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Drummer Michael Shrieve talks about Santana, Woodstock and solo career

Santana's legendary drummer performed one of the greatest drum solos ever at Woodstock. In 2009 I watched a documentary on Woodstock’s 40th anniversary. When they presented Santana's performance, that’s what truly got my attention. I was further captivated by an innocent-looking, youthful, sweet guy on drums who definitely did not look like your typical rock star. This was someone who looked much younger than his actual age.

The crowd at Woodstock fills a natural amphitheatre with the stage at the bottom.
Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell via Wikimedia Commons

Once the camera zeroed in on the start of his two-minute drum solo, all of those presumptions I had went away. There I sat riveted by watching his mad drumming skills. It comprised of an elaborate array of beats, cymbals, and rolls, followed by slowing it all the way down. As he was about to start his frenzied pace, the entire band started playing in complete synchronization. What a way to end a drum solo.

I had no idea who this drummer was, nor had I ever heard of him. They did interview Michael Shrieve afterwards on this documentary. It was then I decided to find out more information on Santana's drummer. To my utter surprise, not much was available online about him at the time. How can this be? What little I did find was worth further investigating. This is someone who truly deserves more recognition than what he is getting.

Many people have stated the very same thoughts, and feel the same way I do, when seeing his drum solo at Woodstock. He's revered by fellow drummers and aspiring drummers all over the world. I managed to connect with Shrieve via social media. I arranged for a phone interview that took place in September 2009. This article is a result of my interview and other online resources. Here’s a re-published piece on Santana’s former drummer during the Woodstock era. It’s now in honor of the 45th anniversary of the legendary Woodstock music festival.

His Early Years - San Francisco Bay Area

Michael Shrieve's (like in Shreveport) ancestry is Irish, French and German who was born on July 6, 1949 in Redwood City, California. He's the middle child in the family with two older siblings; one older sister and an older brother, plus one younger sibling, a brother. Music was very prominent in the Shrieve household. His father was a lover of jazz, and his mother a fan of the Broadway and film musicals. Both of his brothers shared a love of music and played instruments. Michael would stay up late in his early teens to listen to music late at night practicing to be a musician. He also wanted to become a priest, just like his older brother. His devotion was so strong he'd ride his bicycle to Mass every morning while in grade school.

While attending Goodwin (now John F. Kennedy) Middle school, his hyperactive behavior, now referred to as ADHD, sent him off to the principal's office. On his way back to class Michael came upon something that would literally change his life…drums. As he walked by the band room, peering through the door's window, that's how he became fascinated. It was the sights and sounds of the snare and bass drums, along with the cymbals these percussionists were playing on. After school, he got a pair of drumsticks and some rug samples to practice on.

Michael attended two Catholic high schools: St. Francis in Mountain View and Junipero Serra or Serra in San Mateo. In 1966 while still in high school he was already a huge fan of jazz music. It was at a John Coltrane Group concert at Stanford University that would get him to meet his favorite drummer, Elvin Jones. Michael was excited to attend, but one thing stood in his way…money. Being known to have snuck into concerts before without money, he got inside some air vents at this venue, which lead to a ceiling that landed him right into the dressing room of his idol, Elvin Jones, and Jimmy Garrison. Needless to say, they liked him on the spot and invited him to a late night jazz workshop in San Francisco.

Santana - "I really want to play with these guys."

Everyone in the San Francisco Bay area knew of the band Santana. Michael and his brother attended one of their concerts in 1966 when they were just getting started. He told his brother while at their concert, unbeknownst to either of them, "I really want to play with these guys." At age 16 he wanted to go to the "Supersession" with Michael Bloomfield, Steven Stills and Al Kooper at the Filmore. His agenda was to be able to jam with them. It probably wasn't going to happen, but he would give it a try at least. To his utter amazement when he asked if he could sit in, they said "yes".

Also in attendance were Stan Marcum, the manager, and David Brown, the bass player for Santana. They both heard Michael play. They liked what they heard, and told him they have a band called Santana, and were thinking of getting a new drummer. Michael gave his phone number, but didn't hear from them.

Through an extraordinary coincidence one year later, he went into a recording studio to try to get some studio time for his group. As he was coming in, the drummer for Santana was heading out. Santana was there working on their first album for Columbia Records. There happened to be a falling out with the drummer, and asked if he wanted to jam. Afterwards, Michael Shrieve was asked to join the band by Carlos Santana as their new drummer.

Woodstock - August, 16, 1969

The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, once said "Out of chaos comes order". That would be one way to describe Woodstock. Many of the established acts billed for the event complained of technical problems, the disorderly atmosphere both backstage and onstage, and inclement weather on the third day. Due to the festival’s erratic scheduling with many of the big name acts, they ended up playing at night or early morning to an audience already asleep. One such act, Santana, was very lucky to be at Woodstock, thanks to their promoter Bill Graham. It was their manager who negotiated with Stephen Lang, the event's organizer, who allowed his band to play.

Originally, Santana was to be on in the evening, but were bumped up to the afternoon instead, the second day of the festival. They had a lot to prove, because this band was virtually unknown throughout the East Coast and most of the U.S., except in Northern California. Out of the chaos Santana took to the stage at Woodstock, and literally knocked it out of the park.

The closing number, "Soul Sacrifice," with Michael's famous drum solo, was featured in the documentary film a year later titled "Woodstock". It would be shown around the world and bring instant success for its six members of the "Woodstock Era". The documentary film would eventually win "Best Documentary" at the Academy Awards. According to a recent article at the Ultimate Classic Rock website, they listed the top 10 Woodstock performances. "Soul Sacrifice" by Santana came in second to Jimi Hendrix's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at number one.

After Woodstock, Santana performed at the infamous Altamont Free Concert that would become the rock documentary "Gimme Shelter." Sometimes considered the rock's equivalent to the Zapruder film, you see Michael Shrieve at the helicopter pad waiting to leave Altamont Speedway. One of the incoming musicians has Shrieve talking to Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesch of the Grateful Dead. He informs them the Hell's Angels (security) are beating up on musicians, such as Marty Balin from the Jefferson Airplane. Thankfully, they all left well before the night's extremely violent and tragic incident.

As a result of their enormous triumph at Woodstock, their first album stayed on the Billboard charts for two years. "Abraxas", Santana’s second album spawned the enormous hit singles "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va". Their third album, Santana III” reached number one on the Billboard album chart and stayed there for five weeks.

In 1972 was the release of "Caravanserai." It's considered to be the most definitive, daring, and stellar of all their recordings, according to the deeply loyal Santana fans. This album and "Abraxas" are Michael's favorites, along with "Black Magic Woman" as his favorite single. Approximately at this time Michael and Carlos Santana were sick of the rock n' roll lifestyle and its excesses. Each embarked on a spiritual path following slightly different philosophies.

In 1974 on the eve of their "Borboletta" tour, Michael woke up in excruciating pain and was assisted by his younger brother, Kevin. They immediately went to the hospital. The pain turned out to be kidney stones. As a result of his health scare, he vowed to do things differently with his life. It was time for him to move on. He held his ground with Carlos and the rest of the band. His tenure with the group Santana was over. Michael Shrieve was the last remaining band member from the "Woodstock Era."

Post Santana - Going Solo

After a time of mixed emotions over his decision, Michael went to Mexico for some needed rest and recuperation. The group Santana would not have another single hit the Billboard charts until 1977. The year 1982 would be Santana's last time one of their singles reached the Top 40, not until 1999. Meanwhile, Michael was doing music his way own way. His first venture was collaborating with the Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamshta by forming the supergroup "Go." This group featured other esteemed musicians such as Steve Winwood, Al Di Meola, and Klaus Schulze.

"Automatic Man" has a progressive funk sound, and this became another collaborative effort with the famed guitarist, Pat Thrall. In the early 1980's Shrieve was in the initial lineup of the power pop and New Wave rock group, Novo Combo. They had some minor hits in 1981 with "Up Periscope" and "City Bound.". Pete Townsend of The Who became a fan of his group. Townsend invited them to open for The Who. Unfortunately, Novo Combo was becoming compared to an up-and-coming band called "The Police." Not long afterwards, the band broke up. It would be Michael's last time in forming another group until 2003.

He worked with Mick Jagger in the Bahamas as a percussionist in the Rolling Stones recordings of "Emotional Rescue", "Tattoo You", and later with "Rewind," and Jagger's own "She's The Boss." Shrieve also worked with George Harrison and Dave Edmunds as a drummer on one of their projects. Film and television projects such as "The Tempest", based on the Shakespearean play starring Susan Sarandon in one of her early film roles, once again teamed up with Stomu Yamashta as one of the “Tempest” film composers. "The Bedroom Window" directed by Curits Hanson (of "LA Confidential" and "8 Mile", which starred the rapper Eminem) was yet another of his film compositions. One of his greatest collaborations came in 1984 with HSAS, Hagar, Schon, Aronson Shrieve; a favorite amongst many music lovers is their "Through the Fire" semi-live album.

In 1990 he moved to Seattle, Washington with his wife and son. Starting in 1990 Michael Shrieve began performing regularly at the Seattle Bumbershoot Festival of the Arts during the Labor Day weekend. He also recorded and toured with the Italian singer Zucchero, featuring Andrea Bocelli. In 1994 and 1995 there was a tour with Andy Summers, formerly of "The Police". To end the 20th century on a beautiful note Michael Shrieve, Carlos Santana, Jose Chepito Areas, David Brown, Mike Carrabello, and Gregg Rolie were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

Spellbinder & Woodstock's 40th Anniversary (August 15-17, 2009)

"Shaman", Santana's follow-up release to "Supernatural," featured Shrieve on drums and as producer for the single, "Aye Aye Aye". His 9-piece band Tangletown was formed in 2003 whose musical influences are Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, and Middle Eastern. In 2009 he has another band, Spellbinder, who performed every Monday night at ToST in Seattle's Fremont. Unlike Tangletown which featured a vocalist, Spellbinder is a smaller band, 5-piece, whose music is jazz-Latin instrumental. Their debut CD, "Live at ToST" is still available at Amazon, CD Baby, and iTunes.

With the 40-year celebration of Woodstock back in mid-August, Spellbinder and ToST went all out for Michael. He garnered a front page feature in the Seattle Times; ToST opened its doors for a free night of music in honor of the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock. Even the band Spellbinder played for the first time "Soul Sacrifice", which you can see on YouTube. Then there was the premiere of Barbara Kopple's new film, "Woodstock, Then and Now" on VH-1.

Coming full circle is his son, Sam, who at the time was the same age his dad was while at Woodstock back in 2009. Sam Shrieve embarked on his own music career independently with a debut CD "Bittersweet Lullabies." In 2011 Sam graduated from the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Now he’s living in L.A. and working in the music industry.

If that weren't enough, the release of Ang Lee's film "Taking Woodstock" had its Seattle premiere in which Michael and his two sons attended. Michael did enjoy this film very much. However, the best part of this 40th anniversary for him is reading the accounts of Woodstock from the various books that are out now, hearing from so many people's points of view who were there, and how much it has meant to them. Yes, Woodstock still means so much to a lot of people who love music.

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