VOICES OF LATIN ROCK – MICHAEL SHRIEVE
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); Santanamigos MichaelShrieve.com Sam Totah, Pierrot Jain, Scott Enders and Gert. Produced by Gilberto Vera
Q&A WITH MICHAEL SHRIEVE
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.
MC: 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.
MC: 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”.
SCOTT E: 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.
SCOTT E & MC: 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.
SCOTT E: 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!
DEREK: 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.
SCOTT E: 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.
MC: 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.
MC: 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.
MIKE L & MC: 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.
MC: 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.
MC: 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!”
SCOTT E: 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.
MC: 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.
MC: 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!
MC: 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.”
SCOTT E: 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.
MC: 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.
MC: 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.
VICENTE M.: 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!
MC: 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.
MC: 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!
MC: 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!
MC: 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.
VICENTE M.: 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!
MC: 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.
MC: 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.
MC: 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!
PJ & VICENTE M.: 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.
MC: “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!
MC: 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!
MC: 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?”
MC: 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!
VICENTE M. & MC: 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!”
VICENTE M. & MC: ”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.
MC: 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.
MC: 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!”
MC: 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!
MC: 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.
MACK & MC: 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.
MC: 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.
PIERROT JAIN (in Switzerland): Michael, thanks a lot for giving us the opportunity to place questions..it’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.
Tags: Michael Shrieve