Almost everybody first heard about Richie Havens by watching the movie Woodstock. If my memory serves me well, Havens was the first performer in the landmark festival. His improvised performance of “Freedom” was good enough to make the final cut for the movie and three-disc record set, surely his single greatest commercial success. A similar story occurs in the movie Ray, where pianist Ray Charles improvises “What’d I Say” in front of a live audience.
Richie Havens is a true folk singer, singing songs of love and community, with no allusions to desires or personal possessions. He is famous for his unusual guitar tuning and playing technique. The strings are tuned so they play an E chord without additional fingering. His fretting technique is also unusual, sometimes using his thumb to hold several strings down. Here is an example of his percussive playing:
His voice is so warm and comforting. This is from a 1975 Sesame Street episode:
Although “Freedom” and “Here Comes The Sun” (his only top 40 hit) are his best known songs, my favorites are “Follow” and the anti-war “Handsome Johnny”. Choose the studio version of “Handsome Johnny” and the Woodstock version of “Freedom”.
Richie Havens Songs:
Follow, Richie Havens ✭✭✭✭
Handsome Johnny, Richie Havens ✭✭✭✭
Freedom (live), Richie Havens ✭✭✭
High Flyin’ Bird, Richie Havens ✭✭
Here Comes The Sun, Richie Havens ✭✭
The Klan, Richie Havens ✭✭
San Francisco Bay Blues, Richie Havens ✭✭
Younger Men Grow Older, Richie Havens ✭