Look up the phrase “rhythm section” in the Encyclopedia Britannica and you’ll see their pictures – the prestigious percussionists who have shared the stage with one Devadip Carlos Santana. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the Mexican-born guitarist’s collective of San Francisco-based musicians fused Latin and rock like none before them. The 1969 debut-album rhythm section of percussionists José “Chepitó” Areas, Mike Carabello, and drummer Michael Shrieve are the beginning of a long lineage of legendary percussion sections.
Santana’s current battery is no different. In the Vol. 10, #6 issue, our illustrious Jared Cobb eloquently wrote, “Simply put, Karl Perazzo is a badass.” He ain’t lyin’. Perazzo’s ten years with the group were preceded by stints with everyone from Andy Narell to John Lee Hooker to Prince to Pete and Sheila Escovedo. And conga master Raul Rekow? We don’t really even need to go there. One number should suffice: 27 – as in, years with Santana. Take Cobb’s quote, replace the name, and add “Old School.”
We also probably don’t have to say much about the “new” kit drummer who at press time has recorded several songs for Santana’s upcoming album (tentatively titled Shaman), and is currently on the road with the band. We’re talking about Dennis Chambers. His credit list is equally daunting: John Scofield, George Clinton and P-Funk, Mike Stern, David Sanborn, Stanley Clarke, Bob Berg, etc. Take Cobb’s quote, replace the name, but call him a “Baltimore badass.”
On an afternoon of rehearsals in Marin, California, one can’t help notice the palpable family atmosphere. The band, the crew, everyone treats each other with a supreme amount of respect. And when the music happens, duck or grab something solid, because it’s on. You’d think Karl, Raul, and Dennis had played their whole lives together, such is their collective fire. But passion is nothing without direction and cooperation, and the musical intuitiveness between the three is awe-inspiringly uncanny.
We tried to find out what the secret is, and while there may not be any one boiler-plate answer, you will notice an underlying trend in the interviews that follow, one to take to heart: the eyes don’t have it, the ears do. When it comes to Karl, Raul, and Dennis, these are six titanic ears. There’s not much to do but, as these guys would say, listen.
DRUM!: Do the two of you have a method for working out your percussion parts when you learn new songs?
Rekow: It changes with every song, the circumstances really kind of dictate what happens. It’ll either come from a song that already has something on it – in other words, if we receive a demo that has something that’s good, then we’ll go after that. Otherwise, it’ll be Karl or myself, or Carlos that will come up with the ideas.
DRUM!: Does Carlos ever give a strict roadmap, or is it usually pretty open?
Rekow: He gives us some leeway to create our own parts. He has big ears, and he sees the overall picture a little bit better than I do sometimes. In other words, I concentrate on my part, and try to be cool and hip with my part, but sometimes I don’t realize that that might interfere with something else in the song. And Carlos has a little bit more vision with that. Sometimes he’ll say, “Listen, that’s a little too busy,” or “that’s not enough,” or “maybe we need to change the pattern,” and he’ll give us a chance to come up with something. But if we don’t, then he’ll have some ideas as well.