By Gary P Jackson
On Monday the world lost a true music legend, guitar slinger Richie Havens.
Richie, who was 72, died of a heart attack at his home in Jersey City. The family will be posting information online about a memorial service. According to Haven’s website, Richie never fully recovered from kidney surgery two years ago. He was born Richard Pierce Havens on January 21, 1941.
Many know Richie Havens as the artist who opened Woodstock in 1969. Richie opened the three day music festival with over two hours of music. He actually ran out of songs, and improvised what would become one of his most famous pieces Freedom which he based on the old spiritual Motherless Child.
The first record album I ever bought was Johnny Cash’s Live from Folsom Prison and the second was one of those K-Tel deals that included Melanie Safka’s Lay Down and Richie Havens’ Minstrel from Gault. While that is a good version, I’ve always been partial to this live version, like all of Richie’s songs, he puts everything into this:
Minstrel is a song about war, one of several in his song book, another is Handsome Johnny. Over the years, Richie added more lyrics to the song.
Another favorite is Richie’s rendition of George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun:
He added a lot of his soul to everything he played.
In 1992 Richie played himself on an episode of the hit TV series Married with Children entitled: Rock of Ages. The story line had Al Bundy [Ed O’Neill] entering and winning a shoe selling contest. The prize is a first class ticket to Hawaii which the family turns into four stand-by’s.
The Bundy’s end up at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport where Al decides to masquerade as an aging 60s rock star “Axle Bundy” from the group Shoes and Socks. He ends up hanging out with a group of real rock stars: Richie Havens, Spencer Davis [Spencer Davis Group], John Sebastian [The Lovin’ Spoonful], Robby Krieger [The Doors], Peter Noone [Herman’s Hermits], and Mark Lindsay [Paul Revere and the Raiders]. They end up doing a video for “Old Aid”
Richie’s music will live forever and continue to delight.
I leave you with the beautiful High Flying Bird recorded in 1974, a song about loss and hurt: