Remembering Richie Havens

As a junior high student in the late 1960s, I spent a lot of Saturdays hanging out at the Record Hunter.

Jay Flaxman — owner of that funky store, right next to the equally funky Remarkable Book Shop (most recently the site of the not-funky Talbots) — introduced me to music that helped get me through my adolescence.

Artists like Phil Ochs and Van Morrison reached my soul. But none was more important than Richie Havens.

Richie Havens Mixed BagSomeone once asked me, if I could listen to just one album for the rest of my life, what would it be?

I answered without question: “Mixed Bag.”

I still think it’s the best album ever made.

I didn’t see Richie Havens the 1st time he played in Westport, with the Blues Project, and Jeremy and the Satyrs.

I would have seen him at Woodstock. I was all set to go, but — well, it’s a long story.

A few years ago, I saw Richie Havens at Green’s Farms Elementary School. His voice had lost some range, and he forgot a line or two. But the sold-out audience — most of whom held him in the same awe I did — didn’t care. We were swept along by his genuine enthusiasm, his wonderful smile, and the songs he and we loved.

Richie Havens

Richie Havens

A few years earlier I had been in the WOR-AM radio studios, for an interview about one of my books. A tall man, with a long white beard and wearing a colorful dashiki, walked regally in. He gently placed his guitar case next to me, and sat down.

Richie Havens was the next guest on the air.

I stuck out my hand to shake his. His famous hand — with several rings, astonishingly long finger nails, and countless tales to tell — enveloped mine. It was the warmest, most sincere handshake I’ve ever felt.

I told him how interesting it was that we would meet in the WOR-AM studios. For a couple of years, back in the heyday of free-form radio, WOR-FM had been the soundtrack of my life. I said that one of my enduring memories of 8th and 9th grade was listening in bed as Rosko — “in stereo” — played Richie Havens songs.

I thanked him for all the joy he and his music had brought me, for so many years.

I am sure Richie Havens heard similar expressions of gratitude, many times each day. But he held onto my hand. He put his other hand on top of ours. He looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you for saying that. Thank you. That makes it all worthwhile.”

Richie Havens died this morning at his home in Jersey City, of a heart attack. News reports said he was 72 years old.

They were wrong. He was timeless.

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31 responses to “Remembering Richie Havens

  1. A lovely tribute you wrote, Dan.

  2. Timeless!

  3. Randy Savicky

    Always sad when another legend passes …

  4. Cathy Godfrey

    So sad.. he was one of the greats and will be sorely missed
    we saw him at Islip Speedway with Livingston Taylor and many others

  5. Jim Honeycutt


    Thanks. I saw Richie Havens at Fairfield University fairly recently and his show was a delight. It was almost as good as when my cousin Walter Egan and I would go see him at the Cafe A Go Go, the Bitterend, or the Gaslight Cafe in the Village during the ’60’s.

    I agree that Mixed Bag is one of the great albums of my life. High Flying Bird and Follow pop into my mind and I have not listened to the album for years. I have to pull it out. I remember talking to Sally about the album and she told me that it still sold regularly… and it was almost 50 years old.

    As a musician, I consciously copied Haven’s guitar strumming style when I played in Repairs. I really could strum as fast as Richie. But I never used the open tunings that he used. I mostly kept my guitar in standard tuning. On our last album – the live one – the band performed Suite Judy Blue Eyes and I took the first guitar solo – which was unusual as I was not the lead guitarist – and it was all built around the style of Richie Havens strumming. It was crazy good and I owe that solo entirely to Richie Havens. Remind me to give you a copy of the third album; I know you don’t have it.

    Thanks for a great article. It is sad to see our old friends leave. But his music will endure for ever.

    Jim Honeycutt

  6. How sad! I saw Richie so many times in so many settings over the years. The Westport Arts Center had him for a concert at the Greens Farms School, and he was doing his fast, furious strumming, wiht the passion that he always displayed. He was a deeply religious man, and always carried a well-worn bible. Once, when I had intervied him on a radio program, he gave me a drawing of his, a very mystical pencil sketch of a man wielding a sword while lying on the ground. He told me he had been carrying it in the bible for many years but wanted me to have it. I treasured it.
    The somng “Freedom” will resonate forever in my memory.

  7. Proud to live in Westport.

    A beautifully written tribute. Your writing is your gift to us, Dan. Thank You.

  8. Dan,

    You are the best!! You have such heart — such soul! It reaches out and touches my own heart and soul, as I am certain that it does to so many others.

    Thank you!!


  9. That’s awful. I had no idea. I saw him at Ridgefield Playhouse about 18 months ago and he was amazing. When he finished his last song he jumped off his stool and did an amazing leap, like a very young man. He was a young man’s soul with old soul eyes. VERY sad about this…

  10. Beautiful piece on Richie Havens – thanks for sharing that, Dan. I too remember Roscoe late at night, Roscoe ON THE RADIO, and his frequent playings of Richie’s music, sometimes whole albums. Van Morrison wrote that it was late night music strains on the radio that kept him alive as a young man… and so it was for us with WOR and WNEW-FM.

  11. Dan! I loved that tribute.. I felt Richie Havens’ heart.. through you! And I am going to download Mixed Bag.. I don’t think I have ever heard it. (hanging head in shame) Thanks. xoxo

  12. Such sad news. Mixed Bag was very important to me too…just the right thing for a certain time in my life. The most memorable New Year’s Eve I ever had was going backstage at a club in the Village and receiving a warm bear hug from Richie Havens…

  13. Thanks Dan, a fine tribute to a man who filled a lot of space on the play list, he will forever be a part of the sound track of our lives.Thank you Richie RIP.

  14. How lucky for you to meet him there at that time in that place and have that special exchange, Dan. You got to say what many felt and know it was appreciated.

  15. Peter Gambaccini

    I believe Havens was at Staples because it was somehow known in advance that the Blues Project were going to be quite late and their agency sent Havens (and Jeremy Steig) to fill in and keep the customers satisfied in the interim. Havens, with his gleeful charisma and that talent, handled that task well. Considering that he then gained fame by extending his set at Woodstock because no one else was ready to play there either … it could be said that Staples provided the warm-up to cultural history..

  16. Dennis Jackson

    What a wonderful tribute, Dan! Richie’s lyrics profoundly helped to pry open my eyes in the late 60s. Especially the second of these two songs. So glad I got to meet and hug him and tell him so at his performance in Ridgefield.

  17. I had a choice in the summer of ’68 on a camp trip to Provincetown of seeing Richie Havens in a small club or going to the British movie, “Charlie Bubbles.” Believe it or not, I opted for the movie (I think, in part, because there was some soccer in it. I know–you’re probably thinking right now how could I have ever made such a foolish choice? Fortunately, I did not pass up a camp trip earlier that summer to see Ravi Shankar).

    In any event, I was kicking myself years later about missing out on seeing Richie in a small venue when I learned that he would be playing at the Seabury Center. I didn’t miss out this time–and my wife and I both felt he put on a wonderful performance. And it wasn’t just the music–it was also the way he interacted with the audience.

    Great piece.

  18. Charlie Taylor

    I have met royalty…..only sorry I never came face to face with Ritchie….a rock deity !

  19. Many years ago, I opened for him in a Burlington, Vermont club. As we sat in the “Green Room” (it wasn’t green) together, he began reminiscing about his early days in the Village and, particularly, about Fred Neil, composer of fine tunes like “Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me”. Richie mentioned one specific song that he really liked and asked me if I’d ever heard it. I hadn’t and, without hesitation, he took out a yellow legal pad and wrote out all the words and chords for me. For ME, a comparative nobody. I’ve never forgotten that moment. Richie Havens was a jewel, a saintly, gentle soul and yes, a “High, Flying Bird”, indeed. The world has lost a piece of its peaceful, musical past. I’ll never forget him.

  20. Andy Wittenstein

    Beautiful Dan. Thanks. I saw him play at the Unitarian Church in Westport – must be 5 or 6 years ago. What a presence! Beautiful, rich sound. I set up the stage for him, and he thanked me and shook my hand. Your description of his hands is right on.

  21. As you know Harvey was the arranger for the rhythm tracks on “Mixed Bag”. Richie and Harvey have stayed friends for over 50 years. Richie and his wife Leslie are very special people. Talent does not always give the artist a soul, Richie encompassed it all. Harvey remembers sitting in hallway of Richie’s apartment in the East Village in the sixties, arranging the songs on the “Mixed Bag” album, Richie would plays the chords and Harvey would count the bars. His inspirational music will live forward.

    From Jerusalem, Bonnie

  22. One of the best albums ever. I have it on right now.

  23. The memory of him strumming for his life, for “Freedom”, at Woodstock will never go away. What a soulful, gentle, passionate musician. Thanks Richie

  24. Several years ago we wondered into a bar in Woodstock NY- Richie Havens did an impromptu performance. He strummed like tomorrow would never come, right through popping strings- unforgettable!

  25. Sally Campbell Palmer

    Back in the day, in the early days of their artist management company, working with my sister Susie, Arthur Gorson (and Harvey Brooks eventually), I worked nights waitressing at the Cafe A Go Go for a year or more where Richie was a regular performer and became a good friend. Every kind word said about him is and was true – wonderful performer, great heart and the consumate gentleman. He was admired and respected by everyone.

  26. Great Tribute . Freedom. That says it all for me.

  27. Over the years, I recall several meetings / handshakes and short conversations, but the first one (1975) in Maui was the most memorable. I was awestruck meeting my hero and favorite voice of all. He made it seem like he was the one lucky enough to make my acquaintance. A class act and a talent beyond compare. God Bless.