Tag Archives: Richie Havens

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.

(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to this YouTube video.)

The Record Hunter

If you grew up in the 1960s, the soundtrack of your life was vinyl. 

And if you grew up in Westport in the 1960s, chances are you heard that soundtrack at the Record Hunter.

The Record Hunter held 2 distinctions that are rare these days:  It was a record store, and it was a small, independently owned business on Main Street. 

What remains today is the left section of Talbots.  The right side was the Remarkable Book Shop — a perfect complement to the Record Hunter.  Both were cozy, warm places where the product was less important than the customer.  Both were run by people who loved what they did, and did what they loved.

The Record Hunter was Jay Flaxman’s baby.  He didn’t just sell albums and 45s.  He sold you on the music, and the musicians. 

Jay was the man who introduced me to Richie Havens, Phil Ochs and Joan Baez.  He was the man who let my friends and me hang out for hours on Saturday mornings, listening to music he thought — no, he knew — we’d like. 

Jay was the man.

Jay Flaxman died Monday.  He was 80 years old.

The Record Hunter comprised only part of his life.  Even in a hip town like Westport, it was hard to make a living selling folk and classical music.  After it closed, he went to work for the Westport Transit District.  I was in college then — no Minnybuses for me — but I heard that in his new job, helping youngsters navigate the streets of Westport, he had as great an influence as he had on me and my musical tastes.

Vinyl is gone.  So is the Record Hunter, and now Jay Flaxman.  But Richie Havens, Phil Ochs and Joan Baez are on my iPod.  I can’t imagine a life without them.

Thanks, Jay, for those formative Saturday mornings so long ago — and for your long-enduring gift of music to me.