The Sixties: An Interview with Richie Havens

I never have better conversations than with kids. People under four feet tall blow my mind. They are on the case, especially the planet's case. They know that it is theirs, too. They are watching you. We seem to have a new big brother in town and its kids under four feet tall.

-Richie Havens


Well for those kids who are going to be growing up in a few years, do you consider the modern generation to be as volatile as it was in the '60s?

More so. We had to create the heart and mind connection but it is just DNA with them now. They don't even have to think about it. Everything around them suggests the turmoil rising.

What would you say now when we have a political race coming up and candidates are calling funding for the arts frivolous spending? How would that register to you?

Richie Havens
I think it already has registered. There are so many people that have worked against that wish. It is something you don't even hear [about] anymore. I think the whole idea of schools breaking up into different factions makes it easier for schools to provide funding to the arts for the youth. Craft learning all had to do with the times. When you go back and look at the college system, it was a very elite system. If you didn't have money you didn't have the ability to move through the schools. It was an awakening time because you had so many people of so many nations who lived in Brooklyn. I could tell you the whole damn world lived in Brooklyn. Believe it or not, growing up in Brooklyn had me thinking that this is how the rest of the world was. Up to 13 or 14 years old that is what we all thought. We grew up in the '40s after the War was over, and saw the people who came home from that War. We heard a lot of stories. My oldest Uncle was in World War II and when he came home, I was like, "Who is this man?" I wasn't yet born when he left. It was an amazing transition because awaiting these guys to come home was part of the big change. It didn't matter what color you were. If you were in the War they now had plans to get you a job. They now had plans to send you back to school. That helped to instigate a change, which the people helped carry on.

Built into their plight were people like me. Well, not me exactly because you were not going to get me to go over there, but what eventually became the peace movement. It wasn't so much peace or war. It was peace between everything. Each time you go around the circle. You can't say it about the Second World War, but you can say it about Vietnam, [that it] was a war that should have never happened in the first place. We got that part of the story, too. I feel that all of that was a time that I call "The Great Becoming." I lived in Brooklyn and all of my friends came from all nationalities - Irish guys, French people, Czech people, Polish people, Scottish people. The atmosphere was great. Everyone had a job, even us. Even though we didn't want to have one we worked in the telegraph room taking messages to people and in florists delivering flowers. We had a way to see the outside world from where we were. I grew up four miles away from Manhattan and didn't get there until I was 16 years old. The reason was there was no reason to go there. Everything you could ever need was in Brooklyn. I still have a couple friends that live in Brooklyn that have only been to Manhattan twice in their life.

What got me singing was Fred Neil coming up to me one day and saying, "Richie, you have been singing my songs from the audience, in harmony no less. Take this damn guitar and go home and learn the song." Well, I took the guitar and I didn't know how to tune it. So, I tuned it to an open chord. I put my thumb across and found the other two notes needed to play seven million songs. Three days later I was back at Café Wha? on the stage. I spent the next seven years on that stage. It was mind-boggling. I could do it. I knew the melodies, all I had to do was find the progression.

I just got one more question for you and it has to do with the record you are working on now. What do you hope to accomplish and what are your intentions?

I am just working on it, and it is close to being mastered. My intentions are to stay out of my own way. What is true is true. I only know the first and last song I am going to sing when I go onstage just because that is the way I have always done it. I was moved to do this and sing these songs. My whole thing was that I was sharing something with everyone else that was given to me. That is still the way I feel. When I walk into a record store and something catches me, I get stopped in my tracks.

Richie Havens tour dates available here.

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[Published on: 12/21/07]

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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/4/2008 05:37AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

Richie you are a GOOD man :)

moejoerisin Fri 1/4/2008 09:20AM
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"when i walk into a record store and something catches me, i get stopped in my tracks."

i think we all know that feeling.. this doesn't need to be said but richie havens is one of the coolest cats in history.

hiddentreasure starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/4/2008 04:20PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Peace, love, fellowship, and charity. There are people in this world who never think of any of these things. Thanks Ritchie for reminding us what is really important.

gregpua Sat 1/5/2008 09:18AM
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The original black badass...way before Samuel L and Denzel

dmhaeb starstarstarstarstar Sat 1/5/2008 11:17AM
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Mr. Haven's most excellent if not well-known song is 'Road to the Superbowl', which is featured in NFL Film's 1987 Washington Redskins Championship Video Yearbook. Hearing his voice over images of Doug Williams, Gary Clark, and Timmy Smith booring holes through the Denver Broncos paper tiger defense never fails to move me to tears, and I watch the video before each Redskins playoff game (all three that they've played in over the last 15 years). That I happened upon this article only hours before the 'Skins play the Seahawks in the NFC Wildcard Game is a powerful sign of good luck that bodes well for today's matchup. Thank you Mr. Havens not only for your wonderful music, but for supporting the NFL's greatest-ever franchise.

cocheese starstarstarstarstar Tue 1/8/2008 09:22AM
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i love watching the footage of his performance at Woodstock, simply amazing.

spyderbytedave starstarstarstarstar Wed 1/9/2008 03:10PM
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Richie is one of the most captivating performers I have ever had the pleasure to see, and is also one of the nicest ego-free people I have ever met. I'll never forget the first time I saw him live, he was singing this beautiful song acapella, and it made me cry. When I sheepishly turned to see if my buddy that went with me had noticed this, I saw that he was also crying. It was a beautiful moment, and to this day we never have spoken of it. We hung out afterwards to meet and thank Richie personally, and it was striking to me that the warmth of the man in person actually matched that of his music. Talking to him felt like talking to an old friend, to the degree that I forgot that I was talking to one of my idols. What a great heart and talent he has given to the world. God bless Richie Havens, we need him now more than ever.

Matthew Jaworski starstarstarstar Fri 1/11/2008 10:57AM
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Matthew Jaworski

I've only been a marginal fan of Richie Havens, but this was an excellent interview. Props, Martin.