I’d long been a fan of Richie Haven’s since I saw him take to the stage at Woodstock in 1969 when I was still at art school. It was such an incredible era, we all thought we were going to change the world and in some ways we did.
It was the birth of all the great music to come, a truly vibrant time that I was blessed to witness. We all smoked weed and we were of the mindset that everything was going to change. “Peace, love, dove you groovy freaks” as Frank Zappa is reputed to have said or was it me? Frankly I was too stoned to remember.
My mindset at the time, if someone wanted to meet me at the studio was ” I don’t know Man. Are they heads, Man?”. In fact it was impossible to end a sentence without using the phrase “Yeah, Man” or “Groovy Man” in those days. At that time I was permanently attired in an Afghan Hippy coat (which smelt like a wet dog when damp) and had very long hair. It was a reaction against the formality and rigidity of the 50s and early 60s which seemed so lack lustre by comparison and we all felt as the younger generation that we were part of a movement.
I never imagined as a student, that a few years after Woodstock, Richie would be in my studio in London. Let alone that I was to get my own private concert. He had the most extraordinary way of playing the guitar using open tuning with his thumb over the top of the fretboard. The guitar almost became a part of him, as he played in his rhythmic, melodic and energetic way. It really was a ‘Wow Man” moment.
Richie sang his cover of George Harrisons “Here Comes The Sun” which was unique, he played it for me while I photographed him. Years later George Harrison said to me at a party (held by rock legends Deep Purple). “Face it Clive we’ll always be two old hippies”. He then hugged me putting his arms around both my shoulders and guided me to move around with him with our heads together around the grounds of the Deep Purples mansion in an odd slow twirling dance.
We looked up at the sky and the trees and then George paused. He looked across the open fields as the sun was setting and said poetically “Wouldn’t it be great if that field was full of guitarists playing D.” At which point we both started laughing. We were both more than a little baked and George most definitely was a head. This was probably one of the most memorable moments of my life.
Now back to Richie, it was such a surreal experience having this icon on the peace era in front of me playing with such sincerity and heart. Everything about him was so full of feeling. He was completely absorbed in the music and oblivious to being photographed which was so wonderful. I don’t think I can really convey in words how intense it was to photograph him, when he sang it was a melodic conversation. No one asked him to play, he just did and he didn’t stop for the entire afternoon. He always made whatever he was performing his own and his presence was completely hypnotic.
There never will be another performer like Richie Havens, he was a total one off and utterly of his time. When he died in 2013 he requested that his ashes be sprinkled in the wind on the site of the original Woodstock Festival, which they were (on the 44th anniversary). Rest in peace Richie, your power and message of peace is still so relevant today and your sincerity and open heart will always be missed.