Today Richie Havens turns 65. In 1967 Havens seemed to materialize out of nowhere with “Mixed Bag,” a beautiful album of folk covers and original compositions. The album was full of striking performances, but none more so than Havens’s stunning interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman.”
I saw Havens perform at the Hungry i in San Francisco in June 1968, the week before Enrico Banducci closed the club. (My dad let me drag him along to the show; I enjoyed Havens quite a bit more than my father did.) Mort Sahl was playing on one side of the club, Havens on the other. Havens played to a small audience accompanying himself on guitar and just poured it on. The obscure comedian Stanley Myron Handelman warmed up for Havens without drawing a laugh, although he deserved to.
I loved Havens’s succeeding Verve albums, “Something Else Again” and the double-album “Richard P. Havens, 1983.” They followed up on the myriad strengths of “Mixed Bag,” combining terrific original compositions and interpretive pyrotechnics. Havens must have been good; the folk boom had long since passed, yet here was an unreconstructed folkie, black to boot, who seemed not to have heard or to care. At Woodstock in 1969 he stole the show.
Last year Hip-O Select released a remastered two-disc compilation of these three groundbreaking albums with which Havens launched his career: “High Flyin’ Bird: The Verve Forecast Years” (available only online). The songs sound better than ever, and hold up remarkably well.
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