Tag Archives: Birthdays

Father Steve Muruga Booker

Father Steve Muruga Booker

Happy birthday
27 December 1943
Muruga jamming on his invention, the Nada drum at Sage St. Studio (2015)

Father Steve Muruga Booker

I suppose every musician has their story of how they came to play.

In an 2000 interview with PT Quinn, Booker [or the original Bookvich] related his unique story: I would have to tell you that when I was a young man, I had a deep recall of being in the womb.  My mother used to go to the Latin Quarter in Detroit and hear Puncito, and I would hear the drums in the womb.  That influenced me somehow, but my Dad introduced me to the accordion at 3. I met one of his teachers… Misha Vishkov from Hamtramick at 6.  As well as accordion, Misha played the drums.  I’m a Serbian son raised with the gypsies. I liked the drum when he played it.  I wanted to play so I started at 14 and had some good teachers in high school.  At the Record Hop I noticed I could move all 4 of my limbs with the beat, and that would be the drums. 

Father Steve Muruga Booker

Woodstock

Steve Booker was the drummer who backed Tim Hardin at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, but at that time he was simply Steve Booker. He  was about to leave the Paul Winter Consort which had also included Woodstock band mates Ralph Towner and Richard Bock.

In any case, the way Steve relates his Woodstock connection, (from a Detroit Metro Times piece). “One day while in New York City, I went to see Jim and Jean. They were going to a jam at the Café au Go Go on Bleecker Street in the Village, which was the happening hippie place at that time. …Tim Hardin was also [there].  …I approached him… while walking down Bleecker Street. He said if I’m ever in need of a gig to call him, and he gave me his Woodstock home phone number.

Booker showed up a week later with friend Richard Bock. Hardin offered them both a spot in his then-organizing band.  They agreed and Hardin left them to practice without him for two days. Luckily, the group was used to improvisation and did well until Hardin returned.

Unfortunately, Hardin’s performance, despite the stellar back up band, was not one to remember. Being intimate on a drizzly evening in front of 400,000 people was not what a Hardin performance was made for.

Father Steve Muruga Booker

Swami Satchidanada

For Booker the event was literally life-changing. He met Swami Satchidananda whose spirituality immediately impressed Booker. Booker studied with the Swami for several years and it was Satchidananda who gave the name “Muruga” to Booker.

Booker continued to be a musician and eventually was ordained an Orthodox priest. Today he operates his own chapel, St. Gregory Palamas, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His spirituality led him to invent the nada drum, a variation on the talking drum.

Father Steve Muruga Booker

Michigan

The list of people Booker has played with is a who’s who of musicians. A very partial list includes: Peter Gabriel, George Clinton, Merle Sanders, Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, John Lee Hooker, Al Kooper, Ted Nugent, and Dave Brubeck. (a more complete list)

Born in Michigan, he returned there to live in 2000.

Not surprisingly, when asked what his greatest success was, Booker’s response was, “My happy family: wife, Patty; son, Aaron; daughter, Rani; and my priesthood.”

Booker’s own words best sum up his life now:  You could say that the spirit of Woodstock continues for many of us through the spirit and heart that’s still in the music we love to play.

Father Steve Muruga Booker
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Bassist Charlie Bilello

Bassist Charlie Bilello

Bassist Charlie Bilello
Charlie Bilello (foreground) playing w Bert Sommer and Ira Stone at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair.
Bassist Charlie Bilello

Bert Sommer’s band

Here is another Woodstock Music and Art Fair performer for whom little can be found. And if you know anything, please let me know.

Charlie Bilello played bass with Bert Sommer that Friday 15 August in Bethel, NY.  Woodstock fan, blogger and autograph hound Jake Lokensky wrote that he has not been able to locate Bilello, but did seek out Ira Stone, the other musician with Sommer that day.

Bassist Charlie Bilello

Jlokensky

According to Jlokensky, Stone and his wife Max were part of a fund-raiser the day he met Ira. Their [the Stones’s] set was dedicated to the memory of Bert Sommer. Three of the four songs they played were played by Mr. Sommer as part of his ten song set. “Jennifer”, which was a song written about fellow “Hair” cast member, and future singer, Jennifer Warnes, opened the set. Max then told a story about how Tim Hardin borrowed and made of with Bert Sommer’s guitar just prior to Mr. Sommer’s set. They then played Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter”. They played a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”, a song which allegedly earned Bert Sommer the first standing ovation of the Woodstock Festival. They concluded with another Bert Sommer original, “Smile”.

Bassist Charlie Bilello

Wade Lawrence

Wade Lawrence, the director and head curator at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts’ Museum, had similar problems finding much about Bilello: Bass player Charlie Bilello hasn’t been heard from for a number of years and is presumed to have retired from the music business or died.

I highly recommend reading Lawrence’s WoodsTALK blog which covers each of the Woodstock performers.

Bassist Charlie Bilello

According to a comment made by a “Les” at the West Virginia Surf Report site, “Charlie died in an accident in 1989.”

Bassist Charlie Bilello
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Daniel Natoga Ben Zebulon

Daniel Natoga Ben Zebulon

Wade Lawrence is the museum director and senior curator at The Museum at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. He wrote in a January 2017 article about Richie Havens at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair: Richie Havens wasn’t scheduled to be the opening act of the Woodstock festival, but, in retrospect, it is hard to imagine anyone else doing it. The time for the festival to start had come and gone, all the roads leading to the festival were hopelessly congested with cars and people, and the audience was getting restless. Richie, Deano, and Daniel had been flown in by helicopter, and their setup was minimal, so festival organizers urged them to take the stage. The rest is history.

Daniel Natoga Ben Zebulon has a Facebook page. It states, “I am a percussionist who has played with Richie Havens, Isaac Hayes, and Stevie Wonder.”

I assume that that is accurate. I also assume that that is very limited.

In that same article referenced above, Lawrence wrote “Daniel Ben Zebulon is still active as a musician and has played percussion with Andy Gibb, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, and the Bee Gees.”

My memories of seeing Richie Havens always included the percussionist  Daniel Natoga Ben Zebulon and the guitarist Paul Deano Williams. As much a presence as Richie was, larger than life in so many ways despite his humility, Daniel and Deano were part of the fabric for any Havens concert.

 Daniel Natoga Ben Zebulon
 Daniel Natoga Ben Zebulon
Natoga and Paul Williams at the Woodstock site

The Allmusic site list of his credits is a long one.  In addition to the impressive names above, it also includes his working with: Juma Sultan,  The Rascals, Labelle,  The Manhattan Transfer,  Tim Hardin, and many others.

According to the guitarplayer site, Zebulon was once a part of the  Richie Havens Tad Truesdale Trio. It featuring Natoga on drums. Tad would just sing and Natoga would play these wonderful conga parts. His real name was Daniel Ben Zebulon, and he wound up playing with Richie for decades after that as well.

If you have anything you can add for this Woodstock Music and Art Fair alum Daniel Natoga Ben Zebulon and so much more, please comment or email. I’d love to hear more.

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