Seattle drummer Michael Shrieve and his band Spellbinder are a regular fixture at the Fremont bar ToST. But long before Shrieve moved to Seattle to raise a family, he was the drummer for Santana, a relatively unknown band when it played Woodstock 40 years ago this weekend. Shrieve's performance, his band and Woodstock would become...
Every Monday night in a Fremont bar, Michael Shrieve, who 40 years ago executed one of rock music’s greatest drum solos in a moment of history documented on film, unceremoniously takes the stage with his newest group, Spellbinder. It’s a five-piece jam band that reflects not only Shrieve’s accomplishments in rock but his interest in jazz and world music.
The crowds that gather at the bar, ToST, tend to be a loyal, discerning, curious and enthusiastic lot. They listen intently and are occasionally moved to dance, but are often too young for the words “Woodstock” and “Santana” to hold very much meaning — words that figure largely in Shrieve’s personal history.
Shrieve, who lives in Fremont in an apartment a few blocks from ToST, recently turned 60. He made his legend 40 years ago this weekend when, just after having turned 20, he performed with his band Santana at the Woodstock music festival.
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Half a million people attended those three days of music on a 600-acre dairy farm in upstate New York, where just about every great rock musician and band of the time performed. Woodstock has stood up over the years, like no other single event, as a moment in both musical and cultural history.
Santana was the fifth band to perform that Saturday, Aug. 16, 1969, the second day of the festival. It was relatively unknown outside of the Bay Area.
The band played “Soul Sacrifice,” and movie cameras were rolling so a documentary could be made about the festival. Shrieve, who looked even younger than his actual age, was a marvel, passion and joy written on his face. About three minutes into the nine-minute performance, the drummer set off into a long solo that would become part of rock- music history.
In the decades since, Shrieve has played on or produced records that have sold millions of copies, not just with Santana but with the Rolling Stones, Pete Townshend, Steve Winwood and George Harrison. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
But in some ways that performance at Woodstock and that song have outlasted any other accomplishment.
“I’ve gone through different phases of what Woodstock meant to me,” said Shrieve, who moved to Seattle about 20 years ago with his then-wife and young son. “The first 10 or 15 years, it was so big, I kept trying to fight it, maybe trying to top it.
“One day I was walking down the street in New York and someone comes up to me and says, ‘Hey Mike, I loved you at Woodstock,’ then he paused and said, ‘Man, you’re getting older.’ And I thought, ‘This is going to be the story of my life.’ It’s like being a child actor, like being Shirley Temple.
“Then I stopped fighting it. Who am I to top that? What does it matter, as long as I’m doing what I love doing? I decided just to be glad that I’ve done something that meant so much to so many people. Not a day goes by that I don’t get a number of e-mails or something on Facebook, about what Woodstock meant or what my solo meant, from kids who saw it for the first time, from someone whose son started playing drums because of it.”
Part of the power of Shrieve’s performance was undoubtedly his youth. He grew up on the east side of the Bay, playing in the house band of a local club that backed up R&B greats like B.B. King and Etta James. San Francisco was the center of a burgeoning rock music scene that included Santana, Jefferson Airplane and Sly and the Family Stone, among others. The music was daring, fresh and different.
When Shrieve was 16, he met Santana’s manager, Stan Marcum, and bass player, David Brown, at a jam session at the legendary Fillmore Auditorium. Impressed, Marcum took Shrieve’s phone number. A few years later, Shrieve ran into the other members of the band at a recording studio and was invited to jam. At the end of the night, they asked him to join, and a boy’s youth ended.
Shortly after his 20th birthday, he played Woodstock. “Soul Sacrifice,” an instrumental, was the seventh of eight songs the band played. It was pure Santana, a mix of hard rock, African, Latin and funk music.
“We played like that all the time,” Shrieve said. “The only difference was that performance was filmed. No doubt, there was a lot of luck involved.”
Shrieve’s memory of Woodstock is both powerful and indistinct. He remembers sensations more than specific scenes. He remembered being summoned to play earlier than expected. He and his band mates rode a helicopter to the concert stage and looked out the window in awe at the mass of people covering the grass below them as far as they could see.
“You knew that something incredible was happening,” Shrieve said. “It represented an ideal of the consciousness of the time.”
Once on the stage, Shrieve said, he felt like he was “standing at edge of the ocean. When you’re at the beach as far as you can see is water and then you see sky. As far as I could see is people and then I saw the sky.”
The members of the band played to one another as much as the audience. Shrieve said he was in “the zone.” The band had killed, yet no one talked about it. After Woodstock, the band recorded its first album and toured the country.
But one year later, Shrieve said, “The film comes out and we’re standing in line with everyone and people started pointing at us. We didn’t know what was going to be in the movie. When I saw myself I didn’t know whether to shout, ‘Hey that’s me!’ or to hide under my seat. When that segment was done, everyone in the theater stood up and applauded. Kids saw that film everywhere in the world.
“After that, things blew open for us. It was like the ultimate music video, way before MTV.”
Shrieve intentionally took the way out of the rock-star life and the excesses that came with it. He “went toward the music” instead, he said. He lived in New York during most of the 1980s when he met his wife, who was from Seattle. When the couple’s first son, Sam (now 20 and a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston) was born, they moved to North Seattle. They had a second son, Cooper, seven years later. They divorced, but Shrieve stayed in Seattle to remain close to his sons.
“It’s very difficult to make money in Seattle as a musician,” he said. “You have to travel a lot. But it’s a great breeding ground to try stuff out.”
Spellbinder is evidence of that. The band includes jazz organist Joe Doria, trumpeter John Fricke, guitarist Danny Godinez and bassist Farko Dosumov. The group recently recorded a CD from a live performance at ToST. Shrieve also helped produce his son Sam’s first album, “Bittersweet Lullabies.” Sam plays the drums, piano, guitar and also sings. Michael Shrieve teaches a little but prefers performing and fraternizing with other drummers.
“He’ll pop up at your gigs, check out your shows, and send you an e-mail afterward,” said Matt Jorgensen, another local drummer. “He is always about creativity and learning and coming up with new ways to communicate. As an artist, that’s all you can strive to do.”
“I’ve been lucky to have met a number of my drumming heroes,” he said. “I met Max Roach and Arthur Taylor. I gave Elvin Jones a ride in my car once. And now I’ve met Michael Shrieve. To befriend him, it’s like one of the cool things about being a drummer in Seattle. He’s a very talented and normal musician. And he has some truly incredible stories.”