The Wunderkind of Woodstock
Woodstock, the August 1969 rock festival that drew the largest audience for a concert event of that era, launched the careers of many music legends. San Francisco Latin-rock purveyors Santana, whose debut album had yet to be released before the event, practically became overnight sensations upon the release of the feature film immortalizing the festival.
Billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music,” Woodstock confirmed Santana’s reputation as a powerful live act owing much of its force to then twenty-year-old drummer Michael Shrieve and his kinetic solo in “Soul Sacrifice.” Shrieve’s performance, even fifty years later, displays his palpable energy and extraordinary technique, as he blazes single-stroke rolls and fiery fusillades within a craftily arranged solo.
“We played a lot of festivals before Woodstock,” Shrieve recalls today. “When Woodstock came up it was… not to sound blasé…but it was just another festival, right? We had a week off before Woodstock, so we rented a house nearby and started rehearsing. Then we heard on TV about the incredible traffic on the freeways and interstates leading to the festival.” Shrieve had logged time on the road in cover bands and in the San Mateo Community College big band before landing the drum chair with
Santana. He purchased the 1967 champagne sparkle four-piece Ludwig kit featured at Woodstock while on the road out west. “Those were the first drums I ever bought,” Shrieve tells MD. “I had a couple Japanese snare drums, but my family couldn’t really afford a drumset. I went on tour with some band, and I bought those drums in North Dakota after saving up my per diem money. To this day I still love those drums. I auctioned them off a couple years ago. [See sidebar.] Now they’re in the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.”
What was the vibe onstage at Woodstock playing to 400,000 music lovers, for which Santana received $1,500 total? “Well, forget about the monitors,” he laughs. “Engineer Eddie Kramer told me it was crazy: there was no communication between the mobile recording truck and the musicians, and the miking setup was ridiculous. The thing that saved us sound-wise is that we were close together onstage. We always played to each other, and we were already a seasoned live band. We got each other off, and that projected to the audience. It was perfect because we were a tribal band and the audience was feeling tribal. The percussion connected all of it. And the drums really helped those primal grooves. It was special for an unknown band to draw that kind of response from such a large audience.”
Shrieve played most of his “Soul Sacrifice” solo with snares off , and then slapped them back on when the band returned to the song. “That’s the sound that I wanted for that song,” he explains. “I recorded it that way, and it blended with the two congas. Playing with the snares off made the solo more tribal. It was a very simple groove; I followed the bass later in the song. I started playing the song with the snares on after Woodstock, and I think that actually sounded better.”
The Santana band, including Shrieve, saw the Woodstock movie one year later in New York City. Stardom was right around the corner. “I remember standing outside the theater when the people coming out who’d just seen it started pointing at us. That was the first time we were recognized as a whole band. The movie was unbelievable. We had no idea that it looked or sounded like that and/or how the drum solo was going to be edited [by, among others, Martin Scorsese], so I was filled with emotions. I was caught between wanting to stand up and say, ‘That’s me!’ and just sliding down in my seat.
“I was blown away,” Shrieve continues. “The intensity of the band and the intensity of myself and the rapturous joy that I’m projecting and feeling…that’s amazing. When I see the drum solo, I understand. But if I listen to it without the visual, I don’t think much of it.”
Shrieve continued to use his champagne sparkle Ludwigs for years, including at Santana’s performance following Woodstock in Tanglewood, New York, where he played an even greater drum solo (viewable on YouTube). Did the smaller Ludwig kit and lighter hardware of the era withstand Santana’s hectic touring schedule? “They were fine,” Shrieve replies, “including the Ludwig Speed King pedal. I want to get back to that kind of simplicity as opposed to everything being over engineered as it is nowadays. And there’s something to like about a four-piece drumset, which is very comfortable. Although I’m playing a five-piece now, those were my first drums. When I was younger, I was very intimate with them. And I’m going back to those old stands. In fact, companies are making those lighter stands again.
“Concerts weren’t as loud then,” Shrieve continues. “Now the volume level is unhealthy. Also, it doesn’t work for my style of playing. I’m not a heavy rock drummer whatsoever. I have a lighter touch.”
The original Santana band reconvened in 2016 and released the album Santana IV. The reformed band played only three shows, which Shrieve remains displeased about. Perhaps a better, more satisfying document is the Santana reunion record that doesn’t feature the band’s namesake guitarist, 1997s’ Abraxas Pool. Featuring former Santana members Shrieve, guitarist Neal Schon, keyboardist/singer Gregg Rolie, bassist Alphonso Johnson (replacing David Brown), and percussionists José “Chepito” Areas and Mike Carabello, the musicians reanimated the soaring spiritual music at which the original band excelled.
Shrieve continued in that vein with his 2006 album, Drums of Compassion, on which he was joined by drummer/ percussionists Jack DeJohnette, Zakir Hussain, Pete Lockett, Babatunde Olatunji, and Airto Moriera, Chapman Stick/Warr Guitar player Trey Gunn, electronic artist Amon Tobin, and saxophonist Skerik. “I wanted to make music that you could listen to at two in the morning, following the concept of ambient synthesis,” Shrieve explains. “For one song I had sixteen drums in a semi-circle, played standing up, more like a pulse than a groove.”
The seventy-year-old Shrieve has also recently recorded albums with Seattle-area band Spellbinder and freeform collective Trilon, and he recently toured with Estas Tonne, a Russian guitarist whose career has taken him from the streets of New York to international concert halls. “He’s a beautiful player and sets a mood that I really relate to,” Shrieve says. “We played together at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, and he’s invited me to join him for performances in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.”
Shrieve’s jazz-influenced, world-focused drumming provided the rhythmic lift that gave Santana its spiritual center. He continued that pursuit in projects as diverse as 1981’s Novo Combo, 1989’s Stiletto (with Mark Isham, David Torn, Andy Summers, and Terje Gewelt), 1995’s Two Doors (with Jonas Hellborg, Shawn Lane, Bill Frisell, and Wayne Horvitz), and 2005’s Oracle (with Amon Tobin). “As a musician I want to assist in that creative space where people can come in and feel completely washed and cleansed, like a spiritual shower,” he says. “Let go of all the illusions that are around us in terms of what to believe, who to believe in, where to go. It’s very difficult now to know what’s real—you have to go inside yourself to find that. I’d like to be a part of music that helps people to do that.”
The Drums that Roared
On May 20, 2017, the Ludwig four-piece champagne sparkle drumkit played by Michael Shrieve at Woodstock garnered $187,500 in auction at the Hard Rock Café in New York City’s Times Square. Martin J. Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions, directed the event and sorted out the details. “Woodstock had a huge impact on the auction value of [Shrieve’s] drums,” Nolan states, “but bidders also considered that it was Santana and that Michael Shrieve, at age twenty, was the youngest artist to perform at Woodstock on August 16, 1969. Shrieve’s ten-minute drum solo during Santana’s ‘Soul Sacrifice’ has gone down as legend in music history.”
Did the condition of the drums matter in this instance? “Bidders always consider condition,” Nolan says, “but in this situation they fl ocked to this auction for the opportunity to own an amazing piece of pop culture history. It was so amazing to have Michael Shrieve in the auction gallery refl ecting on how he worked so hard to be able to purchase this drumkit in North Dakota in the late ’60s, enabling him to create so many happy memories for fans worldwide to this day.”
Shrieve’s champagne sparkle Ludwig set consisted of a 5.5×14 Supraphonic 400 chrome snare drum, a 9×13 mounted tom, a 16×16 fl oor tom, and a 14×22 bass drum. His Avedis Zildjian cymbals included 14″ hi-hats, a 20″ ride cymbal with rivets, and an 18″ crash with rivets. His choice of stick was Regal Tip 5A.
Today Shrieve uses DW drums and hardware, Istanbul Agop cymbals, and Remo heads.