A few years ago I wrote an article about the making of the album Caravanserai by Santana. It received great feedback from readers, many of them pointing out other Santana albums from that period as musical achievements that beg for a similar deep dive. I was left with a feeling that the work was unfinished. Santana’s path between 1972 and 1974, in which the band expanded their musical horizons into jazz, fusion and Brazilian territories, is a magnificent musical journey. It represents a unique moment in time when a collective of musicians reaches an artistic peak. I recently had the pleasure of engaging in a friendly chat with drummer Michael Shrieve, who provided farther insights into that period. He called the trio of studio albums consisting of Caravanserai, Welcome and Borboletta a trilogy. Additional recordings from the same period include Love Devotion Surrender, Lotus and Illuminations. Altogether, we have the making of yet another series of articles that readers of this blog have grown accustomed to. Here we go with part 1, starting the story in the summer of 1971.
In June of 1971 Santana completed the recording of their third studio album Santana III. The band was in a rapid downward spiral, fueled by excess and wild life the band was indulging in while on the road. The album was an artistic and commercial success, producing hits such as ‘Everybody’s Everything’ and ‘No One to Depend On’, but the band was disintegrating fast while making it. Carlos Santana remembers: “When we get in the studio we have an attitude. You either show up late or you’re too over-the-top with drugs to play.” Drummer Michael Shrieve adds: “There were drugs, cocaine specifically, that entered the scene for us. We were young and misguided. We didn’t have the abilities or the maturity to know how to deal with that kind of success and everything that goes with it at such a young age.”
On July 4th 1971 the band played the very final set at Fillmore West’s closing week. Music promoter Bill Graham ended three years of historic shows at the venue with five nights of music billed as “the bands that built the Fillmore.” Santana played a set that featured tunes from their brand new album plus a rendition of Miles Davis’ atmospheric piece ‘In a Silent Way’. Shrieve: “We wanted to come off as a little more progressive as we felt that it would represent us at the given time when the Fillmore closed. We were sort of transformed as a band and that’s why we chose to do the Miles Davis tune and have our kind of groove to it.”
Here is a clip from that performance showing the band playing ‘In a Silent Way’. Band members on that show included Carlos Santana, David Brown, Michael Shrieve, Michael Carabello, Jose “Chepito” Areas, Coke Escovedo, Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon.
That show was significant not only for signaling the end of rock performances at the venue, but also the end of that classic Santana lineup. Shortly after that event bassist David Brown was fired from the band. Santana: “It was clear to everyone that David was not doing well—his heroin use was showing, and his playing and the music were starting to suffer. Sometimes he’d take too much and would be nodding out and not capable of presenting the music the way it was meant to be.” Brown would be back in the band following the period covered in these articles. Santana filled that gap temporarily by enlisting Tom Rutley, an acoustic bass player who knew Michael Shrieve back in college.
More troubles were awaiting the band after the release of Santana III. The drugs intake did not subside and Carlos Santana decided to take a stand. On the eve of embarking on a US tour to promote the album, he made a demand: “I’m not going unless we get rid of [manager] Stan Marcum and [percussionist] Michael Carabello, because they’re suppling the band with the heavy stuff and we sound like shit. We’re not practicing, and it’s embarrassing. Either those guys are out or I’m out.” Ok, said the band, and flew out to play a month of Santana shows with no Santana in the lineup. Shrieve remembers that bleak period: “I think that when cocaine entered into the scene for us it kind of closed us down. We were still playing well, but our hearts and minds had closed down to each other.”
If you are wondering what the Santana band sounded like without Santana, here you go. Santana at Boston Gardens, Boston, MA on Oct 11 1971, playing ‘Black Magic Woman’:
As the band reached the US East Coast, it was clear that this situation was unsustainable. They voted to let Carabello go and called Carlos Santana back to the fold. We are in October of 1971, starting a series of new recruits to the band, each of them crucial to the period we are about to focus on.
Before we get to new band members, we must first cover the topic of Carlos Santana’s and Michael Shrieve’s interest in jazz. The early 1970s was an exciting time for followers of the emerging style of jazz rock. Miles Davis’ album Bitches Brew, released in March 1970, was a big bang event that spawned a multitude of bands and albums. Disciples and collaborators of Miles were releasing albums left and right full of sonic and rhythmic explorations. Weather Report, led by Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, released their self-titled debut in May 1971 followed by ‘I Sing the Body Electric’ a year later. John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra released ‘The Inner Mounting Flame’ in August 1971. Herbie Hancock turned to electronic keyboards starting with ‘Mwandishi’ in March 1971, followed by ‘Crossings’ in May 1972. Santana and Shrieve were of younger age than most of the musicians making that music, but they have already found success that the artists mentioned above could only dream of. Still, musically they aspired to reach the higher level of mastery and knowledge of these artists.
Carlos Santana discussed in his memoir ‘The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light’, what brought about his interest in jazz: “It was Michael Shrieve who got me to listen to Miles and Trane and corrected my twisted perception that jazz is only for old, fuddy-duddy people. He went through my record collection and saw what I didn’t have, and he decided I had to hear Miles and Coltrane. So he brought over a big stack of records for me. I started to listen – ‘Whoa, what is this shit? This is really different from John Lee Hooker.’ I started playing it back and forth. Miles and Trane. Miles and Trane.” In an interview discussing the same topic, Santana said that his first reaction was. “Aw man, bring me some Albert King.’ But when I heard ‘In a Silent Way’ I thought it was interesting and when Michael brought me ‘Miles in the Sky’ it was all over.” Santana was all gratitude and respect for the drummer: “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 Shrieve also remembers fondly the time he and Santana listened to and discovered music together: “Carlos and I share a lot of music. It was one of the best things about our relationship: How much music we shared with each other. ‘What have you need listening to?’ On the road I would bring a trunk full of LPs, this is before portable music players, and Carlos and I would sit and listen to the records after the show.” Carlos Santana’s memory of these listening sessions during tours: “Shrieve and I would get together to listen to our favorite music in his room or mine, turning each other on to different records that had just come out. It could be jazz or soul or whatever. Girls would come by, looking to get high and party, and they’d get bored when the two of us would be going, ‘Check out this groove!’ or ‘You gotta hear this solo.’”
A bit nerdy, you say, thinking of the shenanigans famously taking place during lengthy tours by rock bands in the early 1970s. Perhaps, but that spark of interest in higher level of musical achievement led to one of the most amazing and unique runs of albums by any rock band, ever.
Back to October 1971, when Santana is stuck in New York City without a conguero. The band had to resort to untraditional methods to find a replacement. Carlos Santana: “One night in New York City we decided to put it out into the world, and we asked if there was a conga player in the audience. That’s how we found Mingo Lewis.” The young percussionist approached Santana’s production manager, Herbie Herbert. He knew Santana’s repertoire, he said. Herbie gave him $4 to get a taxi and fetch his congas. He returned, joined Santana on stage, and even got a well-deserved spot for a solo. Santana: “He was a street musician with a lot of energy. We put out the request from the stage and the next thing we knew this cat showed up and sounded good with us. He knew almost all the parts for our songs, so we asked him to join the band right there and then.”
This is what the band sounded like in November of 1971. Here is Para Los Rumberos from Santana III, live in San Diego:
The band continued touring late in 1971 and as a new year turned over, three new members joined the band.
First is the eldest of the group, twice the age of the others. Carlos Santana described his credentials: “Armando Peraza was older and wiser than all of us—he was almost fifty then. He had been in the game for years. He was one of the top four congueros to come over from Cuba in the 1940s, along with Patato Valdez, Francisco Aguabella and Mongo Santamaría. Since the ’60s, he’d been living in San Francisco.” Peraza brought with him bona fide Latin jazz credentials. Starting in the late 1940s when he moved from Havana to New York City, he played with jazz giants such as Charlie Parker, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Dexter Gordon. After moving to the West Coast in the 1950s he rode the mambo craze wave that caught on like fire in the US, recording with George Shearing. In the 1960s he settled in Cal Tjader’s band for six years. He is credited on over 50 albums from the 1950s and 1960s.
Carlos Santana fondly remembers Armando Peraza’s unique take on the English language: “I was called Carlo. McLaughlin was Maharishi, not Mahavishnu. Lionel Richie was Flannel Richie. There was Argentina Turner, Roberta Flop, and that Weather Report guy, Joe Sabano. ‘Hey, Carlo, you know I was with Sabano when he wrote ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’?”
At the end of 1971 Santana was on a quest for a bass player. Tom Rutley did a fine job with the band, but that was a temporary solution. They lucked out with a perfect bassist who Michael Shrieve described as a genius, “One who added a whole dimension to our sound.” Back in August 1970 Santana was part of Bill Graham’s “Fillmore at Tanglewood” performance package that brought a diverse collection of artists to Lenox, Massachusetts. Jethro Tull and The Who opened the series that summer, and the last concert on August 18th featured Miles Davis, Santana and a group called the Voices of East Harlem. Carlos Santana remembers noticing one of that band’s touring musicians: “I loved the Voices of East Harlem. They were all about power to the people and positive message music, and they had that black church energy. The Voices had a great bass player, a young guy with a huge Afro—Doug Rauch. I called him Dougie. He had a nice, burly sound on bass, like an older, acoustic tone, but with a Larry Graham technique—slapping, funky. He was part of a new wave of bass players that included Chuck Rainey and Rocco Prestia with Tower of Power and Michael Henderson with Miles—they were all moving the music forward and playing music that wasn’t just R & B and wasn’t completely jazz.”
In March 1971 Santana was again on a bill that shared the stage with the Voices of East Harlem. This time the event was in the city of Accra, the capital of Ghana, for a celebration of Independence Day of Ghana. A concert, later the subject of a documentary film, was organized with a host of American R&B, soul, rock, and jazz musicians including Wilson Pickett, Ike & Tina Turner, Les McCann, The Staple Singers, Roberta Flack, Santana and The Voices of East Harlem. Michael Shrieve remembers that on the flight back he was listening to a mixtape of female singers, sitting in between Roberta Flack and Mavis Staples: “Mavis later described it as ‘Shrieve sitting between me and Roberta like an Oreo cookie.’” Shrieve connected with Doug Rauch during that trip: “He and I got to talking. He was a funk player with his hair like this and boots. I invited him to come out and he stayed at my house.”
Doug Rauch moved to San Francisco later in 1971 and immediately immersed himself in the thriving music scene of the city. He started playing in the band Loading Zone and met keyboardist Tom Coster. The two then joined guitarist Gábor Szabó’s band, one of Carlos Santana’s favorite musicians. Gypsy Queen, the instrumental piece tacked right after Black Magic Woman on Santana’s album Abraxas, was written by Gábor Szabó. Tom Coster remembers connecting with Santana while he toured with Szabó: “Whenever we would come to the Bay area, Carlos would always be the first one in the club. I would always come early to the gig, I had my Hammond, Fender Rhodes and Clavinet, and Carlos would be sitting right there in the audience.” Doug Rauch and Tom Coster formally joined the band at the beginning of 1972.
With new members Mingo Lewis, Armando Peraza, Doug Rauch and Tom Coster, along with José “Chepito” Areas, the perfect lineup was in place for Carlos Santana and Michael Shrieve to realize their dream of making an ambitious, progressive and uncompromising album. In the next article we will tell the story of that album – Caravanserai.
The following resources were used during the writing of this article:
Carlos Santana’s excellent memoir The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light
A chat with Michael Shrieve, December 2022
Santanamigos, a great online resource for Santana’s history