Only weeks after the death of another Woodstock legend, Alvin Lee, of Ten Years After, another big Woodstock legend has died. Richie Havens was a raspy voiced, fast fingered folk music legend who was the opening act at Woodstock. He improvised many songs including “Freedom” which was actually an impromptu number composed on the Woodstock stage by the folk singer and song writer. The song became his signature classic form the major concert event.
While Alvin Lee and Jimi Hendrix were both known for their often intense electric guitar styles, Richie Havens strummed away on his acoustic guitar in a frantic and energetic style managing many notes in a short amount of time, and coupled this with his raspy voiced style. People that knew the singer such as Stephen Stills praised Richie Havens for his “positive” and upbeat view of life. He seemed to be a very cheerful and optimistic and friendly man. His music seemed to espouse hope. His biggest hit song that made the top twenty charts was his acoustic version of George Harrison’s classic, “Here Comes The Sun” that peaked at #16. Acoustic music was a hard sell on the pop charts, but Richie Havens was good enough to break on to the top forty charts with this song.
In many ways, Richie Havens seemed much like a street performer who made good by being very good at what he did. Richie Havens might have had a lot more success if he had become an electric guitar performer and wrote much more of his own material, and his use of cover songs and the acoustic guitar limited him. But, this was his style, to do soulful and upbeat acoustic cover versions of other popular songs, along with a few new songs he wrote himself. He was a beloved by the old hippie culture of Woodstock for his simplicity as well as upbeat views of life.
He loved to do charity work, such as playing music at children’s museums and was a strong advocate for protecting the environment. Last year on his Facebook page, the performer sadly told his fans he would have to stop touring because of mounting health problems. He died of a heart attack in his home that he owned in New Jersey yesterday.