Richie Havens will always be remembered for reluctantly but triumphantly opening the Woodstock Music and art Fair in 1969 when the opening act failed to show. When he had finished his set and still needed to fill time he famously improvised on the traditional tune Motherless Child to create the anthem Freedom.
However, I first heard him before then on his album Something Else Again. I honestly had never heard anything like it before. The song No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed spoke to me in a direct way that the pop music of the day never could. His composition The Klan was searing, as even at that young age I was keenly aware of the civil rights movement.
I then heard the album Mixed Bag and became acquainted with how Havens was, possibly, the best interpreter of song of his time. This was a time when everyone and her uncle thought that they could sing Dylan or the Beatles. However, when Richie Havens sang them they indeed became Something Else Again. He could even wring new emotion out of such chestnuts as San Francisco Bay Blues.
I was privileged to meet Richie after a benefit concert in an intimate and acoustically perfect concert hall. He was as gracious offstage as he was onstage. His persona was no put on. He genuinely seemed to be a gentle, peaceful, soul.
I must add that in addition to being a fine songwriter and preeminent interpreter of modern song he was a fine guitarist. He was a true original, when it came to his playing style. He tuned to alternate, or non concert pitch. Yet this was not for the sake of simplicity. He still managed to often play more harmonically complex chord progressions than were present in the tunes he covered. And his rhythms were also more syncopated.
Anyway, I did not have time to express my feelings when he passed. There will never be another Richie Havens. Here is a link to someone else’s upload to You Tube of Richie singing Tupelo Honey/ Just Like A Woman: