Richie Havens dead of a heart attack at 72. His heart gave out after 72 years of heart and soul and glorious rhythmic music.
If I had to pick one artist that completely inspired me throughout my musical life I would say Richie Havens. Reading his obit today, "I'm not in show business" he said " I'm in the communications business." Well he taught me that.
My early days of learning the guitar at age 12 Richie Havens album Alarm Clock woke me up and wound my inner curiosities about civil rights, the environment and essentially the power of song. I remember listening to WHCN radio out of Hartford, CT and getting up my nerve to call and request a Havens song. Hard to believe, but I actually never got a chance to see him live and up close until I lived in Paris in the '90's. He played in a tiny club, telling amazing stories and playing the hell out of his guitar. It was a rare moment of American pride to claim this man and his music as my heritage.
He showed that a cover song was not something to apologize for but to command and make your own: His versions of Here Come's the Sun, Woodstock, All Along The Watchtower, are legendary.
Sure there were others that inspired me to become a lifelong musician, social activist: Mitchell, Dylan, Baez too, but it was Haven's voice, his amazing right-hand strumming that had me mesmerized. I never embraced his open tuning style, but that right hand craft work taught me that as a soloist, it's the drums and even a punchy horn section; it's the rhythmic patterns that hold a song together.
Richie Havens will be missed. Today I sing in Union Square from 3-6pm above the N/R platforms. A fitting place to sing out and dedicate my performance to the man, the musical guru who inspired me.
He sang "Freedom, freedom" in that low rich vibrational soulful lure. Freedom indeed.