(JANUARY 21st 1941 – APRIL 22nd 2013)
It is with great sadness that folking report that the great RICHIE HAVENS, forever known as the man who opened the Woodstock Festival in 1969, richly gifted singer / songwriter, innovative song interpreter, and without doubt one of the most genuine nice guys in rock and roll, has passed away at the age of 72. He suffered a sudden heart attack at his home in Jersey City, New Jersey, yesterday (Monday 22nd April).
My old mate Lesley “legs” Shone from Indiscreet PR had the honour of working with Richie from 2002 until his retirement from performing in 2010. Here is a lovely quote from Legs
We had come to know Richie very well, and found him to be one of the warmest, most sincere, charming and funny people you could ever hope to meet, let alone work with. Richie’s inclusive and amiable demeanour, as well as his incredible powers of recall, made him a unique interview subject. On one occasion, Richie came straight from landing at Heathrow airport to do a radio interview with Danny Baker at BBC Radio London, in advance of a sell-out run of shows at the Jazz Café. Most artists would want to talk about themselves; instead Richie regaled Danny with his thoughts and reminiscences on the unlikely career of Tiny Tim!
Richie Havens will always be associated with the Woodstock Festival; every interview he ever did inevitably included the question “What was it like to open Woodstock?” Richie never tired of retelling the story – or saying how he was sat with Albert Grossman at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 when Dylan shocked the Folkie throng by ‘going electric’, or meeting Jimi Hendrix in Greenwich Village in the mid-60s, or making the movie ‘Catch My Soul’, directed by a mostly-AWOL Patrick McGoohan, or playing for president Bill Clinton in 1993, it was all there. After the legendary folkie Fred Neil quit New York to live in Coconut Grove, Florida, apparently to watch dolphins, Richie was the only guy from the old Village days that he kept in touch with. Most of all, though, Richie’s music shines on; his utterly personalised takes on songs such as Just Like A Woman, Strawberry Fields Forever, Here Comes The Sun, Going Back To My Roots, and, in the last decade,Woodstock, Won’t Get Fooled Again and more linger loud and long – although he was no slouch as a songwriter himself. His recent albums, such as Wishing Well, The Grace of the Sun and Nobody Left To Crown feature many choice examples of Havens’ own writing talent.
Richie Havens made a powerful impression as a human being; surgery in 2010 meant that he could no longer perform, and Havens performances – that i interaction between artist and audience, his songs propelled by his powerful footstomp – his honeyed vocal tone wrapping and wringing out the emotion of a song lyric – and his between song banter – made his concerts a vivid, enduring celebration of the freedoms that came from the 1960s. Richie’s gone now, but the electric vibe that he channelled throughout his career will not be dimmed. Rest in Peace, Richie.