Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Rest in Peace Richie Havens

We are going to interrupt our planned feature on I.R.S. Records this week due to the passing of Richie Havens. I thank some of my friends from the 1970s, Greg Rector and King Richard, for passing on to me the news of Havens' demise. I never had the opportunity to see Richie Havens live, but I did catch his Woodstock performance as recorded on film when the movie returned to the “big screen” in 1976.

Havens was a man of imposing size and with that came huge hands – when he walked out on stage at Woodstock playing as he went, he immediately made an impression. No doubt the size of his hands required him to modify his playing, which was mostly done via non-standard tunings. Live performances show him wrapping his thumb over the top of the fretboard to play open chords.

Add to this his concentration on rhythm and you have a combination for immediate live success. In 1969, he was given the opportunity to be the opening act at Woodstock. Because other artists had not arrived, he played for almost three hours. To many, this was their introduction to the guitar legend.

Unfortunately, Havens only had one hit – his remake of George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Son.” The studio version of this tune peaked at #16 in 1971. Radio stations were issued 45s that included the full length version of the song (3:43) as well as an edited version that clocked in at 2:36.  His recording of the tune was in open D. 

It took a lot of courage to release a Beatles’ classic on 45 and even gutsier for his small record label to garner a hit in the process. It was not his first Beatles single, as Havens previously had released “Rocky Raccoon” and “Lady Madonna.” Neither of the two previous Fab Four compositions charted.

Citing health reasons last year, Havens stopped touring. Yesterday, he died of a heart attack at his home in New Jersey. He was 72. Although I haven’t kept up with Havens over the years, I know the world will miss his creative genius. Thanks for the music, Richie.

Live Version from 1971

Studio Version

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