Steve Hackett Remembers Richie Havens

Richie Havens © Fin Costello

Richie Havens
© Fin Costello

Yesterday, the great Richie Havens passed away, aged 72. Known to millions by his appearance at Woodstock, he was a fantastic soul singer who, nevertheless, never shied away from other genres: he made THE BEATLES’ “Here Comes The Sun” his own, he took part in the theatrical version of THE WHO’s “Tommy”, he composed such classics as “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed” that opened YES’ “Time And A Word”.

In 1978, Richie lent his easily recognizable voice to Steve Hackett‘s "Please Don't Touch" to sing one of the guitarist’s best ballads, “How Can I?”, and “Icarus Ascending”. So DME asked Steve to recall their collaboration. As it turned out, Steve has already gone done the memory lane on his blog, and – noting, “I’m very sad at the loss of such a great man” – allowed me to quote him.

Here’s a snippet of Hackett’s words.

“He had the Voice of Ages, the look of an Old Testament prophet and a modern singer all rolled into one. Like Hendrix, his approach flew across boundaries of black and white music. If a song moved him he sang it, whether self-penned or written by the Beatles or Pink Floyd. Somehow whatever he chose immediately became the definitive version. He embodied music without props. His opening Woodstock was actually an accident. He told me he had a friend who owned a helicopter which made him the first artist on site when others couldn’t get through. He gave that legendary performance of Motherless Child. The whole spectacle centred on the way he sang the word ‘Freedom’ with that extraordinary voice of velvet and leather. When I later worked with him on Please Don’t Touch he learned two new songs in seconds flat but sounded like he’d been singing them forever. I felt privileged to have seen him live at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 singing into the night with a thunder storm raging. He just seemed to incorporate it into his act. He was the original rider on the storm. Thunder and lightning were his rhythm section”.

April 23, 2013

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