Legacy: Richie Havens

Richie Havens 1941 - 2003


Another master has walked through the gates of Rock n Roll heaven. Richie Havens, who came to prominence as the opening act of the Woodstock Festival (though a seminal force of the 60s folk music scene) has left us. He wasn’t a household name as the years progressed, but should have been. The gruff, hypnotic consistency of his voice beautifully juxtaposed the textured layers of his gorgeous rhythm guitar playing – which was both delicate and abrasive – and words he sang as bold as a lion and lovely as a lamb.

He famously covered the Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun” and, if you pardon the cliche, made it his own. I was recently reveling in his album “Mixed Bag” – as I have so many times over the years. Released in 1967, it’s often considered his finest album – it consisted of his near-classic cover versions of Gordon Lightfoot’s “I Can’t Make It Anymore,” the Beatles’ (again) “Eleanor Rigby” and one of the definitive versions of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman.” He was one of the preeminent interpretative singers.

My favorite track on the album is one of my favorite songs of all time – it never fails to bring a tsunami of emotions into my heart – it simultaneously leaves me in a contemplative state of reverie and bittersweet nostalgia. It was written by Jerry Merrick and Havens makes it live with his elucidation.

And as I write this, that song, “Follow,” is wafting from my iTunes and into my soul. Much like Havens’ voice has for most of my life.

Rest in peace, song man. You will be missed.

Let the river rock you like a cradle
Climb to the treetop, child, if you’re able
Let your hands tie a knot across the table.
Come and touch the things you cannot feel…

And close your fingertips and fly where I can’t hold you
Let the sun-rain fall and let the dewy clouds enfold you
And maybe you can sing to me the words I just told you…
If all the things you feel ain’t what they seem.

Then don’t mind me ‘cos I ain’t nothin’ but a dream…

The mocking bird sings each different song
Each song has wings – they won’t stay long.
Do those who hear think he’s doing wrong?
While the church bell tolls its one-note song
And the school bell is tinkling to the throng.
Come here where your ears cannot hear…

And close your eyes, child, and listen to what I’ll tell you
Follow in the darkest night the sounds that may impel you
And the song that I am singing may disturb or serve to quell you
If all the sounds you hear ain’t what they seem,

Then don’t mind me ‘cos I ain’t nothin’ but a dream…

The rising smell of fresh-cut grass,
Smothered cities choke and yell with fuming gas;
I hold some grapes up to the sun
And their flavour breaks upon my tongue.
With eager tongues we taste our strife
And fill our lungs with seas of life.
Come taste and smell the waters of our time.

And close your lips, child, so softly I might kiss you,
Let your flower perfume out and let the winds caress you.
As I walk on through the garden, I am hoping I don’t miss you
If all the things you taste ain’t what they seem,

Then don’t mind me ‘cos I ain’t nothin’ but a dream…

The sun and moon both are right,
And we’ll see them soon through days of night
But now silver leaves on mirrors bring delight.
And the colours of your eyes are fiery bright,
While darkness blinds the skies with all its light.
Come see where your eyes cannot see.

And close your eyes, child, and look at what I’ll show you;
Let your mind go reeling out and let the breezes blow you,
Then maybe, when we meet, suddenly I will know you.
If all the things you see ain’t what they seem,

Then don’t mind me ‘cos I ain’t nothin’ but a dream…
And you can follow…and you can follow…follow…


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