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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Richie Reconsidered

By Darrell M. McNeill

Intellectual acuity aside, if Forrest Gump were written about a musician, you'd pretty much have to frame the narrative around Mr. Havens' career. Opening Woodstock? Check. Isle of Wight Festival? Check. Ed Sullivan? Check. Carson? Check. The original stage cast of The Who's Tommy? Check. Ubiquitous TV jingles? Check. Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration? Check. Command performance for the Dalai Lama? Check. The Bob Dylan ode "I'm Not There?" Check. Cannes Film Festival? Check.

All told, between 1965 and 2008, Mr. Havens has released 21 studio albums, two live albums, and six best-of compilations. Until 2011, he averaged a minimum of 200 live dates a year. Add his political, environmental, and human rights advocacy work, and you have the rare man who has outpaced his legend through the sheer grind of nonstop work.

This makes it a bit easier to understand the anomaly of Havens being so well-known and loved, but not necessarily a household name—no doubt, due to his humility and humanity. He once told the Denver Post, "I'm not in show business; I'm in the communications business. That's what it's about for me."

This outlook would suffice were it not for the following: he is directly connected to—and in some cases directly responsible for—many of the biggest names in popular music over the last 40-plus years (at least twice before 1974, Bruce Springsteen OPENED for Havens). Yet he is not in the same discussion as these greats.

Consider this, on Woodstock: the original opener, Sweetwater, was stuck in choking traffic on the thruway, along with every other band scheduled to perform—and half a million other. Richie was the only one onsite and on time. He was thrust on stage, repeatedly, to a five-figure sized crowd to "kill time" for over two hours... And he was embraced warmly.

Consider how sideways Woodstock could have gone were it not for Richie Havens. No Havens, no festival. No festival, no legend-making moments for Sly & The Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Santana, The Who, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Blood Sweat & Tears, The Grateful Dead, et al. No Hendrix shredding the "Star Spangled Banner." None of it.

You'd think a guy like that would be in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame... And you'd be wrong. Again, Mr. Havens would be the last guy to blow his own horn. Which only means someone else has to blow it for him.

Due to health concerns, Havens retired from performing about a year ago. He turns 72 this January 21st and as a big honking birthday gift, the Black Rock Coalition Orchestra is performing a retrospective of music from his long and storied career for two days (January 18 and 19) as part of BAMcafé Live's portion of BAM's Martin Luther King Jr. tribute weekend of programs. The program will feature performances by STEW (The Negro Problem, Passing Strange) and a grand cast of BRC standouts. In addition, the program will be documented and sent to Mr. Havens, and included as part of larger campaign to induct him into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.

Mr. Havens, who has been everywhere else and done everything else, needs to be there, too.  
Darrell M. McNeill is the Associate Producer of Music Programming at BAM.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for acknowledging this great and under- appreciated talent.