The Youngest Musician At Woodstock – Michael Shrieve

Drummer MICHAEL SHRIEVE had just turned 19 when Santana, a relatively unknown band, performed at Woodstock in 1969. Michael’s drum solo on Soul Sacrifice was one of the highlights of the movie and probably the whole show. That level of musicianship was not common or well known back in 1969.

A Young Michael Shrieve

A Young Michael Shrieve

In fact, I think the Santana performance opened many people’s eyes that these hippie musicians and the whole 60’s music scene was higher quality than many understood. Santana definitely had raised the bar!

In fact, my 15 year old daughter, who plays guitar, now wants to play drums since seeing Michael’s drum solo. I bet the fact that that he was the youngest musician at Woodstock (and she thinks he’s very cute) has a little something to do with that.

Michael Shrieve’s Speech At His Induction Into the Roll & Roll Hall of Fame

“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 shit. Then it hits me. I’m going to play with Michael Bloomfield, Steven Stills, and Al Kooper, on the sand 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 myself. 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 into 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 6 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 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.”

Check out his amazing drum solo in the video above.


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One Response to “The Youngest Musician At Woodstock – Michael Shrieve”

  1. June 5, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    Henry Gross of Sha Na Na, at 18 years of age, was the youngest musician to take the stage at Woodstock.