by J. Rudy Ramirez (adapted & edited by José Sierra)

ditor’s notes: On September 17, 1970, Rudy Ramirez, a young Costa Rican-American and fledgling guitarist from San Francisco’s Mission District, attended a Santana concert at Fillmore West that started him on a transformational journey of self-affirmation. The Santana band, which included three Latino members, was grabbing the world’s attention by boldly blending the hippie blues-rock of the day with the rhythms, percussion instruments, and plaintive guitar melodies of Latin culture, and Rudy was one of countless young Latinos finding pride for the first time in their own Latin identity through Santana’s example.

Rudy, now a  Professor of Ethnic Studies at College of San Mateo (and a veteran Latin Rock musician himself) has been so kind as to share these excerpts from his 1996 Master of Arts Field Study “Latin Rock: The Emergence and Evolution of the San Francisco Sound.” With so little having been written on the subject of Latin Rock at the time he undertook his Study, Rudy had to resort to going out to personally collect oral histories directly from the musicians, pursuing some of his subjects for years before finally securing an interview. Rudy’s persistence finally brought him a face-to-face interview with one of his early Santana Band idols, conga drummer Michael Carabello. Here is an edited version of  Rudy’s account of his interaction with Michael, and the interview itself:

Perhaps the most elusive of all of the individuals I interviewed was Michael Carabello. Since early Spring of 1995, I practically hounded the man. Time after time, I left a message for Michael to call me, all to no avail. I was aware that he had regrouped with remnants of the original Santana band in a group they had named “Abraxas,” after their second album [ed: group later changed it’s name to “Abraxas Pool” for legal reasons]. It was possible that they might have been on tour, which would explain Michael’s not getting back to me.

Then one day in June, the phone rang and I heard a soft voice identify himself as Michael Carabello. He seemed cautious, but I broke the ice by mentioning that I was referred by Chepito Areas and that we had a mutual friend, Manuel Vega. I explained my Latin Rock research and requested an interview. Michael replied “Everyone thinks Carlos Santana started this whole thing, but that is not so. Sure, I’ll do the interview. Just send me a list of questions so I can prepare the answers.”

I did as Michael had asked, and after months of waiting and missed connections, Michael finally agreed that we could meet at the studio in Marin County where he was teaching. On a Sunday in late February 1996, I arrived at the Professional Drummer’s Co-op on Jordan Street in San Rafael, an unassuming, featureless, white two-story building in an industrial section of town. I later learned that Michael had joined forces with several other well-known drummers to establish the Co-op as a central location for teaching, rehearsals, jam sessions, and recording. Across the street was a soccer field and a baseball field where young boys were playing. I rang the doorbell and told a voice on the intercom that I was scheduled to meet Michael Carabello there. “I’ll be right down,” said the voice.

The door opened, and a man, who looked as if he had been sleeping, asked me in. I was led through a large kitchen and down a corridor to a huge high-ceilinged room that was practically empty except for a couple of “drummer’s thrones,” two conga drums, and a big instrument case with the name “CARABELLO” stenciled on its side. I was at the right place.

Michael Carabello soon appeared from the other side of the room, clad in Spaulding running shoes, black sweatpants, and a white hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with a picture of four conga drums and the phrase “Dances with Congas.” At forty-eight years of age, he was a tall (5’10”), slim (175 lbs.), well-conditioned man. The only evidence of his age was a small bald spot at the crown of his head and a few gray hairs. My heart beat faster as Michael walked across the room. “This interview is finally going to take place!”  I thought to myself. Michael shook my hand with a winning smile and strong grip, and I could feel the one characteristic all congueros have: callused hands.

“Have you eaten? Michael asked, “Cuz I haven’t and I am hungry!” “We’ll go in your car,” Michael informed me. Michael and I made small talk about music on the way to a restaurant, as we started to get to know each other.

Arriving at the restaurant, Michael and I sat together. A friend of his had come along, driving separately, and sat in front of us. A bit nervous, I showed them the rough copy of my Field Study and spoke a little about myself. Talk turned to an encounter Michael and I had had in 1977 when my Latin Jazz band “Cascabel” was performing at Sneaky Pete’s in San Francisco’s Marina District. Michael had come into the nightclub, high on drugs, and asked to sit in. Our conga player was aghast when Michael sat down to play without removing the rings from his fingers. Playing with rings can damage the conga skins, so Michael had broken a cardinal rule of conga drumming. As I recounted this incident, Michael lowered his head and shook it slowly saying “Those were not good times for me.”

Indeed, Michael Carabello had at one time been a slave to drugs, but through incredible inner strength, had broken the chains that held him down. In fact, Michael had rebounded with a vengeance, and in the sixteen years prior to our interview had recorded and/or performed with such luminaries as Miles Davis, Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Steve Smith, Chick Corea, Al Jarreau, and Narada Michael Walden, even recording “Start Me Up” with the Rolling Stones on their “Tattoo You” album.

As the meal wound down, I told Michael that I would pick up the tab, but Michael’s friend insisted on paying. Michael chuckled “I’ll write it off as a business expense!” The “friend” was Michael’s lawyer, who had apparently come along to check me out!

Having figured out that I was all right, the lawyer excused himself while Michael and I drove back to the Drummer’s Co-op. Michael stood outside the studio admiring the young soccer players. “Somewhere in that group of boys is the next Pelé, he said, alluding to great the Brazilian soccer hero. As Michael stood there absorbed in the beauty of it all, I began to sense his zest and zeal for life. This was something that was there from the moment we met, but I had overlooked it somehow. Michael then pointed to a large building with a black steel door not far from us on the same block. “That’s Carlos Santana’s studio,” he said, matter-of-factly. I asked if they ever ran into one another. “Oh yeah,” Michael replied, “We say hello, but he’s no one I want to hang out with.” This acrimony was well-documented a few years prior. A beer company had asked permission to use one of Santana’s songs in which all of the original members were equal partners. Everyone voted to accept the offer except Carlos, who wrote his own letter to the sponsor threatening to go public with his objections to using Santana music to sell alcohol. The company promptly withdrew the offer, leaving the other musicians furious. “But you know what?” continued Michael, “I don’t waste my energy in being resentful. I just let it ride.”

Re-entering the Co-op, Michael proudly informed me that the “Abraxas Pool” album was done in its studio. “You’re not gonna believe this: the recording cost less than $30,000, and I paid for it all!” Michael led me past the cluttered Bay Area Music Awards (“Bammies”) office that shared the building. We entered a small room with a desk, colorful love seat, and a cassette player system with huge speakers and a rack of audio tapes. This was Michael’s office. I was struck by the impressive gleam of six gold and four platinum albums adorning two of the walls. A third wall was covered with photos of the percussionist in the company of notable musicians, sports figures, and actors, and on the fourth hung a large Native American drum with a dedication from Native American leader, teacher and author Dennis Banks. “When you hit that drum,” Michael told me, “the resonation goes right through you! I’ve used it in a few recordings.”

Michael sat down at his desk and motioned me to the love seat, saying “Okay.” From 12:30pm to 3:00pm I inquired, probed, and pushed for answers, some of which he had probably never contemplated before.

Michael John Carabello’s first seven years of life were spent at Double Rock, the lower part of San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point neighborhood near Candlestick Park. An only child of Puerto Rican parents, he lived with his mother, step-father, and grandmother, who was from one of the first Puerto Rican families to settle in San Francisco. Spanish was spoken at home until his grandmother died, after which only English was spoken and the family moved to the Sunnydale District near the Cow Palace. “I can ask for things in Spanish” Michael informed me, “like ‘where’s the bathroom’ or ordering food, you know, stuff like that, but I can’t keep a conversation.”

Professor Ramirez’s note: At that time in “La Mission,” the Mission District where Santana got its start, there was a dress code. One was either a “mun” or a “white-shoe”. A mun dressed in leather jackets, wore his hair in a pompadour and had side-burns. A white-shoe wore shirts with heavy starch, an open vest, jeans and desert boots. Both muns and white-shoes were enemies and never associated with one another. José “Chepito” Areas was a mun. Michael Carabello was a white-shoe. If you look at the back of Santana’s first album, you can see Chepito with his pompadour and side-burns. You can also see Michael Carabello wearing a shirt with heavy starch and an open vest. Music brought those two together.

From the age of then through twenty-one, Michael lived at 21st and Bryant Streets in the Mission District. Michael didn’t hang out much in the Mission in those years, other than frequenting the Boy’s Club on Florida Street near his home. He preferred to go to parks in other parts of the city to play in “pick up” baseball games. Later on, Michael would hang out in the predominantly white-shoe area of Eureka Valley, next to Noe Valley:

“I was a mun for about a week. I got into so much trouble. I was in a couple of gangs, but quickly found out that it was not my thing, not where I wanted to go. A few of my cousins were muns and you have to remember that anything lower from 24th and Mission was mun territory. So, if you wanted to go out on a Sunday afternoon to the movies at the Grand, New Mission, or Crown Theatres it was Mun City. But it was no big deal, though. Nobody really bothered anybody, I guess because we were too little. Later on, when I started to hang out in Eureka Valley, I would dress like a white-shoe. I liked that Ivy League look.”

Michael attended Horace Mann Junior High School, but instead of continuing to Mission High School he and his junior high baseball teammates moved to Polytechnic High, or “Poly,” because their coach had gone to work there. Michael added “I would have gotten into a lot of trouble if I had gone to Mission. I wouldn’t have finished school. In fact, I didn’t finish school as it was. I flunked one year and all my friends went on ahead, so I quit.”

Asked about his first interest in the conga drum, Michael remembers that at the age of thirteen his step-father took him fishing at Aquatic Park near Ghirardelli Square. Michael was “bored to death,” and walked over to the steps at the start of the pier to watch the conga drummers play. “These were mostly beatniks pounding away.” He estimates that the year was 1962. Michael had heard the sound of congas before from the Latin music his parents played on the phonograph, but this was his first time observing how the drum was played. Henceforth, Michael would jump at every opportunity to go fishing with his step-dad, in order to check out the conga drummers. Michael continued “Then I would started going by myself, taking the 47 Potrero bus and heading for Aquatic Park every weekend. I did take a conga drum lesson or two. One was a disaster because the guy teaching me couldn’t understand that I was ambidextrous. That’s why when I play, I have two tumbas on each side.” [ed: the tumba is the large, lower-pitched drum in the conga family]. “Obviously, I developed a sense of tonality in my playing, other than rhythm.”

Some of the guys who were playing at Aquatic Park were also in Michael’s high school art class. The art teacher allowed them to bring their drums to class to set a mood for drawing, and they also played in the school courtyard to accompany the dance class. “What was happening,” Michael remembered, “was that I was being exposed to Puerto Rican, African, Afro-Cuban, and Santero music as well as the beatnik free-style of music.”

During this time, Michael had begun acquiring records by artists like Chico Hamilton, Herbie Mann, Mongo Santamaria, Perez Prado, Wes Montgomery, Carlos “Patato” Valdes, Cal Tjader, and Gabor Szabo. These artists also became Michael’s influences, as well as conguero Victor Pantoja who played on some of their albums.

Michael went to the Mission YMCA one night to see a soul band that performed there regularly, “The V.I.Ps,” led by vocalist Leon Patillo (later with Santana). Michael talked the band’s conga drummer into letting him sit in. Michael went back to see the band again and was allowed to play on even more songs. Michael was ecstatic…he wanted more of it.

When Michael told me that his first set of conga drums were made by La Playa, I broke out laughing, because La Playa congas were considered the cheapest, lowest quality, conga drums at that time. Michael laughed along with me, but insisted that his old drums sounded great. Michael continued his story: “I then got into a blues band with Carlos Santana and introduced the conga to blues. I didn’t do it consciously, I just wanted to play in a band…any band. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

Michael reported leaving the early Santana Blues Band due to a dispute with the other members, who wanted to continue to play while Carlos was in the hospital with tuberculosis. A flashy conga showman named Marcus Malone was brought in to replace Michael and continued with the band even after Carlos’ recovery. Marcus’ later arrest for manslaughter would open the door for Michael’s return, but he felt insecure and nervous trying to find a way to compensate for Marcus’ crowd-pleasing flair. The answer came to him at a percussion jam near San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. As Michael describes it, “One Sunday I was out at Playland at the Beach, on Great Highway, playing congas with two other guys. You know, somebody always comes along and wants to play your drum.” “So this guy comes up and asks me if his friend could play and I said ‘Sure,’ and this guy sits down and plays some shit I had never heard. That was Chepito.” Impressed by the new guy’s playing at the jam session, Michael went to see him perform at the Nite Life Night Club on San Bruno Avenue with The Aliens, a Top 40 band.  There was “Chepito,”  (José Areas, a recent immigrant from Nicaragua,) on stage, alternating between congas, timbales, and trumpet…Michael was further blown away, as were Carlos Santana and Gregg Rolie on a subsequent visit, and Chepito was invited to join Santana. The merging and blending of Michael and Chepito’s percussion styles proved to be very potent, and became a major strength of the Santana band, as did their input into the band’s arrangements and repertoire. One of Michael’s contributions was his insistence that Santana record Tito Puente’s song “Oye Como Va,” which became one of their biggest hits.

I asked Michael to tell me about one of his greatest feelings during his time with Santana. He recounted playing at Woodstock: “I had never been in a helicopter before. This was our first gig anywhere outside of California, and us flying over this thing and looking at all these people, and looking at each other…scared shitless! What is this, man? Getting down there, talked to Jerry Garcia, and everybody that went on before us would say ‘Fuckin’ great feeling!’ We smoked a joint before we went on, and you know how you are told never to look at the front row, but instead to look at the last guy in the audience? Ever hear that? We got up there, walked on stage, looked there like –this- [eyes moving from side to side], not straight ahead because there were people forever, man. And we all looked at each other and said ‘Let’s do it.’”

The previously little-known Santana band would steal the show at Woodstock, and their first three albums would reach platinum status, yet despite all the fame, adulation, and accolades bestowed upon them, it wasn’t meant to last.  “They worked us too hard,” Michael explained, “But then again we probably wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did. I mean, like how long can you stay in this room with five other guys for three months? Eventually, something’s gotta give. And that’s what happened…we got on each other’s nerves, man. Being overworked, into drugs, and (everyone telling you) how good you are. You lose a sense of reality.” Michael continued “We forgot that we were all friends…that we started this as a hobby, to entertain ourselves. “This band…was created around this sound. It wasn’t about Carlos, it was about the music and the people.”

Asked what bad memories he might have, if any, Michael responded “I don’t really have bad memories other than life goes on, you know. You can’t change anything. We were all kids.”

In our short time together, Michael Carabello had impressed me as an amiable, gregarious, humorous, and sensitive individual. He had a happy-go-lucky attitude, ever-present smile, and an abundant supply of energy, leaving him unable to sit still for long. Michael’s child-like outlook on life made it a pleasure to be in his presence.

When I asked Michael what he thought he had contributed to Latinos and the world in general, he cogitated for a moment and blurted out “I gave the world Puerto Rican, Afro-Cuban, beatnik free-style of drumming!” Then he flashed that winning smile.

Michael reflected for a moment and mused “You know, man, I’m probably the only conga player in the world who still gets royalties.” It was obvious by the look on his face that he relished that thought, while at the same time feeling incredibly lucky.

Michael Carabello is truly one of the pioneers of the San Francisco Sound.

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This is a re-mix and re-posting of a detailed piece on Abel Zarate; one of the very best musicians to come out of the Bay Area Latin Rock confluence in it’s explosive heyday.

We are proud to explore the life and times of this exemplary guitarist and songwriter. Who also contributed heavily to the compositions and sound of the early Malo group and their first dynamic recording. Abel has also been involved musically with Luis Gasca, Willie Bobo, Attitude, Jet, Wizardz, Sapo, Casanova, Suave, Mingo Lewis Band plus a projected band with Gregg Rolie as well as the more current Zarate Pollace Project..

“In Carlos’ Shadow – A Conversation with Abel Zarate – Part 2″


Abel, here’s a fantasy question. You worked with, jammed with, knew and observed all of the principal musicians in the Bay Area Latin rock movement. If you could form a fantasy “all star” band from that pool of players with yourself as guitarist, what band members would you select? You can choose from among players still living as well as those that have passed on, remembering them at the height of their abilities (without regard to personality, just ability). At the very least, we’ ll need keyboards, bass, drums, congas, timbales, sax/flute, trumpet, trombone and a lead vocalist. Who’s in the band?

ABEL: Because this is my fantasy lineup, I just went with the people I knew best, players I thought it would be interesting for me to play with and who I’d get along with: Kermode and Jay Wagner on keys. Kim Plainfield or Chuck Burgi on drums. Dave Margen on bass. Mingo and Michael Carabello on conga. Coke on timbal. Bob Olivera on sax, Mike Heathman on trombone, Roy Murray and Tom Harrell on trumpet and flugelhorn. Richard Bean and Rico Reyes on vocals… now if egos didn’t flare, this would’ve been one hell of a band! (smiles)

After LASB, you reunited with Richard Bean in a re-formed version of Sapo (some of the original players having left when Arista purchased Bell Records, leaving the band without a record deal). The new lineup had you and Richard sharing lead vocals (and playing guitar and timbales, respectively), Richard Kermode on keyboards, Raul Rekow on congas, Thaddeus Reece on bass and Chuck Burgi (who would later play with Hall & Oates and Brand X) on drums. A rehearsal/and or demo tape of that band has circulated for years pairing instrumental jazz like your fusion samba “Fiesta” and a haunting Szabo-influenced guitar piece with some pop-oriented songs, some written by you like “Think of Me” and some by Bean. This band almost seemed to have a split personality, musically (though both sides were good).

I grew up in NY and came up listening to hard rock, got turned on to jazz fusion, and am now just getting around to checking out some of the music from the West Coast Latin scene. I like Sapo’s version of “Linda Chicana,” and also “Fiesta” and “Think of Me.” What was the atmosphere like in the band at that time and what were your goals? Did you attract any record label interest? Was Raul’s decision to join Santana what ended this incarnation of Sapo?

ABEL: Hey, Dardo, this is really stretching my memory! Richard Bean had asked me to join the band. At that time he was open to experimenting with a “new” Sapo sound, so we mixed in a few fusion instrumentals while still trying to write pop/vocal tunes. I really enjoyed that band, and it really rekindled my friendship with Beano and Raul. Sapo gigged quite frequently all over. Chuck Burgi was a true gentleman and monster drummer. Some of those gigs I did with Kermode and Chuck Burgi in Sapo were musical highlights for me. I left because Coke asked me to record and tour with him. I sort of lost touch with Richard after that, as I think he started working with Jorge Santana again.

Were you ever a member of Azteca? What was the extent of your involvement with that band? Are you able to shed any light into how Azteca morphed into the Pete & Sheila Escovedo band? What role did Billy Cobham have in that transition?

ABEL: My involvement came after the original Azteca lineup had broken up, as Coke was now doing his solo career. I had appeared on the same bill with Azteca through the Mingo project, and later with Sapo. Pete Escovedo and I had hit it off, and I became a regular at his house in Oakland. That’s how I became friends with Ray Obiedo, who lived around the corner from the Escovedos and was also playing guitar in that latter-day lineup of Azteca. Ray mentored me a little bit on some jazz stylings, and sometimes I would “sub” for him on casuals and sit in on some Azteca gigs. Though I never was really part of Azteca per se, I was very close to the Escovedos at that time and was asked to sit in on quite a few occasions. One of these gigs was at the Reunion club on Union Street…Billy Cobham came by one night and was floored by Sheila, which led to his helping with the “Pete & Sheila” records. Unlike Coke, who carried himself with a rock star aura, Pete was very down to earth and matter-of-fact about the music business. There was no hype surrounding whatever he did, it was simply playing music and trying to put food on the table. Something changed when I met Pete, Sheila and Ray Obiedo. Hanging around them made me more curious than ever about jazz stylings and funk, so I left the Latin rock Santana sound and started moving into a more improvisational style of playing.

We have a lot of Azteca fans who would be interested in knowing who the players were in the last days of Azteca, other than Ray, Pete and Sheila (with yourself often sitting in). Were Wendy Haas, Errol Knowles and Rico Reyes still in the band? Who were the horn and keyboard players, the bassist and drummer?


ABEL: Errol was still there, Lady Bianca would be included from time to time on vocals. They had Mark Soskin on keys and Gaylord Birch on drums. The bass spot would change according to who was available. As far as the horn section, I remember Al Bent being a regular on trombone, plus Roger Glenn, and the rest is too fuzzy to remember.

Within a couple years of your leaving Malo, Brazilian colors had found their way into your music, and also Santana’s. This was a time when Airto & Flora Purim were becoming influential musicians and samba-flavored jazz fusion was frequently heard. Does your interest in Brazilian sounds go back to the Getz/Gilberto and Brasil ’66 era, or did it begin during that 1970’s wave? ZPP often uses Brazilian grooves…what appeals to you about them?

ABEL: “The Girl from Ipanema” was on the radio back in the ‘60’s, and the crowd I hung with in the Mission all liked it. I love bossa nova, Jobim and other Brazilian composers, the rhythm just appeals to me. Early on, I started to pick up on bossa nova influences in music by Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, Jose Feliciano, and the song “Without Her” that Al Kooper sang with Blood, Sweat & Tears. It wasn’t until the 70’s, though, that I really got into Brazilian music. Kermode was the person who helped me discover it. I’m a romantic at heart, and Brazilian music just conveys romance and love to me.

Many of your more adventurous original compositions over the years have featured complex rhythm breaks and unusual time signatures, a trait that is in evidence in the Zarate Pollace Project. Was this something that you picked up from Chick Corea’s music with Return to Forever?

ABEL: Actually, I picked it up from listening to so much salsa and Latin music. I was influenced by RTF, but it was my friends who played conga and percussion that influenced my “breaks” and rhythmic ideas, so I thank you guys, and you know who you are!

FROM EDDIE RODRIGUEZ: Hi Abel, I always wanted to ask you how you get that unique soulful tone on your guitar? There are certain notes you play that are deep and sweet at the same time. Good luck with your new band, can’t wait ‘til you play L.A.

ABEL: Hi, Eddie! As many guitarists will tell you, a lot of it is in your touch. I remember watching Bloomfield and Carlos up close and noticing how they caressed each note. Also, because I’m a blues-based player, I learned the importance of knowing how to bend a note. Finding the right amplification also helps. Your sound comes from your heart, through your fingers, onto the fretboard and out through your amp, but a player’s touch affects his tone…that’s about the best way I can explain it.

What have your preferred guitars, amps and effects been throughout your career, and how have those helped you achieve your sound?

ABEL: For the longest time I favored the Gibson Les Paul. In the 80’s, though, it got really hard to find a good one, as Gibson was just pumping them out. Twin Reverbs were my amp of choice back in the day (Black Face ones). I’ve played Strats and BC Rich guitars, but never quite got comfortable on them. I currently play a Gibson ES 336, which I love, and a PRS Custom 22 that screams. For amplification I discovered the Fuchs and Two Rock Amp in 2005, and just fell in Love. It reminds me of the prototype Boogie I owned in the early 70’s, but on steroids! I use a Choral Flange and Delay live, and I’m constantly checking out pedal boards to see if there’s something else I want to add to the palette. A lot of amps sound too harsh and brittle, but the Fuchs Amp just has a very warm, cushy, sound to it in the clean mode, very audiophile-quality. I’m a big Larry Carlton fan, and this setup gets me close to his vibe and tone.

More than most guitarists, you have long been adept at making percussive effects like agogô, claves or temple blocks with your guitar. You not only know how to make the sounds, but know exactly where they fit in the music. How did you come to use and develop this delightful and highly-musical trick? What technique is involved?

ABEL: As far as knowing where, it’s just “feel,” I just have fun with it. I crank up the reverb and just mute the strings. Actually, a lot of Los Angeles players like Carlton and Ritenour have been doing this for years! Maybe I just do it differently? I just try to help the groove along…

Abel, what do you think of Al Di Meola’s composition “Nena?” The tune doesn’t sound like Malo’s “Nena,” but instead it seems to pay homage to some of your parts from the “Peace” guitar bridge, and the jazz guitar parts of “Suavecito” and “Just Say Goodbye.” I can’t pinpoint it. I mean it is Al Di Meola, but maybe, like many, he was once blown away by Malo? This song was from “Tour De Force Live” and there’s also a studio version. 
[Editor’s note: Xaman provided an mp3 file of the song for Abel to hear]

ABEL: I just listened to it, Xaman, couldn’t resist. (smiles) Yes, it does sound like something I’d do, and his tone is reminiscent of mine back then. Thanks for sharing this with me. It’s funny because my guitarist nephew was studying Di Meola for awhile, and he noticed similarities in our phrasing. Di Meola is a master, so I’d be flattered if he took anything from my playing at all! Nena Godinez was a singer In Cokes’ band when I was in it, and she and Al were a couple at the time. Perhaps he heard some tapes of my playing, but I can’t say for sure. Anyway, I love the way Al plays on this song.

What is your favorite post-Abel Zarate Malo song (something released after you left the band)?

ABEL: Well, I liked “Love Will Survive.” “Moving Away,” “Everlasting Night,” and “Close to Me” are very good songs, too. I was also really pleased with the way my tune “Momotombo” sounded on “Dos.” Tom Harrell helped with the horn arrangements and Pablo and I really worked hard on that song. It still rocks!

Coke Escovedo was a fiery timbalero who was one of the first to take his instrument beyond traditional Latin music in a highly effective and exciting way, and also a Latin/soul/jazz visionary with his creation of the band Azteca. You spent a lot of time with Coke, working together on Malo’s debut album and Gasca’s “For Those Who Chant.” After Coke went solo, you spent two lengthy stints in his R&B-based band, recorded on his sophomore album “Comin’ At Ya,” and also gigged in his Latin jazz combo (which often included Richard Kermode). What affinity kept drawing you and Coke to play together? Can you tell us what Coke’s best qualities were as a person and a musician? Please share any insights into what made Coke tick, what made him great and what led to his downfall?

ABEL: We’ll take the high road… Coke just believed in my ability. He always encouraged me to be more out front. I never questioned his choices and decisions, I just played music with him whenever he called me to play. Coke Escovedo was a very important part of my early musical journey.

During your first tour of duty with Coke, you appeared before a nationwide U.S. TV audience on “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.” This was a first-class late night music show that featured the best in rock and soul music and occasionally electric jazz. Was Linda Tillery still fronting Coke’s band at that point? Do you remember what songs you played and what the experience was like? You used to play a great live solo on Coke’s hit “Make It Sweet,” with a beautiful quote from “Theme From A Summer Place.” Did you perform that tune on TV?

ABEL: Linda Tillery was no longer singing with Coke, as Errol Knowles sang lead with us at the time. One of our female backup singers, Lynn Mabry (formerly of Parliament-Funkadelic), sang “Make it Sweet,” and yes, we did play that song on “Rock Concert.” I wish I could tell you more, but that was oh, so long ago. (smiles)

Other than the gigs that have been mentioned, are there any from the years before your joining Willie Bobo that give you particularly positive memories today, and can you tell us about them?

ABEL: There are two that stand out musically, and both were with Coke. One was at the Clam House in L.A., which was a popular spot for Latin Jazz. We played down there on a bill with Pete & Sheila, and of course Coke had both of them sit in…along with Tito Puente! “Linda Chicana”, “Picadillo” and Eddie Palmieri’s hit “Nada de Ti” were songs in our repertoire then, along with some originals by Al Bent, so it was always fun to have those jams. I also liked the gig we played at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. It was a summer concert, and we were sharing the bill with Tito Puente. Our band was sounding good! Tito sat in, and he and Coke traded a bit on timbal. Jorge Dalto also played that day, and he was a fave of mine.

During a stretch in the mid to late 70’s you led groups like Tilt, Paradox and The Force, all of which performed your original material. Some of the more notable players were one-time El Chicano drummer Angel Orozco, keyboardist Steve Carter (Los Mocosos), bassist Earl “Bo” Freeman (Bill Summers, Peter Apfelbaum, Don Cherry) and the aforementioned Carey Williams, a talented Al Jarreau/Gil Scott-Heron influenced singer-songwriter who you first met in the Mendocino All-Stars. Carter, Freeman and Williams also joined you to form part of Coke Escovedo’s band at a time when Coke was trying to revive his career and get a new record deal. Do you have any particular feelings about or recollections of these groups?

ABEL: Eric McCann (bassist with Al Di Meola) also played in Tilt and Paradox. It was just a very busy period for us. Actually, Carter, Freeman, Paul van Wageningen and I were the rhythm section for a few different projects at that time. It was fun to be playing out so much, and learning new music all the time. This was also right around the time that I hooked up with Michael Carabello for the Attitude band.

Abel, I read where you played in Michael Carabello’s band Attitude, and that you guys did some demos at the Automatt. Did those ever surface for fans to hear? Can you tell us about the band?


ABEL: I did do a couple of demos with Michael. Both had David Brown on bass and Chepito on timbales. Angel Orozco played drums, and Karl Perazzo, too. Steve Carter played keys, and Steve and I both contributed some original songs. “VOLR” lists Errol Knowles as the singer in Attitude, but in fact Carey Williams was our lead vocalist while I was with the band. We did a reggae cover of McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” that I thought was pretty cool. I left the band to join Willie Bobo, and Attitude continued for a while with Michael Sasaki on guitar. That lineup released a single.

How did the opportunity to play with Willie Bobo’s band come about?

ABEL: Errol Knowles and guitarist Bill Courtial from Azteca had been playing in Willie’s band. Bill left, and Errol got me an audition. It wasn’t easy getting the gig: Willie disliked the San Francisco Latin rock sound, and didn’t like guitars with sustain or distortion. What’s more, I had to beat out two L.A. guitarists for that gig…competition was stiff! Initially, Willie just hired me to tour with him, but he eventually warmed up to my guitar style and decided to let me record the “Bobo” album with him. In return I agreed to lend my composition “Latin Lady” to the album.
[Editor’s note: at this time, Willie Bobo was calling his band “Bobo.”]

What was it like going from playing Latin rock to playing with an old-school jazzman like Willie? What were some of the “cultural differences” between the rock world and the jazz world that struck you? Can you remember any episodes that illustrate this, or any other interesting stories about your time with Willie?

ABEL: Mike, Willie was definitely Old School. He came up the hard way and he was a tough bandleader. Most jazz musicians are more evolved than your average rock player. Jazz is a tradition that holds a lot of “sensitive” history for many players, especially black musicians, just as Afro-Cuban music does. When I toured in Europe with Willie, we played all of the major jazz venues. We were in the company of people like Dexter Gordon, James Moody, Gerry Mulligan, Slam Stewart, Hancock and Corea, et al. Some of the musicians were total purists and were unapproachable, while others like Bucky Pizzarelli and James Moody were totally warm and open. Other than Weather Report, Willie’s Band was the only group not playing straight-ahead jazz in most of the cities that we played, so it was a bit awkward on some shows. Jazz audiences in Europe really listen, so it’s not about rocking out on stage, it’s about putting on a good performance and pulling the audience into the moment with you. Playing with Willie was a growth experience for me. It forced me out of my comfort zone.

Do you have any thoughts or comments on Sonny Henry, the guitarist on Willie Bobo’s classic 1960’s albums on the Verve label, probably the first electric guitarist to play Latin jazz? Did you ever think about how by playing with Willie Bobo and Victor Pantoja you had brought yourself full circle? You were now not only filling Sonny Henry’s guitar chair, but also that of Gabor Szabo, who frequently played alongside Willie and Victor?

ABEL: I loved Sonny’s phrasing and songwriting. The song “I Don’t Know” is one of my faves. I think I wore out that “Bobo Motion” record! As far as becoming Willie and Victor’s guitarist, yes, I find it truly amazing. I can’t believe it sometimes. (smile) All I can say is I’ve been blessed to have been able to achieve and experience dreams beyond my own expectations.

What were some of the most memorable gigs you played with Bobo?

ABEL: Pretty much all the gigs with Bobo were exciting to me… the Newport Jazz Festival, Montreux, Nice, the Alexandria Palace Jazz Fest, these are places I thought I’d never play. Willie sprang a surprise on us at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall – Dizzy Gillespie and Cal Tjader sat in with us together on the Jobim classic “Dindi,” which was a staple of Willie’s repertoire. Michael Shrieve was in the audience that night, too…It was a moment to remember, for sure. Dizzy also sat in with us on the Queen Mary and at the Playboy Jazz Festival. Although he only played percussion, it was daunting having him onstage next to me! Dizzy toured all through Europe with us on the same jazz circuit, along with several of the jazz legends I listed earlier. It was scary and awesome at the same time. It was my first time in Europe, and Willie had us playing in Italy, France, where we did a TV show, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, London, and the Hague, where we played with Grover Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Weather Report.

While on the road in the Netherlands you encountered another veteran rocker with a passion for jazz?

ABEL: Charlie Watts was at the big Convention Center where the Den Hague Jazz Festival was being held. I introduced myself, and we hung out for a bit. I was surprised to learn that he was a jazz fan. He was there as a spectator, just checking out the scene at Den Hague. It was surprising to see a Rolling Stone out and about… he was this very quiet, laid-back cat… not a rowdy rocker at all. He’s about my height, which also surprised me. (smiles)

You crossed paths a couple of times with your idol Gabor Szabo, during the sessions for Coke Escovedo’s “Comin’ At Ya” album and again while touring with Bobo in Europe. Did you ever get to play together?

ABEL: I met Gabor briefly during the Coke session, but he and I never played together in the studio…Gabor recorded his parts after I went home. I met Gabor again in Nice when I was on tour with Willie. We just acknowledged that we were on the same tour and circuit and exchanged friendly chit-chat. Gabor was ill (I later learned this), so he was kind of withdrawn, but he played with Stan Getz and Toots Thielemans on that night in July 1979, and it was magical!

Back in the U.S., you played a big show at the Hollywood Bowl. Would you say that was your highest-pressure gig ever?

ABEL: Can you imagine how nervous I was at Hollywood Bowl? We were playing in front of 20,000 people on a bill with Ella Fitzgerald and Weather Report, going on after Chick and Herbie, and Lionel Hampton. Tina Turner and George Duke were in the front row! I had to dig deep to find my center, and when Willie called me up to solo I just played my heart out. Actually, playing at Concerts by the Sea in Redondo Beach was pretty stressful too, as well as the Parisian Room. Both of these places were high-profile jazz clubs, and all the heavies would come out and hang…comes with the gig, I guess. I remember Carlos saying in an interview that the first time he played with McLaughlin, he felt like he should be shining John’s shoes! Well that’s exactly how I felt at the Hollywood Bowl.

In the years afer you left Malo your guitar playing had really came into its own, developing into a remarkable solo voice. Your guitar “cried” like Carlos’, but with vulnerability and yearning, and sparked rapid bursts of notes a la George Benson, but more joyously. The Bobo gig had finally given you a springboard into the jazz world that you seemed to have been waiting for. “Latin Lady,” your smooth Latin jazz-flavored composition spotlighting your guitar playing, was getting airplay. Why did you quit Willie’s band?

ABEL: Even though “Latin Lady” charted in Brazil, Japan, Spain and Italy, Columbia Records dropped Willie, affecting his ability to keep the band going in Los Angeles. The competition in the Southern California jazz scene is tough, and in order to break into certain circles you definitely have to know someone or be able to sight-read. I’m a blues guitarist with some jazz inflection, not a true jazz player, and I found that a lot of jazz musicians have a real hard-edged attitude, very technique and tradition-based. I tried to get by with sticking to my blues foundation and by playing with as much feeling as I could, but the jazz or recording scene definitely wasn’t such a nurturing environment for a player like me.

Thank you, Abel, for providing us with a unique and distinct voice throughout all these years. You had the wonderful opportunity to play for two bandleaders that were also top timbaleros – Coke Escovedo and Willie Bobo. Please share your memories of the differences and similarities in Coke and Willie’s styles as musicians and bandleaders, as well as any anecdotes that come to mind about them.

ABEL: Hi Joe. To put it plain and simple: Coke was West Coast. I had history with Coke, and there was more of a “homeboy” feel with him. Willie was hardcore New York. He was more of a father figure trying to help out and teach the “youngblood.” (smiles) Both were excellent musicians.

What happened to you after 1979, and how in the world did you end up driving a cab when you have more talent in your left pinky than most of the guitarists in the world put together?

ABEL: It was a hard period for me. When I came back from Los Angeles, I wasn’t getting many calls for gigs except for once in awhile with Richard Bean, so I drove for Yellow Cab for about three years. I can say that I was in good company, though, as Kermode and Danny Glover (the actor) both drove, too. It actually wasn’t that bad… at least I was paying my own way (smiles). Besides, I needed the down time and lesson in humility.

In “VOLR” I read that David Brown tried to get you into the L.A.-based Asian-American jazz-R&B band Hiroshima, which is one of my favorite jazz bands. I was curious if you actually auditioned for the band?

ABEL: David had done a few gigs with Hiroshima, and he mentioned to me that the guitar spot was open. I never followed up because I didn’t feel that a musical venture rooted in Japanese music and culture would suit me. As Sinatra sang, I was determined to “do it my way,” so for better or worse I made my choices. I also declined an offer to move back down to Southern California in the late 80’s to work with some of the El Chicano guys.

In 1983-84, you, Pablo Tellez, Richard Bean and former Malo timbalero Leo Rosales were playing gigs together. Was it a shock to you when your former bandmate, vocalist Arcelio Garcia, arrived back in town after many years in New York? He had put out the “Malo Coast to Coast” album with some East Coast players and had now recruited new players to re-form Malo in the Bay Area. Did Arcelio’s return force your band (with four Malo members to his one) to shut things down? Were there hard feelings between you and Arcelio, and had he contacted you regarding his plans and the possibility of working with you and your other former bandmates?


ABEL: Arcelio and I had actually gotten along during our days with Malo. He even used to save newspaper and magazine articles about the band for me. Arcelio had had the foresight to stake a legal claim to the Malo name at a time when no one else seemed to care about it, so he was entitled to use the name. Our group had been going by the name Uno Malo. We played in Albuquerque, L.A., and at the Great America theme park near San Jose, CA, but we only lasted for a few gigs. According to the “VOLR” book we disbanded because of Arcelio, but in truth I really don’t know. Arcelio did ask me to be part of the new Malo and I declined, so it wasn’t like he was trying to exclude me.

Your only released output between “Bobo” and “Soul Redemption” was a rare and little-known collection of movie and television theme songs.

ABEL: It was “Hooked On Themes – World’s Greatest Themes” by John Dote (Alonso Records, 1987). John Dote was a session drummer who played on the Hawaii Five-O TV theme and several other big TV show themes. I think he has a production company in Vegas now. I didn’t take any improvised solos, just played melody lines that were given to me, and chordal “chunk” rhythm parts. John used flautist Roger Glenn on another of his records. [ed. Abel is being a little modest here, as he added some searing guitar licks to Dote’s cover of “The Barnaby Jones Theme.”]

After Uno Malo, you pressed on through the late 80’s and beyond?

ABEL: I still did projects with Richard Bean during the late 80’s and through 1990. Our bands Wizardz, Suave and Casanova happened during that time period. I met keyboardist/songwriter/sax player Greg Albright during those years, and he was a part of some of those bands. I took some time to “air out” and start recognizing all the blessings in my life. I think the eleven years I took off actually helped me spiritually.

In the period of 1967-1991 you had composed hundreds of songs, several dozen of which were performed by the many bands you led or joined. Sadly, those years of your career are mostly documented on dusty demos and soundboard tapes and in the memories of those who were lucky enough to hear you play live. This seems a bit tragic, and would be enough to make many people bitter.

ABEL: I consider tragedy to be what happened to Michael Bloomfield, Richard Kermode, Dougie Rauch, Jimi, Jaco Pastorius, Jim Morrison…. the list goes on and on. I try not to think of what might have been, I just give thanks that I still have my Family, Health, and the God given gift of Music. Being bitter is useless, besides I’m still here and I’m back! (smile)

How would you finish the sentence “One thing that definitely held me back during my first go-round in music was…”

ABEL: My stubbornness. Not wanting to compromise my ideals…I think this hurt me many times in the past. Also, I’m naturally a very shy and quiet person and have always just let my music and playing ability speak for me. Part of “playing the game” is knowing how to go along and get along and having the gift of gab, yet I tend to avoid people that I don’t know. I was never a good “schmoozer,” nor did I feel comfortable being fake just to get ahead.

The years passed, and you had done your best to put music behind you. You found some other passions to focus your energy on during that time.

I was lucky enough to hang out with you when I lived in S.F., Abel. You should tell the Café readers about your salsa dancing…you are a real pro at it!

ABEL: Eddie, as you know, I needed something to fill the void of music, so I took up salsa lessons. I danced at least twice a week, mainly at Kimballs’ Carnival in Emeryville, but also Cocomo’s, Alberto’s in Mountain View and a few other places. I used it to express my heart and soul. It was great fun for me, and definitely gave me a way to release my crazy energy and keep in shape. I gave it up when I got the itch to play music again.

How did you find out about the song “Every Morning,” the hit by alternative pop-rock band Sugar Ray that incorporated the “la – la la la” chorus of “Suavecito?”

ABEL: In early ’99 I was down on my luck and things were going very badly for me. I went to a church in the Haight and I prayed for the Lord to guide me, and also for Him to show me a way back to music, but only if it was in HIS will… I prayed for another chance. About three months later, I went to Ron Sansoe’s* house to pick up a royalty check, and he told me that he was in negotiations with Sugar Ray’s people to use part of “Suavecito” in a song. I figured it would never happen. You know, José, throughout the years so many things were promised that never panned out. A few weeks went by, and then Ron contacted me to tell me it was a done deal. He showed me the paperwork confirming the use of “Suavecito’” for “Every Morning,” and gave me a CD copy of the song. I started seeing Sugar Ray on VH-1 and other TV programs, so I knew the song was out. Next thing I know, it’s on the radio and it’s a HIT in heavy rotation. My first “Every Morning” Royalty Statement came in January, 2000, and I was very pleasantly surprised! (smiles) A few months later, Sugar Ray invited us to their show at the Warfield in S.F. on St. Patrick’s Day. “Every Morning” was an event I was very thankful for…it came at a very good time for me.[ * editor: Malo’s former co-manager Ron Sansoe has administered their publishing since 1991]

“Every Morning” was a massive hit and earned you a BMI Pop Awards Citation of Achievement for having co-written one of the most-played pop songs of 1999. What did this mean to you?

ABEL: Just a one-tenth writing share of “Every Morning” erased my debt, replaced my old car, helped me re-purchase guitar gear and plan the Zarate Pollace Project, and eventually helped pay for the “Soul Redemption” CD. BMI’s awards dinner was a black-tie event in Beverly Hills, and I found myself in the company of all these great songwriters. Richard Bean and I shared a table with Brian and Eddie Holland of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who had written some of my favorite Motown songs. As I watched Shania Twain accept awards, and Rob Thomas and Itaal Shur for “Smooth,” I hoped that “Every Morning” might have created a window of opportunity for me.

You were planning a strategy to re-enter the circle of pop songwriters?

ABEL: I was of the mind that if I could write a couple of new hits, then it would finance any other musical endeavors and projects that I had. With the higher profile that “Every Morning” had given Malo, I had talked with Pablo about writing together again, and then called Jorge at the Santana Offices about the idea, but he never got back to me. After that I worked on a wide range of new songs, both on my own and together with a loosely knit group of musician and producer friends. This was during the boy band era, so we were writing songs in that style, plus other music that could be played on pop radio. I tried every industry connection I had but got no takers. My BMI contact told me that trying to break into the business at that point as a songwriter was nearly impossible.

Would you embrace a Malo reunion concert in the near future? Do you ever get the urge to sit in with Malo?

ABEL: In April ‘02 , Jorge, Arcelio, Richard Bean, Rich Spremich, trumpeter Tom Poole and I (with Pablo along onstage for moral support but not playing), joined the current Malo band for a “Malo reunion” set. It was part of “Kings of Latin Rock,” a benefit concert for San Francisco’s Mission High School (a school a lot of us had attended). It was my first time on stage since 1991 and I agreed to participate at the special request of my niece and nephew, who were too young to have ever seen me perform. I looked at that show as a one-time thing.

It’s just not in me anymore to do another Malo or Sapo project. In the end it’s like Tom Coster said: you have to play you, and no matter what you play, your heart is revealed. I need to keep creating, to play fresh, new music, and there’s no point in going back.

What made you decide that you wanted to play music for the public again? What brought you back to the stage after so many years?

ABEL: I gave up on the notion of being famous long ago. I felt that I had to let go of music and focus on other things, but every time I would hear a beautiful melody or a song that brought me peace it made me question myself. Music is what I do best…was I going to waste the gift that God gave me, or brush myself off and try again? Through the eleven years that I was musically inactive, I got a lot of flack from my friends who thought I should start playing again. I would go to see Karl Perazzo when he performed with his band Avance, and he, along with Roger Glenn, might have been the ones that gave me the most grief (laughs). Encouragement from my nephew and niece Anthony and Niki was also one of the most important factors. The biggest impetus of all, though, was 9/11. I was working in an office building in San Francisco’s Financial District and I heard about it in the elevator. We went upstairs and checked CNN online, and there was the terrible news. Everyone in my office was devastated, and for weeks there was a feeling of uncertainty. Most people I knew felt a real urgency…all of a sudden their reality was being questioned. During that time I stayed close to my family, especially the kids, and came to the realization that it was time for me to come out of musical retirement. 9/11 was a real wakeup call. It shook me out of my fog and made me determined to put aside all of my disappointments and try to add some healing to the world. That realization set things in motion, and eventually led to the beginnings of the Zarate Pollace Project.

Can you talk about the significance of naming your CD “Soul Redemption,” and the vibrant, mystical artwork that adorns the CD booklet?

ABEL: Soul Redemption was what I was after in life. I wanted the chance to try again and redeem myself to my friends, family and fans. It was about finding the courage to step up and get back in the game. As for the artwork, Mari Hall’s painting “Siddhartha” just felt like it had a connection to my personal journey.

As you know I am a fan of the Zarate Pollace project. How did you and Michelle meet, and what “ah ha” moment propelled you to decide a musical project was in the offing?

ABEL: A couple of weeks after reconnecting with Rich Spremich at the Malo reunion, I went to a jam session in San Mateo that Rich had organized. Rich had proposed starting a band with me. He wanted me to check out some players that he knew, and one of them was Michelle Pollace. I noticed Michelle’s talent right away, Oscar, but it actually took two rehearsals for her and I to connect. I had a couple of business lunches with Michelle and Spremich to discuss strategies, and it was clear that Michelle was hungry to do something a little more challenging. We’ve become the closest of friends, and musically we really do think very similarly. She is the backbone of ZPP, and I’m very thankful to have her as my bandmate. The girl ROCKS!

Michelle has a broad musical background, playing several instruments with experience in many genres of music. Michelle’s familiarity with jazz and Latin music are obvious when you hear her comp and solo, but there also seems to be a stately, timeless aesthetic that she has brought to ZPP’s music, possibly drawn from her involvement with Indonesian gamelan and classical music? Can you tell us what unique contributions and qualities Michelle brings to the band as a person and a musician?

ABEL: Michelle is quite an intelligent and well-spoken woman…she’s my dear friend, and this project probably wouldn’t have lasted if not for her. She straightens me out on some of my harmonic ideas. Sometimes she’ll start a song and I’ll finish it, and it works the other way, too. She’s also a terrific arranger, so it’s a great partnership. We fill each other’s musical voids!

The percussion section on ZPP’s “Soul Redemption” included a couple of old friends who were important to your return to performing. Can you talk about your history with John Santos and Paul van Wageningen?

ABEL: I briefly played in a Cuban tipica group with John Santos, with John Calloway on flute, back in the 70’s…I played tres parts on the guitar. I knew John from the neighborhood, and Raul also brought him to a couple of Sapo rehearsals, as Raul & John were very tight friends in those days. John, along with Ray Obiedo, provided counsel for me when I was planning my return to music. He gave me the ins and outs of doing an indie record, and also hooked me up with Greg Landau, who helped us with the production, mixing, mastering and other aspects of “Soul Redemption.” Paul van Wageningen and I go way back to the late 70’s. Soon after Paul arrived in S.F. with a road company of “Oh, Calcutta,” he walked into Ivan Alexander’s club in S.F. and asked to sit in with my group The Force. My bandmates and I could tell right away that Paul was something special. I recommended him to Coke, Roger Glenn, Pete and Ray Obiedo, and he’s now one of the Bay Area’s top drummers. When I would run into Paul during my musical hiatus he was always disappointed that I wasn’t playing. [ed.Paul van Wageningen, lost a battle with cancer in November 2012. He is mourned by countless fellow musicians, fans, and friends]

Can you introduce our readers to your current rhythm section, drummer Edwin Santos and bassist Ray Uribes?

ABEL: I met Edwin Santos when he was 19 years old. He’s a solid drummer, with the potential to be really great. He played with me in The Force as well as in Coke’s band in 1977 – 78. I’m glad to have him behind me again today. I met Ray Uribes through Edwin, as they play in other bands together. The bassist on our CD, Curtis Ohlson, worked with Ray Charles and Buddy Rich, so Ray had big shoes to fill in the bass spot. He has proven to be a solid player with a good work ethic, and Michelle and I are both really happy that he’s come on board with ZPP.

Your vocal style was much like your lead guitar playing: it had clarity, purpose, sincerity, and urgency. By not currently singing, how does that affect your current playing?

ABEL: If anything, Roy, it adds more fuel to my guitar playing, because I can’t open my big mouth! (laughs)


Your knowledge of chord structures and progressions has come a long way since your Naked Lunch days to your current Zarate Pollace Project. Did you gain this increase from hard work and study, by others showing you, by divine enhancement of gifts from our Creator, or just simply some of each?

ABEL: Roy, as you know, my talent and gift come from God. People have always told me that I “hear” music very well. I have taken bits and pieces from fellow musicians over the years, but never had any formal training. I just rely on my heart to guide me through the melodies, and my imagination to create the songs.

Can you tell us a little about what’s ahead for ZPP? You’ve been playing some new material lately…could these be some of the songs that will be part of your next CD?

ABEL: Well, we’ve been performing some new songs that could make their way onto our next CD. “Ondas do Mar” is sort of a soulful Fourplay medium gospel tune with a nice outro, “Epiphany” starts with a batucada, and “Innocencia” is a throwback to my Santana roots, a very bluesy and melodic cha-cha. Then there’s our newest, “Passionflower” which is kind of Carlton-esque, a very happy tune. Maybe the most significant of our new songs to me is “The Crucible.” It’s a composition of mine inspired by soul-searching and the brutal discomfort of self-examination. It symbolizes a personal pilgrimage, the struggle to find what is true for one’s self, and finally victory and redemption, hopefully. (smiles) As far as developments with the band, we’re actually starting pre-production for our second CD, and will also be finishing some arrangements and a couple of brand new songs in the coming weeks. We’ll be talking a little time off in the near future, as Michelle and her husband Rob are expecting a baby in early March ‘08, but we’ll be ready to hit it again come mid-April, with thanks to Michelle’s family! ZPP is planning to add a percussionist soon, too, but it’s hard to find a good all-around player who isn’t limited to just salsa or Afro-Cuban styles. As Carlos and I once discussed, it’s important to play with band members who share your vision.

Do you have plans to tour nationally with ZPP?

ABEL: As soon as we find the right management, I would love to take the band out on the road. If anyone is interested, you can write to us at:

Are there any musical artists you’ve been following through the years who you feel are deserving of wider recognition? How about any new up-and-coming people who really impress you?

I respect people like John Santos, Rebeca Mauleon, Michael Spiro, Ray Obiedo and Wayne Wallace for their musicality and artistry…I strive to be more like them. I listen to just about everything… I really liked Norah Jones when she first hit, and I also admire her for her outlook on life and celebrity. There are a couple of Cuban artists who are favorites of mine: Raul Torres (I like his Cuban/Brazilian mix and pop arrangements), and Hanny, an excellent singer and songwriter. I also really like Jamie Cullum’s music…he’s like a hipper and younger Harry Connick to me.

Is there a pipe dream that you hold in your heart – something that you and the band would love to accomplish?

ABEL: Well, it would be way cool if ZPP got invited to “open” for Santana on a few State Side gigs. (smiles) One of my deepest wishes is that this interview will generate enough interest in what I’m doing, that maybe Carlos and I would have an opportunity to play together… he’d sound great on some of our tunes, and it would give us both an opportunity to do some inspired playing.

You have a talented nephew, Anthony Sharkey-Zarate, a guitarist whose skills you have mentored and nurtured. The young man is currently attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. What are your hopes for him, and what advice have you given him about the music industry?

ABEL: Anthony can play circles around me – now he’s a jazz guy! He’s got Di Meola speed, Martino chops, and McLaughlin theory, but he still loves the blues. Coincidentally, Anthony had a jazz quintet in high school with Michael Shrieve’s nephew Max…nothing serious, just messing around. When he decides to reveal himself, San Francisco will have a bright new jazz guitarist on the rise! I just tell him to keep it real and follow his heart.

In early 2000, the S.F. “Chronicle’s” veteran music critic Joel Selvin acknowledged you in a concert review that touched on the history of the Malo band. With the passage of time, your contributions to the band seemed to have been glossed over, and history seemed to have been rewritten to show Malo as the work of one or two people. How important to you was Selvin’s acknowledgement? What “behind the scenes” contributions did you make to Malo that most listeners/fans were probably not aware of?


ABEL: The Malo sound would most definitely have been different had I not joined the band. Most of the first LP was re-written and arranged by me with the help of Pablo Tellez. There are huge segments of the music that would not be there without my participation. So, it was nice for Joel Selvin to acknowledge me in that article. He later e-mailed me and told me that it was prompted by something David Rubinson told him! David said I was one of the “main engines” in the band.

Roy Murray has said that over the three years that he played with you, you “would write music almost every day like a Bach or Handel did, in so many styles and riffs from the primitive to the complex.” In “VOLR,” Jim McCarthy spoke of some projects that you were involved in post-Malo that sounded really promising and have never been released. Do you have any of those masters, and would you like to see those old recordings or your old compositions released?

ABEL: I think it’s a great idea, however, I don’t have any of the masters or remember a lot of the old tunes, so I’d need some help putting together a compilation like that. Back in the day for me it was just “write ‘em and forget ‘em.” I hardly ever re-do old songs, I just write new ones. From time to time, I have thought about digging up some old tunes, and re-doing them… of course, I’d need a strong vocalist and the time to re-arrange the songs. Richard Bean has a ton of my material, and there are other songs that not too many people have heard: some from Pablo Tellez’s 1980’s projects, and some that I did with my friend Greg Albright as well.

How about adding a discography to your website? Also, of all that you have recorded what are you most proud of?

ABEL: I’m proud and thankful for “Soul Redemption.”

[editor: Abel’s released discography is brief: Naked Lunch – “Naked Lunch” (2009, World In Sound)[issue of previously unreleased material from 1969 to 1972, including tracks from Banda de Jesus]; Zarate Pollace Project – “Soul Redemption” (2005, Zarate Pollace Project); John Dote “Hooked On Themes – World’s Greatest Themes” (1987, Alonso Records); Bobo (Willie Bobo) – “Bobo” (1979, Columbia); Coke Escovedo – “Comin’ At Ya” (1976, Mercury); Luis Gasca – “For Those Who Chant” (uncredited) (1972, Blue Thumb); Malo – “Malo” (1972, Warner Brothers); Abel’s compositions also appear on: Sugar Ray – “14:59” (1999, Atlantic); Mingo (Mingo Lewis) – “Flight Never Ending” (uncredited) (1976, CBS); Malo – “Dos” (1972, Warner Brothers). Abel’s songs and performances from these original recordings also appear in numerous anthologies and “cover versions” by other artists.]

Can you name a couple of your proudest moments in music, overall?

ABEL: One was seeing Jon Secada, Tito Puente, Arturo Sandoval, and Nestor Torres on TV at the Kennedy Center Awards performing “Suavecito” in front of Colin Powell and Al Gore. Another was sharing the stage with Cal Tjader and Dizzy at Avery Fisher Hall in NYC.

Abel, please accept our sincere thanks for giving so generously of your time and spirit in this interview. We’d like to close with a philosophical question.

Thanks for taking the time to read my mail, and thanks, from the heart, for becoming part of the Moonflower Cafe patronage. Can you tell us what type of message you try to express to your fans and listeners in the body and soul of the music you create? Some artists express and promote positivity, brotherhood, world peace, oneness, anti-racism, etc. What are your mission and your message in life as a professional guitar player? Peace.

ABEL: We live in uncertain times, Scott. It’s important for people to become aware of the things that threaten our planet and humanity. After 9/11 I felt the urgency of trying to make a difference in the world. They say it’s the prayers and chants of nuns and monks hidden away in the hills that hold this world together…it’s the vibration of those prayers that keep it intact. I believe that music with a positive vibration can help to heal and awaken people. This is the primary reason I came back to play. I love my family and friends, and through my music I want to try and instill some hope in their hearts. I want to be one of those who fights to put goodness back in life, and to spread the message of God’s faith in us. I’d like to thank Gil Vera, Moonflower Café’s webmaster, for allowing and facilitating this interview, and a special Thank You to Rafael Saldana for helping Michelle and I with the Soul Redemption CD! Thank you all so very much. PEACE!

(editor’s note: the Zarate Pollace Project’s CD “Soul Redemption” can be purchased at ;

for some of Abel’s great early sounds, check out the Naked Lunch release in mp3 at

or full CD with historical booklet at ).

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This is a re-mix and re-posting of a detailed piece on Abel Zarate; one of the very best musicians to come out of the Bay Area Latin Rock confluence in it’s explosive heyday.

We are proud to explore the life and times of this exemplary guitarist and songwriter. Who also contributed heavily to the compositions and sound of the early Malo group and their first dynamic recording. Abel has also been involved musically with Luis Gasca, Willie Bobo, Attitude, Jet, Wizardz, Sapo, Casanova, Suave, Mingo Lewis Band plus a projected band with Gregg Rolie as well as the more current Zarate Pollace Project..

“In Carlos’ Shadow – A Conversation with Abel Zarate – Part 1″

Questions compiled and edited by Jose Sierra
Produced by Gilberto Vera

Hosted and coordinated by José Sierra on behalf of Voices Of Latin Rock

Voices Of Latin Rock is honored to welcome Abel Zarate of the “Global Jazz” group Zarate Pollace Project, which released it’s debut CD “Soul Redemption” in 2005. Abel, an original member of Malo, is widely known as co-author of “Suavecito,” the Latin rock movement’s most popular and enduring love ballad, as well as a respected guitarist whose lyrical tone and improvisational skills have led him to perform at some of the world’s most prestigious music venues. In a remarkable but frustrating career filled with false starts, this guitarist, songwriter and vocalist par excellence labored for years alongside friends and bandmates from Santana’s extended musical family, only occasionally entering the spotlight and never gaining the full recognition deserved by such a triple-threat talent. Few are better qualified than Abel to describe the San Francisco scene that gave birth to the Latin rock sound of Santana and Malo. With special thanks to Roy Murray for historical background on Abel’s early days, we’ll ask Abel to paint a portrait of that scene and to tell us of his life and career. 
[editor’s note: several Café readers submitted questions about the history of what Roy Murray calls the “Malo musical-go-round” of personnel changes. So that we may focus on other aspects of Abel’s career in this interview, we direct readers to the book “Voices of Latin Rock”, also referred to in this interview as “VOLR,” particularly pages 123,134 and 146, for that Malo information]

Abel, many music fans may think of you as an enigma, a mystery. Rare among artists of your ability, your unreleased discography is roughly twenty times as extensive as your official one, so your accomplishments are often the subject of rumor and debate. Even in the earliest days of your career you could lay claim to some pretty spectacular distinctions: the only guitarist to win an audition over Carlos Santana (though you would downplay this) and the only artist to be simultaneously featured in “Tiger Beat” teen pop magazine and nominated in the “Playboy” Jazz Poll. Proclaimed by former Malo manager Chris Wong as “one of the great prodigies of that era,” you’ve had hits on the pop and jazz charts and performed with some of the world’s greatest musicians, yet you toiled, forgotten, in the work force while much lesser talents showcased their multi-million dollar “cribs.” We’re glad that you’re playing music again, and that you’ve joined us to share your untold story!

ABEL: First, some disclaimers: I never actually saw the “Playboy” Poll, Chris Wong may have been the one that told me about that one. I don’t remember the “Tiger Beat” magazine article either. When it comes to the early 70’s it seems my friends remember more than I do (smiles). On a serious note, I couldn’t talk about this stuff for many, many years… the heartache, let-downs, and disappointments were just too painful, but it’s all good now. I spent eleven years trying to forget, but as they say “your past is never far behind, and the more you run from it, the more you run into it.” So let the dice roll…

During your youth in the early 60’s, you sang do-wop and soul harmonies on the corner of “funky” Folsom Street. Describe the experience…

ABEL: Now I feel old! My friend and long-time conga drummer Jose Marrero lived in the Bernal Dwellings Projects on Army Street at the time and ran with some guys who were pretty badass. A lot of them were real cool after you got to know them, though, real soulful cats. It was common for them to hang and sing soul songs and do-wop in the evenings for entertainment. The do-wop singing also happened at party gatherings, not just on street corners, and it wasn’t just on Folsom Street…it was all throughout the Mission District. Just some old-school fun. I witnessed the changing of the times. I caught part of that duck-tail, cigarettes rolled up on the sleeve, jacked-up Chevys, and pachuco “mun” era and watched it segue into the 60’s, when people started “turning on” and ideals began to shift and change…

What influence did your growing up in San Francisco’s Mission District have on your musical development?

ABEL: I fell in with the guys in the barrio, most of my friends were Latin. There weren’t many Filipinos in my school, so they thought I was a “Lat-Asian” or some sort of Mexican/Japanese mix because of my last name. I joined a neighborhood band called the Righteous Ones and some of the guys made sure I got turned on to all the new music that was popular with the vatos and pachucos…that’s how I got into the Motown sound, and learned about Chico Hamilton (with Gabor Szabo on guitar). Because I lived right in the heart of the Mission there was also lots of Latin music playing everywhere, so the rhythms and “feel” of the music were embedded in me. Because it was also right smack in the middle of the Summer of Love, the other form of music that I was exposed was the blues…not so much rock, but the blues. Discovering music got me off the path of street fighting and mischief that my hard-case friends were following. It changed my whole chemistry, and I chose to leave that ignorance behind. When I was about twelve years old I met a guy named Rick Tiffer at a street hangout. Rick was half-white and half-Puerto Rican, about six years older than me, and we became good friends. He was kind of ahead of everyone else because he was listening to all the hip music: jazz, blues, Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo. Rick used to play bass at garage parties and I’d sit, listen and watch with the other neighborhood kids. Three years later he would become the first bassist in my band Naked Lunch. Another early mentor and friend was Danny Williamson, who played sax in a band that the Righteous Ones used to gig with, Freddie and the Stone Souls, with Freddie “Stone” Stewart and Gregg Errico, who were soon to help form Sly & the Family Stone. Danny lived in the Mission, too, and he would invite me over and turn me on to music that he thought would help my playing. He told me stories of Carlos Santana and Ralph Wash, a hot neighborhood guitarist that Carlos used to jam with, and said that he thought I had the talent to be just like them.

MC: What was it about Gabor Szabo’s playing that caught your ear and moved you?

ABEL: There was something mystical about his sound, and he was very lyrical. Because I’m an ear, gut, and heart player it was easier for me to emulate Gabor’s style over someone like Tal Farlow, Kenny Burrell or Barney Kessel. I didn’t know about Charlie Christian until way later. (smiles)

You’ve said that your other big early influence on guitar was Michael Bloomfield. What was special about Bloomfield? What set him apart from other blues players?

ABEL: Bloomfield played with a lot of feeling, and he put his whole body language into each note. He could make you feel what he was feeling, and that really spoke to me. Plus, the sound of his Les Paul was just awesome! Later on, I went to see guys like B.B. and Albert King play at the Fillmore West, but it was Bloomfield’s sound that first pulled me into the blues, even before Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

So you shared influences with Carlos Santana, who has also cited both Szabo and Bloomfield as inspirations?

ABEL: Yes, like Carlos, those two guitarists caught my ear early on. They had a lot to do with how my playing and Carlos’ playing evolved, I believe. If you listen to the track “Another Country” that Bloomfield recorded with the band Electric Flag, the guitar solo is straight-up Dorian Mode Latin. The first time I heard Carlos live at the Avalon Ballroom at age 15 1/2, I immediately recognized the influence and what he was doing with it. Carlos’ solo on “Shades of Time” showed me the way to blend my guitar influences. Up to that point I really hadn’t narrowed it down, but afterward I knew that I wanted to sound like Bloomfield, Szabo, and Santana, for starters!

In your teen years, you spent a lot of time in the audience at the Fillmore and Winterland when you weren’t playing, even meeting Jimi Hendrix once. Can you share the Hendrix story and any other memories of the atmosphere and experiences of being an audience member at those venues?

ABEL: Well, you know, I was 15, and my friends and I were hanging behind the stage at Winterland one night. When Jimi came off the stage after his set, I ran right into him as he was heading back to the dressing room. He just smiled and said “Hey, little brother!” and I was like “Wow, man, that’s really cool!” (smiles) As far as the atmosphere of the Fillmore and Winterland, I remember the scent of patchouli oil, incense, the far-out light shows, and all the “beautiful” people hanging out. It was like being in a Beatles fantasy with all the mod ladies dressed to kill.

What other artists influenced your development as a musician/songwriter/singer?

ABEL: Little Anthony, Santo & Johnny, the Ventures, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, and every soul artist in between. I really dug the Young Rascals… those guys rocked, and I loved their main singer/songwriter, Felix Cavaliere. The Beatles absolutely floored me when they hit…I loved their songwriting and Paul McCartney’s singing. Vocally, I’ve always been a ballad guy, and Gilbert O’Sullivan was someone else whose voice I admired during that time. As far as guitarists, there have been many. I’ve listened to just about everyone: in addition to Szabo, Bloomfield and Carlos, I would say Jim Hall, Pat Martino, Joe Pass, Jeff Beck, Freddy King, Django Reinhardt, Peter Green, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green,and of course the great Wes Montgomery, we can’t forget him. George Benson came much later, but at one point I listened to a lot of George B., as well as Lee Ritenour. I gravitate toward the more bluesy/melodic players, because I’ve always been drawn to strong melodies. Larry Carlton, Paul Jackson Jr., Robben Ford and Pat Martino have really influenced my playing lately… my current sound is somewhere between these three great guitarists, and I’m interested in further exploring Carlton and Jeff Golub’s blues/jazz blend.

What are your favorite Carlos Santana solos?

ABEL: In no particular order: “Incident at Neshabur,” “Se A Cabo,” “Awakenings (with Narada Michael Walden),” “Samba Pa Ti,” “Flame Sky,” “Full Moon,” “Blues for Salvador,” and “Love is You.” I love the way Carlos plays ballads.


You’ve said that Carlos Santana’s impact on your life went way beyond being an early guitar influence.

ABEL: It would be good for people to know the depth of my respect and admiration for the man. We grew up in the same ‘hood and knew the same people, only he was five and a half years ahead of me… Carlos was a role model for me, to be sure. I met Carlos in the late 60’s, and even then he was concerned about enhancing life and being purposeful. I think his life shows evidence of that. After meeting Carlos, I was so impressed by his demeanor that it helped shape my purpose. Up until then I was just in it for the glitz and chicks, but Carlos made me realize that there was a higher calling if we just looked deeper within. I watched the man’s transformation out of a life of drugs, sex and rock ’n’ roll and saw so many others fall…so yes, he had an impact on my life. Carlos also definitely influenced my convictions and directions in music. Carlos and Richard Kermode were the ones that taught me how to really listen to jazz. I will always have an admiration for Carlos, because he was an older peer from the neighborhood, had the conviction and the determination to succeed, plus he was an innovator in terms of what he was listening to (for a rock guitarist). I was awed by his record collection when I went to his home for the first time. Carlos gave me confidence that someone from the neighborhood could cross over and make it if they worked hard at it.

Hi, Abel. This is truly an honor to speak with you. Congratulations on your new band and the great review you received on your last gig. At what age did you start playing the guitar, and do you play other instruments?

ABEL: Hi Scott, I play a little bass and piano and I mess around on drums and percussion, but the guitar is my main Lady and Axe. I began playing at age 13 ½. Thanks!

How were you first drawn to or introduced to the guitar? What did the guitar mean to you in your youth? You must have practiced obsessively to make such rapid progress!

ABEL: In the mid 60’s, many of my friends were in or forming bands, and guitar was the instrument of choice for most. I loved the way George Harrison played, so I also gravitated toward being a guitarist. It gave me a feeling of self-worth and a way to express myself. At first it was just strumming chords and singing, but once I heard Gabor Szabo on Chico Hamilton’s track “Conquistadores” (later covered by Santana) I knew I wanted to be a soloist as well. Yes, I spent a lot of time indoors practicing and listening to records to cop licks in my teens, just like a lot of other guitar players.

Are you entirely self-taught or did you ever have any formal lessons on guitar, in music or jazz theory? If so, with whom did you study and where?

ABEL: Oscar, I’m strictly an ear and heart player. I came from the “School of Street Music” and to this day my knowledge of music theory and harmony are limited. Fortunately, I’ve always had a good sense of “feel” and a natural ability to hear things. When I did the record with Willie Bobo, the engineer was Hank Sanicola, Jr., whose dad had worked for Sinatra. Hank commented on my ability to hear the right parts. I will say though, that my good friend Ray Obiedo helped me to understand certain things about music and jazz stylings.

Has Raul Rekow always been the positive, smiling, happy, person he presents himself as on the stage during performances? He appears to always to be having a great time and loves what he’s doing as a true master conguero.

ABEL: As far back as I can remember, Raul has always had that smile… I think he just truly appreciates every opportunity he gets to play his drums, and I respect him for that.

Have you ever played with Carlos or any of the Santana band members other than Raul?

ABEL: Yes, Scott, I’ve had the honor of playing with Carlos and several of the Santana band members. I first played with Richard Kermode and Pablo Tellez in Malo, both of whom later joined Santana. I also had the pleasure of performing or jamming with all of the “Woodstock era” Santana band members except for Michael Shrieve. I’ve played alongside or jammed with Neal Schon, Coke and Pete Escovedo, Armando Peraza, Karl Perazzo, Marcus Malone, Victor Pantoja, David Margen, not to forget Gus Rodriguez and Danny De Haro from the early Santana Blues Band. Although there were a few inaccuracies in the “Voices of Latin Rock” book, the one thing that bothered me is that I was quoted as having played with Michael Shrieve at one of Luis Gasca’s gigs at Andre’s club in North Beach, but in truth I was only there as a spectator. I’ve never had the chance to play with Michael and have only spoken to the man on a couple of occasions


Can you tell us about your experiences playing with Carlos?

ABEL: The first time was when Malo had just come home from our first tour. We had been on the East Coast – New York, Connecticut, Philly, opening for a few different headliners, and had returned home to San Francisco to play Winterland for Bill Graham. Carlos sat in with us on my song “Latin Bugaloo.” He took a solo and then I took a brief one afterward. Carlos was on the other side of the stage from me, so I could barely make out what he was playing, but I was thrilled to be performing with him. It was a total delight for me.

The other time was more informal. Michael Carabello took me to Carlos’ house on Mt. Tamalpais just before I was to fly to L.A. to audition for Willie Bobo. Michael had wanted to re-establish his friendship with Carlos, and this was also an opportunity for Carlos to give me advice on working with Willie. He told me to be open to the experience, and see what doors it might open for me. After a while, we all went downstairs to the studio that Carlos had built and the three of us jammed. Carlos started riffing on the bass, with me on guitar and Carabello on drums…it was a song from “Inner Secrets” which we messed around with for a few minutes. Then Carlos and I switched instruments with me laying down a “Song of the Wind”-type bass groove for him to play over. Later, Carlos jumped on drums and he and Carabello messed around with some rhythms and chants. It was nothing serious or heavy, we were just having some fun.

Beyond the jams you’ve mentioned, can you tell us what your relationship has been like with Carlos over the years? You’ve talked about feeling that your life was interconnected with his.

ABEL: First of all, my family lived within blocks of Carlos’ family. I met Carlos for the first time at that Righteous Ones band audition, and a few times after that in Golden Gate Park, but I also grew up with most of his high school chums and would run into him in the neighborhood from time to time. My family moved, and where did we end up living but right down the block from where the Santana Band lived, near Precita Park! I’d see those guys driving down the hill many times and would wave to them. It’s amazing how the people surrounding me in life and music also had ties with Carlos. The Marcus Malone Band, which I was in, was rehearsing out at Playland at the Beach (a seaside amusement park where there were some rehearsal spaces) two doors down from the Santana Band. I remember once that Carlos came over and peeked in because we were playing “Fried Neckbones.” Gus Rodriguez was playing bass with us, and we had Jimmy Martinez on timbales.

As the years passed, Carlos and I would have the connection through his brother Jorge (leader and co-guitarist of Malo). Carlos came to one of Malo’s early rehearsals. He was kind, gracious and very encouraging to us, which I later learned was the norm for him. Then right around the time of Malo’s debut album release, Jorge, Pablo Tellez and Rich Spremich (Malo’s drummer) and I went to visit Carlos at his home on Mt. Tam. We hung out for a bit, and Carlos turned us on to Gabor Szabo’s “High Contrast” record, which had just been released. Carlos mentioned that Larry Coryell was staying with him at that time. I think his friendship with Larry is what led him to the John McLaughlin connection.

Another time, Mingo Lewis invited me to a Santana rehearsal in Pacific Heights (a wealthy neighborhood near San Francisco’s Presidio). Carlos and I talked for a bit. He acknowledged my guitar playing and seemed genuinely interested in my career, what I was going to do next. Carlos was consistently friendly toward me and we got along great. We’d run into each other at clubs like Bojangles, Basin Street, and Sneaky Pete’s here in S.F. There were a few occasions when he invited me to call him or to get together, but I never followed up. We haven’t seen each other or spoken now since the early 80’s. Many compared me to Carlos early on… they said I had the same expressive feeling that he did, which I took as a compliment. Because I carried some of the same “fire” that Carlos had, people like Mingo and Coke always tried to push me to be more “out front.” Meanwhile, though, I wanted to move more toward jazz and establish my own voice on the guitar. For years I actually had to battle consciously to avoid sounding like Carlos. My friend Alfonso Frias once said, “When Carlos plays his guitar it’s like the last time he’s ever gonna play it!” When I jammed with Carlos in his home I got to witness that first hand… the man attacks the instrument with fierce passion. (smiles) Nowadays with so many trying to emulate his style and sound, it’s important to remember that at some point you really do have to find your own voice and move away from copying your influences too exactly. Carlos’ fingerprints are so indelible. This is why I chose to play global music, which incorporates a little of everything… and why I chose not to play too much overdriven, “sustain-y” guitar on my CD with Michelle Pollace, “Soul Redemption.”

Abel, can you tell us how you would come to be known as one of the most stylish dressers in the S.F. music scene? Who was Donnell Hatter, and what was his role in preparing you for success?

ABEL: Donnell was a street hustler from San Francisco’s Western Addition who envisioned himself as manager of my band Naked Lunch. He told me that if I wanted to be a star I had to look the part, and encouraged me to think about how clothing and hairstyle changes could make me more marketable. It was partly a show business decision, trying to capitalize on trends that were going on.


At age 16 you became lead vocalist, songwriter, and lead guitar for the group Naked Lunch. Did your focus on the band at such an early age make you grow up too fast or deprive you of some of the normal high school experiences?

ABEL: Absolutely, I missed out on most of the teen dating, and normal things that 15 – 16 year-olds do. I was already playing in blues clubs and doing concerts, and I had little time to hang with my friends and play sports or go to bar-b-ques, but in hindsight I think it also kept me out of trouble and put me on a better path. Besides, in the late 70’s I made up for my lost party time…I hit the clubs almost every night of the week!

Naked Lunch teamed you, Roy Murray and Rich Spremich with organist Ludwig “Fist” Stevens (who had also briefly replaced Greg Allman in the Allman Brothers band). Rick Tiffer played bass at first, later replaced by Charles Fletcher. Naked Lunch famously upstaged Creedence Clearwater at Fillmore West, and opened for Ray Charles and B.B. King. You had a two-man horn section and Roy describes the sound as “powerful and straight at you.” It must have been quite a potent band! Bill Graham almost signed you to his new record label, Fillmore Records. Oh, and what was it about William S. Burroughs’ novel “Naked Lunch” that fired your imagination?

ABEL: Naked Lunch had a raw sound: sort of Electric Flag meets Santana with a little Blues Image thrown in! Roy Murray actually chose the name Naked Lunch…I had no clue who William S. Burroughs was back then. Our horn section consisted of Bob Olivera on tenor and alto sax, from a musical family (with very good chops), and Roy, who played trumpet, trombone, flute and soprano sax. José Marrero was on congas. We made our mark, but due to our young arrogance and some very bad choices the Fillmore Records people dropped us. After that, things weren’t looking good for the band. Naked Lunch was pretty much defunct, so I took Chris Wong up on his offer to see Jorge about forming Malo.

There seem to have been a lot of good feelings and a sense of excitement when Malo began. I remember a story about practice sessions that Malo held right after the band was formed, where you guys would play in a pitch black rehearsal room. Was this done to get everyone to “bond” musically? It’s an image that has always stuck with me.

ABEL: At that point, Luis Gasca was conducting the rehearsals at The Heliport in Sausalito. It was his idea for us to try playing in the dark, so we would rehearse to the glow of our amplifier power lights and a couple of smoldering sticks of incense. It was for atmosphere, because at that time improvisational “free” playing was new to us. That’s how we rehearsed the whole middle section of “Peace” with the trumpet solo and the Szabo-style guitar interlude.

Hello Abel, Peace and Blessings, and many best wishes to you and yours. On “Suavecito,” both the guitars sound so similar to me. It’s hard to tell who’s who. They were so masterfully played and arranged. Who played what parts?

ABEL: In truth, what you’re hearing on “Suavecito” is mainly me. I’m playing all of the “ear candy” guitar licks and fills, Jorge’s guitar is more of a chord pad underneath. The two guitars are more equally blended towards the end when we do the octave “call and answer” parts. Thanks, Freddie!

Abel, when it comes to Malo’s music can you recommend the songs that really showcase your guitar playing, so I can really put my ears to those songs and listen for your guitar riffs? Thanks for your help.

ABEL: Sure, Park. I would say the raga-guitar interlude on “Peace” showcases where my head was at the time. Also, the wah-solos on “Just Say Goodbye” and Café were a good compliment to Jorge, and of course the sentimental/lyrical parts of “Suavecito.” Those are all on the first album, which was the only album I did with them.

Luis Gasca and Richard Kermode roomed together, and their place was said to have become legendary as “the Party House.” Any comments or recollections?

ABEL: I knew that Luis’ pad had become quite the party hangout, but I was too busy doing my own thing to participate much. The times I went there were to hang with Richard Kermode and just listen to music, or get lectured by Luis, but there was one time I went there with Pablo… (winks)

Richard Bean, singer and co-writer of “Suavecito,” left Malo before the band went out on tour. Of the remaining band members, your voice, with a clear tone blending blue-eyed soul and soft-rock balladry, was the closest in sound to Richard’s. You had sung background vocals throughout the Malo album, but now you found yourself up front singing “Suavecito” in front of the largest crowds of your life. Can you describe the experience? Did you wish that your boyhood friend Richard had been the one in the spotlight for what could have been his crowning moment?


ABEL: I was sad at the decision to cut Rich. I had known him since age 14, and we played in the Righteous Ones together. Singing “Suavecito” was a bit awkward at first, but I grew to really love the song. I definitely think that Malo should’ve kept Richard in the band, but that option was NOT open for discussion among the band.

Abel, I know Malo was a band that toured with all kinds of other bands and with a lot of different music styles, so I am curious as to what bands you enjoyed touring with and what bands might not have been so easy to tour with?

ABEL: I only did two tours with Malo, and we opened for John Cipollina’s Copperhead, Redbone, King Crimson, Quicksilver Messenger Service (who had the “Fresh Air” song that went “have another hit…”), and a few others. All in all, it was a fun time, and the bands we played with were cordial to us. The first time on the road is always crazy for anyone, though, let alone an 18 or 19 year old kid. Our first tour was pretty controlled in that we didn’t get a chance to hang with the other bands very much, except for in the dressing rooms, briefly. We were on a tight schedule, and pretty much were bused back to the hotels after our set. One night, though, Kermode and I were kidnapped by a crazed groupie and almost missed the bus the next morning!

Roy Murray is of the opinion that you were the single most important person in preparing the material for Malo’s debut album, and your contributions on stage were equally important. There is no doubt that when you left Malo the band lost an important piece, and it seems likely that both you and Malo could have achieved greater success had you stayed. Do you have any regrets…could you have done more to keep things going?

ABEL: I was seventeen years old when I joined Malo, eighteen during the recording sessions and turned nineteen right before the record was released. I was a hungry, brash, and overly-confident guy at that time. If I had used my smarts a little better, I would’ve known to lay back a bit and not make anyone uncomfortable. I also should’ve taken much better care of myself, in terms of not partying so hard and wearing myself down. I was on a high from all the hoopla, and the sudden taste of fame may have gone to my head, but that’s the folly of youth. (smile) Yes, I think if the first Malo lineup had stayed together a little longer it would have solidified Malo’s sound a bit more, and we could’ve charted a few more songs, but c’est la vie …

You have mentioned how much you enjoyed working with trumpeter/flugelhorn player Luis Gasca on the sessions for the first Malo album. Luis had an impressive resume and lots of experience, as he had already worked with artists like Woody Herman, Mongo Santamaria and the Sir Douglas Quintet, not to mention performing with Janis Joplin at Woodstock. He also had a Latin jazz album of his own under his belt, “The Little Giant,” featuring an all-star cast. How much of a mentor was he to you, and did you ever gig with him outside of Malo?

ABEL: I did play with Luis at Basin Street West and the North Beach Revival club. Richard Kermode and timbalero Carmelo Garcia were among the regulars with Luis. As far as Luis’ “mentoring” me, it wasn’t in the form of sit-down discussions, but when we were in the studio with Malo or hanging out at his apartment in North Beach he would throw out bits and pieces of wisdom to me all the time…especially tips on the use of space, phrasing and dynamics. Luis was surprised to find out that I already had an ear for jazz stylings and that I knew about suspended and ’11’ chords, as well as flat9’s, and major7/9 chords. He and Kermode felt that I had some potential in jazz. This prompted them to mentor me, and led Luis to ask me to play on the “For Those Who Chant” session.

Luis’ second album “For Those Who Chant” featured Carlos and several other players from Santana and the Bay Area Latin rock and jazz scenes. How did this project come about?

ABEL: Pablo, Jorge, Spremich, and I went to Basin Street West to hear Luis play one night, and Carlos was there. This was the time in the very last days of the Santana III lineup when the band decided to perform without Carlos. Carlos sat next to me and told me he had left the band out on the road… he was a little bitter about it, as I remember. This was before I started gigging with Luis. Mark Levine was in the band, but I can’t remember who else. Carlos sat in…he seemed to be decompressing from what was going on with the Santana band. Afterwards we hung out downstairs, that’s when Luis talked to him about doing the “Chant” sessions. Those pics in “Voices of Latin Rock” with Pablo and I hanging at Basin Street were from that night…I’m surprised the photographer didn’t get a shot of Carlos.


Though uncredited in the liner notes of “For Those Who Chant”, you played on those sessions [ed. later verified by Luis Gasca]. The music was pretty free and wide open with some of the vibe of Miles Davis’ early electric albums. What was that experience like? How much actual structure was there in the arrangement of the songs? So many players were involved, including some who might not have been on good terms with each other during that period. How many of them were actually in the studio at any given time? What tracks can we hear you on?

ABEL: Luis wanted spontaneity, so the “Chant” sessions were very loose and mostly improvised, without much structure. Mixing jazz players like Stanley Clarke and Lenny White with rock musicians like Rolie and Carabello was unconventional, but experimentation was the spirit of the times. As for my participation, my old friend Ralph Saldana (who works with ZPP) and I had a laugh recently when we sat down to listen to an Australian compilation called “Playing With Carlos.” One of the tracks is “Little Mama” from “For Those Who Chant.” If you listen closely, that’s me trading with Neal. Carlos doesn’t play at all on that track, which is sort of an extension of the middle section of Malo’s “Peace.” Jorge, Pablo and I were invited by Luis to come down to the studio, and Luis pulled me aside and asked me if I wanted to play, so I plugged in and did. I only played on that one song, as it was a long movement. It was an overwhelmingly surreal moment, Jose, I was 18 or 19, and while Jorge and Pablo looked on I was sitting in a room playing with Lenny White, Stanley Clarke, Kermode, Gregg Rolie, Carabello, and Carmelo Garcia on Luis’ jazz record! I was on cloud nine to say the least, plus I was sitting and playing right next to Neal who was the hotshot guitarist at the time… so it was hard for me to be totally “in the moment!” I was surprised when the record came out and my name wasn’t on it, but I felt it might hurt my career if I complained. Maybe Luis just forgot that I had played, as the sessions were pretty chaotic. Hard feelings between some of the musicians did come into play, as Carlos was still smarting over the band having chosen to play those gigs with Michael Carabello and without him. Carlos overdubbed at least some of his guitar parts on “Chant”…I don’t think Carlos wanted to be in the studio when Carabello was there. I believe the hard feelings between Carlos and Michael lasted for several years.

Richard Kermode was something of a music teacher for you, and became a close friend. From your standpoint, what was special about Richard the musician and Richard the person?

ABEL: When I first met Richard, he was this pony-tailed, clog-wearing “seeker.” (smiles) Richard was a good soul. He saw the hunger to learn in my eyes, and was a very nurturing mentor to me. He and Ray Obiedo opened my ears to jazz inflections and comping.

You and Roy Murray had been among the first of the original Malo members to leave the band. Producer David Rubinson, believing in your talent and the power of the Malo buzz, immediately committed to working with you in a brand new venture. The group was named “Banda de Jesus” (de Jesus being your middle name, your Mom’s maiden name). According to Roy, you guys “had advanced so much and the music was way, way ahead of its time, and “Banda” was formed with the intent of recording an album and going straight to the top.” You and Roy reunited with Bob Olivera and José Marrero of Naked Lunch; teenaged bass prodigy “Hutch” Hutchinson (known for his work with Bonnie Raitt and Copperhead) was another notable member. You reportedly spent several months writing the material and then recorded the demo with Rubinson and Fred Catero at Pacifica Recording in San Mateo. Rubinson had the “pull” in the industry to help make the group a success. Roy Murray speaks of having meetings in L.A with presidents of major record labels that were interested in signing you. Can you tell us about the music, what went wrong, and what became of the demo?

ABEL: Banda de Jesus was a mixture of the Rascals, Chicago and the Beatles… we had some real forward-thinking music that never got heard. Just as Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon didn’t want Journey to have anything to do with Latin rock, this band was to show another side of me. David Rubinson ostensibly wanted to produce our record but, alas, the demo was shelved. Maybe he was too busy at that point with the Pointer Sisters and Herbie Hancock and we became a low priority, or maybe he thought we weren’t commercial enough??? Who knows? He later tried to hook me up with an all-white rock band playing very poppish rock with lots of hooky melodies, they were actually pretty good (can’t remember their band name). The rock band was a project David was working on. I met them at the offices above the Automatt, jammed with them and they played me their demo. They didn’t think I had the right “look” for the band… but their project, too, was eventually shelved.

After reluctantly giving up Banda de Jesus for dead, you formed a new band called Topaz. The new sound was based in Latin rock but added elements of jazz and Brazilian music. Malo manager Chris Wong and Victor Alemán (a documentary photographer of the Farm Workers struggle, also known for his record sleeve portraits of Malo and Luis Gasca) still believed in you and pitched in to provide a rehearsal space and money for a demo. Topaz was an excellent group with memorable material. The soulful singing and plaintive guitar work you displayed in your appearance on Marcos Gutierrez’s Bay Area TV show “Viento” are still vivid in my mind 34 years later!

ABEL: We played “Señorita Mi Corazón” on that show (a heartbreaking bolero that segues into a faster Latin/jazz/rock groove). There’s a line where I call out, “I want only you,” in that song that is straight-up Felix Cavaliere! Chris Wong tried to lend a helping hand by letting me rehearse at his home in Fairfax (Marin County) and hooked me up with a few players, so the band started there. Chris had a shed behind his swimming pool, which served nicely as a rehearsal studio. Victor Alemán was a fan and friend of mine… he paid for the Topaz demo, which was recorded at the Record Plant in Sausalito. We had a good lineup that included Michael Athanasatos on keys, Brian Godula (formerly of Stoneground) on bass, Tony Parker on drums (later replaced by Raymond Rey) and José Marrero playing congas and singing on “Prelude to Love,” a cool Return to Forever-ish tune, semi-fast with a nice guitar solo. We brought in female singers to help out on “Bajimbala.” A favorite of my own compositions, “Bajimbala” was a mid-tempo Jobim-ish type samba melody. Patti Santos (former It’s A Beautiful Day vocalist) and Jay Wagner (Brazilian/jazz keyboardist known for his work with Viva Brasil and Joyce Cooling) covered the song in their band Pharaoh’s Whistle, but it was never released on record. Anyway, when it came time for Victor to shop the Topaz demo, I don’t think he really had the experience and connections. Topaz played at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in L.A., but I can’t remember what other high profile gigs we got. Ultimately, at that point everyone said my material was too jazzy.


After Topaz disbanded came a meeting that just might have changed the course of rock history and your career?

ABEL: I was almost in a group with Gregg Rolie. After Topaz dissolved, I had been hanging out with Phil Scoma, a rock guitarist friend of Neal Schon’s who also played with Chocolate Watchband and Elvin Bishop, and briefly with Sapo. Phil had been in Topaz for a little bit, and he and I wanted to keep playing together, and Phil also knew Gregg. So, we visited Gregg at his home in Marin (this was before the Journey project began). I remembered hanging out with Gregg backstage at Winterland at a Santana show after he’d left the band, probably during the “Caravanserai” tour. He told me then that at age 25 he felt kind of burnt out. Now, however, it seemed that he might be ready to get out there again and do something musically. I went to show him some tunes I had. We jammed, and briefly talked about putting a group together. Marty Cohen of CBS Records A&R, a buddy of Gregg’s and Herbie Herbert’s, also happened to show up at Gregg’s place that day and hung with us there, so just think what could have happened! Gregg played with us again once at SIR (Studio Instrument Rentals, a popular South of Market rehearsal studio for many top San Francisco bands) but in the end, he passed on playing with Phil and I, he said that doing our project would be too similar to playing with Santana. Then Gregg and Neal went on to form Journey and the rest is Rock ‘n’ Roll History.

Yellow Brick Road was one of San Francisco’s top nightspots in the first half of the 70’s. The club booked many of the Bay Area’s top acts, and was a great spot to catch jam sessions. You and Neal Schon played together there several times. What was the atmosphere like at Yellow Brick Road, and how did so many jams come about? Can you tell us about one or two of your most memorable jam sessions from those days, either at Yellow Brick Road or elsewhere?

ABEL: That’s right, I used to hang with Neal quite a bit at the Yellow Brick Road. Mingo and Neal had become close during their short time together in Santana, and Neal and I became friends through Mingo. Yellow Brick Road was always happening on weekends, and packed with people. I remember Michael Douglas being there a lot, as he was filming “Streets of San Francisco” at the time. A lot of local musical luminaries would frequent the club, players like David Brown, Bobby Vega, Sly Stone, Gregg Errico, Larry Graham, Mingo, Carabello, Buddy Miles, Luis and whoever else was in town. It was the place to jam and hang. Generally, the bands would do some kind of free-form funk or Latin jam and call the musicians in the house up to play. Neal and I sat in on a number of occasions with different groups, but we would usually go up separately, as there was normally only one guitar amp on stage.
The Reunion, on San Francisco’s Union Street, was a club that featured a lot of good Latin and funk bands throughout the 1970’s, and had its share of jam sesssions. Roger Glenn’s Latin jazz band had a long-running gig at The Reunion. I remember one night I played with Roger’s band on “Nada de Ti,” and the band had Mark Levine, Al Bent, John Santos, Sheila and Pete…that was a pretty slammin’ jam. Guys like Don Alias and Eddie Henderson would show up there from time to time.

Cesar’s Club (later to become known as Cesar’s Latin Palace) became an institution as San Francisco’s premier Latin music club for decades. The club’s proprietor, Cesar Ascarrunz, a Bolivian pianist and perennial mayoral candidate, led a house band, known as Cesar’s Band or Cesar’s All-Stars, which recorded a good Latin/jazz/rock LP “Cesar 830” (featuring Loading Zone lead singer Linda Tillery). You were known to hang out and jam at Cesar’s from time to time. What was the Club like…was it the place where the hottest salsa dancers went? What type of players were in the band, and were there any memorable jam sessions?

ABEL: Cesar’s was a fun place to play, he had the whole after-hours thing going, the club was open ’til 4am. Not only did the house band have a lot of all-star musicians, but lots of good players would come by and sit in after their gigs were done. Guys like Jim Vincent and Eddie Henderson would play there, as well as other heavies. That’s where Roger Glenn (formerly of Mongo and Donald Byrd’s bands) and I became friends…he used to sit in front and watch me play and applaud after my solos. Roger called me to do gigs with him due to Cesar’s Club…it was a great place for musicians to “network.” I think anybody who was “anybody” played Cesar’s in the 70’s. Top Bay Area horn players like Joe Ellis, Forest Buchtel and Hadley Caliman were regulars, as well as Benny Velarde on timbales and Francisco Aguabella on conga, and Roger Glenn on flute and vibes. The lineup was different each time I played, though. There was a lot of spontaneous musical combustion with a hodge-podge of good players on stage. Cesar was lucky to have such a good thing going in those days. I was never an actual member of the band, but Cesar would just call me up to the bandstand if he saw me in the Club, and we’d do some kind of descarga. Violinist Alfredo de la Fe and bongocero “Chuckie” Lopez from the Fania All Stars once played with the Band when I was sitting in on guitar…it was cool hearing those guys play! Cesar used to like to bring me up to play “Sabor a Mi,” which I got tired of after a while. (smiles). I also gigged at Cesar’s with Sapo a few times and yes, all the hot salseros and salseras went there.


Can you tell us about your friendship with Mingo Lewis, your band with him, the demo you recorded, and who the players were?

ABEL: Dardo, I can’t remember exactly how Mingo and I met, he might’ve been at a gig that I played. We became friends after he invited me to be his guest at a Santana rehearsal. Later, Mingo left Santana and went to play with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever. Just as Mingo was leaving RTF, I had been trying to re-form Topaz. Mingo called me to start a band with him, so we dropped the name Topaz and it became the “Mingo” project. With Mingo being fresh from Santana and Chick Corea, it made sense for him to be the “face of the band,” even though I was the lead guitarist, lead vocalist, and wrote most of the songs.

This edition of the “Mingo” band included Michael and Brian from Topaz on keyboards and bass, Phil Scoma on second guitar and Kim Plainfield on drums (who would later play with Jon Lucien and Bill Connors). Mingo played percussion, led the band, and handled the business. We recorded a four-song demo at the Automatt in 1973 featuring my songs “Señorita Mi Corazón,” “Coral Isles” (a slightly mystical Santana-like Afro Cuban rock track that might have fit on “Caravanserai”), “Funky Tune” (a funk/fusion instrumental), and “Thoughts of Paradise,” a wistful melody with a mid-tempo cha-cha beat that I had written with Carole King in mind. We rehearsed next door to Journey at SIR for a few months, and we opened for some of their earliest shows at the Great American Music Hall and Keystone Berkeley. At these shows, Journey’s manager Herbie Herbert used to introduce me as “one of Neal Schon’s favorite guitarists,” something that Neal had told him. Coming from Neal, that meant a lot to me, as he didn’t give compliments easily! Columbia Records wanted to sign us…the song that hooked them was “Thoughts of Paradise.” I really felt that “Thoughts” would’ve blended well with what was on the radio in those days and would have to have been at least a minor hit, and here Columbia, one of the world’s biggest, most powerful record labels was offering to release it as a single! Well, as with a lot of people including myself, Mingo wanted an album deal, so he turned the offer down. He held out for too long and Columbia withdrew the proposal. I know first hand what a hit single can do…that song could’ve opened up other possibilities. Losing that deal was the beginning of the end for my involvement with Mingo’s band, and may also have been one of the turning points in my career.

Several months later the Columbia bigwigs had become interested in the band again, and we played a showcase for them at the Orphanage that finally got Mingo signed. By this time we were playing all-out fusion. Mingo wanted me to rival Carlos, but I was trying to find my own voice. I had always respected Mingo due to the fact that he played with Chick, and we were good friends for a while until we started to disagree musically. By the time of the showcase gig I was unhappy, and I quit the band after that night. I didn’t play on the “Flight Never Ending” album…a couple of the tracks were co-written by me, but I didn’t get credit. Mingo and I maintained our friendship, or at least a mutual respect as musicians, for a while after I left the band, and he invited me to the Record Plant in Sausalito when they did a “live” radio performance with my friend Pat Thrall on guitar. Mingo and I would later play together again in the Latin All Star Band, but I finally lost touch with him during his time with the Tubes.

Chris Wong has said that he thinks racial discrimination was a major barrier in your career, that it is what kept you from really establishing yourself in the 70’s. Do you think he’s right?

ABEL: Being an Asian musician during the Vietnam era was not a cakewalk. Some music industry types warned me that America wasn’t ready for a band with an Asian front man, and even told me that I should take opportunities to play in Japan or some other Asian country to make it. I really resented the fact that they were insinuating that because I wasn’t Caucasian that I couldn’t break through in America. I knew that I had strong songwriting abilities…I wrote songs for every band I was in! If I had the chance to be in the right environment and work with the right engineers and producers, I know I could’ve contributed at least a couple of songs to the music charts, but the circumstances surrounding my ethnicity and other politics prevented me from being accepted in a lot of circles.

By 1975, at age 23, your star status was fading fast. What adjustments were required to keep your career momentum and your sanity?

ABEL: Those years right after Malo, age 19 thru 23, were bizarre and topsy-turvy! I was getting called for so many gigs that I couldn’t keep up. There seemed to be so many opportunities, but it was difficult to know which ones to pick…I tried a lot of different things, but nothing felt right. In the meantime, I was racing with Time to hold on to my “fifteen minutes of fame.” What’s more, I was young and not too frugal with my money. I used all my royalties to finance the groups I was in…Banda de Jesus in particular. I paid for all the SIR rehearsal time, rented gear for my musicians, trying to make things happen. I thought the royalties would last forever, but I found out the hard way how wrong I was. As a result, the years that followed, especially after Topaz, were very difficult for me in terms of income. That’s when the bottom started to crumble beneath me financially. During and just after Malo, I’d been getting the star treatment from club and restaurant owners. Now my celebrity was wearing off and I learned some hard lessons in humility. By 1976, when I turned 24, I had purged myself of all the Rock Star hoopla and head trips, and returned to being just a “regular guy.” I think it saved my life. I wasn’t cut out for the rock ‘n’ roll life. It just didn’t agree with me, and the debauchery that went with it always made me uncomfortable. In the next couple of years I was able to start letting myself breathe and have fun again.


After parting ways with Mingo, you decided to get out of the Bay Area for a while. You and Roy Murray left for what Roy calls “one big tour of Canada” with a band called the Mendocino All-Stars. What was the Mendocino connection, and what were the band and the experience of touring Canada like? Did the Canadian audiences know you from Malo?

ABEL: I went to Canada for three months with the Mendocino All Stars with Roy Murray and Peter Oliva, who had played with the Byrds. It was a fun gig. We played lots of blues and rock songs, and they did three of my songs at the time. No, I don’t think Malo was well known in Canada. I met Carey Williams (who would go on to manage Taj Mahal for many years) on that tour. Carey later sang in my band The Force and Michael Carabello’s band, Attitude.

Abel, multi-instrumentalist Roy Murray did some fine work on Malo’s debut album. He seems to have been one of your closest musical friends and allies, having worked in a total of four bands with you. Can you tell us about Roy? How did the two of you meet and come to work together in Naked Lunch, and what it was like to play with him? You’ve mentioned in the past that Blood, Sweat & Tears’ music inspired your musical direction in some of your early bands. As a multi-horn player, how crucial was Roy Murray to your realizing this vision? You seem to have lost your interest in working with horns after Roy moved back to the East Coast. Why the change?

ABEL: We were rehearsing in the Haight-Ashbury one night, with what would become the Naked Lunch band, when Roy came knocking on the door with all of his horns in tow. He just came in and started playing… No words were spoken, we just knew he was right for the band. I always loved bands like the Sons of Champlin, and the early B, S & T with Al Kooper, as well as Electric Flag, so I always fancied playing with a horn section. After Banda de Jesus my musical tastes shifted again, and I moved away from using horns.

You returned to the Bay Area from Canada – it was 1975 and the music industry’s interest in Latin rock was waning. Bands were being dropped by their labels, and Malo, Azteca, Sapo and the original Santana band had all broken up. Promoter Ron Bermudez tried to salvage some of the glory of that era by organizing a revue he called the San Francisco Latin All Star Band, or LASB. Who were the members, and what were the setlist and gigs like? I remember a big gig at the Cow Palace (one of San Francisco’s largest event venues at the time). Did you play many other gigs? How long did the LASB project last, and what kept it from staying together and becoming a regular Latin rock supergroup?

ABEL: The Latin All Star thing included myself, Pete & Sheila Escovedo, Ray Obiedo, Richard Bean, Rico Reyes, percussionist Jorge Bermudez (Ron’s brother, who had played on Malo’s “Dos” and led his own bands), Mingo Lewis, Kincaid Miller from Sapo on keyboards (sometimes Kermode), Pablo Tellez or Thaddeus Reece on bass. Geez, I think just about everyone did those gigs, Chepito and Carabello, occasionally Coke, timbal prodigy Gibby Ross (Karl Perazzo’s cousin, a protégé of Tito Puente). The setlist for the LASB was mostly Santana stuff, some Azteca stuff, and of course “Suavecito.” I never took those gigs seriously… I don’t think anyone did. There was talk about taking the LASB on tour, but it never happened.

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“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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.”].
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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!
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.]
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.
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.
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.”
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 , and soon will have video up on that page and You Tube.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 . 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.
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.
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 and ]

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A brief but enormous thank you to Jose Sierra and Gilberto Vera for making this interview possible for this re-posting. This is the longest interview Michael has done in his career and it will posted in two parts due to the length and details of the piece. This is a truly excellent piece of work with good research and very interesting questions being posed. I think we are all indebted to Michael for such a fascinating and searching career to date and long may it continue.


– PART 1

“A Conversation with Michael Shrieve – Part 1″


Compiled, edited and hosted by Jose Sierra on behalf of Moonflower Café with assistance from PJ. (additional questions from Moonflower readers, as noted)

Thanks to the following:
“Soul Sacrifice – The Santana Story” by Simon Leng;
“Voices of Latin Rock” by Jim McCarthy (hereafter referred to as “VOLR”); 
“Modern Drummer” (Rick Mattingly, June ’89);
“Earshot Jazz” (Michael Allison, November ’07);
Sam Totah, Pierrot Jain, Scott Enders and Gert.
Produced by Gilberto Vera



One magical day years ago, a young boy happened upon a school band rehearsal and fell under the spell of the drums. He grew into a prodigious talent and became a seminal member of the Santana band, playing on (and often writing and co-producing for) that group’s first six studio albums. Having followed his muse into a remarkable array of solo and group projects, he now touches the world as an established artist in his own right, a mentor to younger musicians and an advocate for musical education in the public schools. It is with joy and gratitude that Moonflower Café welcomes Michael Shrieve, who was kind enough to take several hours out from work on his new band’s debut CD to answer our questions.

MICHAEL: OK, I’m suffering from Carpal Tunnel now! This is clearly the most I’ve ever talked or written about this stuff.

Michael, during Santana’s original heyday the band seldom spoke publicly, and we fans were left wondering why you were all so mysterious and enigmatic. In recent years, you’ve posted a lot of your thoughts on your website, spoken candidly for the “VOLR” book, been featured in EMP’s “Oral History Live!” lecture/interview series, and have made yourself accessible to the Seattle media (and, thankfully, to Moonflower Café). Why was the original Santana band so media-shy and what has led to your change in outlook and increased openness over the years? Why have you decided to tell your story?

MICHAEL: Well, to tell you the truth, I’d never really considered that Santana was “mysterious” or “enigmatic.” One thing that may have contributed to that impression is that as a band we were very tight as friends and as musicians. I don’t think we thought of ourselves as “media shy” either. Perhaps management wasn’t advising us of interview requests, I don’t know. As for telling the story now, I’ve always considered myself to be quite open about my experiences, but as time moves on there seems to be more of a historical context that people are interested in. The era in which we started out has itself taken on more musical and cultural-sociological weight in people’s minds. Now that I’m 58 years old, I can also look back on that period with more insight, more maturity, and hopefully more wisdom.

There seem to be lots of musical Shrieves! Your brother Kevin plays guitar in a band called Dream Art Science and previously worked with you, Klaus Schulze, Alphonso Johnson and Luis Gasca. A son and a nephew of yours also play music. Were your parents musical, and was there music being played in your home as a child that may have helped spark your interest?

MICHAEL: Yes! My father was a big, big jazz fan, and my mother was a big fan of musicals, so that stuff was always playing. I remember being about 13 or 14 years old and up very late listening to music in the living room, quietly, right next to the speakers. It seemed to have woken my father, though, and he came in and asked “Mike, what are doing up so late?” I said “I’m up late because I’m practicing being a musician!” I figured musicians stayed up late and I better start practicing that part of it! I wasn’t even playing an instrument yet! My brother Kevin is a brilliant guitar player who simply made the choice to not be on the road. We’ve shared music together since we were very young, had bands together, and we still turn each other on to music. My brother Rich plays some piano and used to play clarinet. Rich has always had a deep passion for music, he feels it so deeply, and aside from Carlos Santana my deepest sharing of music has been with Rich. Rich has two sons who are musicians, Max and Peter. Max plays all the wind instruments, and although he plays mainly classical, he has an incredible and voracious appetite for all kinds of music; He was all-city in the high school orchestras in San Francisco, and is now majoring in Music at UC Santa Cruz. His brother Peter is still in high school, and from what I hear is also a force to be reckoned with. Two of my sister Eileen’s kids, Dan and Pat Kennedy, had a band together and have made records. I played on Dan’s album “DK”, and my son Sam played drums on Pat’s record “The Distraction Fit”.

Hi, Mike! I’d like to personally thank you for the musical gifts you’ve shared with millions of fans, and for taking part in this Cafe rap session. Like you, I also had ADHD as a youth and fell in love with drumming (which seems to have been an excellent remedy for my ADHD). Your playing was a big inspiration for me. How old were you when you first learned the basic beat, you know, right hand cymbal left 4:1 and then adding in the right foot pedal in sync? Did you keep your original set of drums?

MICHAEL: Scott, I would say that I started learning that type of basic beat at the last part of 8th grade and the summer before high school. When I was learning I didn’t have my own drums, so I used to go to other people’s houses to practice on their drums. Eventually I got a snare drum through mail order with earnings from my paper route! I was on the road before I even owned my own drums. The pink champagne Ludwig kit that I played at Woodstock, I bought in Wyoming while on the road with a group just after high school! Yes, Scott (and Vicente & PJ), I still have my first drum set, which are also the drums I played at Woodstock.

In “Modern Drummer” you mentioned having studied with several different teachers over the years. Did you take professional lessons in your childhood and teens to learn the rudiments, or were you self-taught until deciding in adulthood that there were aspects of your playing that you wanted to improve upon?

MICHAEL: I started playing in eighth grade, and started drum lessons while I was in high school. My first teacher was Anthony Cirone, who is now a world famous percussionist and has written some classic drum books. After Anthony, I took lessons from Mike Delucca at Hart Music in San Carlos, CA. Mickey Hart’s father owned the store. Mickey was a rudimental champion then, and was always playing on a pad while he worked behind the counter. I saw Mickey when I went to the store and he showed me things, as well. I’ve also studied with some other wonderful teachers, including Charles Bernstein, Pete Magadini, and Michael Carvin. I learned special things from each one of them.

Rolls appear to be a big part of your drumming style. Did doing multiple-bounce rolls so well with both hands come naturally to you?

MICHAEL: No! Nothing seems to come easy for me! I have to work really hard at it!

It’s an honor and privilege to communicate with you. Out of all your great talents, what impresses me the most is your cymbal work, especially on “Lotus” and “Automatic Man.” Do you have any special practice techniques that you use for ride and hi-hat patterns? What is your take on how cymbal playing should complement a song rather than distract from it?

MICHAEL: Thank you Derek. I don’t really have any special practice techniques for that, although I do play around with different sticking patterns and then try to apply them to different parts of the set, or I’ll try them as grooves between the cymbal, snare and bass drum. The same goes for the hi-hat, where different musical parts and dynamics may call for a more open, cymbal sound and at other times a tighter hi-hat sound.

Can you read music? Do you play any instruments other than drums… guitar, keys, etc.?

MICHAEL: I can read drum music, and I play around with the guitar and piano but do not consider myself a player on those instruments.

Michael, you went to school in Redwood City (in San Francisco’s southern suburbs) with Lydia Pense, who would become lead singer for the band Cold Blood. Did you know Lydia and have any musical interactions with her?

MICHAEL: Lydia!!! Yes, Lydia and I went to the same grade school in Redwood City. One day there was a talent show at the school. I wasn’t in it because either I wasn’t playing yet or I had just started, but Lydia sang a song that just blew everyone away. I went up to her in the hallway afterwards and said something like “That wasn’t you singing! You were lip syncing!” She said” No, that was me.” And I said, “Prove it!” Eighth grade, right? So she proceeds to sing right there in the hallway, and wow, it was just incredible! So I walked her home that day, and it turns out she lived just around the corner from my house. Lydia was always incredible.

As a teen, you crawled through air vents like a “Mission Impossible” agent in order to sneak into concerts! One time you dropped from the ceiling into a men’s room where bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones were dressing for a John Coltrane gig. This embarrassing, comical incident at age sixteen would evolve into a lifelong friendship with Elvin, one of your greatest musical idols. Years later, Elvin and his wife would stay at your place when they came to town, and the two of you would jam together on dual drum sets. You accepted Elvin’s invitation to write his memoirs. Can we expect to see the book, “Elvin Jones and the Rhythm of Humanity,” on the shelves soon, perhaps accompanied by video footage or concert recordings that you have archived?

MICHAEL: I must admit that I’ve really dropped the ball on the book, and have got to get back to it. I’ve got really great, incredible stuff from Elvin. I spent two weeks with him on holiday in Greece and we talked constantly then. I also went with him to Pontiac, Michigan where he grew up and met childhood friends and acquaintances. We spent a lot of time together, and he, along with his wife Keiko, were dear friends. I’ve got to get back in touch with Keiko and finish it up.

You’ve described Elvin’s drumming as godlike, and jazz listeners and musicians have the highest respect for his talent and accomplishments. Did you agree with Carlos’ comments regarding racism in the U.S. media after Mr. Jones’ passing was barely mentioned in the press?

MICHAEL: Yes, Carlos was spot on about that. There were very nice tributes in all the drum and music magazines and the “New York Times” did a nice obituary, but Carlos felt that Elvin deserved the front page of the “New York Times” and the lead story on the Evening News! I gave the eulogy at Elvin’s funeral in New York. I hadn’t planned on it, but circumstances prevailed! I was sitting in the front row with Elvin’s widow, Keiko, just she and I. It was a whole ordeal just getting her to go there. She called me and said she wasn’t going to go, and had locked herself in her apartment. I asked my ex-wife Cindy, who had come out for the funeral as well, to go up there and try to talk some sense into Keiko. The Joneses were always at our house when they were in town. In fact, Elvin turned my son Sam on to lemon merengue pie! We were good friends and I figured Cindy could get through to her, but nothing was working! So Cindy said” She won’t let me in!” So I called Keiko and said, “Keiko, what’s going on?” And she said, “I just talked to Jonesey (from the other side!) and he said “Fuck it, you don’t have to go!” So I said, “Keiko, I’ll call you back in a few minutes” So I wait ten minutes and call her back and said” Keiko, I just spoke to Elvin, too!” She says “Oh, really?” And I said. “Yes, and he said ‘Tell her she HAS to go.’ So she said, “OK”. Well, we go to the church where the ceremony takes place and EVERYONE is there. It was like the history of jazz. Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Ron Carter, Hank Jones, Wynton Marsalis, etc. etc. They were all there, of course to pay respect. The ceremony started with Wynton Marsalis doing the New Orleans Funeral March through the church with all the great New Orleans musicians. Elvin had said he wanted this at his funeral. So they get done and I’m sitting there with Keiko for some time and I realize, “Oh my God, there has been nothing else planned! So I just stood up and went to the front of the crowd, introduced myself, and started giving a eulogy right there on the spot. Hundreds of people were there. Every issue of “Downbeat” magazine I read as a kid and every jazz record that moved me to tears were passing through my memory because the greatest living jazz musicians were all right there in front of me. I began ” We are here to mourn the passing, and to celebrate the life of a giant of music, a force of nature, and our dear friend Elvin Jones.” I went on for awhile and then, thank God, I had the clarity to invite anyone up who wanted to share the ways that Elvin touched them, changed them or moved them. A long line formed and people got up for the next hour and a half and told stories about Elvin..their own personal experiences with him as a man on a one-on-one basis. It was the most moving thing you could ever see and experience.

As a kid, you used to dig through the record bins looking for good jazz LPs. Not only were you into Elvin and the John Coltrane group, but drummers like Max Roach and Roy Haynes. You cut your teeth playing drums in jazz organ groups and the fifteen-piece house band at the Nairobi Lounge, backing artists like Etta James and BB King. From jazz, R&B and blues how were you drawn into the San Francisco rock scene?

MICHAEL: The scene in San Francisco was strong at the time. The hippie thing, The Fillmore, the music. It was impossible to be sixteen and a musician and not be affected by it in some way. I was always going to the Fillmore and the Avalon Ballroom to hear Charles Lloyd with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette, Cream, The Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, and all the local groups as well.

Your Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speech told of the coincidences that led you to Santana. On one of those trips to the Fillmore at age sixteen you got to sit in with Michael Bloomfield, Stephen Stills and Al Kooper. Your playing caught David Brown and Stan Marcum’s attention. Brown and Marcum approached you about replacing Doc Livingston as Santana’s drummer, but never got back to you. A year later you ran into the Santana band by chance, just as their issues with Livingston had really come to a head. An all-night jam ensued, Santana liked playing with you, and a year later you were at Woodstock. What struck you about the Santana musicians and their music during that first jam together?

MICHAEL: I had seen Santana at a church dance in Redwood City with my brother Kevin, and loved it. I remember saying to him “I want to play with that band”. I saw them at a high school dance as well. Really they were a jam band, but with the coolest grooves. I really don’t remember anything about the first time we jammed except that it was intense, I can tell you that! Santana was actually recording their first album for Columbia Records at Pacific Recorders in San Mateo. I used to go there and hustle studio time for one of my bands. That’s what I was doing the night I went up there. As I was walking in the front door, Doc Livingston was literally walking out! They had some kind of falling out. Some of the guys remembered me and we ended up jamming, and after that Carlos and Gregg took me in a room and asked me if I wanted to join the band. They followed me home to my parents’ house in Redwood City, where I woke up my folks and said I was moving to San Francisco, now!” So I got in their car and went to Santana’s house in Bernal Heights 
[ed: a hilly neighborhood in San Francisco’s Mission District]. 
In retrospect it must have been like telling my parents “I’m running away to join the circus!”

Where did Santana practice in the early years, a garage, a basement?

MICHAEL: They had a little practice space with brick covered walls somewhere in the Folsom Street area.

You turned down an offer to join the world-renowned Jefferson Airplane in favor of playing with little-known Santana, which didn’t even have a record deal yet. Did you have an intuitive feeling that the two groups were headed in opposite directions, or was it just a case of preferring Santana’s music? As it turns out, you made the right career decision!

MICHAEL: The Airplane were really big and famous at the time, but somehow they had heard of me. I visited them at their mansion on Fulton Street, and they invited me to go to LA with them when they were recording “After Bathing at Baxter’s”. My first airplane ride was with Jefferson Airplane! I remember Buddy Miles was on that flight too. Rest in Peace, Buddy. I stayed with Jorma Kaukonen in his hotel room. Jorma and Jack Casady became good friends of mine, as well as Marty Balin. So I’m staying with Jorma, and Jim Morrison comes by to visit. Then Eric Clapton comes by to bring a cassette tape to Jorma of a new group he’s really excited about called “The Band.” In the evening we go to the studio and David Crosby comes by with a song he wrote called “Triad” that he thought might be good for the Airplane to record. So I saw all that go down. I was just a kid who a year earlier had seen the Airplane and Santana at an outdoor show in Palo Alto, looking at Jack Casady and the way he was dressed and that vibe and saying to myself, “How does one get to be like that?” Well, I didn’t turn Jefferson Airplane down, it just didn’t work out for some reason. We always remained great friends, though, and still are to this day. Later, when I was with Santana and playing on the same bill with those guys all over the world, they were really happy for me. We were always like family.

Do you still remember your first gig with Santana, the venue, how it went, and the crowd reaction?

MICHAEL: I think the first gig I played with Santana was at a college somewhere in Northern California, maybe Fresno State. The show went really well. Afterwards, some people asked us to a party way out in the boonies. I didn’t really want to go. I was exhausted from the adrenaline of my first show and I just wanted to be by myself and take it all in, but they talked me into it and I didn’t want to be the new party pooper kid! So we go out to this house out in the country and of course there’s a bunch of people there. I’m sitting on the floor of the hallway talking to some people, one of which was apparently the hostess for the evening. Suddenly we hear this big racket from the front room, and all of a sudden this huge guy with a crazed look on his face is standing in the hallway where we are sitting. He sees the girl, sees me, and comes after me. He started beating on me and kicking me, just wailing on me. I fought to get up off the floor and get away from him. Everybody was yelling and screaming and running, trying to get out of the house. I finally got away and ran out the door. Gregg Rolie called my name and said “Over here!” so I ran to Gregg’s car, a nice black Porsche. I had blood running down my face, I remember that it was hard to see because of all the blood! Meanwhile, this big guy is coming after me. I get in the car and the guy picks up a huge boulder and throws it at the car. We got away and decided I should be taken to the hospital because I was covered in blood. At the hospital the whole band was there, the managers and Rico Reyes too. They cleaned me up, and I was OK, just really sore from the kicking and beating. So we’re leaving and some of guys started yelling, Rico specifically, saying “Let’s go kick that guy’s ass!” And I’m saying ‘Where were all you tough guys when he was beating up on me? You all ran and left me to get my ass kicked! Let’s just go home and call it a night.” Well, apparently, the guy had escaped from a mental hospital that night. He was the ex-boyfriend of the girl I was sitting with and he had brought a gun with him! So, that was the night of my first show with Santana! When I got home that night in San Mateo, where Gregg and I were now living, I wrote one of my first songs, “Mushroom Lady.” The first night I played The Fillmore with Santana was another story. They were already very popular and everyone knew who the guys in the band were. When I came out on stage the crowd saw that Doc Livingston had been replaced on drums by this new kid that they didn’t know, and there was some booing. That was uncomfortable, to say the least. Well, when it came time for “Soul Sacrifice” I played the drum solo, and at the end of the solo I got a standing ovation. From then on, the Santana fans accepted me!

Michael, without meaning to live in the past, we need to give due credit to you for being part of something life-changing. Like the Beatles playing the Ed Sullivan Show or Miles Davis and Bob Dylan going electric, the advent of Santana marked a sea change in the musical universe. The first three Santana albums meant an awful lot to the patrons of this Café and so many others around the world. You and your gifted band sparked our lifelong fascination with music, inspiring many of us to become musicians. We fans all know what emotions and memories we associate with those first three classic albums, but we’d be interested in the impressions of someone who helped create them. Looking back to the records “Santana,” “Abraxas” and “Santana III,” can you think of one phrase that describes the emotion that you associate with each album and another phrase to represent the process and atmosphere of making each of them?


MICHAEL: Thanks for your kind words. Let me see if I can come with the phrases that you asked for. For the first album, “Santana,” for the emotion I would say “Exhilarating” and for the process and atmosphere “Intense.” For the second album, “Abraxas,” for the emotion I would say “Focused” and the process and atmosphere would be “great songs” and “a seriously unified band enjoying each other and taking great delight in the music we were making together.” For the third album, “Santana lll, I would say for the emotion “a bit scattered” and the process and atmosphere “still making great music, but not so unified.”

What are your favorite Santana Band memory and your favorite Santana album overall?

MICHAEL: There are so many good memories with that band. I think the gig we did at Tanglewood co-heading with Miles Davis was one of the best. Of course Woodstock was an incredible experience, as was seeing the “Woodstock“ movie for the first time with the whole band in a theater in New York City. We waited in line with all the other folks for the earlier show to get out, and when we saw our segment it was the first time we had ever seen it. When I saw the drum solo, and myself split on the screen like that, I didn’t know if I should stand up in the theater and yell “That’s me!“ or sink down low in the seat. I think I just sat there with my jaw open and just took it in. Then it made sense that earlier, while we were standing in line waiting to get in, the people who were coming out of the earlier show were pointing at us and looking at us kind of funny! I would consider both “Abraxas” and “Caravanserai” my favorite Santana albums.

You and David Brown really grooved together. I noticed recently that the two of you are cited in the drum & bass instruction book “Get Locked” as an example of a tight rhythm section. We remember David’s warm smile and deep bass lines, but never had the opportunity to get to know the man. Can you share any fond memories of knowing and playing with David, and your thoughts about what made him special as a person and a musician? Can you think of any anecdotes that illustrate what he was about?

MICHAEL: David was the sweetest man, though somewhat of an enigma, in the way that you never quite knew what was really going on with him. He had the most beautiful green eyes, and was stunningly good looking. He was always open to trying new things on the bass, and always open to just holding down the groove as well. He lived with a piano player by the name of Albert Gianquinto, a white blues player from Chicago, who also wrote “Incident at Neshabur” and helped the band arrange some music from time to time. I think Albert also came up with the name “Toussaint l’Overture.” Albert was the first white guy I knew who was a Black Panther, and was the one that got us to play at the Black Panther Benefit in Berkeley, which was not a great experience. We must have been frisked half a dozen times before we actually played. Anyway David and Albert were roommates and best friends. David was a pleasure to be around and a pleasure to make music with. I realized one funny thing about David one night when we were playing “Jingo.“ The bass line is pretty simple and constant in that song, as are the drums, but that night I looked down at David’s feet and they were keeping time to some other beat than what we were playing! I realized that if I looked at his feet for very long I was going to get thrown off completely, so I wouldn’t look at his feet anymore! One of the things about that original rhythm section was that everybody was so unique unto themselves, but somehow together it made a sound and groove like no other. It was true chemistry, and David had a lot to do with that sound.

PJ & MC:
How pronounced was the Afro-Cuban influence in Santana at the time that you joined? Did you have an impression as to who or what had steered the band in that direction?

MICHAEL: Well, they were already doing that before I got there. Santana was playing “Jingo“ and “Soul Sacrifice“ before Chepito and I were in the band. I know Michael Carabello and Carlos used to go to Aquatic Park to listen to the conga players, and I believe this is where Marcus Malone came from. I think it was Marcus Malone who came up with the name “Soul Sacrifice”, but you would have to hear him say it to get the full impact! “Souuul SACrifice! So I’ve heard. I’m sure that it was a combination of the conga players, Marcus Malone and Michael Carabello, and Carlos that first brought that Afro-Cuban element to the band.

What were your first impressions of playing with Chepito? Had you ever played with a percussionist of his caliber before? Carlos and Gregg have said that his sense of time was extraordinary.

MICHAEL: I was in the band before Chepito by a little bit. Apparently Carabello heard him at Aquatic Park and was blown away, got his number and told the guys about him. I think they were thinking about adding timbales, but Michael had heard him play congas. We all went to this club in the Mission District to hear Chepito’s band “The Aliens”, and see him play. Chepito not only played timbales and congas, but also trumpet and drum set as well. He was a complete firecracker of a player who just brought the house down, dressed in those big frilly shirts with the huge collars and the greased back hair! Carabello introduced him to Carlos and they spoke in Spanish. Chepito’s English was not so fluent at this time, but soon afterward he was in the band. He was like a fish out of water initially, in a cultural sense, because he was in a brand new world hanging out with us. Musically it was incredible and natural, but I think the scene we were in, the Fillmore, the hippies, etc., were a shock for Chepito. The rehearsals started taking on a whole new vibe with the advent of timbales, and two conga players on “Soul Sacrifice,“ for instance. Between their new drummer, me, and their new percussionist, Chepito, the band must have felt an incredible surge of new energy, now that I think back on it. Chepito is probably one of the most natural musicians any of us had ever met, and his musicianship and sound had an incredible influence on the band.

How was your relationship with Chepito? How do you rate him as a trap drummer, and did he play traps on any Santana tracks?


MICHAEL: I had a great relationship with Chepito, except for the times he called me “Flipper” and “whitey motherfucker!” It was all in good fun, of course, and quite funny as well. Chepito could play his ass off on the drums. He could play anything, really. Yes, he did play drum set on some Santana tracks, including “Samba Pa Ti, and “Everybody’s Everything,” and I didn’t have any problem with it.

MC: It looks like everybody was cracking up during the photo shoot for the “Abraxas” poster insert, and Chepito looks like he is responsible. Did Chepito do something to make you all “lose it?”

MICHAEL: It was probably Chepito that said something. I don’t remember what it was that he did, but I’d bet that it was him!

Santana came to prominence in San Francisco soon after the Summer of Love, and the city’s Haight-Ashbury district was a center of that era’s global youth counterculture. Carlos has said that he considers himself a “hippie,” but you have implied that you didn’t identify with the hippie mindset or lifestyle. What were the aspects of “hippiedom” that you were not comfortable with, and was this a philosophical difference between you and Carlos, or just a difference in terminology?

MICHAEL: I can’t speak for Carlos, of course, but I would tend to think that what he means is that if being a hippie means to be for “positive change and love for all,” then in spirit he’s a hippie, and who isn’t? Back in those days, though, I always felt a bit like the cynical outsider observing from a distance. I never felt like Arlo Guthrie or John Sebastian did at Woodstock! To paint you a picture of what it was like in Santana early on, we considered ourselves to be a bit different from the Grateful Dead, the Airplane and the other bands that were happening around the Bay Area, although we loved the scene and were great friends with the other groups. Part of the hippie mentality about music seemed to be that if you got your part wrong or didn’t play well, they would say something like, “Well, that’s cool man, it’s really beautiful that you did your best. Tomorrow’s another day.” When I first got into Santana and took my place on the couch in their Bernal Heights home, though, I saw that for Santana it wasn’t like that at all! This was no hippie love fest, it was more like “Motherfucker, get it right!” “Fuck you, man, YOU get it right!” Back in those days I would practice a lot. I’d be working on my hands, doing rudiments or whatever and I had this mantra while I practiced certain things. It was: “I’m NOT a hippie, NOT a hippie, NOT a hippie.” Anyway, I learned quickly in Santana that you’d better get some thick skin as fast as you can, otherwise your head will be spinning! They would laugh at you, make fun of you, talk about your mama, and whatever, but it was great and I loved it! We were all very fond of each other and protective of each other, and I think we all really appreciated the diversity and what each of us brought to the table. Being in Santana was like being in a street gang, but the weapon was music!

FROM MC: Speaking of hippies, one of your first non-Santana recording sessions was David Crosby’s “If I Could Only Remember My Name.” Most of CSN&Y, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were on board, plus Joni Mitchell and Gregg Rolie, and you got a songwriting credit for the track “What Are Their Names.” This set was named one of the “Greatest Albums of All Time” by “Mojo” magazine, and many consider it an overlooked masterpiece. Care to reminisce?

MICHAEL: Speaking of Hippies! Now that was a hippie recording session! Very open, let it flow, kind of thing. David had some songs, though. I suppose David Crosby always has songs! The reason we were credited for that song was because it grew out of a jam. David and I were hanging out a bit back then. He would come to my house or I would go to his houseboat and we would listen to music and discuss Dylan Thomas. I enjoyed his spirit and his intensity. He was the one “LA” musician that would really hang out with the Bay Area scene, like the Dead and the Airplane. So basically he just invited his friends to play on his album.

Playing alongside congueros and timbaleros is a skill that wasn’t often taught to trap drummers in the 60’s, yet you managed to form a tight battery with Chepito and Michael Carabello. You’ve mentioned that in order to be heard you had to use thicker cymbals than you would have liked, and that the sound of your toms tended to be swallowed up by the conga and timbal tones. In fact, your hi-hat, snare and crash were often what were most audible, especially live. When we could hear your bass drum and toms they often seemed to be doubling the bass guitar or congas, except with fills on song intros and the more rock-oriented tunes. What playing philosophy did you have to adopt in order to function as part of Santana’s Latin Rock percussion section?

MICHAEL: I was somewhat limited in my Latin playing, and still am. I brought more of a jazz approach, which I think worked well with some those earlier tunes like “Treat.” I had to quickly learn how to stay out of the way of the congas and timbales, and the higher frequencies of the hi-hat and snare would help with that. I would tend to stay on the hi-hat as long as possible until the chorus or the ending or outro sections of the songs. The songs often went to double time on the outros and that is where I’d crank up the energy and go to the bell of the ride cymbal and use the toms. Yes, the bass drum would often match the bass guitar and the toms would match the conga rhythm. We had a lot of drums, a thick organ sound and Carlos playing rhythm as well, when he wasn’t playing the melody or soloing, so the idea was to sound like one big rhythm group. Very often it was just that: one huge rhythm, and live it was a monster!

On sections of cha-cha style tunes like “Oye Como Va” and “Guajira,” there are sections where your hi-hat seems to be simulating the sound of a guiro in a salsa band. Were you consciously going for a guiro-type pattern, or just looking for something that “sounded good?”


MICHAEL: Yes, I was consciously going for the guiro sound from a salsa band. I would try to use it strategically between a closed hi-hat sound with straight quarter notes on the rim of the snare, and then bring that guiro hi-hat for a chorus or a lift in a chorus, again still trying to save the bell of the cymbal for later. Speaking of “Guajira”, that is one of my all-time favorite Santana songs. I love the vocal that Rico sang, the melody of the vocal, I loved the time change to 6/8, and I think Carlos’ performance may be one of my all-time favorites of his. So melodic and so passionate! I love that song!

While living in New York in the post-Santana years, you studied with a highly respected conguero and percussion teacher, the late Frankie Malabe. As Frankie taught you about Latin rhythms. you realized that the drum parts you’d been playing in Santana weren’t authentically Latin. You definitely weren’t –clueless– back in the Santana days (I remember your Afro-Cuban “cascara” or “palito” pattern on the hi-hat in “Para Los Rumberos”). Still, how would you have changed your general approach or specific drum parts with Santana had you understood Latin rhythms the way you do now? Feel free to get technical with us…there are lots of drummers and percussionists in the house here at Moonflower Cafe!

MICHAEL: To tell you the truth, I hope I wouldn’t change anything! Like I said earlier, the rhythm section was a bit quirky, but it worked well together. Michael Carabello didn’t play “correctly,” and neither did David Brown. I barely knew Latin music, but made it fit with those guys. I’ve heard many incarnations of Santana since then, with some of the best players in the world, players who can play circles around anyone of us, and the best they can do for THOSE songs is to try to get that magic that we had. You have to know that I mean that with all respect to those players. I admire them and look up to them, and they are friends of mine, and they will tell you the same thing I just did. Incidentally, that hi-hat pattern on “Para Los Rumberos” was taught to me by Coke Escovedo! Studying with Frankie Malabe was a beautiful experience for me. I was self-conscious, because I was the drummer from Santana and was expected to know all these rhythms, but I didn’t! So I just flat out told Frankie that and he worked with me. I still work out of his book, but I still consider myself an unseasoned Latin player.

John Bonham was a loud drummer, yet he seemed to primarily use his wrists. Did playing with Santana force you to do something about your volume? How about your hardware and sticks…did you have to compensate?

MICHAEL: I never was a real loud drummer, and I’m still not. In fact, what I’ve realized in putting my new band together is that I want to play softer and softer but still really drive the band. So you have to have dynamics. With Santana, it was loud, but nothing like it is today! I think that the band was really, really intense energy-wise. It was more of a collective energy and pulse that moved the people, not volume. I never had a loud backbeat, for instance, that’s why I’m not a true “rock” drummer, and guys who know will tell you that. I didn’t really have to compensate for anything. When the energy took you, you just went with it. I was and still am on the lighter side, double strokes and all. For the life of me, no matter how much I practice, I still can’t get a good, sustained single stroke roll!

Last October at Seattle’s Experience Music Project (EMP), you, Carabello, Adrian Areas and Alphonso Johnson presented “Santana Rhythms,” a discussion/demonstration showing how the classic Santana rhythm arrangements were created, inventive patterns that were part of the greatness of the original Santana group. What explanation did you give the audience? Can you describe to our readers how you guys concocted the grooves for songs like “Soul Sacrifice,” “Jungle Strut” and “Batuka?”

MICHAEL: That would be tough to put into words. We are hoping to do more with that group, and possibly do a DVD. Remember, they were already playing “Soul Sacrifice” when I got in the band. I had never really heard what Doc was playing, so I just made up my own part. It’s so simple that I think all these great drummers that play with Carlos must be embarrassed to play it, or maybe it’s just that Carlos wants to keep working on it and make it interesting to play after all these years. It’s just a complete 16th note pattern on the snare with the snares off, and me striking a tom on the one of each beat, right with David’s bass, and then the accent on the snare every 4th beat or every other 4th beat. Of course there’s more to it than that, but technically, that’s it. Same with “Jingo,” all floor tom playing like a swing jungle rhythm on the floor tom, right with the bass again, but with accents on the snare every other bar. That’s what Carlos calls the “booty beat,” because it’s that accent that makes you dance. “Jungle Strut” is a tune that I brought to the band after I heard it on saxophonist Gene Ammons’ record. Bernard Purdie played drums on the original, and I was just trying to cop Bernard’s thing. Of course ours was really electric, and much different than Gene’s. We had that solo section where Carlos, Neal and Gregg trade solos. David and I go into an almost Motown type of thing, or the bass does anyway, and I play all over the snare and toms in that same rhythm as the bass, but spread out over the drums. See, that section is like “Soul Sacrifice,” in that I was playing a rhythm around the drums, not just a backbeat, and I really enjoyed doing that whenever possible in the band, whenever the music called for it. “Batuka” is another story, it’s a bit more unnatural, with a lot of different sections to it. The cowbell was the signature sound on that song, along with the guitar riff.

You and all of the other Santana band members were listed as co-authors of the songs “Savor,” “Persuasion,” “Treat,” “You Just Don’t Care,” “Soul Sacrifice,” “Batuka” and “Toussaint l’Overture.” Can you talk a little about the “group writing” process with the original band…did these songs evolve from jams?” Did you come up with any of the melodies or lyrics for those songs, as you did on later albums?

MICHAEL: “Savor” was a jam. I play a jazz swing beat with Latin tom groove. “Persuasion” was Gregg’s tune that we put a monster groove sound behind…maybe somebody else came up with the middle section. A lot of the writing was done by Gregg and Carlos, and then people would come up with ideas for other sections, or where the song could or should go. “Treat” was Gregg’s too, his Eddie Harris tribute, and then Carlos would come up with a melody and play that. We would all work together on the arrangements for most everything. The great thing is that we would just jam the tunes until the groove was right. We would spend a considerable amount of time on the percussion parts, the drum and bass parts, so that the whole thing, no matter what the song was, FELT good. When everyone would start smiling and saying “That shit is BAD”, then we knew it was good! Oh, and just maybe, maybe, we might spend a few minutes on the vocals then. We never spent time on the vocals! “You Just Don’t Care” was Gregg’s. Being a keyboard player or a guitar player in a band full of percussionists, you’re going to be doing most of the writing. I don’t think it was until a bit later that I started doing lyrics.

Your drum solo on “Soul Sacrifice” is one of the most celebrated in rock history. By the time Santana played Woodstock had you standardized that solo, or was it totally improvised on the Woodstock stage?

MICHAEL: Trust me, it was improvised! Every time I see it I cringe when I get to playing really softly on that Woodstock solo! I keep saying to myself, “What were you thinking, there’s a half million people out there, keep the groove going! It seems to have worked out, though!

Can you share your most vivid memory of Woodstock?



Well, Woodstock! Flying in on the helicopter was really something. You could see, first of all, that the interstate was just a complete parking lot. They closed it down, because people just gave up, got out of their cars and started walking towards the site. There was no way that the police could tow and impound that many cars! We had known from the news reports that the whole thing was out of hand, which is why we had to take a helicopter in…there was no other way to access the site. Flying over the crowd was like a revelation. Nobody had ever seen that many people together, and this for a rock concert! Of course, it was more than a rock concert, because people felt and thought they were changing the world at that time. That was the predominant feeling of most of the crowd, I would say. For us, it was a big deal, although we had already played some big pop festivals, like the Atlanta Pop Festival and others. Remember, though, that we didn’t have an album out and nobody had even heard of us. I think Bill Graham got us $500 to play at Woodstock. We had to win over the crowd, and it just so happened that our kind of “tribal” music fit this Woodstock “tribe” just right. I remember thinking from up on stage that it was like being on the shore of the ocean and looking out at the horizon, and as far as you could see there were just people, and then there was the sky. When we finished “Soul Sacrifice” and the roar of the crowd went up, we knew we had done our job. It was about as exhilarating as you could possibly imagine.


“Vibe” magazine named “Abraxas” “one of the essential albums of the 20th century.” Any comments on having been a part of that landmark recording?

MICHAEL: It’s very rewarding to be a part of something that people feel that strongly about so many years later, something that has had that kind of impact on people. I don’t know if we were at our peak, but we were certainly at our prime during the making of that record, and it was a fun record to make! We weren’t fighting or arguing. The arrangements were pretty much set, but for us it was always about the performance for the recordings. Did it feel good? And it did!

Is it true that you were the one who edited the singles that were to be released from “Abraxas?” In retrospect, a lot was riding on this task! How did you end up taking it on and what guidelines were you working with?

MICHAEL: I didn’t tell anybody I was doing it. Probably some of them still don’t know it, and I wasn’t interested in getting credit for it. I just knew that it had to be done for radio, thought I knew where it should be cut without hurting the integrity of the song, and went in with an engineer and cut the tape. Everybody liked it and that was that!

Abdul Mati Klarwein’s vivid, mystical artwork has adorned a number of album covers, including Santana’s “Abraxas,” Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew,” and your CD “Two Doors.” Have you been a long-time admirer of Klarwein’s art, and was it your idea to use his painting “The Annunciation” as the “Abraxas” cover?

MICHAEL: That was totally Mike Carabello’s idea. He’s the one the one that saw it and really pushed the band to use it. I think Miles already had “Bitches Brew” out, but Michael saw this and just went for it, and we loved it. Michael always had a good visual sense. Both Mike and Carlos use visual terms when trying to explain a piece of music, and Carlos will also speak in emotional terms. Michael will say, ‘Man, it’s like you know, when you see The Four Horseman coming out of the night sky, with the whips in their hands, pushing the horses to go faster, that’s that what this groove is like! Or Carlos will say, “Man, it’s like French-kissing your first girlfriend for the first time!” Or “You know man, there’s like human love and divine love, right? Well, we want BOTH on this song, OK?”

I understand that you and Gregg discovered fifteen-year-old Neal Schon while checking out a friend’s club gig. Schon was the guitarist in your friend’s band, and you were so knocked out by Neal’s playing that you got onstage to jam with him. Though you and Neal went your separate ways after “Caravanserai,” you reunited to rock out with him in HSAS and again in Abraxas Pool. What is it that gave you and Neal good musical and personal chemistry?

MICHAEL: We heard Neal at “The Poppycock” on University Avenue in Palo Alto. When I was younger I used to play jazz there with organist Paris Bertolucci, sax player Ken Baker (who later worked with John Lee Hooker), and a guitar player named Kevin…those guys taught me a lot. Gregg and I went to The Poppycock one night and there was this really young kid just wailing on guitar. It was Neal, still in high school and just blowing everybody away. He was playing Clapton style Blues and English rock, just what Gregg was into. Gregg freaked out, and he really wanted this kid in Santana! Gregg was writing more rock style tunes in the band, like “Persuasion,” “You Just Don’t Care,” “Taboo,” etc., and that was a big part of what Gregg brought to the table. Somehow Gregg convinced the band, and Carlos especially, that Neal would bring something “extra” to Santana, and he did. Neal was a very exciting player, and for a while there he and Carlos really enjoyed challenging each other and pushing each other. I’ve always thought it was really huge of Carlos to let another guitar player into the band, and I’ve also always thought that it must have been incredible for Neal to all of a sudden be placed in this situation of playing in a really big band at such a young age. I know, I’m not one to talk, but Neal was still in high school!

Michael, you have said that you ask Carlos to play “Toussaint l’Overture” whenever you sit in, and that you have memories of the high energy and intensity of recording that song. Does this make “Toussaint l’Overture” your favorite track from the original Santana band? It is one of our favorite Santana tunes.


MICHAEL: I’ve always loved “Toussaint” and it’s fun to play when sitting in with the band. Like I said, there are other tunes, like “Guajira”, and “Song of the Wind” that I love, too, and many others. I still love “Black Magic Woman!”

”Toussaint l’Overture” has a great drum roll intro that seems to have come directly from Pello El Afrokan’s old original recording of “Maria Caracoles.” Is there a story behind it, like who brought the Pello lick into the session, etc? Your cymbal crashes to signal the song’s end are something else as well. Some of the alternate versions of “Toussaint l’Overture” that have been released feature arrangements that are different from the studio version on the original “Santana III” release. How long did the band work on the song before coming up with that final “Santana III” version?

MICHAEL: I don’t know anything about the original recording of that break, nor do I remember who brought it to the band. Most likely it was Chepito or Carabello. I recently heard a live version I had never heard before that was quite a bit different than the final arrangement. Often times we would play the tunes live for quite awhile before we settled on a final arrangement and recorded it.


“VOLR” mentions that you introduced Santana to Gene Ammons’ “Jungle Strut.” What are some of your other contributions to the band’s repertoire and arrangements that we fans may not be aware of?

MICHAEL: Yes, I brought “Jungle Strut”. I brought “Stone Flower”, and I was into all the Brazilian music that worked its way into the band. Carlos related to that because of all the beautiful Brazilian melodies and rhythms, and the band had always been into Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, “Mas Que Nada” and all that. We would all bring stuff in to play for each other, and if we didn’t play a particular tune, we would cop the vibe of something and make up our own. We really were a very mood-capturing band. We would create a mood with the groove and make music on top of that.

In 1970, Bill Graham booked Miles Davis to tour as Santana’s opening act. Being cognizant of Miles’ stature, this must have been a big deal for you! Did hanging out with Miles and his band members like Chick Corea and Airto Moreira and hearing them night after night plant the seed that led you and Carlos toward the sophisticated jazz and Brazilian-influenced sounds of “Caravanserai,” “Welcome” and “Borboletta?”

MICHAEL: Of course! And on one tour we had Weather Report open for us, just so we could stand back there and watch them every night! Carlos and I and Michael Carabello as well, were already listening to this music and being influenced by it anyway, much to the chagrin of some of the other guys in the band! I felt like there were all of these incredible things happening at the time, musically. There was a revolution going on! You had Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone, Cream, and then you had Miles Davis with “Bitches Brew” and then Weather Report and Return to Forever, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Tony Williams Lifetime, and John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders on the jazz side. I think Carlos and I felt terribly excited about this happening movement in music and we desperately wanted to somehow be a part of that, or at least let it be reflected in our music.

Simon Leng describes you as having been “taken aback” when Carlos first described the direction he had in mind for the band after the “Santana III” album, and unhappy about continuing to gig after Carabello, David Brown (and Chepito, for a time) left the band. Still, to an outsider’s view, the musical and personal bonds you had with Carlos seemed to be growing stronger, to the point that you appeared to be co-leader of the “New Santana Band.” Any recollections of what you were thinking and feeling at the time?

MICHAEL: Like I said above, I was right there with Carlos. If anything, it was he and I both that were sharing these new interests, and we took great delight in the new direction musically. We were tired of “Rock and Roll”. We were tired of the music and we were tired of the drugged-out lifestyle that went with it. We were not innocents, but we now wanted a change in a variety of ways, not the least of which was the music. It felt like walking into a brand new candy store! It was also a survival mechanism. It felt like “Change or Die!”

Michael, you and Carlos came from very different backgrounds, yet among the members of the “classic” Santana band you two seemed to develop the strongest friendship and most solid musical partnership. Carlos has even said that you and he were “kindred spirits” and still “have a beautiful relationship.” To what do you attribute this?

MICHAEL: The way we feel about music and what it means to us on different levels. Also the way we walk through the world; our spiritual quests. We enjoy sharing our experiences with each other. When Carlos had the incredible reception for “Supernatural”, I was nothing but happy for him. I took my son Sam to the Grammy ceremony where he won all those awards, just to be there for and with him. Carlos didn’t know I was there, until later, but I wanted to be there. I take joy in his joy. When I did see him later at a party celebrating his triumphant evening, they took me into a small back room where he was having an intimate dinner with his family, I came in and he got up and came over and gave me a hug and said, “Now it’s complete.” I’ll never forget that. We have a bond. When the original Santana band was at it’s peak, and we were on the road, Carlos and I would get together practically every night after the show and just hang out and listen to music, music, music. Girls would come by and be in the room, and Carlos and I were like, “Man, have you heard this new Aretha tune, or this new Miles track or this new Wayne Shorter CD? Or this Nonato Buzar tune, or whatever. And the girls would just be sitting there, bored, and completely ignored! Eventually they would say, “Where’s the party?” We’d say, it’s obviously right here, but you might find Chepito’s room more to your liking!


Given the personalities involved and the heady times you all went through, what would it have taken to keep the players from the “Woodstock era” Santana together, plus or minus Neal, Rico Reyes and Coke Escovedo? Looking back, is there any way that lineup could have been salvaged for a few more years?

MICHAEL: Oh, I suppose if we had agreed to group therapy like Metallica or Aerosmith have done, perhaps we could have survived! And I’m not knocking therapy for bands! Seems like a great idea to me. After all, it’s all about relationships to the nth degree. But from where we were sitting, Carlos and I were going in one direction, and Neal and Gregg were going in another. Michael and David were in their own world at the time, trying to be Sly Stone. We didn’t have good leadership from management, and it was like the blind leading the blind. So I always figure, get back to the music, and that will guide you. After “Caravanserai,” I think they’d had it! You know, “What is this jazz shit?!” So Neal and Gregg hooked up with Herbie Herbert, who was our roadie. Herbie saw what they were after and provided encouragement and a support system for them to start to explore what they’d been missing from Santana, and so Journey was born. It all makes perfect sense, really.

The October/November 1971 incarnation of Santana included Mingo Lewis, Pete and Coke Escovedo and Tom Rutley. What did you think of that lineup? Do you have tapes of most of the old shows from that time period, and do you go back to listen to them?

MICHAEL: That was a group of great musicians, but it wasn’t a band sound. Tom Rutley was my bass player friend from the big band at College of San Mateo. The bandleader there, Dick Crest, gave me a real break and let me in that band, and it was a great experience. We used to play a bunch of arrangements by Neal Schon’s dad, Matt Schon. Tom Rutley taught me a ton about time and feel and really mentored me in the big band, as did Dick Crest, but Tom was a fish out of water in the Santana environment. We were like freaks to him, I think, especially on the road, but he did a great job on “Caravanserai” and I’ll always be happy that I was able to share that with him and give him some measure of thanks for the things he had taught me. I don’t think I have any live tapes from that period. Mingo had joined up in New York City at Madison Square Garden at the big showdown out there, and of course the Escovedo Brothers were well known in the Bay Area. They were both great players, but such a different sound than our original lineup.

You led Carlos out of the blues to explore Coltrane, Miles, film music, Gabor Szabo, Elvin Jones, ever intent on how the two of you might take those influences and make them your own. You brought the legacy of your jazz heroes into the Santana band in your playing, writing and repertoire choices. You also brought jazz players into the Latin Rock orbit like Tom Rutley (Santana & Azteca), Hadley Caliman (Santana & Malo), Tom Harrell (Santana, Malo & Azteca), and Lenny White (Azteca). Couldn’t we say that you were largely responsible for giving the Latin Rock genre its jazz tinge?

MICHAEL: Well, I gave Santana it’s “jazz tinge,” perhaps. If Santana created the Latin Rock genre, then I suppose that could be said, but there was already Latin Jazz with Cal Tjader and people like that. It was just the context we put it in, I suppose.

MC: Did you sit in often at Andre’s nightclub with trumpeter/flugelhornist Luis Gasca & Friends, and what were those jams like? What memories do you have of Luis in general and of playing on his album “For Those Who Chant?” Some Santana observers feel that being involved in “For Those Who Chant” was pivotal in the development of Carlos’ jazz playing…any thoughts on that subject?

MICHAEL: I sat in all the time at Andre’s. That was a lot of fun. Everybody was going down there and playing, guys from War, Larry Graham, Doug Rauch, Mike Clark and Paul Jackson from Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, and all the Santana guys. It was quite a scene there for a while. Druggy, with lots of cocaine going around, but some good music too. I remember Luis Gasca pretty well, but don’t really remember the making of “For Those Who Chant.” I don’t know what impression playing on that session made on Carlos. Luis was older than us and a bit more experienced, having played with Mongo Santamaria, Stan Kenton, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Cal Tjader, and many Latin groups. He was also playing in San Francisco with Janis Joplin, Van Morrison and members of the Dead and the Airplane, among others. Luis talked really fast, with a slight lisp. He was always running around, hustling something up, trying to make things happen. I always liked his spirit.

(in Switzerland): Michael, thanks a lot for giving us the opportunity to place’s very much appreciated. For me, you were always the ultimate Santana drummer, but beyond that you had a big influence concerning Santana’s musical direction. It was sad for me and other fans when you left Santana. “Caravanserai“ is till today one of my favorite Santana albums. Along with “Love Devotion Surrender“, “Welcome“ and “Borboletta“ it has never been equalled. That sound is like getting balsam for the soul.

MICHAEL: Thank you, Pierrot.



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Voices of Latin Rock and Latin Rock, Inc Present

9th Annual Voices of Latin Rock

Autism Awareness Benefit Concert

Thursday, January 24, 2013, 6pm doors

Bimbo’s 365 Club, San Francisco, CA


40th Anniversary

Generation Esmeralda

featuring Jimmy Goings

Puro Bandido


Plus Many Special Guests

Latin Rock Inc. and Dr. Rock are proud to present the 9th Annual Voices of Latin Rock Autism Awareness Benefit for The Alex Speaks Foundation, taking place on two big nights in 2013: at Bimbo’s 365 Club on Thursday January 24th and at The Fox Theatre RWC on Friday January 25th.

The headlining act for both nights will be Tierra, who are celebrating their 40th anniversary with hit songs such as “Together.” “Gonna Find Her,” “Barrio Suite,” and “Margarita”. January 24th at Bimbos SF also features Generation Esmeralda, well known for their versions of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “House of the Rising Sun”, along with the Border rock sounds of Puro Bandido, and the Filipino influenced Dakila. Along with Tierra, Friday January 25th at the Fox Theatre will also showcase Richard Bean and Sapo, celebrating 40 years of Sauvecito, withRuckatan’s fusion of Latin, Reggae and World Music as well as Puro Bandido.

The Alex Speaks Foundation’s goal is to help support children struggling with an autism disorder by contributing to autistic programs at local schools. The Alex Speaks Foundation was formed to partner with the Voices of Latin Rock event to raise funds for those programs.

Celebrating their 40th anniversary, TIERRA’s invigorating blend of R & B, Latin and Pop was the precursor to many Hispanic artists.  They have performed in such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, The American Music Awards, The Greek Theatre, American Bandstand, The Rose Bowl and concert venues worldwide.


TIERRA, named “Best Rhythm and Blues Vocal Group” by Billboard Cashbox, Record World, and BRE (Black Radio Exclusive), is the first Hispanic act to have four songs on the national pop charts, and two songs simultaneously in the top 100. They have shared the stage with some of the biggest stars of the musical world, including Michael Jackson, James Brown, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, John Cougar Mellencamp, Lionel Richie, Linda Ronstadt, and many more. 

Tierra also worked with some of the greatest artists of the Salsa music world such as Eddie Palmieri, Mongo Santamaria, Hector Lavoe, Ruben Blades, Willie Colon, just to name a few. Leader of the band, Rudy Salas holds the foundation of the group strong as he leads TIERRA into the new millenium. With their new CD, “On the Right Track”, this is one band that will not stop!,





Generation Esmeralda, featuring original lead singer Jimmy Goings is the EXCLUSIVE tribute to the music of “Santa Esmeralda”, and includes members of the original touring band: Tom Poole (Malo, Tower of Power) Tony Baker (the DeFranco Family, the Drifters), and Mick Valentino (Prince, Jaco Pastorias). Perhaps best known for their hit disco remakes of the 1960s hits “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “House of the Rising Sun”, the group Santa Esmeralda is now Generation Esmeralda featuring Jimmy Goings. The original concept was formed as a production project in 1976 by Jeanne-Manuel de Scarano and Nicholas Skorsky in Paris, France. Santa Esmeralda was inspired by the heroine of the same name from the Victor Hugo Classic “The Hunch Back of Notre Dame”. The group has come back together through the urging of trumpet player, Tom Poole, from the original “Santa Esmeralda Touring Band” and Brazilian promoter, Sergio Lopes. Goings and band mates return to the stage to tour in this new form as an exclusive tribute to the music and spirit of Santa Esmeralda. The group will also perform as the evening’s house band, with other guest artists to be announced soon.





The band plays high energy Latin Rock music, and was formed in the Mission District of San Francisco. Puro Bandido was instrumental in the development of Border Rock – crossing all borders; having no boundaries. Their sound is a combination of old school and new sounds created by a combination of driving percussion, an incomparable rhythm section and vocals to match. Puro Bandido is a highly acclaimed Latin Rock Band featuring Richard Segovia, Johnny Gunn, Rolando “Choco” Contreras, Angel Arozco, Rafael Ramirez, and Steve Salinas. The members of this band have written and/or performed with the likes of Carlos Santana, Stevie Wonder, Eddie Money, Randy Jackson, Tommy Castro, Kool & the Gang, Tower of Power and more.





Dakila was a San Francisco band composed mostly of Filipino-Americans. Their only album, Dakila, was released in 1972, recorded in San Mateo and released by Epic Records.  With a Latin infused rock/funk sound reminiscent of SantanaDakilaalso brought in Filipino influences, rockin’ in Tagalog on some of the tracks. One of the original members was conga player Raul Rekow, who went on to perform and record with Malo and Sapobefore spending much of the past 31 years in Santana. “DAKILA’s music is tribal in a very real sense. Most of the members are brothers or cousins, and all of them are relatives in the huge, soulful family called Mission District (SF, USA).” After many years of requests by different organizations and fans to bring the music of “Dakila” back, one of the original members, David Bustamante, felt compelled to try and organize some performances. Don’t miss the return of this epic band!

Tickets: $150 – $75 table seats sold by groups 10, 6 and 4 only at:

415 -285-7719 or email DrBGMalo@aol

For single tickets at Latin Rock, Inc. B & C tables

please call Sam Totah at 415-404-5780 or

$55 General Admission back tables

Tickets and further information can be found

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It seems appropriate at this festive time of the year to perhaps remember the true meaning of Christmas, apart from commercialism, spending, presents, plus eating and drinking. And to also relate it to a Latin rock theme for this web-blog.

In 2000 a Latin rock flavoured CD slipped out largely unnoticed under the auspices of Dr Bernie Gonzalez, who was the long time manager of veteran grupo Malo and is the chief instigator of the Alex Autism Awareness/Voices Of Latin Rock shows. (These are coming up to their 9th show in January 2013).

 The original pressing was for 2000 copies which has since sold thru, but the good news is Dr Gonzalez has spoken of an upcoming 2013 re-release. So anyone interested will be able to track this worthy CD down next year and add it to his or her Latin rock collection.

Bernie Gonzalez remembers, “At that time Tony Menjivar approached me to listen to some new music they had going on. I had left both the Malo music scene and the music business thing at that time. It was at a time when Tony had just become involved in this Christian ministry and I became the executive producer. At the time I had just gotten married and my daughter Samantha was just one year old. I didn’t want people to know I was doing the Executive producer role.So that’s why my daughter’s name is on the credits as Executive Producer. We thought we’d honour her birthday like that. I also played guitar on one of the cuts. That was Tony throwing me a biscuit to get me more involved (laughs). It is funny because Tony did his ministry at a show the day after a recent Voices Of Latin Rock show in Denver and he has grown so much in his ministry and in his music since back then. I was so impressed that we are going to re-release the Bueno CD next year (2013) and for me the music really stands up. It sounds really fresh, not at all like it’s ten years old. The difference in Tony is day and night after ten years of him being a minister. He is so much more credible and has so much more conviction. Now this is a good time to release the music again.”

Gonzalez also opined, “We were gonna’ work with a pastor/minister called Mario Murillo, he had taken the guys back East. We were going to work with this guy and he was promising big things but it did not happen? The Bueno project was well received at first but it kind of died out. They combined the message very well, with the Latin rock thing. The musicians were all great, they were no slouches.”

 The CD in question was simply called BUENO, a play on the word Malo, with Malo meaning “bad” and Bueno meaning “good”. The album is a little known but beautifully recorded classic. It is Latin Rock with a difference though. Many of the members within the sessions were members of the Malo group. The project was helmed and dreamed up by Gabriel Manzo (Malo guitarist) with musical compadre Tony Menjivar, (who, at that time was Malo’s long time conga drummer and musical director). At that time both Manzo and Menjivar had tried to bring in “newer” sounds to the Malo song catalogue. The songs Techno Rumba and Ritmo Tropical support their attempt at a more fresh sound for the band.With Arcelio Garcia (Mr Malo himself as the lead vocalist) since the band’s inception in 1971 in San Francisco in the head slot, these three forged a tough Malo band sound throughout the eighties, nineties and into the new millennium. During many personnel changes in back up singers, bassists and horn players, these three musicians stayed as a constant.

Bueno however was a very different musical enterprise to Malo. The main difference was its emphasis on the teachings and spiritual redemption of Jesus Christ. The album is soaked with a reverential atmosphere but this ambience does not in any detract from the glorious material and musicality presented herein. The band made good use of drummers Gregg Errico (from Sly’s original band and who also played in a side project that Manzo and Menjivar had going on called Many Faces). Bobby Gaviola, who was Sapo’s original cooking drummer and recorded for their debut album in 1974, ably handled the other drum duties. The added presence of Leo Rosales on timbales, alongside later Malo timbalero Gibby Ross, ensured a spicy topping to the illustrious drum kit playing.

Gabriel Manzo is a stunning Latin rock player and has not received his just deserts in the pantheon of Latin rock players. Alongside Carlos, Jorge Santana, Neal Schon, Oscar Estrella, Abel Zarate and more, Gabe has ploughed a consistent path with a sensitive but dynamic approach to this style of guitar picking. I remember a gig in 1999, held in a club in Ventura California, just outside Los Angeles. I attended this gig with the Malo band and one of the highlights was an extended guitar solo by Manzo. This was on an earlier Sapo tune, funnily enough called Sapo’s Montuno. Here, Gabe treated the assembled audience to a dazzling display of lightning fast flurries, melodic and lyrical runs, as well as soulful and bluesy licks that had the crowd roaring their approval. This type of Latino rock playing by Gabe and on this particular track is available on an independent release called Malo: Rocks The Rockies, if you are able to search it out. Anyone hearing this will grasp the sense of dynamism and use of space and motion to drive the solo onwards, steadily building it to a momentous climax. The aforementioned two titles Ritmo Tropical and Techno Rumba are also to be found on the Latin Legends Live (Thump Records) and En Vivo Live / Malo (EMI Latin) CD releases.

A funny aspect to the gig was that Gabe and I were somehow late and missed the band bus on to the venue. We managed to hitch a mad ride in the back of an open top truck. We were hanging on for dear life as we drove to the nightspot where the show was to begin, with Tierra as the support band.Manzo’s cohort in Malo, Tony Menjivar was yet another Mission District conga drummer prodigy, one of the many percussionists who had their musical chops honed and together at a very young age. Other players like Gilberto Ross, Roberto Quintana, Adrian Areas, Karl Perazzo and many more spring to mind. Tony had played originally and at the age of fourteen with Chepito’s All-Stars band around the Bay Area. He had also gigged with Pablo Tellez and a version of Malo that existed called Uno Malo during the time that Arcelio Garcia had relocated to New York City. It was appropriate that he would sit in the conga drum seat for years with Malo, as his wildly explosive conguero style was both visually thrilling to behold, as much as it was musically developed and exciting to listen to.

The recording Bueno was put together with its central concept as a form of musical ministry to Believers and non-believers alike. The band did various shows in California at churches and rallies across the Bay Area and the wider California region to promote the message of the recording. The recording holds a special significance for myself as even before listening to it, I had listened to both Gabe and Tony’s testimonies of their coming to faith in Jesus Christ. This happened one great night as we were up on the 24th floor of the swanky looking Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco and we all shared our different stories at a gig with Congas Y Guitarras that the guys were playing.

It was after the above-mentioned 1999 Malo gig in Ventura that I had a very significant spiritual awakening. It was later that night after the gig and back in my hotel room. In the room’s quiet, I thumbed through a Gideon’s Bible (that are usually left in a drawer or somewhere in hotel rooms and are always free and given out all over the world). An event both gently enlightening and life changing again was about to occur. I suddenly read a piece of the New Testament and I did not know it then, but the Holy Spirit “quickened” this relevant (I wish I could remember the actual part of the Gospel that it was?) piece of Scripture and it really “sprang out” at me, thus giving me a very intense and illuminating feeling that maybe, just maybe, this Gospel of Jesus Christ was not all just a load of garbage, as I had vehemently thought. I had grown up in an Irish Roman Catholic environment but had totally rejected the religion at around fifteen years old. I had originally a good feeling about Jesus as a child but the sheer religiosity and hellfire and damnation approach of the Catholic Church turned me off big time. At the age of fifteen, I threw out the baby (Jesus) with the bathwater and turned my back on God and salvation.

Several years on from rejecting the faith, I had prayed to Jesus on the 2nd October 1985 in desperation and had been totally and miraculously delivered from a debilitating drug and alcohol habit. Over a year later I was able to quit smoking cigarettes also. But it took me a good thirteen years in 12 Step recovery to finally realise what had happened to me and also what the effects of that fraught prayer in 1985 had been. Whilst contemplating writing what was to become the Voices Of Latin Rock book, these small but significant events happened in a sequence. Stitching my life into a more discernible series of Christ-based spiritual events, that has made a lot more sense in hindsight.

Bueno was released a year later in 2000 and co-incided with my own early and developing belief in the supernatural power and grace of Jesus Christ. There are about three totally standout tracks on the CD for me and I will attempt to describe these in words. One remark made about the CD at the time by a friend was that people should not do “secular” based songs as Christian songs but I remember disagreeing entirely. I did not believe it mattered how one praised or glorified Christ, as long as the motives were from a pure place and a prayerful heart. The song they had a problem with was “Jesu Christo Mi Lindo” which was set to the tune and around the lyrics of Malo’s one and only Top 20 Billboard hit, Suavecito. I think that they felt there was a deliberate attempt here at “cashing in” or something but I did not see that at all. I think it was a clever idea to use a very well known Latino anthem to represent different lyrics and praise for Christ with the well-known melody.

The CD opens with a musical declaration of Psalm 150 which features stirring and strident guitar solo playing by Manzo over a bed of soothing organ courtesy of veterano Hammond and keys player Hermann Eberitzsch. Overlaid is an intoned version of the Psalm in both the Spanish language by Rosa Martinez and followed by a version in English by Amelia Cacciari.

Praise the Lord

Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.

Praise him for his acts of power: praise him for his surpassing greatness.

Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet; praise him with the harp and lyre,

Praise him with timbrel and dancing, 
praise him with the

     P  Praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.


          Track 2 follows with a swinging Latin riff to herald the opening cut King Of Kings, a rousing and grooving rhythm with which to open the album. It features a loping Latin ritmo with twin harmony guitars by Gabriel. Following a twinkling piano solo by Rick Treat with Herman’s Hammond B3 following the action all the way thru. This gives way to a rousing guitar solo by Manzo in which he takes his time to build the solo carefully and gets to some clean, crisp, fervent Latino styled figures on the fret board. Over the refrain “Praise The Lord “, Menjivar gets down to serious conga soloing and the song ends with a musical coda over which Reverend Ed Stuart intones that “the justshall live by faith”, over a rumba guaguanco rhythm. The already mentioned Jesu Christo Mi Lindo follows and re-works the songSuavecito as already discussed. With creamy horns featuring some of the Bay area’s finest; including Tom Poole, who has played with everyone from Etta James (RIP) Boz Scaggs and of course Malo. The song also has Steve Rocha on trombone who was yet another alumni of the Malo school.

 Fire follows with excellently produced vocals and great backing built harmonies. Fire is a gentler tune, again featuring heavily layered vocals after a phased guitar opening. Paul Benavidez supplies an ethereal and higher register vocal alongside singer Octaviano Cueto. This song describes the fire building inside a Believer as they feel and encounter The Holy Spirit as it infuses them with His warmth and love. In more total terms the Spirit infuses people with the enduring Grace of God. Paul Benavidez, who was then a current Malo singer with a great high register vocal style, takes the main vocal. Manzo in a rousing vocal coda reminds us that, “For my grace you were saved and it is a gift of God”.

Some down-home funk follows with Don’t Take This Feeling Away From Me and cooks along in a mid-tempo groove with Bobby Gaviola slipping some greasy slippery hi-hats and funky drums into the sound picture. Gabe Manzo takes the lead with a nice growling vocal, supplemented by another cooking piano solo by Rick Treat. This is aided and abetted by a strident horn section, echoing in some respects, a Tower Of Power style groove. The songs deals lyrically with the Second Coming of Jesus and asks Him to not take the state of grace away from a Believer’s heart and soul.

Alabare follows and is a cool, conga led percussion llego style jam, over which Tony Menjivar drops some tasty conga fills and drops into the assembled mix.

Jesus You Came To Me is simply priceless and is a Gabe Manzo led vocal piece with excellent harmonies. All thru this recording I can remember, on first hearing, enjoying how richly layered and well produced the vocals were throughout. Consistently balanced and with fine harmony layering. The lyrics speak for themselves, “Jesus you came to me when I was down, flat on the ground. No one understood my pain. I want to share these words, to share the things He has done for us,” Again beautiful massed vocals feature with the top vocal line from Gabe Manzo This tune also features a plaintive and swirling violin solo refrain from Christopher Kranyak. The song builds up to a rousing coda with the repeated “Oh Lord! I love you so,” driving the band’s sound home with a deep sense of conviction. With added and superb Latin rock guitar soloing from Gabe. A choral ending, just featuring vocals  end this sublime song.

The Lord Is With Me is a stirring and strengthening song which reinforces the singer’s and listeners belief in Christ and reminds that this is a renewable source, which needs a daily inflowing and replenishing. The song starts with the Psalm which exhorts us, “Lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways, acknowledge Him. He will direct your paths. Trust in Him, keep your eyes on Him.”  It is a simply gorgeous song with just the right tension in the rhythm section. Beautiful nylon strung guitarra flourishes ennoble the song, which has a Spanish bullring style feel. Could this be Mr Gonzalez?? Excellent trompeta stabs by Tom Poole and flurries excite the soundscape further. The songs starts to build with a sweet vocal chorus, “Oh Lord, I trust in you, I will do my best for you,” till its abrupt end with a guitar repeat echo.

 Psalm 150 returns and this time is presented as a deeply spiritual, almost harrowing piece of solo guitar by Gabriel Manzo. One imagines Golgotha perhaps, at the beginning of the piece. This is almost like a Christian Samba Pa Ti but evoking a much deeper spiritual reality. Manzo’s guitar plunges and swoops thru the soundscape over a bed of Hammond B3 by Hermann Eberitzsch as before. The guitar is high in the mix and gets down to some bluesy wailing intermixed in the on-going solo. The guitar swirls and peaks thru some inspired Latino guitar playing by Gabriel and stands alongside Jorge Santana’s No Matter on Malo Ascension, Carlos’s Samba Pa Ti onAbraxas and Neal Schon and Carlos on Song Of The Wind on Caravanserai as examples of inspired guitar playing. It is simply and starkly beautiful.

Introducing some doo-wop into the CD is He’s Coming Home, and is a reminder of early Hispanic vocal groups standing on the street corners of the Mission District. The main vocal is ably led by Octaviano Cueto and features the recording’s trademark luxurious and creamy backing vocals.

A personal message from Tony Menjivar introduces Pastor Sonny Lara of San Jose, who tells us of how he appreciates his children, not being out on the streets and gang banging and safe at home in bed at night. It is a very appropriate and timely message after the shooting of the school kids in Connecticut that occurred yesterday.

Like Pastor Sonny says at the outro,“ Try God, and you if don’t want Him, you can have your misery and hurt and pain refunded with interest by the devil and then some. It is not a religion, it’s a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, then I ask you to pray this simple prayer. Lord: I pray this in Jesus’ Holy Name. Love brings in strong will and that what God brings to the house. I can still talk to God, in the middle of the ocean. This is the BEST decision I ever made and there is away out,. Whatever you are going thru, God can turn everything around. I want to introduce to the Master who can make these changes for you. I lift up my Spirit, souls and body, I pray this in Jesus’ Holy Name. And now your name is written in the Book Of Life.”

 The album finishes and fades out with some haunting Mexican music as played by a small combo singing “Alleluia.” The album is dedicated to Tony Menjivar’s father Alberto and also to Bertha Menjivar who passed over before the making of the record. It is very good news to hear that this excellent piece of work is due a renewed lease of life, a second coming if I may? I will endeavour to update any further details of its re-release on here as soon as possible.


Recommended viewing/listening.

Malo drop some Techno Rumba on their 25th year tour, showing Gabriel Manzo on guitar on Tony Menjivar on congas. Plus some added killer timbales from Roberto Quintana.


Malo CD’s still available thru


Malo: En Vivo Live CD



Malo: Latin Legends Live CD



Best Of Malo CD



Celebracion: Malo 4 x CD Box set



Malo: Senorita CD



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Luis Gasca: For Those Who Chant:

The Mission District’s Bitches Brew.

Recorded Columbia Studios: 17 & 18th August 1971

Finding Latino Rock records in the early 1970’s

As a young kid about 14 years old, I discovered the original Santana band. When the 3rd album was released in October 1971, I did not think anything of walking to Beggars Banquet, a hip record store (then) situated in Ealing Broadway. Ealing was a suburb of West London; it was a good 4 or 5 miles walk from my house in Hanwell, which was also located in West London. I bought Santana 3 a few days before the UK release, the US releases seemed much better; they had much thicker card which was used on the album covers with sleeve foldouts and heavier vinyl on the US Columbia label. (Our CBS releases in the UK seemed thinner in the actual vinyl on the records and thinner in album packaging) and I just couldn’t wait the extra week to hear it. It was a very mind blowing recording, a towering selection of underground cuts that was a Number One Billboard seller. Since then I have had the pleasure of writing the sleeve notes to the Santana 3rd album CD reissue released as a deluxe two x CD set in 2005.

This was thanks to the auspices of original keyboardist and lead vocalist Gregg Rolie.

Shortly after buying Santana 3, I walked up again to Beggars Banquet and Steve Webbon who worked there (and who had been an art student at Ealing School Of Art, where I also had been studying art and design) showed me another beautifully designed album, with a white cover and a very nice artwork of a Negress/goddess with a rose floating over her Afro’d head. I was immediately interested in the sleeve visually and then Steve dropped the bombshell, “All the original Santana band are on this recording”.

Actually David Brown, Santana’s bassist was missing but all the others were there, plus Lenny White, Stanley Clark and a battery (literally) of percussionists, eleven in all.

I was intrigued by the music as Steve put the vinyl on over the shop’s speakers, it was Miles-like but had strong Latin rhythms and I had become aware of Luis Gasca’s hot trumpet flourishes from Para Los Rumberos on the preceding Santana 3rd album. I believe that I heard the Luis release on around December 1971 or early 1972 on Blue Thumb Records. The recording has always stayed with me as a really deep and important piece of music, edited from long jams that were recorded at the Columbia Studios in Folsom Street, San Francisco on the 17th and 18th August 1971.

During writing the book Voices of Latin Rock, it was not possible to contact Luis but since then, I have had the pleasure to correspond with him and he has shed much light on this epochal recording made in those heady days when Santana was ruling the airwaves and the album charts worldwide.

I am also indebted to Abel Zarate for further detailed interview information, Jeffry Trager for added spice as he worked at Blue Thumb and also frequented Andres Club on Broadway, where “hellacious jams” occurred according to Greg Errico.

I would like to thank also Victor Aleman for some rare photos of Luis and Joe Henderson and Bernie Arriaga (co-owner of Andres Club) from back in the day.

Victor also supplied a subsequent telephone interview from Los Angeles and other extraordinary photos from back in those heady days.

Thanks also to Mark Levine, renowned keyboardist (one of four keyboard players at and on the sessions) who although not entirely sure of certain details, shed further light on these sessions.

I tried to contact Carmelo Garcia, who is not dead as I was led to believe, but living somewhere in L.A. or maybe New York City.

Michael Carabello supplied me with a cassette when I first met him in 1991 in Fairfax, California from his personal reel – to – reel tapes from these Columbia Studio sessions. I thank him retrospectively for that, as it is great to hear the initial un-dubbed sessions with false starts and no tribal vocals plus the extra pieces of unreleased further jamming in the studio.

I would like to thank Michael Shrieve for casting an eye over the interview and adding his reminiscences and comments. Thank you all gentlemen!



Luis Gasca: Luis Gasca! 1971 Blue Thumb Release!

Personnel includes:

Luis Gasca (Trumpet & Flugelhorn);

Joe Henderson (Tenor Saxophone);

Carlos Santana, Neal Schon,

Abel Zarate (Guitars);

George Cables, Gregg Rolie, Mark Levine

(Piano, Electric Piano);

Richard Kermode (Organ);

Lenny White, Michael Shrieve (Drums);

Stanley Clark (Bass);

Victor Pantoja, Mike Carabello (Congas);

Carmelo Garcia, Coke Escovedo (Timbales);

Rico Reyes, Snooky Flowers (Percussion).

Jose “Chepito” Areas; Vibes

Joan Macgregor, Garnett Mimms; Percussions.



A1. Street Dude (11:40);

A2. La Raza (8:03);

B1. Spanish Gypsy (15:07);

B2. Little Mama (5:28).

Artwork By [Painting Of Front And Back Cover] – Phillip Lindsay Mason

Engineer [Recording] – Glen Kolotkin, Mike Larner

Mixed By – Ken Hopkins, Luis Gasca, Stan Marcum

Photography – Victor Aleman

Producer [For David Rubinson & Friends, Inc., San Francisco] – Luis Gasca.

Supervised By [Production] – Stan Marcum

Recorded at Columbia Recording Studios, San Francisco August 17 & 18, 1971

Mixed at Wally Heider Recording, San Francisco

Dedicated to Gonzales Mares Garza “with little birds and flowers”, 1902 – December 25, 1971

For Those Who Chant Interviews —

 Luis Gasca was a scenester and musician-about-town in 1971 in San Francisco. He jumped the Santana train through the auspices of percussionista Coke Escovedo, played horn and was very influential as the horn section with Roy Murray (see earlier interview with Roy on this site) on the debut Malo disc. He also recorded For Those Who Chant, which is the main thrust of this piece.

Luis remembered his introduction to this exhilarating, fomenting situation, “I had met the Santana band while I was part of the Kosmic Blues Band with Janis Joplin at Woodstock, they were unknown at that time and on they’re way to becoming very, very famous. Janis was very popular at that time and being a Latino along with Carlos, Chepito, Mike Carabello and Fito Parra (the drummer for Canned Heat) we sort of bonded you might say several years before the For Those Who Chant recording.

I had played on the 3rd (Santana 3) and 4th (Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles Live) Santana albums and became good friends with Stan Marcum, whom I considered very smart and he had some very good and different ideas for a person that had little experience in the band and recording business, also another quality I saw in him, which is also very rare in the record business, was that he was not greedy. He was very fair and not an egomaniac like people I had worked with, like Albert Grossman (manager of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin) also Joe Dorn (who ran the affairs of Roberta Flack and Freddie Hubbard) and a wannabe musician, “you will never work in this town again type of dick head”, namely David Rubinson.

Because of Stan’s fairness, I, Victor Pantoja, Hadley Caliman, all received royalties from the Santana and Buddy Miles album. Stan never received the credit he deserved and unfortunately lost his position during the original Santana band disagreements and Bill Graham’s power trips.

I will forever be indebted to and miss Stan and like many of us at that time he had “his demons”.

Does anyone know what happened to Stan?

 (Stan Marcum never overcame his alcohol and drug demons and died in 2010 I believe, according to what Herbie Herbert told me. There was an obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, this information was also relayed to me by Herbie – Jim note).

I asked Luis about the “Chant” recording and how it came about?

Stan lent me $7.000 to get started and he got the studio time the engineers, etc, and helped get the Santana guys to be part of the musical trip.  Mike Carabello and Michael Shrieve and also Carlos at one time or another, helped me when I managed Andres Club in North Beach along with Bernie Arriaga.

(See Victor Aleman’s photo of Gasca and Arriaga with Eddie Palmeiri – Jim note).

While working with Mongo Santamaria in 1967 we recorded an album with David Rubinson before he became the San Francisco based “infant terrible” ha, ha!!
After the success of the first Malo record, I took my recorded tape to David and with the bargaining power of the Santana name he got me a contract with Blue Thumb Records. I did not have any specific ideas in mind, except to get the musicians in the studio with no preconceived musical ideas.

I was always been influenced by Miles Davis and had been listening to the Bitches Brew and Miles In The Sky albums, where he broke away from chord changes, to playing musical statements and motifs, more so than melodies going in and out and different time feels. So I gave it my best shot and all things considered I think it stands the test of time like my other albums, especially with all the things going on around me at that time, which also included my own demons.

Victor Aleman was originally a member and director/founder of The Outlaw Blues Band, which lasted for seven years in Los Angeles and he then became involved in photographing the nascent Latin and Jazz scene in San Francisco in 1970’s.

“At the end of The Outlaw Blues Band contract with ABC Bluesway Records where we recorded two albums with Bob Thiele as a producer (producer of John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong and many other great musicians), I became involved in photography and visual arts.

One day I went to see Larry Young, the great jazz organist playing at Griffith Park at a series of free concerts they held in the Los Angeles area. After Larry Young’s set Luis Gasca came to play next; Luis had Carmelo Garcia on timbales, Hadley Caliman on tenor sax, Lenny White on drums, George Cables on piano, Victor Pantoja on congas and other musicians that I do not recall. At that time I didn’t know who Luis Gasca was.

Luis was also playing a gig at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach where I went and show him the images that I have taken at the Griffin Park concert. He told me he really liked my photography and if I would be interested in going to San Francisco to meet a new band called Malo. They need photographs for a new album cover they were just finishing.

I travelled to the bay area and I started photographing Malo at rehearsals at The Heliport in Sausalito and the many other places they played at that time.

For me, Abel Zarate at that time was one of the best guitarists in that scene. The band had all kinds of problems, with young egos etc, I thought when that initial lineup dissolved they really lost something very special. Of course they went on to get master conguero Francisco Aguabella and Hadley Caliman on the second recording.”

(Jim note; Victor Aleman was responsible for the infrared back cover and dramatic photos of Malo inside the fold out on their debut album release. He also did the photography for three albums released by Luis Gasca and was one of the official photographers at the Keystone Korner club in North Beach where he documented the greatest jazz musicians including Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Stan Getz, Yusef Lateef, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and many others.)

Luis Gasca was then living with Richard Kermode in the North Beach area of San Francisco. Gasca introduced Aleman to Andres Club on Broadway, in North Beach, San Francisco. Andres was being run for its fairly short but dramatic lifespan, by a local hipster called Bernie Arriaga.

Victor remembers it as, a “small little club in North Beach, the very hip and historical area in San Francisco. It was very close to the bay, so there was a lot of tourists, artists and the club became a magnet for Latin jazz at that time, because Luis made it onto “the” hip scene of the city.

Luis had the gift of attracting a lot of other musicians to any club he was playing at. Luis made it happen. Carlos Santana used to come there when he was in his learning transition about jazz. I think Luis and the many musicians that were playing there at that time were pretty instrumental in expanding Carlos’ musical horizons. You never knew who was going to show up on any given night. Luis was running the house band there. The Santana musicians showed up a lot, the Escovedo brothers, Armando Peraza, Victor Pantoja, Francisco Aguabella, George Cables, Lenny White, Sly and the Family Stone, Rick Stevens, Mongo Santamaria and many other musicians that I really do not remember. But it was the place to be any day of the week in San Francisco, because it was full of surprises, musically.”

For Luis Gasca’s seminal “Chant” recording, a mixture of these jazz musicos and the original Santana band entered the Columbia Studios that August in 1971…

I asked Luis about the interplay between the Santana group and the jazz players?

“I’ve already mentioned that Stan Marcum helped me with the Santana band and I personally asked the guys.
At that particular time all the Santana band including Carlos had received instant fame and fortune and with the power struggle going on within the band, they had plenty of time to hang out.

Having Victor Pantoja, Francisco Aguabella, Carmelo Garcia, Richard Kermode, Hadley Caliman in my band at any given time, allowed them to hang out and sit in and also to become personal friends.

Joe Henderson was appearing at a great jazz club managed by Delano Dean Delano (Dean was the owner of the jazz club both/and. I played there one night and Dizzy Gillespie and Roland Kirk sat in with me, it was a famous great club!)

He (Joe Henderson) asked me if I needed any more musicians when I asked him to do the record date; he took the whole band along which also included, George Cables, and an unknown bass player at that time Stanley Clark and Lenny White, the drummer who had recorded on Bitches Brew with Miles Davis – by the way the flute player on “Chant” is Hadley Caliman”.

Mark Levine one of the four keyboardists on the session, was not in agreement with all of Luis’ musical decisions

I worked with Joe Henderson a lot over a 15-20 year period, but we were not close friends. I remember getting paid for the Chant session. There was so much coke around then that I forget a lot. I was in Luis’ band but it was not a working band, but it usually consisted of Joe Henderson, various bass players, Carmelo, various congueros, and myself.

Yes, I was also part of Pete and Sheila’s band at The Reunion, but I don’t remember the club Andres.

I felt there were too many percussionists on the record and also two many keys players.

George Cables and me were on piano, we got in each other’s way but I respect and admire George a lot though.

I asked Luis about the extraordinary and almost telepathic guitar playing by Neal Schon and Abel Zarate on “Little Mama” and the point at record track timing; 4 minutes and 34 seconds When they both “hit” a kind of classical guitar fugue for a hot minute???

I don’t musically remember that part Neal and Abel played, though, I believe it was spontaneous in a spontaneous musical setting. Where one is recording, there are some excellent parts that you keep and chaos that you discard, because you only have a certain amount of time on the record. Miles did the same thing and those are the consequences of recording “free” with no preconceived ideas!

I also asked Abel Zarate the same question?

Abel you plugged in for Little Mama with Neal Schon,

there is a fabulous part at (timed from Facebook

post at 4 minutes 34 seconds) when you and Neal hit a together guitar part, an almost ‘classical part’ was that an accident??

Nothing was planned Jim, everything was flowing and very spontaneous. I’m sure that I was ‘overplaying’ a bit, but Neal and I just intertwined at that point in the jam.

You could call it a magnificent accident if you like LOL… I just listened to it … that’s me coming in right at 4:34 after Neal; I guess we had BIG ears that day huh!

Luis had me stop after a while, my feeling is that he wanted the more experienced jazz players to take it somewhere else; I wouldn’t call it chaotic, it was just unstructured improvisation and I guess that’s what Luis wanted.

BTW Jim, I listened to both Little Mama and Street Dude in their entirety, and Carlos does NOT appear on either tune; he must have played on the other two tracks.

Jim, that’s also me and Neal on Street Dude; I just listened to it, I didn’t realize until now, that I am on TWO cuts from this LP … Street Dude and Little Mama - that is too much!!!

I’m listening to Spanish Gypsy right now and that IS Carlos on that one!

We went to The Automatt (surely Columbia recording studio?) during the ‘Luis’ sessions and that’s how I got to play. He invited Pablo and I to sit in, so I plugged in my guitar and started playing … I distinctly remember Lenny White, Coke, and Stanley Clarke; it was surreal.

Also, I’m going to assume that Luis’ record was done BEFORE we did the Malo LP. To my best memory, I believe the Malo LP was recorded in late August and September … you might want to check with Rich Spremich and others on this?

Abel Zarate also remembered other players at the sessions?

I believe Luis had invited us to the studio while we were rehearsing at the Heliport in Sausalito … hence, that is why we had our instruments with us.

I remember we were invited to the Columbia Studio on Folsom Street, across from where SIR studios used to be. Jorge, Pablo, and I were in awe of the musicians present, they were doing ‘unstructured free-form jams’ it seemed.

Luis turned to me and Pablo Tellez and asked if we wanted to play, so I nodded yes, and plugged in across from Neal Schon.

I doodled around for a bit, and then found an opening and started them off on a cha-cha vamp … not sure how long I played and when they started getting really ‘out’, Luis had me stop playing! I used to have a copy of that record on CD, but can’t find it now.

We met Carmelo Garcia via Luis, we hung out at Basin St West a few times on Broadway Street, and if I remember correctly, Carmelo also played timbales at Andre’s and at Cesar’s Latin Palace.

I seem to recall that he either sat in, or played on a couple of gigs that I did with Kermode. Carmelo didn’t speak English very well, but he was always smiling and joking around; I believe Richard Spremich would have more to say about Carmelo than I do.

Thanks Jim, as many years have passed from this project, I do not want to ‘ruffle’ any feathers. But I was always curious as to why I ended up on the final mix unaccredited.

(Abel see Luis’s comment further on- Jim note)

Luis Gasca also remembered the framework around the recording sessions.

Besides finding a financial sponsor (Stan Marcum), getting the band which included rooms, advances, “goodies”, women and countless other things, I had “a lot on my plate” and then I had to play the trumpet which is very demanding.

Please also tell Abel Zarate that I did not mean to leave him out on the album credits; it was an oversight on my part. I also left out other people who had helped me. I was pretty burned out mentally and physically, so tell every one hi for me… (Hi from Luis everyone!!)

For Abel Zarate; the sessions were a new learning curve and a chance to play with hotshot youngster Neal Schon…??

Well, it was ‘listen’ and compliment … everything was flowing free-form, but I was right across from Neal (perhaps I was overplaying a bit. You know it was a totally new experience for me at that time … but Luis was having us experiment with the ‘cosmos’ at MALO rehearsals, so I was sort of ready for it … we were all learning the use of space etc. etc. … and how to ‘listen’ … although I hadn’t yet mastered that LOL!

The recording session that I was at was done ‘live’ … everyone in the room separated only by baffles … I wasn’t privy, as to who was overseeing the project.

All I know is that we were invited, and we showed up … so there are THREE scenarios that could explain how I ended up on that record.

Neal was quite aloof, as he WAS the hot guitarist then for sure (I didn’t know at the time that he had already played with Derek and the Dominoes) so I gave him his space, and didn’t say too much to him. It was a blast playing in the same room with him, as I had heard so much about him.

I was only at ONE session, and I had no idea I’d be playing that day … hence, I was VERY surprised when I heard my parts on the record … but I was very busy doing other projects.

After I left Malo and wasn’t sure what I could do about it, or whether or not it was worth pursuing. I was young and really didn’t care, or thought it would matter much.

Abel Zarate also had to leave the Malo band later after this Gasca recording, due to encroaching health reasons

Health problems were the reason they fired me from Malo!

I missed an entire weeks’ engagement at the Whiskey A Go-Go in Los Angeles because of it, the management used that as grounds to let me go; it is what it is, and it was what it was:-)

Jeffry Trager was working at Blue Thumb Records with Tommy LiPuma and Bob Krasnow and remembered Luis’ personality?

Luis was one great trumpet player, who came along right in the middle of the Latin Rock Explosion. One of the craziest and wackiest guys you would ever want to meet. Always hustling for something.

Personally, I loved the guy. He was ALWAYS great to me. He was a mixture of Puck and Peter Pan. Great smile, always getting into trouble.

He was here, there, everywhere, and had friends, and he had enemies. He was full steam ahead for just about anything, especially if it had 2 legs. “Hey Mama” was his signature line.

He disappeared for a while and I think he faked his own death.

I was in Cancun Mexico one night and I am shitfaced and I hear this guy playing the horn on the stage with some band, and it was Luis!

I immediately screamed “Mama” and he stopped dead in the middle of his solo, and looked out, because he knew someone from The City was in the audience. He just loved that.

He was at the time, taking people out on fishing trips on a boat he had. What a place to find Luis. It was fucking great to hear that familiar sound, just great! A REAL CHARACTER of the inth degree!!

Abel Zarate also recalled the Santana band’s disarray at that time.…….

I remember that Richard Spremich, Jorge, Pablo and I ran into Carlos at Luis’ gig at Basin Street West, and he had left the band out on the road … but I can’t say for sure if this is why he was not present at the session, nor can I speak to what his relationship was with Mike Carabello at the time…

Although it could very well be, that things were very difficult.

Carlos made it clear that things were less than kosher between he and the band at Basin Street … and he sat in with Luis that night on the number ‘Linda Chicana’.

I am paraphrasing from well known facts that Michael and Carlos did not get along for quite awhile … but I witnessed the two of them hug and make up when Carabello and I went to visit Carlos, right before I joined Willie Bobo, so I was under the assumption that that is the reason Carlos was NOT there on the day, I sat in at the Columbia Studios session.

As regarding sets with Luis, I don’t really remember all that much, but we were doing songs like ‘Morning’ by Claire Fischer, if I remember correctly, and some Latin descarga style stuff … very loose … I think I only did a couple of live gigs with Luis, and the others were with Kermode much later. I am not sure if I also played at Cesar’s Latin Palace with Luis.

Luis had made some great connections in the San Franciscan music scene…one in particular…

With “all things considered” I had enough recorded material to put an album together, so that in itself felt really good.

I first heard Joe Henderson on two “jazz hits” of that time (the 1960`s) Song For My Father with Horace Silver and The Side Winder with Lee Morgan who was shot by his wife getting off the bandstand at a jazz club in New York – Slugs my friend from Houston Texas and Billy Roy Harper was the tenor player in the band.

I knew Lee from the Apollo Theater in New York, when I worked there with Mongo Santamaria. Like all true artists, Joe had an immediate recognizable sound, which was something hard to do under the shadows and influence during the same time of the great and established tenor giants – John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz and Sonny Rollins were still alive (Sonny Rollins is still alive and playing).

He recorded and worked with everyone but never achieved the popularity of other sax players (say players like Gato Barbieri, Stanley Turrentine, Charles Lloyd, etc.), which unfortunately happens too often in the record business, when they don’t really support and get behind the artist.

Joe and I were good friends, and Joe went to the Corpus Christi Jazz Festival, which also included pianista Mark Levine and timbalero Carmelo Garcia, which was also a series of concerts that I promoted in the San Francisco area.

Joe had some type of “debt” so I “loaned” him some money, which I was at that time in a position and more than glad to do it!

Yes, we were good friends. I also indirectly helped him get his house in Potrero Hill on Las Palmas Street in San Francisco in the 1970’s.

The Little Giant album was the first time Joe and I worked together and I was musically honored when I called him to do the date and he said he would be there!

When he walked into the studio the producer (a wannabe) asked me why I had called Joe Henderson, when he could have got others! I naturally ignored Joel Dorn.

I never liked the name of the album ‘Little Giant’ which was embarrassing for me and I hated the album cover artwork –pineapples and pop art combined-.

There was already a real “little giant” a great tenor player called Johnny Griffin – so much for the great producer, thank you Joel Dorn: what a joke!!

After the “Chant” album, he (Joe Henderson) asked me to get the material, the music and the band for an album he was behind on for Fantasy Records and he wasn’t ready.

So, with the help of Mark Levine and Joe Gallardo, we recorded “Canyon Lady” with Orrin Keepnews an excellent producer for Fantasy Records.

But ironically about a year later, Joe Henderson, Cal Tjader and I were “dropped” from Fantasy Records. I was honored to be cancelled in such outstanding company, ha, ha, ha!

Time passed and at last at the age of 50 plus, Joe Henderson finally got all the recognition, like Grammy Magazine Covers, etc.

I saw him on a TV show at the White House with Bill Clinton, who ironically said that it was easier for him to become President than it was to ever play as good as John Coltrane or Stan Getz.

The last time I saw Joe before he died I asked him: “how it felt finally getting all this success”? He joked with me and told me it, “felt good to check out of a hotel with dignity ha, ha, and pay the bill with no trouble.”

I think about Joe often and forever I am honor and humbled to truly say I was a friend of his and he was a friend of mine.

I understood his demons. He was a very private person, “the phantom” as Freddy Hubbard once joked.

It almost seems to me that John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz, had to pass away before Joe finally got his short lived recognition.

He certainly could easily fill those empty slots of the great tenor player of this musically complicated world.

I think about Joe often and will forever miss him!!

P.S. the name of Delanor Deans jazz club was the Both/And jazz club. A great place in the Fillmore district. The Both/And Jazz Club (350 Divisadero Street; San Francisco) were one of these.

Open from 1965 to 1972, the tiny space quickly became one of the last major jazz clubs in the area.

The fantastic saxophonist John Handy was part of one of the first bands to play the Both/And.

Handy says that he was responsible for putting the club on the map and “taking it from sandwiches to a liquor license” when Chronicle music reviewer Ralph Gleason came down to one of Handy’s shows and wrote about the club Readers are recommended to check out John Handy’s 1976 R&B cut called Hard Work, (Assembled on a 2-for-1 CD release on Verve, this January 2012 called Hard Work/Carnival, featuring a great band and Handy’s superb soloing).

Joe Louis Walker also has fond memories of the Both/And. He remembers seeing Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery there.

“It was a cool atmosphere at the Both/And, the premier jazz club for a while. It had a stage to the right and an upstairs area. John McLaughlin played there one night out of a Marshall amp. No one could believe it. Jazz chicks were going crazy. It was an excellent show.

Across the street was Pal’s Rendezvous (on 298 Divisadero Street; San Francisco), another bar that featured great music.

I asked Luis what had happened to the crazy, extroverted timbalero Carmelo Garcia???

Carmelo García is alive and well in Los Angeles.

(I believe according to Mark Levine he has now relocated to New York City- Jim note)

It was a very hard “struggle for him” especially being raised in Santo Domingo.

But he made it back and he’s one of the best and “natural” percussionists in the world. There was lots of “respect and cooperation”.

Between all concerned, which made it less intense, it was experimental and most of us were on cloud nine.

On the album credits; who was Gonzales Mares Garza “with little birds and flowers”?

Garza is my grandmother. She was a wonderful Indian woman who always worked in her rose garden with little birds and flowers.

I had to kneel so she could “bless me” in La Bendición before I went “ on the road” at a very young age.

Who was the cover artist Philip Lindsay Mason?

After my Joel Dorn album covers my girlfriend Patricia Henner introduced me to Philip, yes he was an Afro-American artist, he was one of the best.

I saw it on Patricia, my aunt’s wall, who was going out with Philip at the time and I knew immediately that was the cover for the music. I had in mind a really nice cover and the front I liked but not the back art they used? (also by Philip Lindsay Mason- Jim note)

Luis Gasca today……………..??

I now live a very peaceful life now, I had to pay tenfold for so many mistakes with drugs, liquor and I was much later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It was not a good combo, but “all things considered”, there is not many musicians that have crisscrossed genres, such as Mongo, Count Basie, Janis Joplin, Dr John, The Grateful Dead, etc.. and especially coming from such a humble environment (the Mexican ward in Houston, Texas).

I touched “the stars” even if it was for a past moment in time.

A closer look at the music on the original recording and some other music sessions recorded in those two days that did not make the sessions………….

This record is only available on old vinyl copies and is still buyable on Ebay etc and also as an expensive Japanese import CD.  

I have enclosed YouTube clips of reasonable quality for you to hear this marvellous music. Please get this recording if you are able, it is well worth it.


A1. Street Dude (11:40);

 This starts immediately after the Little Mama guitar jams on the undubbed sessions between Abel Zarate and Neal Schon. Here a gorgeous Latin guitar riff opens this piece played by Abel Zarate. Neal Schon also appears on this cut according to Abel and they work magic together. A different sound picture allows you to hear the deft guitar playing by Zarate. The solo by Joe Henderson on tenor is the same as on the finished recording. Shrieve and White on respective drum kits lope in a relaxed and intense fashion. There is an out-there vibe to this largely unstructured music that sounds both spontaneous and deeply thought about, at the same time. Chepito on vibes is heard clearly here along with the organ of Richard Kermode. The whole thing swings effortlessly and in a deep, almost contemplative groove. All the while the electric pianos point and jab and add colors whilst Chepito enhances the piece with vibraphone textures.

Gasca adds plaintive trumpet until Clarke adds a sonorous time change on bass, after which the whole ensemble switches gear and begins a percussive onslaught, which is still shockingly avant – garde all these forty years later. The timbaleros start to apply tom-tom pressure to proceedings. Please note here the added vocal chants that are on the finished recording are not all present here yet. Excellent guitar abstractions by Neal follow here. Africa is calling as the mood intensifies and the percussionistas get down. Chants begin, these I would imagine courtesy of Carmelo Garcia, Victor Pantoja; but here they are less defined than the finished recording but they are still compelling. The music moves along in a trance like manner similar to Bambele Bambeyo, with hypnotic congas by Pantoja and then the timbales strike up again.

This unedited piece finishes with guitar caresses by both guitar players around free form percussion and bass. Again it is longer than the album cut. On the fade-out it features some magisterial trumpet from Gasca. Electric piano adding free form flourishes, end out the piece.

(Unheard music here)

 And lead into a section of open playing without percussion, this I imagine is both Mark Levine and George Cables.

This leads into a subtle riff led by Stanley Clarke’s bass under the two pianistas. Shrieve and White set up a swing time drum pattern over which the pianists hit some laidback soloing with Clarke adding a ruminating bass solo. Shrieve then heads out into a snare and bass drum propelled solo piece with his trademark crisp snare two stroke rolls. This diminishes in volume until the bass comes back into the picture.

A further section features solo piano from George Cables in a spare setting, with sparse bass from Mr Clarke. At least and more than twenty minutes in length, this opens up with a light funky and jazzy pulse set up by the drummers. The music changes to drums being played in a light and fast style. It goes on further thru moods and time changes in a pure Latino jazz style, just the pianos, bass and the two drummers, bobbing and playing a thick but dexterous sheet of cymbal rhythm.

We then enter deeper abstract territory with wah-wah electric piano playing with snare drums playing thru what sounds like time delay or Echoplex; similar perhaps in feel to the Mwandishi/Sextant era Herbie Hancock. This resolves into a blues shuffle, like a funkier Jack Johnson and the music starts to get on down.  The music spins and wheels thru different moods and changes in the spaces of a few bars.

Never settling, always changing, the bass bubbles and Mike Shrieve plays some drum raps thru an Echoplex or similar device giving the drums a space age filtered feel. (Remember this is pre electronic era drums, back in 1971 and reminds one of Shrieve’s ever-exploratory musical nature)

A funky vibe starts up with Clarke Shrieve and White cooking up a storm, against a distant electric piano.

A2. La Raza (8:03);

 With a meditative and haunting opening horn theme by Gasca and Joe Henderson, La Raza is another musical jewel from this extraordinary recording session. Bowed bass by Stanley Clarke accompanies a poignant dreamy intro by Luis on trumpet here. The musicians feel their way towards an almost straight ahead funky 4/4 time riff, in which Gasca desultorily plays over the top, the drums start to kick in and push and thrust the piece into a more urgent mood. Joe Henderson appears from nowhere, as if he had just walked in thru the studio door at that moment. His tenor flurries are replied too with a kicking drum section, both jabbing and punctuating the sax player’s bluesy playing. Both drummers ride the tom-toms behind an increasingly agitated solo by Henderson.

It funks ferociously and Henderson drags the music to the point of exploding or imploding, whichever way you are hearing it? Henderson drags it back from the edge of collapse by a funky tenor refrain before hitting the main theme, aided and abetted by Clarke’s deeply bent and pulled bass strings. Thus, the track fades almost too quickly, after an eight-minute piece of the deepest jazz exploration.

B1. Spanish Gypsy (15:07);

The atmospheric intro of this piece starts with a false start on the un-dubbed reel-to-reel tapes from the Columbia Studio sessions and then it starts up again; these two parts were edited on the final recording and made into a seamless start on the record.

Carabello’s congas are to the fore on this rough mix and the horn intro with Joe Henderson is the same a sultry thematic that heralds the beginning of a firecracker solo by Luis Gasca. Neal Schon’s rhythm guitar can be clearly heard, along with Carlos’s jazzy guitar extrapolations. Luis’s trompeta solo is different here to the one on the finished recording this seems to be a guide solo before he recorded the “real thing”. It is more tentative and not as explosive as the record. Stanley Clarke bass playing buzzes throughout the track. This first section is followed by Carlos playing some echoed and tasty guitar licks playing while around the pianists rippling and vamping. The percussion section starts to pick up energy and dynamism here with Carmelo Garcia injecting some tasty timbale fills. Joe Henderson erupts on tenor saxophone and this is the same solo as on the album recording. Victor Pantoja supplies simple but strong conga flams and drops along with Coke Escovedo and Carmelo’s timbale drops. Both Michael Shrieve and Lenny White start to heat up the piece as the pressure increases in the two-man drum section. Further excellent flurrying guitar from Carlos ensues, adding strong flavor to this extended track. Luis Gasca’s trumpet flurries seem to be pulling and braking the music back and the track breaks into a time change with Carlos playing a refrain over the time change. Congas and timbales all seem to be falling apart, as the track heads to a final fade with Carlos and Neal adding languid guitar fretting. This is a different mix than the finished album so Neal and Carlos are heard in a different sound picture. There is a much longer fade here, with much more fluid guitar from Neal and Carlos not heard on the recording. There is also some tasty drum kit and timbale interaction on the way outwards. Another Henderson solo comes in amongst the percolating and cooking rhythm section, which is bubbling in a very cool fashion. This unedited session is a good eight or nine minutes longer than the album cut. I would estimate an approximate time of 23/24 minutes or more for this excellent musica. Music of a kind, which was never to be heard in this form again.

B2. Little Mama (5:28).

This starts in a floating, almost formless way before the music heard on the session called Little Mama intro is heard on the record. Before Neal Schon brings in that light but funky guitar riff that starts some great guitar jamming between him and Abel Zarate. The guitar playing is light, airy but seamlessly intertwining as the riff gathers momentum and pulls to a halt, allowing Neal and Abel to flex their mighty musical muscles here. It’s a mesmeric brew of snarling and caterwauling guitar playing from both men. Both wailing and interwoven plus crisply bluesy and soulful; although the two had never met or played before, An example of the astounding musical telepathy extant in those heady days of the San Franciscan Latin rock scene.

There is an astonishing moment (4 minutes 34 seconds) when Neal and Abel Zarate hit a ”fugue” like moment that is truly astounding to hear. As Abel said earlier in the main interview, it was a pure moment that happened spontaneously in the room. On the finished recording the intro piece was recorded at a different time and edited onto the front of this piece. On the reel-to-reel it introes immediately afterwards with Abel Zarate’s beautiful chiming Latin guitar riff for Street Dude.

In the photo of Eddie Palmieri, Luis Gasca is on the left and on the right is the owner of Andres’ club, Bernie Arriaga in the North Beach area of San Francisco. The other is of Carmelo Garcia playing at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California.








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