Former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve is famous for being the youngest musician (20) to play the 1969 Woodstock Festival, and for his stunning solo during "Soul Sacrifice," which remains a highlight of Michael Wadleigh's film Woodstock. Now living in Seattle and still creating challenging music with his Spellbinder group, Shrieve also contributed drums to two songs on David Crosby's 1971 psych-folk classic If I Could Only Remember My Name: "What Are Their Names" and "Song with No Words (Tree with No Leaves)."
Recalling the recording sessions in a phone interview, Shrieve says that while he's unimpressed with his work on those tunes, he admits that their subdued folk-rock structures didn't play to his strengths. For Name, Shrieve and a cast of Los Angeles and San Francisco musical luminaries—Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia, Neil Young, Graham Nash, et al.—were mostly jamming on tunes that Crosby brought to the studio. "When I listen to it, it really feels like hippie music to me," Shrieve says. "It was different from the way I played with Santana. Because [Crosby's] music comes from folk music, essentially. I was coming more from a funk and jazz sort of vibe."
Shrieve first met Crosby before he joined Santana. In the summer of 1968, the young drummer went to LA with Jefferson Airplane members Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen, with the possibility of joining the band, who were cutting Crown of Creation there.
While Shrieve and company were in the studio, David Crosby entered. "I was a big fan of the Byrds," Shrieve says. "He brought in this song called 'Triad' that he had done with [them] years earlier. They rejected it, and so he taught it to the band and Grace Slick sang it, and that's the first time I met David."
Shrieve notes that one of the things that makes Crosby's music stand out from other musicians' with whom he's collaborated is his knack for writing modally. "It wasn't just chords. Obviously, some of them came out like that with Crosby, Stills & Nash, but he wrote in a way that was a very open palette, so that his voice could go in different ways. It was like John Coltrane and Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Michael Bloomfield playing guitar on the song 'East-West,' where it was very modal.
"Crosby's songs are slow and open: 'Almost Cut My Hair,' 'Everybody's Been Burned'—now that's a beautiful song. The melody is almost like that old jazz song 'Lush Life.' The way [Crosby's] melodies move is unique. Of course, then there's 'Guinnevere,' which Miles Davis covered, because of that modal way of writing. David's voice is unique and his writing is unique. He's definitely an American icon. He still hasn't cut his hair, has he?
"I always have a special place in my heart for David," Shrieve concludes. "He's an unusual guy. We enjoyed talking about poetry, like Dylan Thomas, and other types of music. He was kind of a bon vivant and knew everybody. They don't make people like that anymore."