Let “Freedom” ring…
By Fred Mills
Anyone who ever met him will tell you that he was infallibly charming, maddeningly meticulous, a musical savant – and blessed with some of the biggest fretboard-thumping hands the world has ever seen. Don’t believe me? Watch this video of Richie Havens opening the little cultural tsunami known as Woodstock in ’69, performing his game-changing, off-the-top-of-his-head anthem “Freedom” (this particular clip from the film Woodstock is in HD, and as the audio has also been tweaked, it is far superior to the many versions of it that you’ll find posted to the web):
Havens, who was part of the early/mid ‘60s Greenwich Village folk scene and went on to international fame after his Woodstock appearance (in particular, that onscreen appearance in the Woodstock movie, not to mention playing at Bill Clinton’s ’93 inauguration), passed away suddenly and tragically this morning (April 22) at his home in New Jersey. He was 72. The cause of death was a heart attack; according to Billboard he had also experienced “health issues” that led to him announcing “an end to his 45-year touring career.” Full details have not been announced, although a memorial event is reportedly in the works.
Let’s pay further tribute, starting with a frankly astonishing, and moving, clip of Havens doing his version of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” – check the hands – followed by a great version of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” and then lastly “Going Back to My Roots,” an original that improbably enough wound up getting rediscovered and becoming a latterday dance hit. R.I.P., sir.