At first he painted portraits of people on the streets & then began to play guitar in the Village clubs. He crossed paths with local resident Bob Dylan who remembered "One singer I crossed paths with a lot, Richie Havens, always had a nice-looking girl with him who passed the hat and I noticed that he always did well".
After two albums on a small label, Bob Dylan's manager Albert Groosman signed on with Havens. His rhythmic acoustic guitar playing & gravelly voice gave him a unique sound. Havens also had dentures & at times sung with no teeth which added to his distinct vocal sound.
In 1966 he released his classic album "Mixed Bag", which was the adopted name, legendary Bronx born DJ; Pete Fornatale used for his radio show. Havens did great work covering Dylan (Just Like A Woman, It's All Over Now Baby Blue)& Beatles (Strawberry Fields Forever, Eleanor Rigby, Here Comes the Sun) songs.
By 1969 he was a well known folk artist & was asked to play the first day of the Woodstock festival in upstate New York. The first day was to feature mostly folk artists on the bill. Richie Havens wasn't suppose to open up Woodstock, but no one of the other bands were at the venue yet & it was already three hours later than the original start time.
|Havens leaving the Woodstock stage finishing "Freedom"|
Organizer Michael Lang kept pushing him back on stage to buy more time. Havens had run out of material to play & adlibbed the song he would become most famous for. Freedom was made up on the spot, the words Freedom, is what best described the scene of what Woodstock was becoming on that first day. He added in the words "sometimes I feel like a motherless child" from the gospel songs he knew from his youth.
Quotes: In 1989 Havens told Rolling Stone Magazine: "I was supposed to be fifth on the bill, but the other entertainers were still at the hotel, seven miles away. I thought, "Jeez, they're gonna throw beer cans at me because the concert's late." So I did a little fast talking, a little rap, and then I did a nearly three-hour set, until some of the others finally showed up.
"When we left the festival, there wasn't another car on the thruway except ours. For seventy-five miles cars were parked five deep. That was the most surrealistic thing I've ever seen in my life."When the Woodstock album & movie came out, it brought Havens to a worldwide audience. He would perform at many of the Woodstock reunion concerts through the years, as well as many other festivals, including the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival.
He made memorable television appearances on Ed Sullivan & Johnny Carson. He wooed them so much on Carson, the audience continued to cheer into the commercial break & Johnny asked him to come back the next night. He also did TV slogans for ABC, NBC & CBS, as well as Amtrak, Maxwell House & the Cotton Industry.
|Havens with Joni Mitchell & Bob Dylan|
He was dedicated to educating young people on ecological issues & helped co found the Northwind Undersea Institute on City Island in the Bronx. He continued to tour to wider audiences from the eighties to 2010 when his health declined.
This past week he passed away from a heart attack in Jersey City, NJ at age 72. Havens is survived by three children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren