Apr 23 2013

Richie Havens (1941-2013)

He died yesterday of a heart attack at his home. He was 72. Who can forget his performance at the 1969 Woodstock festival?

Originally he was supposed to be fifth in the sequence of performers but went first when the other performers got delayed. He ended up having to perform for three hours straight until the other acts arrived. For his sixth or seventh encore, exhausted and having run through his entire repertoire (“I sung every song I knew”), he decided to more or less improvise on the theme of ‘freedom’, throwing in themes from spirituals. While slowly tuning his guitar, he worked out in his mind what he would do. The resulting song Freedom, with that powerful pulsing rhythmic beat, was electrifying.

The director of the 1970 documentary Woodstock wisely chose that song to kick off the concert portion of the film and it became his signature song. No one who saw it will forget Havens’ performance. I know I won’t.

Here it is.


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  1. 1
    Matt G

    I bought the 3 record set of Woodstock when I was an exchange student in Germany in ’85/’86. Love that piece! I remember bringing a stack of records, a bottle of wine, and a few bottles of beer back to the States in an Eddie Bauer backpack. Boy did that weigh a ton! Thanks for bring back that memory.

  2. 2

    Should I ask why your title says 1941 – 1973 if he died yesterday?

  3. 3
    Mano Singham

    Because I am careless, that’s why! Thanks for pointing out the error. I have corrected it.

  4. 4
    Argle Bargle

    My favorite Richie Havens song is “Here Comes the Sun”:


  5. 5

    I would not have thought of you as a ‘Woodstock attending guy’ Mano .

  6. 6
    Banned Atheist

    Thank you. Thank you thank you. This was the song I thought of when I heard this morning. It breaks my heart I loved him so.

    Then I thought of “Motherless Child” also from Woodstock, and the pieces of my broken heart broke again.

  7. 7
    Mano Singham

    Unfortunately I was not in the US at that time and had only the film.

  8. 8
    Mal Adapted

    My older brother turned me on to “Mixed Bag” when I was 14. The lyrics to every song on it are burned into my brain. Return to star-stuff, Richie.

  9. 9

    My memory is Hands Of Time from the cab ride in Collateral.

  10. 10

    Phenomenal. Amazing creativity coming from exhaustion. Powerful stuff.

  11. 11

    You’re welcome. I thought maybe his career took a nose dive around then, or something.

  12. 12

    It is one of the regrets of my life that I never saw him perform live.

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