Santana's Michael Shrieve Today
Woodstock icon, Hall of Fame drummer continues to work on projects that are both groundbreaking and soul-filled
Al Carlos Hernandez - Contributing Editor
Drummer Michael Shrieve is an American rock drumming icon. Over the course of his eminent career, Michael Shrieve has written produced and played on albums that have sold millions of copies worldwide.
Published on LatinoLA: July 5, 2010
As one of the original drummers for Santana, Michael ÔÇô at age nineteen ÔÇô was the youngest performer at Woodstock. He helped create the first eight albums of this seminal group and was on the forefront of shaping a new musical era. His performance at Woodstock was a steller and classic performance; it is still breathtaking after 40 plus years. View it at:
Shrieve is respected world-wide for his adventurous experimentation with the most creative and masterful musicians. No other drummer has collaborated with such longevity and sophistication alongside artists in such diverse genres as rock, jazz, electronic, DJ and world music. He is well recognized for his groundbreaking adoption of electronic percussion when it was a new medium in the 1970's.
Michael's recording credits include the masters of popular and avant-garde music: Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, George Harrison, Pete Townsend, Steve Winwood, Police guitarist Andy Summers, film composer Mark Isham, and such musical luminaries as John McLaughlin, Stomu Yamash'ta, Klaus Schulze, Freddie Hubbard, Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Horvitz, Bill Frisell, Zakir Hussain, Airto Moriera and Amon Tobin. Many publications have cited Michael's outstanding work: The New York Times, Downbeat, Billboard, Modern Drummer, Musician, Drum, Paris Match, Melody Maker, and Life Magazine.
Shrieve composes music for both film and television. Michael is the past president of the Pacific Northwest Branch of the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) and is currently writing the memoirs of jazz drumming legend Elvin Jones. He serves as Musical Director for Seattle Theater Group's "More Music @ The Moore," a program that highlights gifted young musicians from Seattle's various cultural groups.
Shrieve currently lives in Seattle and Los Angeles. He continues to work on projects that are both groundbreaking and soul-filled. In 2006 he released a musical collaboration entitled, "Drums of Compassion," for which he is composer, producer and drummer. It brings together some of the world's most respected percussionists and musicians: Obo Addy, African drums; Jack De Johnette, drums; Jeff Greinke, keyboards, sound sculpture and composer; Zakir Husain, tabla; Airto Moriera, Brazilian percussion; BC Smith, orchestral arrangements; James Whiton, bass.
Michael Shrieve was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2005, Michael received the Guitar Center's first annual "Lifetime Achievement Award." According to his life long friend and collaborator, Carlos Santana: "I owe Michael a lot; He's the one who turned me onto John Coltrane and Miles Davis. I just wanted to play blues until Michael came. He opened my eyes and my ears and my heart to a lot of things. Some drummers only have chops, but Michael Shrieve has vision. Michael is like a box of crayons; he has all the colors."
www.LatinoLA.com Contributing Editor Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez had a unique opportunity to speak at length to this rock icon who is continuing to set the bar for other artists worldwide.
AC: You have been a rock star since the age of 19. Rock star level young people today are destroyed by fame. How did your self image change and how did friends and family accept the limelight?
MS: When early success came with Santana, for some reason it felt completely natural. I was young, but I had been dedicated to playing music before they asked me to join the group. They were already quite successful on the strength of their live performances in the San Francisco Bay Area, even without an album out, and when they asked me to join I became totally dedicated to the group.
It was a thrill for myself and my friends and family to all of a sudden be in a popular group. When the first Santana album was released, it was exciting to be in a car and hear it on the radio. The concerts in the area, especially the Fillmore Auditorium shows, were incredible! I had a bit of a rough time in high school but all of a sudden people who really didn't like me in school suddenly thought they were my best friends and wanted to be hanging out backstage. That didn't happen!
AC: You were quoted as saying, "Santana was a street gang and music was their weapon." What does that mean?
MS: It means that the guys in Santana didn't subscribe as much as the other groups in the scene to the "hippy love vibe" that was predominant at that time. We were a Mexican, a Puerto Rican, a Nicaraguan, an African American, and two white boys from the suburbs! We were joined at the hip in the early days, all living in the same house. We rehearsed every day, and then we'd go to the Fillmore as a group and check out whatever band was playing - all of us standing together in front of the stage seeing what we could learn. If the music wasn't happening we would proceed to check out the selection of beautiful hippie chicks available on that particular night. It was pretty amazing.
Also, the band wasn't as easy going with the music as I believe some of the other groups were. If someone made a mistake in rehearsals, it wasn't, "Oh, its cool man, you did your best." It was more like, "F you mother!" followed by some comment about your sister or your mother or whatever! You had to get it right or you would hear about it. I loved it! It was no F'ing around!
AC: What are the good and bad about achieving that level of success so early in life?
MS: The good thing about achieving that level of success so early in life is that you accept success whenever it comes and you think, "This is great!" And it is! The bad thing about that level of success at such a young age is that you think it will be like that forever. And it isn't!
AC: Someone wrote, "To be great is to be misunderstood." Who has been the mentors who helped you keep your stability along the way and what kinds of things did they say to ground you so you wouldn't destroy yourself?
MS: It wasn't so much something someone specifically said. You could just look around you and see people being harmed by too much money and too many drugs. They don't have manuals for how to deal with success at any age! Really it was always the music for me, and still is. Keep your eye on the music as your main course and everything else will fall into place. Also, Carlos and I both pursued spiritual teachers in the thick of all the success and excess, and I'm certain that helped. While a lot of people were doing cocaine and a ton of other drugs at that time, we were vegetarians and meditating and changing our musical pursuits, changing our priorities. Don't get me wrong, he and I were as guilty as the next guy with our drug taking and everything else.
I am not trying to paint a "holier than thou" picture of myself for that time, but to me there were some very exciting things happening on the musical horizon, like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Weather Report, and on and on. When Miles Davis released "Bitches Brew" that heralded a new era and I could see that the whole musical horizon was changing - I wanted to be present and accounted for. I mean, when Santana became successful we could take whomever we wanted to open for us. Who did we take?
Well, we took Weather Report just so we could watch them from the stage every night! On another tour we introduced the world to Tower of Power as well. Jack DeJohnette would come hang out at rehearsals and jam. Lenny White, Airto, and Flora would come to the studio. Elvin Jones would stay at my house. Good times!
AC: We notice now that known rockers from the late 60's and early 70's are succumbing to physical conditions due to the "Rock Star lifestyle." What is one of the physical and emotional pitfalls one has to avoid in order to live a normal life?
MS: Well, fame or no fame, you either take care of your body or you don't. You don't, you pay for it sooner or later. You do, you have a better chance of a longer, more productive life.
AC: How does it feel to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Is it political? There are a lot of good band like the Bay Area's Tower of Power who don't even get on the ballot.
MS: Although I'm honored to be in the R&R Hall of Fame, I don't feel anything special from being inducted. It's strange. I remember when we were inducted. I wanted to bring some members of my family, share it with people that were important to me, and I would have had to pay something like $2000 each for them to come, which I didn't have at the time. So you go and you see all the executives from the record companies there, and the lawyers are there, and half the musicians that are being inducted can't even afford to share it with the people that have been supportive of them all their life. It's sad, and a little pathetic, being inducted into the Hall of Fame. That and a $1.50 will get you a spot on the bus. It's a club headed by Jann Wenner and his people. Who do you see there every year? All the same execs and lawyers and Bruce and Sting and Mick and Billy Joel and John Mellencamp. Whatever. Feels like the "in" crowd in high school, which I was never a part of anyway.
That's why I gave the speech I did when we were inducted. I decided that I would tell my story. How a young kid got in this band so young and was at Woodstock and saw this success. A lot of people had asked me about it over the years. I knew they wouldn't show it on TV. Even in the clip they would show, I would probably be hidden by a cymbal or something. Which I was! So I told this story and people loved it. Standing ovation! People like Don Henley, Michael Douglas, and execs came up to me telling me how great a story it was. I can't even get a copy of it from the Hall of Fame folks! But I told the story and I was glad that I did.
This is the speech Michael Shrieve gave on his induction into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. It did not make it into the official video, as predicted.
When I was 16 years old, I called up about a dozen of my musician friends and asked if they wanted to drive up to the Fillmore with me and see if we could sit in. Michael Bloomfield, Steven Stills and Al Kooper were playing together, billed as "Supersession." Every one of my friends said no, that I was crazy. It would never happen. Until I called my last friend, who was older than me and had actually moved out of his parents' house and was living with a girl, said, "Oh man, that sounds great. Hold on a minute," whereupon he spoke to his girlfriend about it and came back to the phone and said to me, "Hey, I think I'm just gonna stay in tonight." Needless to say that one phone call is the reason I didn't marry until my early thirties....
At least I can try, I said to myself. It probably won't happen but tomorrow at least I can say that I tried. So I asked my folks, who were always supportive and trusting of my musical endeavors, for the keys to the car and drove the thirty miles up to the Fillmore. I went in and walked up to the stage, pulled on Mike Bloomfield's pant leg, looked up at him and said, "Hey man, I play drums, can I sit in?" Well I was 16 but looked 12 and I fully expected him to either kick me in the face or say "Go away kid!" But instead he said, "Well the drummer's a really nice guy, let me ask him." Uh-oh. Hey, wait a minute, I thought. I was just going to try. Oh no! Well he comes back and says, "Yeah, it's cool, you can play." Oh shoot.
Then it hits me.
I'm going to play with Michael Bloomfield, Steven Stills, and Al Kooper on the same stage that I'd seen with Cream, The Yardbirds, Van Morrison, Miles Davis, and BB King. Well, I played but I swear to this day I don't remember one note, not one moment of the jam. That's how scared I was. So we finished playing and now I'm backstage hanging out with the other musicians. Am I cool or what? Well Stan Marcum and David Brown, the manager and bass player of Santana, came up to me and said, "Hey man, we heard you play and you sounded really good. We have a band called Santana and we've been thinking about getting a new drummer. Why don't you give us your number?" Well, I knew who Santana was - everybody did in the area. I had seen them and even said to my brother once when we were watching them play, "I really want to play with these guys."
Cut to a year later. I never did hear from them. But, one night I was visiting a recording studio that I used to frequent to try to hustle free studio time for my own group. I'm walking in the front door and the drummer from Santana is walking out. I go inside and Santana was in the studio recording their first album for Columbia and Clive Davis, and they had just had a big falling out with their drummer! A couple of the guys recognized me from a year ago and asked me if I'd like to jam.
Well, we jammed. We played all night long and at the end of the night we all gathered in a small room off to the side. Actually, I think it was just Carlos, Gregg, and I. Carlos asked me if I would like to join the band. I said, "You know, let me check my schedule." Just kidding! That night they followed me home and I went into the house and woke my folks up and said, "See you later. This is where I get off." I ran out to the street, jumped into the car and drove up to San Francisco's Mission District where the band was living in a house together. I took my appropriate place on the couch and, despite the excitement and because of the late hour, fell asleep.
I was in the band. And what a band it was! I soon saw this was no peace, love, hippie thing. This band was like a street gang and its weapon was music.
Cut to another year later and the band is set to play the Woodstock Festival. Bill Graham was able to get us on the show. We got paid; I think it was $500.00. We were known in California and we were doing a lot of festivals, always working, but still relatively unknown. We played the Woodstock show, which was of course incredible. It was also a mess. I think Paul Kantner had the best quote about Woodstock: "If you said you had a great time at Woodstock, you weren't there." Needless to say, we went over well. We were the right band at the right time. Our street gang tribal rhythms were perfect for the Woodstock tribe that day.
Another year later and we're touring more, our first record is out and the Woodstock movie is opening in theaters across the country. Santana is playing in New York and our first day off we go to see the movie. We're standing in line waiting for the earlier showing to finish, and as the people are coming out of the theatre, we notice quite a few of the people in line. We didn't know if we were going to end up in the film or not. After all, we were the unknown group there that day. Halfway through the movie there we are playing Soul Sacrifice. Halfway through my drum solo the screen splits and there are 6 images of me across it. I didn't know whether to shout out, "That's me!" or sink down in my seat. I sank down in my seat and watched and listened. At the end of the song the whole theatre burst into applause as the six of us turned in our seats and looked at each other in laughter and surprise.
Well, our little musical street gang had just made a sound heard 'round the world. As the film was released around the world, the band became known everywhere. On our first trip to Europe to play the Montreux Jazz Festival, I walked to the train station to pick up some magazines and there I was on the cover of one, in a small shot from Woodstock.
Everywhere we went people knew us. Our album shot up the charts. This was all pretty heavy stuff for a 19-year-old kid, but I loved it. As a drummer there was no better band to be in. This was about really playing your instrument and these guys would really keep you on your toes. If you didn't play well you would hear about it! We played everywhere. We were one of the first groups to play Mexico and Central and South America. We played Africa, the Far East, the Philippines and Europe many times.
Cut to 15-20 years later and I'm walking down 5th Avenue in New York City. By this time, I'd been out of Santana over 10 years, made about 7 solo albums, played on many people's records, done a lot of stuff. A guy walks up to me and says, "Hey Mike Shrieve! Oh man, I saw you in Woodstock. You were so great! I loved it so much....but what happened man? You've gotten....older."
Well thousands of people have mentioned Woodstock to me. I kept trying to beat it with something else I did, but realized over time that this would never happen and I learned to live with the fact and accept that it meant so much to so many people that you just couldn't fight it. It seemed I was 18 forever to them, and so be it. I'm 48 now and I've had a fruitful and long creative career but nothing has compared to my experience of playing in Santana.
I am honored to stand here tonight to be inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. But I am even more honored to have had the experience that has meant so much to me my entire life - to have made such wonderful music with these gentlemen standing behind me.
AC: You were the one who brought jazz to Santana. What is your favorite musical platform? What do you enjoy performing and composing the most and why?
MS: Like I said earlier, jazz at that time was going through a serious transformation and it was an exciting time. I was a musical snob then and was not a huge rock and roll fan, believe it or not. I was not into Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and a host of other big rock groups. Since then I've come to appreciate those groups and more. At the time I was very much into Brazilian music as well, and I introduced Brazilian music to the Santana repertoire. Just being in that band introduced you to so much more music because each person brought their interests to the table. I like many different styles of music from around the world and actively pursue it. Half the fun is finding new and exciting music, just like I did when I was a kid at Thrifty Drug Store rummaging through the 59 cent record bin looking for treasures!
AC: After Santana you went on to do many projects, then dropped out of the limelight. Where did you go and what did you do? I'm sure you had many, many offers from other big time touring bands. What was it that took you off the fast track?
MS: I've come to realize about myself that I'm not really ambitious for fame like a lot of other folks. I'm not so great at playing the game. I love the music but I don't care for a lot of the other bullshit that goes along with it. And often it seems like no matter what I do musically, all people want to know about, or all they do know about is Woodstock. That was over 40 years ago! I remember talking to Mitch Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix's drummer, when he was so bitter about everything. Truth is, the lawyers ended up with more money than he did. I think he got paid $100,000 years ago, when really he was responsible for being a part of music that generated millions and millions of dollars in profits. In other words, he got screwed and he had every right to be bitter. But here's the problem with being bitter about being screwed: he didn't play music anymore! And when that happens then the bad guys have won.
What I want to say to Mitch and others like him is this: "Listen man, you've done things people only dream of. You played with Jimi Hendrix on some of the most important and influential recordings in musical history. Don't let anyone take that away from you." And here's the secret to doing that: go back to the music! Go to that place that inspired you when you were 16 years old: the music. And it will NEVER, EVER let you down! That's why I play every Monday night with my band Spellbinder in Seattle. I think I'm playing better than ever and I'll be 61 next week.
AC: Why Seattle? You maintain a home in LA as well. Which do you prefer?
MS: My ex-wife Cynthia and I met when we were both living in NYC in the late 70's and 80's and moved to the Bay Area for awhile after that. We had our first son, Sam, and moved to Seattle, where Cynthia had grown up. Sam is now 21 and entering his senior year at Berklee School of Music. He is a very talented singer and songwriter with a wonderful CD out called "Bittersweet Lullabies" that is really worth checking out. And we have another son, Cooper, who is 14 now and our resident Mac Guru, graphics, Photoshop man. I am in Seattle because Cooper is here. Sadly, after 20 years, our marriage didn't make it but we had a good run and have two fantastic boys that we are crazy about. I am in another relationship where I am very happy and am on good terms with the ex, so all is well. Seattle has become home to me and I have a lot of wonderful friends here. I had a place in LA for a short while after my divorce, thinking I would try to break into the recording scene there. Then I realized, "Who am I kidding?" and went back to Seattle to put a band together - and be close to Cooper.
AC: What do you think of popular music now and today's musicianship? I was told by Linda Ronstadt recently that there is no more "Record Business."
MS: Well, there's a record business, but it is very different than it used to be. There is so much music out there and, I think, some really good music as well, in terms of instrumental music, singer/songwriters and music from around the world. The problem is that there is so much quantity that it's hard to find the good stuff unless you are really into it. And the record companies don't have a clue and just want something that is already doing well. They don't nurture talented acts or people like they used to, or give them time to develop. It has to happen "now" and if you don't sell a certain amount of records then you are dropped immediately. And they are suffering for their shortsightedness, both in terms of finding and developing talent, as well as their lack of insight into how music fans are using the internet to find music. Also, because there is so much music, people are jaded and dulled as to what is good. They really don't care. So it's much more difficult to make an impression now. But the good music is out there.
AC: You have embraced new media and interact with your fans around the world on Facebook. How are you using new media as a platform of artistic expression?
MS: It's not so much that the new media is used as a form of artistic expression, but rather a way to get the music out there and also communicate with fans in a more personal way than I ever have before. Also, I've personally opened up to the idea of just being friendlier with people at a distance -something like Facebook provides this opportunity. I can share more of who I am and what I'm about to the people that are interested in me. For instance, on my Facebook Fan Page I play video DJ every Sunday in what I call the "Church of the Eternal Groove." People sit in virtual church pews and wait for me to wake up on Sundays and post videos of music that I like. It could be old soul stuff, Motown, James Brown, Latin, African, jazz, whatever. It's fun for me and fun for them. It's immediate feedback with people commenting as I post - like people in a real church shouting out, "Amen brother!" Now whether that kind of interaction translates to selling my music? I have to question that. But its fun and I enjoy it.
AC: What are some of the things you are working on now? Who are you working with and what do you hope to accomplish?
MS: Well, first off I have my band, Michael Shrieve's Spellbinder, which is the most immediate thing. Like I said, we play every Monday night in Seattle. We have a wonderful live CD out and we want to play and tour wherever we can. We recently played the Miri Jazz Festival in Malaysia and look forward to touring as well. The problem is I've had a hard time getting a booking agent! Booking agents are the new record companies! We really want to come to play in Paris and the rest of Europe and anywhere else that we can. And the band is smoking live!
Then I have two other CD's that are almost finished. One is called "Drums of Compassion" that I started with synthesist Jeff Greinke and has guests like Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moriera, Zakir Hussain, Olatunji, Trey Gunn, and Raul and Karl from Santana's percussion section. I play 16 tom-toms standing up in a semi circle. It's a very chill record that is meant to be listened to late at night. It's beautiful and I can't wait to get it out! I have another project called "Trilon" that is almost finished as well. Very cool instrumental kind of experimental groove music.
AC: How would you like history to remember you? What would you like your legacy to be?
MS: What I have learned is that it doesn't matter how I would like history to remember me! The first thing they will say is that I was the 19 year old kid that rose to prominence for doing the drum solo with Santana at Woodstock. That's a given! What I would hope they would add is that he never stopped in his pursuit of music and had a certain level of integrity and honesty in the music he made; music made with many wonderful musicians from a variety of genres.
Al Carlos Hernandez - Contributing Editor:
Edited by Susan Aceves
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