounded too much like The Police. I was playing a lot of fast rim stuff and four on the floor bass drum which, to my chagrin, was compared to Stewart Copeland! Then some of the guys started writing material that really started sounding like The Police, who were brand new on the scene, and singing like Sting too. A couple of those records became semi-popular, and that was the kiss of death, because we were like a little mini-Police, and I didn’t want that. I don’t know, one thing led to another, the second record didn’t sound anything like the first. We had Carlos Rios playing guitar on the second one, who is beautiful player, but I gave up too much control, and it sounded too sterile to me. It fell apart, and naturally, I got sued by the manager for money that he had put into the band, It’s a high risk business! What are you going to do, sue me for not being successful with this group? Yes! The Novo Combo experience made me realize that I didn’t want any more of these kinds of bands where the stakes are so high and everything rests on how many records you sell. I asked myself “What are you thinking?” You’re doing everything that you didn’t want to do! Where is the experimenting? Where is the pure love of music for music’s sake? So I didn’t put together another band until almost twenty years later with Tangletown, but by that time I realized it wasn’t going to be a pure democracy anymore!
Michael, my questions have to do with The Police and your cross-influences with that great band. I loved the reggae feel that you put into “Samba Pa Ti” on the “Lotus” album. So, I assume that reggae is something that you were into long before The Police? I hear a “Caravanserai” and “Welcome” tone to The Police’s overall sound…have The Police ever credited you and Santana as influences? Novo Combo was a band that could easily be labeled as a Police-influenced group. Was that something that you discussed with your Novo Combo band mates beforehand?
MICHAEL: I really can’t say there was a connection with The Police. I was never really into reggae music during that period that “Lotus” was recorded. I don’t think I had even heard it then! I spoke about my problems with Novo Combo sounding too much like The Police in the last question. It was not something I wanted! I was and still am a big fan of The Police, though, and each of the guys individually. Andy Summers played on my “Stiletto” album along with David Torn on the guitar, and I toured with Andy a bit as well. We are friends. Any similarity, as far as I know, is coincidence. I really don’t think Santana influenced them to the extent you are saying. I could be wrong of course. Sting is a fan of Carlos, I know. [ed: Michael also played on the “Blue Note Plays Sting” CD project]
MC: You worked with electronic musician Klaus Schulze on several projects in your post-Santana years, including your first solo release “Transfer Station Blue.” How did Klaus impact you? Was he coming from a totally different place than other musicians you had played with, and was he a catalyst in your interest in electronic and experimental sounds?
MICHAEL: I was already interested in some of that stuff, but yes, Klaus was a horse of another color! Working with Klaus in Stomu’s group was great, and a real revelation to me musically. I had never heard anything like the things he was doing, and he wasn’t like any other musician I had ever met, except maybe Patrick Gleeson. Klaus had this huge setup of synths and would get these beautiful pulsing sequences going, and then come in on top with these gorgeous, lush chords and melodies, and all self-contained, at that. I was enthralled. Later, I started getting into his records, and there was one in particular called “X” that was really great. There were several pieces that had those big powerful sequences going and I was listening and loved it. Then the drums came in and I was really let down, deflated. I felt that the drum parts really left something to be desired, and that I could contribute in that area to make Klaus’ work even better, so I called him and asked him if we could do some recording together. So I went over to his place in Germany with my brother Kevin and we recorded “Transfer Station Blue”. It was a great experience, and I went back several times and recorded on some of his projects as well.
MC: You’ve said that you like to listen to choral or classical music late at night, that it calms you and puts you “in a meditative space.“ Igor Stravinsky’s work was said to have been one of your inspirations on “Caravanserai,” and you have expressed admiration for percussionists from the classical world such as Stomu Yamashta and Evelyn Glennie. Can you tell us more about the role of classical music in your musical development and your musical future?
MICHAEL: Well, I’ve always loved choral music, from Gregorian chants to English choral music to the Bulgarian singers, and I’ve dabbled in my listening to classical music, which came to life in part due to recommendations from my brother Rich. Rich has turned me on to beautiful classical music in the past, Like Leonard Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety”, and certain Stravinsky pieces. I’ve always made it a point to listen to percussion ensemble music as well. Stomu turned me on to a lot of things, and when I first heard Evelyn Glennie’s work I fell in love with her.
FROM MC: You’ve composed soundtrack music for a number of films and TV programs. Which are you proudest of, and why?
MICHAEL: I suppose “The Bedroom Window,” which Curtis Hanson directed, was my favorite. I did that with the help and guidance of Patrick Gleeson, who was more experienced in film music. I don’t really consider myself a film composer by any stretch of the imagination, but I have participated in a few.
MC: Michael, can you talk about your work and relationship with the Rolling Stones? You reportedly did some jamming with the Stones in the Bahamas and then played on “Emotional Rescue,” “Tattoo You” and a Mick Jagger solo album. Did you first meet the Stones when Santana shared the bill with them at Altamont? What percussion instruments did you play on the Stones’ albums, with Charlie Watts playing traps?
MICHAEL:Mick Jagger used to come to Santana’s concerts in London and was a fan of the band, so that’s where I first met him. I went to his wedding to Bianca in the south of France and did some playing at the party after the wedding. When I moved to New York we became friends and used to hang out and listen to music together. We went to see Jack DeJohnette together and I took Mick to The Corso to hear Latin music and watch the dancers. I couldn’t believe he’d never been there, and he loved it, as you can imagine. The Stones were working with engineer Chris Kimsey in the studio, who I’d met and worked with on the ‘Automatic Man” record in London, so basically I would go down to the studio and hang out with them. Every once in a while there needed to be some percussion on a tune, and I was there and just did it. It was just small stuff like tambourine, cowbell or maybe some timbales. I played on the “Emotional Rescue” record and “Tatoo You” and I played drums on Mick’s first solo album, which was recorded at Compass Point in Nassau. Nobody plays drums on a Rolling Stones record except for Charlie Watts! I have a great deal of respect for Mick Jagger. The guy works his tail off, is extremely professional and a really smart guy. It was a pleasure to work with him.
MC: Did you back George Harrison on his track on the “Porky’s Revenge” soundtrack? If so, did that satisfy any Ringo fantasies you might have had as a kid (that is, if you were into the Beatles)? J
MICHAEL: Yes, I did get to play with George Harrison on that track. It was a Bob Dylan tune called “I Don’t Want To Do It.” Dave Edmunds was producing that soundtrack, and he and George were good friends. George came down to the studio with Jim Keltner and I’m certain he was expecting Jim to play drums, but I was in the “house band” for the record and we were running down the tune with me playing. I must admit that years earlier I would have said to Jim, “Jim, here, why don’t you play it?”, but I was a bit older and wiser now, and I didn’t ask him purely out of my selfish desire to cut a tune with George Harrison! That’s the truth! But George didn’t say anything and seemed to be really happy with the track, and Jim, as always, was a complete gentleman, so it all worked out!
MC: Michael, your bio states that you’ve recorded with both Jaco Pastorius and Pete Townshend. Not many musicians can say that…can you tell us about those sessions?
MICHAEL: When I was living in New York, I became friends with Pete, who I adore. He was a fan of Novo Combo, like I mentioned earlier. One night Pete called me up and asked me to come to Atlantic Studios, so I went down there and he had this somewhat elaborate live setup with either stereo or surround speakers set up for his guitar. Pete wanted to cut some demos of a bunch of tunes he was working on…we did that four hours. Pete’s a very commanding presence, and it was intense and great fun playing with him, but they were just demos. Later, I was in London and somebody comes up from behind in a restaurant and covers my eyes, and says “Guess who?”, and it was Pete. He said they were in the studio recording “Even Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes,” and that the producer was having the drummer play all the stuff that I played on the demos. I said, “Well, why not just have me?”
MC: And Jaco?
MICHAEL: With Jaco, again I had seen him around New York and of course with Weather Report, and he was also doing these Monday night shows with Mike Stern downtown at the 55 Bar, and I would go there and watch them. One night I was at The Power Station, a studio in New York City, with Mick Jagger and Nile Rogers, who was mixing some of Mick’s stuff. I went downstairs to another floor for a minute and there was Jaco, in full warpaint on his face, I kid you not! It was about two in the morning, and he is dead set on setting up a recording session right now! He’s calling all these great New York horn players like Lew Soloff, and he had two drummers, myself and Ricky Sebastian and we just jammed for hours. I don’t think it’s ever come out though.
MC: Of the many projects you’ve played on as a “sideman,” which was your favorite, and why?
MICHAEL: I wish I could say I had a favorite, but I really don’t. I mean I enjoyed something about each of them, really.
MC, PJ, VICENTE M., MIKE L & ROMAIN: Michael, our Café patrons would love to see you and Carlos work together again. There are various types of collaboration that have been envisioned: MIKE L. is hoping that your work on “Aye Aye Aye” and the fact that you sat in with the band several times not long ago might indicate “plans for you to re-unite with Santana?” PJ and VICENTE M. point out that Tom Coster says he would be interested in joining a “Lotus” reunion tour (playing music from that era with the surviving members of that band); they wonder if – you – would be open to that, too? ROMAIN asks whether you and Carlos might consider playing together using new sounds similar to the music of Massive Attack and Björk, bringing “your beautiful and mellow acoustic drums” into an electronic context? Any thoughts you have regarding these questions and the general concept of future projects with Carlos will be much appreciated. ROMAIN, in particular, is honored to be in touch with you “virtually” and thanks you for your reply.
MICHAEL: Guys, I just don’t know what to say about all that. I don’t hold my breath for a reunion, let me put it that way! Carlos has become used to calling all the shots. I don’t really think that he feels the desire or the need to reunite the Santana lineups from the 60’s or 70’s. I don’t say that out of disrespect whatsoever. Any complaints or gripes that I had earlier are water under the bridge for me at this point. Carlos and I have a love and respect for each other that goes beyond even Santana. He was kind enough and sweet enough to invite me to come on the road with he and his band last year to go to South America and Europe. He said, basically, “I miss you, and I miss hanging out with you and listening to music with you. Won’t you please come and hang out?” And I did. And he was gracious and kind and we got to listen to a lot of music and watch music DVD’s while traveling. On the road he conducted himself with the utmost level of professionalism. He still has the same enthusiasm and passion for music of all kinds, and is truly a seeker of music, melody and rhythm, as well as spirit and compassion. I treasure him as a friend and really mean that anything negative from the past is truly in the past now. As far as your musical suggestions, Romain, I will say Carlos is not afraid of electronics or “chill” sounds like Massive Attack or Bjork, but it’s always the melody, the groove and the feeling with him. He is actually a fan of a lot of the “Buddha Bar” compilations. Wherever there’s a good melody, he’ll be there.
MC: Do you still play the Premier drum set that Mike Rios hand-painted for you for the 20th Anniversary/”Viva Santana” tour? That was a one-of a kind kit, with those vivid colors that Mike uses in his artwork!
MICHAEL: No, I sold those drums to my friend Jim Bianco. They are very beautiful, and were actually painted before Mike Rios had met Carlos. I remember how Mike kept saying how he was chanting every day in order to meet Carlos!
FROM MC: According to the interview that you and Gregg did some years back with Scott Sullivan of the Storm web page, Neal Schon suggested the idea for Abraxas Pool, inspired by the fun Neal was having working with Michael Carabello on the “Beyond The Thunder” session. You described the initial jams you had with Gregg, Neal, Carabello and Chepito as “incredible,” and went on to say “It was so natural it felt like we had never left each other… We got the material together and started recording and playing it live around the Bay Area and the reaction was phenomenal.” In the live footage I’ve seen of the band, the good vibes and energy between you guys was apparent, so why didn’t Abraxas Pool last? When Carlos declined the invitation to guest on the Abraxas Pool CD did he say why? In retrospect, what are your thoughts about the Abraxas Pool band and your attempt to revive the classic Santana Band sound?
MICHAEL: Abraxas Pool was great. What I learned to appreciate from that band was how truly unique the chemistry was between us and how much of that Santana sound came from Gregg Rolie and Chepito. The percussion section of myself, Michael Carabello and Chepito was something that was really special unto itself, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to appreciate that now that I was a bit older. Abraxas Pool wrote some good songs, we were selling out The Fillmore for multiple nights, we were getting great reviews for the live shows, but no record company wanted to touch us without Carlos, except for Miramar in Seattle, who put the record out. I suppose we could have just kept going, but I didn’t want to play a bunch of Santana tunes all the time, for one thing, and I think Neal was part of a Journey reunion which pretty much completely snubbed Gregg Rolie, and that created bad blood between those two. I really enjoyed playing with the guys. Gregg and I became close again, and that was great. It was great to play with Neal again as well. That boy loves to play! Michael Carabello and I had always stayed in touch and still do. In regards to playing a bunch of old Santana songs without Carlos, I feel it’s OK for Gregg Rolie to do it in his band because he SANG those songs, and that validates anything that he wants to do with them. And no, Carlos did not give a reason why he didn’t want to do it, and I think we were a little offended by that. It was a simple, honest gesture of his old band mates reaching out. Giving him the benefit of the doubt though, I would assume that he simply did not want to open that door for fear of what might come through! Or he thought, why bother, I’m fine without THAT headache! No hard feelings here, though.
MC: You and the other “Woodstock-era” Santana members were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. What was the significance of that honor for you?
MICHAEL: It’s always rewarding to be acknowledged by something like a “Hall of Fame” for your hard work and creativity, though I thought it was a little strange that I’d have to pay $2500 each for my wife and son to be there! Hello! I remember thinking when we were there, that there’s so much “road kill” in rock and roll. We were inducted along with Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles, among others. I know that those two bands in particular have been through some rough times with different members coming and going or being asked to leave, or ego plays where only the strongest survived, and on a night like that some of them are being acknowledged publicly and professionally for the first time, or maybe for the first time in a long time. I could tell by the amount of tears from the wives of some of those being inducted that they were so grateful that their husbands were finally getting some sense of dignity and recognition, at least for a night…and then you’ve got that little statuette that no one can take away! This could make the lives of those wives a bit easier from now on! You can forever say you’ve been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even if none of your old band mates speak to you anymore, care about you anymore, or send you money that you think you deserve anymore! I’m not talking about myself here…just observations of the evening! For example, Peter Green started Fleetwood Mac, but although he was inducted into the Hall that night he was not on the podium with Fleetwood Mac when they received their awards and he didn’t perform with them either…I doubt that they even asked him. Peter Green wrote “Black Magic Woman” and recorded it with Fleetwood Mac years ago, which is where we got the tune. I should really say where Gregg Rolie got the tune, because if it weren’t for Gregg, Santana would have never recorded that song. Thank God that Carlos was gracious enough to invite Peter Green onstage to sit in with us on “Black Magic Woman” or he probably would not have been acknowledged in any way that night. The suits in the audience sitting at their $10,000 tables were probably saying, “Who’s that weird old guy up there playing with Santana?” Don’t laugh, I’m not kidding.
MC: At the Hall of Fame induction you said: “I’ve had a fruitful and long creative career but nothing has compared to my experience of playing in Santana.” Did you mean this in the sense of the amount of public recognition you received in Santana or the amount of personal satisfaction?
MICHAEL: I was not referring to the amount of public recognition I had received from Santana, but rather all that we had gone through and shared together as a group of people at such a young age, and for the incredible music we made together.
MC: You have said that “the music we played with Santana crossed so many boundaries and borders and gave this entrée into other (musical and cultural) communities.” It seems that this is one significant way in which the Santana experience shaped you as a person and a musician. What else did you take with you from your days in Santana?
MICHAEL: The Santana music is so universal that people love it anywhere and everywhere in the world. I can meet drummers and other musicians from anywhere and get respect for the music we made, and hopefully for music that I’m making now. When I went to South America with Carlos recently, the reception he got everywhere was amazing. He’s iconic for them, and he brings a beautiful message as well.
PIERROT: Michael, if you would have the chance to turn back time, would there be anything you did during your time with Santana that you would do differently?
MICHAEL: Regrets, I’ve had my share! Is that how the song goes? One of the things I most regret is not taking advantage of learning more from Chepito and Armando. There are probably other things, but otherwise, I think I did the best I could, given the circumstances, like age and inexperience.
PIERROT: What do you think concering old concert film material of Santana like the “Lotus“ tour in Japan 1973 or the South American one during 1973, should they be officially released on DVD? We diehard fans all over the world would love to see Santana releasing some of the old shows on DVD. Also, knowing Bill Graham got to film some of the shows of the “ LDS“ Tour 1973, but sadly they have never ever been released. Maybe this will change with the new owner of the Wolfgang’s Vault company?
MICHAEL: Well, I’d be very happy if they released the “Lotus” concerts on DVD! There are videos on You Tube, so there must be video available for release.
MIKE L: Have you seen any of the recent Santana DVD releases: “Santana/Shorter Band,” “Blues at Montreux,” “Hymns,” or live with Trey’s band? What are your thoughts on these performances?
MICHAEL: To be honest, I haven’t seen much of these except for the some of the Wayne Shorter material from Montreux that Carlos played for me, and that was great.
VICENTE M.: Of the drummers who have played in Santana since you left, do you have a favorite?
MICHAEL: Oh, I’m not going to touch that one! They’ve all been great! Currently Dennis Chambers is phenomenal, and I think he pretty much embodies everything that Carlos could want and more! He’s an incredible drummer and a fantastic guy.
MC: Your post-Santana body of work is filled with many gems…”The Leaving Time” (with Steve Roach) is beautifully melodic, with ethnic rhythms and Jonas Hellborg’s funky bass lines percolating beneath some of the tracks, and “The Big Picture” is an intriguing and appealing set with prominent grooves and “Lotus”-flavored harmonies. It’s remarkable that most of the music on “The Big Picture” was played with drumsticks on Octapads by you and fellow drummer David Beal, as the overall vibe is organic and warm. Do you feel that the fact that many of your solo and collaborative projects have been on small labels and pigeonholed as electronic, new age or experimental music has led to your “Santana public” losing track of you and missing out on some of your work, such as these CDs, that they may have enjoyed?
MICHAEL: It’s probably true that some of my “Santana public” have lost track of me, but the internet and Google are amazing tools! I admit, too, that I haven’t always played “Santana” type music, though when the live Spellbinder CD comes out you will hear me playing drums like I did in that “Lotus” period. I like a lot of different types of music, and I like to explore. I’m really no different than I ever was. When I was in Santana I was doing the same thing, it’s just that those influences then went into the context of the Santana music, if you know what I mean. They were probably a little more palatable within that more commercial context, that more song-based context.
MC: You first tried electronic drums in 1971, first performed live on them with Go in ’76, and utilized them extensively over the first few albums of your solo career. Then, as the 80’s became the ‘90’s you seemed to turn back toward acoustic drums. How has your use of electronics evolved since then…are they an important creative tool for you currently?
MICHAEL:I first got into the electronic drums in 1972 when I met a man named Steve Lammé and his son Etienne from Portland, Oregon. They had invented the first electronic drums, which were called “Impakt Electronic Percussion” I still have them! I used them a bit in Automatic Man and the Go records in 1976, and worked quite extensively with Etienne on playing them and learning about them. Later, I got into the Syndrums and Simmons Drums and every other electronic drum that came out. Then the Roland Octapads came out with the MIDI interface, and now you could play ANY sound you wanted with sticks through MIDI, which is what David Beal and I did on “The Big Picture” David was brilliant with the electronics. Soon after that, the KAT pads came out and they were so extensive, and still are, that that was about all I needed. Later the Roland V-Drums came out, and these are incredible as well, but in different ways than the KAT pads. The fastest-triggering electronic drums I’ve ever experienced, though, were made by a man in Seattle named Al Adinolfi who has a company called “Boom Theory.” Al’s drums are real drum heads with real shells with foam inside. They look like normal drums, but are completely electronic. For me, though, the KAT pads are the most comprehensive for my interests, which is mainly for playing melodic things on the pads, and these give me the most flexibility. Mario DeCiutiis has kept KAT alive through his company Alternate Mode. I’m really concentrating on acoustic drums right now, but I do bring the electronic drums out every once in a while.
MC: Your two trio recordings from several years back, the acoustic fusion session “Octave Of The Holy Innocents” (with Jonas Hellborg and Buckethead) and the avant-garde organ set “Fascination” (with Wayne Horvitz and Bill Frisell) are both daring and unconventional, yet rooted in jazz. Both sets found you back on standard traps and taking the opportunity to flat-out –play– ! Listening to these recordings, one can make out the full range of your drum artistry a lot more easily than with Santana. With both your chops and sensitivity on full display, these releases are a real treat for fans of your playing. Did you have a great time recording these albums, and can we look forward to future sessions along these lines?
MICHAEL: Thank you, I’m glad you liked them! You left out “Two Doors” with Jonas Hellborg and Shawn Lane, though, which is one of my favorites. I certainly hope I can do more records like these, playing with such great musicians. Drum-wise you will be getting this and more from Spellbinder.
DIRK (with updates from MC): Thank you for all the music you’ve made over the years. Like a zillion others around de planet, I ‘know’ you from your days with Santana, but I’ve also closely followed your solo career, for example I enjoyed your “Stiletto” album very much. Your “Drums of Compassion” CD has been in the works for years. Its release had been postponed and I was worried that it might have been shelved, but your MySpace page now lists a 2008 release date. Can we expect it to be available soon?
MICHAEL: “Drums of Compassion” seems to be the record that never ends. I started it with Jeff Greinke, a wonderful synthesist who was living in Seattle. He and I had recorded a record with just the two of us, and it was beautiful, but I felt like I wanted more earth on it. I’m playing 16 tom toms in a semi-circle, standing, which is just what Stomu had done years earlier. I’ve got Airto on it , along with Zakir Hussain and Jack DeJohnette. Olatunji did an invocation, which was actually recorded for the intro to “Jingo” on the “Abraxas Pool” CD but wasn’t used there, so I decided to use it on this record. It’s a very spacey record, but I also have a couple of pieces on there with Karl Perazzo and Raul Rekow. I also met with Evelyn Glennie in San Francisco, we had dinner and I spoke to her about playing on the CD. Although we still haven’t been able to put our schedules together, I haven’t given up on her! I’ve been trying to finish “Drums of Compassion” for too long, but I really do hope to finish it and have it out this year. It certainly has not been shelved, and I will begin posting pieces of it in the player on My Space, not for download yet, because it’s not finished, but to have a taste!
MIKE L: What CD’s of yours would you recommend for those of us who know you primarily through Santana?
MICHAEL: Well, I think “Stiletto, “Two Doors”, and “Fascination” may be a good place to start.
MC: Do you have any plans to sell recordings from your solo career through your website?
MICHAEL: Yes, I would really like to do that, and am looking into that now.
MC: From production work with Santana and on your own recordings, you’ve gone on to produce in a diverse array of styles, from rockabilly, folk rock and Middle Eastern to Bill Frisell’s jazz trio album with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones. What is your production philosophy and what is it that draws you to producing other people’s CDs?
MICHAEL: Only that I like the music and it seems that we can do something good together. Check out AriSawkaDoria, a trio I’ve been producing recently.
PJ: Does your recreational listening nowadays ever include early Santana music? If so, is there one album you gravitate to the most?
MICHAEL: I have to admit that I don’t really go back and listen to the albums recreationally, however I have been going through the old Santana records to see what material could be good for my new instrumental group Spellbinder. There is a certain way that I want to play drums now, and it has a lot to do with some of those Santana recordings.
MC: Spellbinder which has been gigging regularly in Seattle. Your organist Joe Doria (who you’ve described as “the Hammond player everybody wants”) has done some straight-ahead jazz work, and the group’s organ, guitar, trumpet, bass and drums instrumentation sounds as if it could be a jazz quintet. According to Michael Allison of “Earshot Jazz,” the band also has African, Latin and Indian influences that let you “close your eyes and travel the world of rhythm.” Allison goes on to say that these gigs have been in preparation for a tour, and that many of Spellbinder’s live sets have been recorded. Can you tell us more about the group’s sound and its plans, including the planned tour and a possible CD release?
MICHAEL:Yes, I’m really excited about Spellbinder. We have Joe Doria on Hammond B-3, Danny Godinez on guitar, Farko Dosumov on bass, and John Fricke on trumpet. They are all great players and we have been playing every Monday at a great little club/lounge in Seattle called “ToST” (sounds like toast). It’s an instrumental group that is based on the way I want to play drums right now. It’ s jazzy, with Latin overtones, and I’ve been in the studio mixing a live CD we recorded at ToST. I have already started posting some tunes even though they’re not mixed, on the band’s My Space page which is myspace.com/michaelshrievesspellbinder , and soon will have video up on that page and You Tube.
MC: We knew that Gabor Szabo had influenced Carlos and other Latin Rock guitarists, but what did Gabor’s music mean to you, personally? As a drummer, did you first discover Gabor’s playing and writing when you checked out drummer Chico Hamilton’s band (of which Szabo was a member)?
MICHAEL: We all loved those great Gabor Szabo records. Carlos was very influenced by Gabor, and I was very influenced by Chico Hamilton on those recordings as well. A lot of the cymbal work I did on the Santana records was derived from Chico’s playing on Gabor’s records like “Spellbinder.” Well, obviously, I named my new group Spellbinder and we play that song, too!
FROM MC: You’ve mentioned that “Every Step Of The Way,” “Xibaba” and “Jungle Strut” are part of Spellbinder’s repertoire. What is it about those particular Santana songs that made you select them for Spellbinder? What other material are you currently performing?
MICHAEL: If there is Santana material that I had something to do with that neither Carlos and Gregg are doing in their bands, and I liked the way I played on it, then I will consider doing it in Spellbinder. I want to get back to playing drums the way I played on those songs. More like the jazz side of Santana, if you will. We’ve changed the arrangement of “Every Step of the Way”…right now we are doing it pretty much without the whole first section. I’ll post in on My Space real soon. We also do some songs from “Stiletto” and other pieces that I like.
MC: Mike, even though you were a street-smart kid when you joined Santana, was becoming part of a heavily Latino extended musical family a culture shock for you? This was the era of the Brown Power movement and La Raza consciousness, and Santana (as well as Azteca and Luis Gasca, with whom you were also associated) were artists with whom the Chicano/Latino community identified heavily. Did you always feel accepted and able to adapt in that milieu, or were there times when you were the target of prejudice and negative vibes or just felt like an outsider? On the positive side, did your membership in a close-knit multicultural band and the overall Latin Rock scene lead to new insights, and did you even pick up a few words of Spanish?
MICHAEL: I loved it all. The experience was a rich and colorful one for me, and it certainly gave me an entree and cachet with the Latino community! But No, I didn’t feel at all like an outsider.
MC: Michael, you have described the 60’s as “a really beautiful period when musical genres were getting mixed up and the artists were changed by the music they played…” You told Michael Allison of “Earshot Jazz” that in reflecting on your own drumming you’ve concluded that you’re not purely a jazz, rock or Latin drummer, but a “mutt!” Afro-Latin and other world ethnic rhythms frequently surface in your solo projects and bands, as well as the music you choose to produce, and you’ve acknowledged that you definitely have the Latin rhythm in your playing. Are the world music and Latin threads of who you are a legacy of your Santana experience? Could it be that being part of that Santana percussion section left a permanent mark on you?
MICHAEL: Oh my God, absolutely! I am completely shaped by my experience in Santana. There is simply no way around it. In many projects that I have done in the past I resisted the influence of my Santana days, and that was me trying to show other sides of myself, but now I just want to accept it all for what it really is. The Santana experience had so much influence on the way I play and who I am as a person. It is inseparable.
MC: You directed an international drumming and dance spectacular at the 2001 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. That must have been quite an undertaking! Can you tell us what that program was like?
MICHAEL: I was hired by Major League Baseball to put together a pre-game extravaganza for the 2001 All Star Game, like you said. Their idea was to do a presentation that somehow showed the diversity of Major League Baseball through drumming. So I got a list of every country that the players came from. I selected Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Japan, and the United States. There were many players from Cuba and Puerto Rico, Ichiro, the star of the Seattle Mariners, is from Japan, and there was one Brazilian player, so I had a group of Japanese Taiko players, a group of about forty Brazilian Batucada/Samba players and dancers and a marching/drum corps group. Of course, I had Latin percussionists as well….I invited Michael Carabello up to participate in it, because I knew that he is a big baseball fan and one of his heroes, Orlando Cepeda, was being recognized that day. It was a lot of fun and came off really well. The only problem was that it wasn’t broadcast as a part of the game, and while it was going on on the field, they only showed the sportscaster talking about the upcoming game while the music went on in the background. It was such a waste that they didn’t show it on the air!
MC: Was visiting Ghana with Santana to play the “Soul To Soul” concert an eye-opener in terms of African music? Neal Schon has said that the African musicians played an amazing show for you the night before “Soul To Soul.” African groups on the bill reportedly ranged from a traditional Ashanti drum ensemble to the super-funky Ghanaian Afro-beat band The Aliens (later to become Hugh Masekela’s backup band Hedzoleh Soundz), who reportedly had some Santana songs in their repertoire. Any recollections of performances, jam sessions, or the reception Santana received from the African audience? You have said you weren’t sure that Santana was that well known in Ghana.
MICHAEL: Oh, “Soul To Soul” was one of the best experiences ever! We all flew over on the same plane: Ike and Tina Turner and their band, The Voices of East Harlem (with Doug Rauch), Wlison Pickett, The Staple Singers, Roberta Flack, Les McCann, Eddie Harris. You get the picture. There weren’t a bunch of jam sessions, but yes, we were treated to an incredible presentation the night before of African Music and Dance. I also remember sitting between Mavis Staples and Roberta Flack for hours discussing female singers while listening to a mix tape of female vocalists that I had brought along…both these ladies were on the cassette, of course. On Mavis’ commentary on the DVD she said something like “Yeah, Roberta Flack and I sat on either side of Mike Shrieve talking and talking, and he was like an Oreo Cookie in between the two of us!” Is that great or what? I remember hanging out with IkeTurner and him taking me to Wilson Pickett’s room and Pickett not letting me in the room. Pickett’s shouting “Ike!, You know how I feel about that!” Meaning I was white. And Ike going “Pickett! Come on now!” I just said, “Ike don’t worry about it, I’ll catch up with you later!” Funny stuff. Pickett was still old school with that prejudice stuff. Most people weren’t like that then. I don’t think the Africans knew Santana. Pickett was the star of the show. They were into James Brown and Wilson Pickett and American Soul Music. They liked it when we played, though, but I think they were a little bit like, “What the hell is THIS?” Chepito wasn’t able to make it because he was sick, so Willie Bobo took his place and that was a lot of fun. There is a DVD available of that show which I highly recommend..I did one of the commentaries on it. Get the DVD!
MC: In “VOLR” you mentioned being friendly with Lolo, the leader of the Haitian band Boukman Eksperyans, whose powerful electric Afro-Haitian music could be quite appealing to Santana fans. Have you and/or Carlos ever thought about collaborating with Boukman Eksperyans?
MICHAEL: I met Lolo and Boukman at Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival. They became great friends with my family and would come to the house when they were in town…they are beautiful people bringing awareness of the Haitian people through their music. Did you know that certain Voodoo rhythms were outlawed in Haiti and you would be put in jail if you played them? How does that speak to the power of rhythm that the government fears a rhythm so much that they outlaw it!? Well, Boukman Eksperyans started bringing back those rhythms in their music and insisted on playing them, and it wasn’t easy for them. I gave Carlos a couple of their CD’s, hoping he would respond to the music. They so much wanted him to participate in some way, but everyone wants Carlos to participate in their music. I haven’t seen Lolo in a while. It would be great to get back in touch.
MC: Your 1989 “Modern Drummer” interview found you listening a lot to the Pat Metheny Group’s great album “Still Life (Talking).” You dug what Metheny, Paul Wertico and company were doing from the standpoint of having played in Santana. Here was another band playing a hybrid of North American and Latin American styles, in this case jazz and Brazilian music. Are there any bands or artists today that particularly impress you with their own blends of Latin styles with jazz, rock, funk or R&B?
MICHAEL: I love Pat Metheny and I loved what Paul Wertico played with Pat. Pat always plays with great drummers. My current favorite is Carlinhos Brown from Brazil. I just can’t get enough of him!
Three years ago, music critic Gene Stout of the Seattle Post Intelligencer wrote glowingly about “the intense and muscular world rock sound” of your nine-piece band Tangletown, going on to call the band’s music “danceable, joyful, with a contemporary edge.” You’ve described Tangletown as a “big mean machine.” The group, featuring both you and Kevin Sawka on drums, sounds like a high-energy outfit with driving Afro-Latin rhythms (featuring veteran conguero Johnny Conga), virtuoso keyboard, dual rock guitars, jazz flugelhorn and strong lead vocals. James Whiton of your Drums of Compassion project was on upright bass and Danny Godinez, currently with Spellbinder, was one of the guitarists. Tangletown sounds as if it would appeal to Santana fans, and is still mentioned prominently on your website. Now that you’re busy with Spellbinder, is Tangletown on the back burner? Has the group made any recordings, other than the funky track “One” that you’ve posted on your MySpace page, and are any planned?
MICHAEL: Tangletown, my big groove band, is on the back burner, but not gone. We have recorded four or five tunes. One is a Baaba Maal song called “African Woman,” another is a new version of Chepito’s song “Baila Mi Cha Cha” from Abraxas Pool, which I wrote some verse lyrics to, and also did a couple of originals. I’ll be posting some more Tangletown music on My Space page.
MC: Beyond Elvin Jones, can you name those few select drummers who impacted your musical development the most, and tell us how each influenced you? Also, please tell us which currently active drummers you most enjoy, and why.
MICHAEL: Aside from Elvin, Jack DeJohnette and Tony Williams were, and still are, big influences. They all have something that goes beyond the drums, an energy in the way they propel the music forward. It’s an inner desire and drive. They know the role of the drummer as a timekeeper, but go beyond that. Of course there’s also Roy Haynes, Max Roach, Papa Jo Jones, Art Blakey, Buddy Rich and countless others, too. And then, of course, David Garibaldi, Bernard Purdie, Clyde Stubblefield, Mike Clark, Gregg Errico and Lenny White, and Matt Chamberlain and Jim Keltner. I like Adam Nussbaum and I love Brian Blade. Brian Blade reminds me of Elvin and Jack and Stomu Yamashta. He feels the music so deeply and is not afraid to be extremely expressive on the drums.
MC: To your credit, you’ve never closed your ears to new music. You’ve befriended and worked with a number of younger musicians in the Seattle area, from creative punk-jazzer Skerik to beat-boxing American Idol runner-up Blake Lewis and neo-soul standout Reggie Watts. As someone with diverse musical interests, who are a few of your favorite up and coming artists that you’d recommend to us, in any style of music?
MICHAEL: There are a couple of young drummers from the Seattle area that I really like. One is Kevin Sawka, who is a monster at Drum and Bass and Jungle style drumming. He’s also the other drummer in Tangletown and plays in AriSawkaDoria. The other is Sean Hutchinson who is currently playing in a San Francisco band called New Monsoon. Skerik is a sax player who is very vigorous and adventurous. He’s all over that jam band scene but plays all kinds of music. Critter’s Buggin’ is a group with both Skerik and Matt Chamberlain. You should get that new CD called “Floratone” with Bill Frisell and Matt Chamberlain. I like Glenn Kotchke’s solo percussion CD. He’s the drummer from Wilco. I like The Mars Volta (they’ve had some monster drummers)! I like Bebel Gilberto and Ceu. I even like Panic at the Disco and Arcade Fire! I’m all over the place!
VICENTE M. & PIERROT: You’ve had the chance to tour with both the “Lotus“-era band and a current configuration of Santana. How do you feel about the talent level in the current band, and what do you think honestly of the musical direction Santana has taken in recent years?
MICHAEL: I think that every player in Carlos’s band is a great player. They truly are. Most of them you could put anywhere, and they could deal, musically. As far as my “honest” opinion of the current music, I get the feeling you would like me to say, “Oh it’s nothing like the original band,” or, “It’s too commercial” or whatever. But I won’t! That was then, and this, for Carlos, is now. Don’t forget, he’s got a record that he’s working on with Bill Laswell and Narada Michael Walden coming out soon, which should be interesting. You have to put yourself in Carlos’ shoes. He really has wanted to reach as many people as possible and doesn’t feel limited by the limitations OTHER people want to put on him. To Carlos, he hasn’t sold out. He’s trying to fulfill a spiritual obligation to be as Universal a musician as possible. Beyond Santana music, beyond jazz music, or world music, or whatever. It’s him and his guitar, and he can go anywhere. It’s the same with Bill Frisell. He’s known as a jazz guitar player, but is now wanting to reach a different and wider audience and not be pigeonholed as a jazz player, so now he plays with country musicians, Paul Simon, Rickie Lee Jones, U2, Elvis Costello, you name it. Does that make him less of a player? No, it makes him more of a player! It’s more Universal. And people love an artist like this. Do you put down Louis Armstrong for singing “What a Wonderful World?” No! In fact, for most people it’s the only thing they know by Louis Armstrong. Does that take away from the fact that he has made one of the most singular contributions to American Jazz Music with everything that he played before “What a Wonderful World?” Absolutely not! And it’s the same with Carlos. So, enough of that! Carlos isn’t done yet, believe me.
MC: Early last year, you, Carlos, Gregg, and Michael Carabello played together at a “VOLR” event at Bimbo’s in San Francisco, and were joined briefly by Chepito. It was a thrill for the crowd in attendance, but for you and the other former Santana band members do you think the moment was more of a joyful or a poignant one?
MICHAEL: Oh, I don’t know. I’d say more poignant. I didn’t care for the way I played, I can tell you that! It was wonderful to play with the guys, though, and I hope we can do it again sometime.
MC: How has fatherhood impacted your outlook on life and your perspective on the world? What are your hopes for your sons?
MICHAEL: Fatherhood has been very rewarding, in my experience. It forces you to slow down and get out of your own personal mindset. If you embrace it and don’t fight it, it can be extremely rewarding, and most satisfying. If you fight it, it’s a big hassle and a long haul. My hopes for my kids are that they are able to be healthy, that they have long and satisfying lives, that they are able to make contributions to the world around them that are of service and that in some way they are a positive force to help the world to be a better place.
MC: Your eldest son Sam is reportedly working on his debut CD, with you producing. How’s the project coming, and how would you describe his music?
MICHAEL: Sam was raised as a drummer, but has really taken to writing songs on piano and guitar and seems to be a very talented singer and songwriter. He’s 18 years old and is in his freshman year at Berklee School of Music in Boston on dual scholarships for Drums and Songwriting. To think that you can get a scholarship for Songwriting really blows me away! You can see him and hear some of his music at www.myspace.com/samshrieve . Of course, I’ve discussed music and the music business with him! I’ve showed him my BMI royalty statements and discussed what everything means on them. He can see that you make more money if you write the songs! He’s not driven by that, though, but rather an innate desire to write and express himself. He wrote as much when he knew three chords as he does now with a lot more knowledge, and those three-chord songs weren’t bad, either! Sam and I are blessed to have a relationship that shares so much music. He is extremely diverse in his listening habits and is very open to all kinds of music. Last summer, before Sam was going away to college, I figured it would be a great father/son bonding experience, if you will, to go into the studio and record his songs. I don’t camp much, so this seemed like a good alternative! We had a great time and approached it very professionally. There was some resistance to me producing, because of course he wants people to know that it’s him and not me. Sam doesn’t want to hold onto my coattails, but once I told him that I wouldn’t use my name and that he could have final say, he was fine with it! Of course I’m proud of him. I also realize that the whole music business is going through a complete change right now, and the concern is how best to approach it for a new and upcoming artist. I can’t tell you how much pleasure I get from listening to and speaking about music with Sam. That is a gift I will always be grateful for.
MC: Michael, what musical goals have you yet to achieve, and what should we expect to hear from you in the future?
MICHAEL: I’ve got three, maybe four recording projects I’d like to get done and out there in the world, including two or three in the next year. I’d like to finish up the Elvin Jones book in some form or another, and I’d like to start being on the road again, beginning by touring with Spellbinder.
MC: In closing, Michael thanks again on behalf of your fans around the world for sharing your time and insights with us. Best of luck to you!
[Ed: Anyone wishing to keep tabs on Michael’s activities can do so by visiting him on My Space at myspace.com/michaelshrieve and myspace.com/michaelshrievesspellbinder ]