Wednesday, 24 April 2013

RIP Richie Havens

Image Source: Time Inc

While we're on the subject of "heritage" acts, the great Richie Havens passed away on Monday, aged 72.

I use the term "Heritage" because we should be remembering musicians who have made some valuable contribution to popular music in years gone by, and that we could be at risk of forgetting about. As it is, people of the Woodstock generation know who Richie was, but I'd suggest that very people of subsequent generations know of his work. Even in his passing, it's worth taking another look.

Richie was a folk singer who got his start in the same 60s folkie circuit as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, et al, in Greenwich Village, New York. He was an anomaly as he was 6 foot 6, African American, and attacked his acoustic guitar with a vigourous strumming technique that could make any modern-day metal guitarist embarrassed. His ability to energise an audience with nothing more than his deep, gutteral vocals and impassioned strumming was amazing (as can be seen in the clip below of him improvising a song that became known as "Freedom" live at Woodstock).

Richie was a songwriter, but found greater fame as an interpreter of songs, mainly by Bob Dylan and the Beatles. He had a great ear for a great song, irrespective of who wrote it. He is probably best known for his version of "Here Comes The Sun" which chugs along with a rhythmic fervour that is instantly danceable, despite the idea of it sounding implausable.

In recent years he hasn't had anywhere near the success he had in the 60s and 70s, but then he only ever had one top 20 hit back in the day anyway. He still continued to tour regardless until 2010 when it was announced he was quitting due to ill health.

Richie was a unique talent whose passion and enthusiasm for his music carried across into his performance, and that enthusiasm just explodes off his records. Take a listen to his performance of "Freedom" at Woodstock below, and then have a listen to his sublime (and slightly challenging at times) album "Alarm Clock" from 1971.

He will be sadly missed.

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