By Mike Greenblatt
With Eagle Rock Entertainment’s recent release of “Santana IV: Live At The House Of Blues, Las Vegas,” a beautifully packaged 2-CD/DVD set, more attention will be focused on one of this year’s greatest rock ’n’ roll stories: the reunion of the original Santana band that played Woodstock in 1969. We’ve covered the story from every imaginable angle in the pages of this magazine but didn’t get to talk to an important cog in the machine, drummer Michael Shrieve. What other classic rock band has ever been so dependent upon the cross-rhythms of a multi-talented drummer with extra percussion than Santana? Shrieve has to be looked upon at this point as one of the great rock drummers. He and Carlos introduced not only salsa to rock’s umbrella mix but fusion (“Caravanserai”) and samba (“Barboletta”) as well. Sure, it broke up the original band into two successful bands but as Shrieve says, “fans, since ’73, got both Santana and Journey!”
GOLDMINE: What’s the difference between being onstage with Carlos in 1969 at Woodstock and being onstage with him today?
Michael Shrieve: It’s like riding a bicycle or putting on an old pair of jeans. When we first got back together to see if the chemistry was still there and if we still had enough juice in us to do this thing, we realized quick that we did. It allowed us to move forward, figure out what we were going to play, and what we were going to record. Live? It’s kind of the same magic. It’s louder, though.
GM: Do you have to change your drum patterns depending upon his mood?
MS: Yes. He’s constantly changing stuff up. Also, I must say, playing the Santana music is different from any other music. Like I said, it’s so LOUD. It’s a different ball game to play this music now when you’re 67 years old as opposed to having played it when you’re 19 years old. It’s pretty demanding physically. That’s a very real element of the whole thing right there. So sure he changes his mind a lot, and at the last minute too! He’ll do it right on stage! You have to be ready all the time. But it’s fine.
GM: In Allentown, Pennsylvania, after thrilling to the reunion set with the original guys in the band from the 1960s, after you left the stage, he came back with a totally different band! Nobody else does that!
MS: That’s his current band, right. It was more like we were guests of his on those dates. Neal Schon put together some things we could do that resulted in the Santana IV plus Journey tour. There were other dates where we thought we were going to be playing like the Forum in Los Angeles and AT&T Park in San Francisco before Carlos decided just to use his regular band. Allentown was a good show. I remember that show. It was our fourth time and it just got better and better. But that was it. In fact, that was the hardest thing about it because we didn’t do any more. It would’ve been great to keep going because we were just getting warmed up.
GM: What do you remember about Woodstock? I saw you there and I saw you weeks prior to Woodstock opening for Buddy Miles at The Singer Bowl in Queens, NY.
MS: Wow. I don’t remember anything. (laughs) That’s what I’m supposed to say, right? Actually, I remember the feeling of awe while flying in on a helicopter and seeing all those people. It really felt like there was something incredible going on. I was so in the moment. I felt like it was something people did not expect to be happening. It was overwhelming. I felt like I was about to participate in something really special. The fact that I knew I was right in the middle of it? It was like feeling that I was right in the center of the universe.
GM: I know exactly what you mean! I couldn’t help but feel that the whole world was watching us. Especially once we realized the enormity of it all.
MS: I tell you, in our defense, I think the thing that served us well as a band that day, was that we played to each other. It wasn’t as if we were all thinking, “Oh my God, there’s half a million people.” We just played to each other in a tight little circle. That worked. The difficult thing about it was that we didn’t even have a record out yet. No one there was familiar with our music or even aware of us as a band.
GM: That’s right! I wonder how many other fans had seen you at that Buddy Miles show. I knew what you were packin’ and I remember I kept telling my friend on the drive to Bethel, “You gotta see this band called Santana!”
MS: Funny thing, I had forgotten about the fact we hadn’t yet released our debut when we played that day. It was only at the 40th Woodstock Anniversary in 2009 did I remember that. With no record out, we really had to win over those people on just our raw presentation. I think we succeeded because it was such a tribal feeling, both on stage and in the audience. Everybody felt connected that day. Everybody felt special just being there with each other.
GM: It would’ve been a lot easier with cell phones and bottled water. I had no idea at the time my mother was freaking out hearing news reports on television about how it was declared a disaster area because of the lack of food and toilet facilities. She had no way of knowing just how fantastic I was doing…or that I was tripping on the infamous brown acid.
MS: (much laughter) We introduced ourselves to the world that day.
GM: You guys made your sterling reputation that day. Most of the bands were really sloppy. We were totally booing the Grateful Dead. They were awful. Joplin was drunk and halfway falling down. CSNY were off-key. But Santana — along with Mountain, Sly & The Family Stone, Joan Baez, 10 Years After, Richie Havens, Johnny Winter and The Band — were great. So the debut comes out after Woodstock. Then comes “Abraxas,” “Santana II” and “Santana III.”
MS: It started to get a little weird after that.
GM: It’s too easy to say Carlos broke up the band at the height of its popularity due to his escalating interest in John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter. He had “Caravanserai” in him and it just had to come out. Yet Gregg (Rolie) and Neal (Schon) told me that they loved having rock ’n’ roll hits on the radio much more than doing a jazz album. So when Carlos went into this weird new strain of sound that wasn’t even rock, they left, formed Journey to continue having radio hits, and the band broke up.
MS: I was right there with Carlos wanting to go in that jazz direction. In fact, we co-produced “Caravanserai” together. People would say it was my fault introducing Carlos to ‘Trane and Miles but Carlos and I were very excited about what was happening musically in the jazz world. It wasn’t straight-ahead jazz. Miles was doing “Bitches Brew.” There was Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever and Weather Report. The rock ’n’ roll thing was getting a little bit tired. Plus, there were a lot of drugs around. Nobody “broke up” the band. Neal and Gregg were unhappy with the (jazz) direction that Carlos and I loved. And that’s the truth.
GM: Just like it took the Stones to hip the baby boomers to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, it was “Caravanserai” that hipped us to fusion which, for me, became a lifelong pursuit … so thank you.
MS: You’re quite welcome. Well, we did our job then. We weren’t thinking that at the time. We just wanted a taste of it ourselves.
GM: You hung on for the next album, too, the following year in ’74. “Barboletta” incorporated some Brazilian to the mix.
MS: I left after that. I just made the decision that it was time for me to go. But I stayed longer than the other guys because Carlos and I shared a certain vision.
GM: That ended after “Barboletta”?
MS: It had been on my mind for a while. It had become obvious. So I listened to my gut and just did it. I told Carlos. He took it graciously. I then took myself to a health spa in Baja California and stayed for a month. Got myself real healthy after the trauma of leaving and I have yet to look back. No regrets.
GM: So you cleansed your mind, body and soul with a month in Baja. Then what?
MS: I started putting together Automatic Man. We went to London, lived there for a while, recorded, then I hooked up with Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta who was in the midst of putting a project together (Go) with Steve Winwood and German synthesist Klaus Schulze. I joined them. One thing led to another and I wound up moving to New York City in the late ‘70s. Stayed there for 10 years. Put together Novo Combo. I really enjoyed that band. To me it always becomes obvious, as I said earlier, when to leave a situation. I left NYC, went back to California in the Bay Area, lived there for a year before my ex-wife convinced me to join her in Seattle and raise a family … which I did. I’ve been here for 25 years now. Thought it would be a good place to raise kids. And that’s exactly what we did.
GM: What kind of musical endeavors did you do while you were a family man?
MS: I started Spellbinder — an instrumental group with trumpet, organ, bass and drums — and Drums Of Compassion with Airto Moreira, Zakir Hussain, Jeff Greinke and Jack DeJohnette. [For the record, Shrieve also found time to perform on albums by Pat Travers, Rodger Hodgson of Supertramp, Buckethead and Abraxas Pool while having his compositions recorded by David Crosby, Bill Frisell, Andy Summers of The Police, David Beal and Steve Roach.]
GM: Do you feel you have garnered the requisite respect for trailblazing? I mean, hell, Santana got a generation or three into world music. “Caravanserai” got a generation into jazz. “Barboletta” introduced samba within rock. In my book, you’re right up there, man! Or don’t you think about stuff like that?
MS: People tell me stuff, yea. But, y’know what? I really don’t.
GM: Well, that just means you have your two feet firmly planted on the ground. Maybe that’s why you survived sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.
MS: I must tell you, at the point when Carlos and I were doing “Caravanserai,” we were also out guru shopping. He and I turned our backs on all that excess. We saw the damage it was doing to other people. Carlos went with Sri Chinmoy and I went with Swami Satchidananda and was a student of his for years. We both learned some very valuable aspects of life. We saw all the cocaine around. It wasn’t pretty. People were getting way too f**ked up. I’m always proud of everybody who went through all that back then and who are still vital and alive and have stuff going on today. But, yeah, there’s been a lot of roadkill along the way.