A peculiar album by Richie Havens. A bit controversial as well. Reviews by listeners vary from valuable to worthless. Anyway, cause for an article on Richie Havens and this album.
Richard Pierce “Richie” Havens (January 21st 1951 to April 22nd 2013) was an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. He mainly played folk, soul and rhythm and blues. He is primarily known for his intense and rhythmic guitar playing and opening the renowned Woodstock Festival in 1969. He wrote only a handful of songs himself and was known for his interpretations of songs by other musicians, which he usually took and made his own.
When he was 20 years old he moved to Greenwich Village and played folksongs on guitar. He had released two albums, when he took on Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, and signed to the Verve Folkways label. At the end of 1966 Mixed Bag was released. In 1968 Something Else Again entered the Billboard charts. In the meantime his concerts drew more and more people.
He was asked to open the Woodstock Festival. Because he was the first artist on stage, and the roads to the festival were completely blocked (causing lots of artists coming in too late), his performance lasted almost three (!) hours. He was called back multiple times for encores, until he had no more songs left to play. He began improvising on the traditional Motherless Child, which turned into a new song: Freedom. The song became an anthem to an entire generation.
I’d already played every song I knew and I was stalling, asking for more guitar and mic, trying to think of something else to play – and then it just came to me…The establishment was foolish enough to give us all this freedom and we used it in every way we could.
The festival was filmed from start to back. The Woodstock movie contained Freedom and made Richie Havens world famous overnight. He was a superstar. He started his own label, Stormy Forest and released Stonehenge in 1970. Later the same year he released Alarm Clock, which contained a cover of George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun. The album made it to the top 30 of the Billboard charts.
He also became an actor, but during the 1970’s he spent more and more time on educating the youth on ecological issues. He was a co-founder of the Northwind Undersea Institute (an oceanographic children’s museum). As a result the Natural Guard was founded, an organization that helps children understand the role they can play in their own environment and how they can influence it themselves.
During the 1980’s and 1990’s Havens kept on touring and releasing albums. He played the 1982 Glastonbury festival and the 1999 Tibetan Freedom Concert. In 1993 he played at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. He also did several radio and television advertisements.
He kept on performing regularly. He received multiple awards for his music and ecological works. In 2010 he underwent surgery on his liver. The recovery fell short and on March 20th, 2012, he announced his retirement from performing. On April 22nd, 2013, he died from a heart attack. At his request he was cremated and his ashes scattered over the original Woodstock Festival site.
Sings Beatles And Dylan
Allmusic.com states that Richie Havens is probably the only 1960’s icon that can get away with making such an album without an apology. However, the album is still rated with 4 (out of a possible 5) stars.
That’s the album in a nutshell. Division arises on:
- the timing
Besides the electronic keyboards, synthetic bass and typical 1980’s drumsound, this album could easily have been released just after his Woodstock appearance;
- the musical framing
Just the electronic keyboards, synthetic bass and typical 1980’s drumsound makes this album everything Havens is not supposed to do;
- the demo-like quality
Rumor has it that Havens recorded the music as a demo, offering them to the record company with the intent of making professional recordings later on. Instead, the record company, apparently without consulting, released the recordings without thinking.
But despite all the criticism: there are many that praise the album. Havens’ voice in particular, has a warmth and depth, that lends an extra layer to the songs, which the originals lack. Some performances are even rated higher that the originals, like The Long And Winding Road and Let It Be.
I think the album is a nice curiosity, which I recommend whole heartedly. However, this comes with a warning: given the controversy, listen to it first!
Songwriters are accredited between brackets.
- Here Comes the Sun (George Harrison)
- If Not for You (Bob Dylan)
- Lay Lady Lay (Bob Dylan)
- In My Life (John Lennon / Paul McCartney)
- Strawberry Fields Forever (John Lennon / Paul McCartney)
- All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan)
- Imagine (John Lennon)
- My Sweet Lord (George Harrison)
- It’s All over Now, Baby Blue (Bob Dylan)
- Eleanor Rigby (John Lennon / Paul McCartney)
- Just Like a Woman (Bob Dylan)
- The Long and Winding Road (John Lennon / Paul McCartney)
- Let It Be (John Lennon / Paul McCartney)
- License to Kill (Bob Dylan)
- The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Bob Dylan)
- Working Class Hero (John Lennon)
- Rocky Raccoon (John Lennon / Paul McCartney)
- With a Little Help from My Friends (John Lennon / Paul McCartney)
What do you think of Richie Havens? Do you know this album, and how do you rate it, valuable or worthless? Let me know!
Richie Havens – Freedom at Woodstock image: boards.rebkell.net
Richie Havens at Woodstock image: pinterest.com
Richie Havens – Sings Beatles And Dylan image: 45worlds.com
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