Drummer for Santana – Full Lineup Over the Years

The rhythmic heartbeat of Santana, a band renowned for its fusion of rock, Latin, and jazz, has always been driven by its drummers. 

But who exactly held the title of the “Drummer for Santana”? It wasn’t just one person.

Over the years, several talented drummers have graced this role, with Michael Shrieve’s iconic performance at Woodstock and Graham Lear’s dynamic beats in the late ’70s standing out. 

Discover the beat-makers behind Santana’s legendary sound and their indelible marks on music history.

Historical Context

Santana’s musical journey is a tapestry of evolving sounds, deeply intertwined with the drummers who’ve powered its rhythm. The band’s music has been a melting pot, blending rock with Latin and jazz influences since its inception.

From Woodstock to World Fame

The world first took notice of Santana at Woodstock in 1969. Michael Shrieve’s drumming during this era was nothing short of revolutionary. His performance, especially during “Soul Sacrifice,” showcased a raw energy that became synonymous with early Santana.

The Late ’70s Shift

As the ’70s progressed, Graham Lear stepped in, bringing a different kind of finesse. While retaining the Latin flavor, his beats introduced a more refined rock undertone. This shift was evident in tracks like “Europa” and “Dance Sister Dance.”

The Latin Percussion Legacy

Raul Rekow, with his conga mastery, further solidified Santana’s reputation for Latin-infused rock. His influence wasn’t just about keeping time; it was about adding depth and texture, making every song a rhythmic journey. 

Different drummers, different eras, but one constant – a commitment to evolving and enriching Santana’s iconic sound. That’s why we will check each drummer’s influence on the band’s sound.

List of Drummers for Santana

  • Michael Shrieve (1969-1974)
  • Buddy Miles (1971-1972)
  • Graham Lear (1976-1983)
  • Cindy Blackman Santana (2014-current)
Michael Shrieve

Michael Shrieve (1969-1974)

Born in 1949, Michael Shrieve was a drumming prodigy who hailed from San Francisco. By his late teens, he was already making waves in the local music scene. In this vibrant backdrop, fate had him cross paths with Carlos Santana.

A chance encounter at a jam session in 1969 was all it took. Impressed by Shrieve’s prowess, Santana knew he’d found the rhythmic backbone for his band. By the tender age of 20, Michael was officially the drummer for Santana.

Who could forget the iconic Woodstock performance? Michael’s drum solo during “Soul Sacrifice” wasn’t just a highlight but a defining moment. His contributions during this period, from albums like “Abraxas” to “Caravanserai,” were instrumental in shaping the band’s identity.

Shrieve’s drumming was a fusion of power and finesse. He introduced a jazz-like fluidity to Santana’s Latin-rock sound, creating a unique blend that was raw and sophisticated. His influence during these formative years set the stage for Santana’s enduring legacy.

Buddy Miles

Buddy Miles (1971-1972)

Buddy Miles wasn’t just a drummer but a force of nature. Known for his powerful style and charismatic stage presence, Buddy’s journey with Santana began in 1971. The union, though brief, was nothing short of electric.

Joining the band during a transitional phase, Buddy was part of Santana for a short span between 1971 and 1972. His entry was strategic, aiming to infuse fresh energy into the band’s evolving sound.

With a background in blues and rock, Buddy brought a heavier, funkier groove to Santana. Tracks like “Them Changes” from the collaborative “Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles! Live!” album testify to his profound influence. His drumming added a layer of depth, making the band’s sound richer and more versatile.

Though his time with Santana was fleeting, Buddy Miles left an indelible mark, proving that sometimes, it’s not about how long you’re there but your impact.

graham lear

Graham Lear (1976-1983)

Born in London and raised in Canada, Graham Lear was a drummer with unparalleled precision and versatility. Before joining Santana, he had already made a name for himself, playing with artists like Gino Vannelli.

Graham’s tenure with Santana spanned a significant period from 1976 to 1983. During these years, the band’s sound transformed, and Lear was right at the heart of it.

Santana released some of their most memorable tracks with Lear on the drums. From the jazz-infused “Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)” to the rhythmic “Dance Sister Dance,” Graham’s influence was evident. Albums like “Amigos” and “Inner Secrets” showcased his ability to blend seamlessly into Santana’s evolving musical landscape.

Graham Lear’s time with Santana was marked by a fusion of styles, creating a sound that was both fresh and nostalgically Santana.

rodney holmes

Rodney Holmes (1993-1994, 1997-2000)

Rodney Holmes is a name that resonates with rhythm and passion. From a young age, Rodney was captivated by bands, especially the rhythm section. 

The drums, in particular, held a special allure for him. His journey into the world of drumming began when he joined the junior band. 

His technical prowess and love for playing out-of-the-box soon made him a standout, earning him a reputation as one of the best drummers to learn from.

Rodney’s unique drumming style, characterized by his technical skills and innovative approach, undoubtedly brought a fresh sound to any band he was a part of. 

His ability to personalize his drumming and add a distinct personality to his grooves made him an invaluable asset.

dennis chambers

Dennis Chambers (2002-2013)

Born on May 9, 1959, Dennis Chambers is a force to be reckoned with in the drumming world. His love for drumming ignited at a tender age. 

By the age of four, he was already drumming, and by six, he was performing in Baltimore-area nightclubs, showcasing a talent that was way beyond his years.

When Dennis joined the band, he brought a fresh, unparalleled sound. Santana had never collaborated with a drummer of Dennis’s caliber before. 

Dennis’s entry into Santana marked a significant shift in the band’s sound. His unique drumming style introduced a new rhythmic dimension that Santana hadn’t explored before.

Drummer for Santana

Cindy Blackman Santana (2014-current)

Cindy Blackman Santana is a powerhouse in the world of drumming, known for her dynamic style and profound musicality. Before joining Santana, she had already carved a niche for herself, especially with her long association with Lenny Kravitz.

Cindy began playing with Santana in 2010. But her connection to Carlos Santana wasn’t just musical. The two shared a deep personal bond, culminating in their marriage later that same year.

Their relationship added a unique layer to their musical collaboration. With a shared vision, Cindy and Carlos embarked on a journey to explore new sonic territories together.

Cindy brought a jazz-oriented approach to Santana’s sound. Her intricate rhythms and explosive solos added a fresh dimension to the band’s music. With her at the helm, Santana’s sound blended the classic Latin-rock fusion with hints of jazz intricacies.

With Cindy Blackman Santana on the drums, the band’s music found a new rhythm that was both familiar and refreshingly new.

FAQ Section

Why did Michael Shrieve leave Santana?

Michael Shrieve left Santana in 1974 due to musical differences. As the band began to move in a more jazz-fusion direction with albums like “Caravanserai,” Shrieve felt a growing disconnect with the band’s evolving sound. He pursued other musical ventures that aligned more closely with his artistic vision.

How did the drumming style change between Shrieve and Lear?

Between Michael Shrieve and Graham Lear, the drumming style in Santana underwent a noticeable evolution. Shrieve’s approach was rooted in rock with jazz-like fluidity, giving Santana’s early music a raw, energetic pulse. When Lear took over, he introduced a more refined rock undertone, blending seamlessly with the band’s Latin influences, resulting in a tighter, more polished rhythmic foundation.

Have any of the drummers collaborated post-Santana?

Yes, some drummers who played with Santana have collaborated post-Santana. For instance:

  • Michael Shrieve collaborated with various artists after his time with Santana. He formed a band called “Automatic Man” and later worked with musicians like Klaus Schulze and Steve Roach.
  • Graham Lear went on to play with artists like REO Speedwagon and Paul Anka, though these weren’t direct collaborations with fellow Santana drummers.


Santana, synonymous with musical fusion, owes much of its rhythmic soul to the drummers who’ve graced its stage. Each drummer has left an indelible mark on the band’s legacy, from 

Michael Shrieve’s groundbreaking performance at Woodstock to Cindy Blackman Santana’s contemporary jazz-infused beats. 

Their diverse backgrounds and styles shaped the sound of Santana and enriched the tapestry of global music. 

As we journey through the beats and rhythms of Santana’s history, it’s evident that behind every great band is a drummer (or several) setting the pulse.

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