INTERVIEW: Drummer Michael Shrieve on reuniting with Santana, impact of Woodstock

Santana drummer Michael Shrieve is pictured.  (Steve Korn Photo)

Santana drummer Michael Shrieve is pictured. (Steve Korn Photo)

One concert, one performance, can define the rest of your career.

For drummer Michael Shrieve, that crystallizing moment was Santana's groundbreaking set in 1969 during the Woodstock festival in upstate New York -- particularly his mesmerizing drum solo during the band's extended jam on "Soul Sacrifice."

However, Shrieve confessed during a recent phone interview that one afternoon 47 years ago will always define who he is as a musician, whether he wants it to or not.

"There have been so many (moments), of course there is no possible way that one could deny the experience of Woodstock and what it meant to our careers, that just catapulted us into the mainstream immediately," he said. "On a personal level, that has been a bit of a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I feel that's the only thing people know about me.

"On the other hand, I came to a certain point when I realized I should just be grateful. It's something I've done that moved so many people and stayed with people and I have to be gracious," he said. "I'll forever be mostly known for that solo at Woodstock. There is almost no way around that."

Shrieve is back with Santana for a reunion tour featuring the "classic" lineup of guitarists Carlos Santana and Neal Schon, keyboardist-vocalist Gregg Rolie and percussionist Michael Carabello. Santanta is currently touring with fellow rock titans Journey. (Schon and Rolie formed Journey in 1973 after leaving Santana.)

The two groups performed Saturday at the PPL Center in Allentown. The trek continues tonight in Quebec City, Canada, and wraps May 25 in Las Vegas.

In addition to the reunion tour, Shrieve and his Santana band-mates are celebrating the release of their first studio effort in more than 40 years, Santana IV. The album marks the first time the quintet has recorded together since Santana III dropped in 1971.

"Being back with the guys from Santana is very special because they all hold such a special place in my life. Those times we shared and the music we made are some of the most cherished times in my life,"  he said. "It's a whole different thing playing this music when you're 66 and when you're 20," he joked. "It takes some serious preparation, physically.

"It's hard to describe what it is about (Santana) except to say there definitely is a chemistry ... The is just something that happens when Carlos, Gregg and Carabello and myself get together."

Shrieve said the challenge of being back in the studio with the rest of Santana was to make sure their time spent together brought out the best in each of the musicians. He said the goal was to create the best arrangements and for the music to come through as naturally as possible.

"We still come from the days when it was still an album. We come from that place of, 'OK, turn the LP over and go on the second part of the ride'." he said. "You want to balance it out in terms of flavors. It's just like making a delicious meal, from beginning to end."

Shrieve said many fans don't realize how active he has been since his days being in the driver's seat of the Santana beat. He recorded drums for both The Rolling Stones' 1980 album Emotional Rescue and Mick Jagger's 1984 solo record, She's the Boss, among others. Shrieve has collaborated with such artists as The Police guitarist Andy Summers, Todd Rundgren, singer Jill Sobule and guitarist Buckethead. Additionally, Shrieve composed scores for the films Apollo 13 and Tempest.

Shrieve's approach to drumming these days comes from more of a meditation, almost zen-like perspective. Being a drummer is about being one with the music by creating a space for audiences to be transported to another headspace, he said. Shrieve equated being a drummer to that of a mystical shaman. 

"I watch my breathing. Like yoga," he said. "I can ease into it in a deeper level. It's not all about drums. To me, it's like a river that is flowing and my job as the drummer is to keep the river flowing."