Richie Havens talks Seeger, Dylan
Richie Havens talks Seeger, Dylan
When you're talking with Richie Havens, there can be a lot of ground to cover.
With this summer marking the 40th anniversary of the legendary Woodstock festival, and Havens being known worldwide as that event's first performer, it's a given that the three days of peace, love and music will come up. Also, last year Haven's released a stellar new album, "Nobody Left to Crown," which stands as his 30th LP and includes a knockout cover of the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."
And while in the coming weeks we'll be running an interview which touches on those bases in advance of Havens' May 16 show at the Algonquin Arts Theatre in Manasquan, when we had the man on the phone we also couldn't help but ask him about folk icon Pete Seeger's 90th birthday celebration, which is set to be held Sunday (May 3) at Madison Square Garden and will feature performances by Havens, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, Billy Bragg and many, many more.
Long an advocate for social progress and the man behind classic songs such as "Turn, Turn, Turn!" and "If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)," Seeger has also met with his share of criticism over the years, and was even blacklisted in the mid-1950's. However, according to Havens, it was that same opposition that helped Seeger to grow his fan base over the years.
"I think Pete started out trying to hold on to his voice in terms of what he has to offer the minds around us and to realize every time the press says something negative, you can add another 15,000 people to his list of people who like what he does and are very surprised at how many songs he's written that they've heard and not known it was Pete," Havens said.
Havens also discussed his history of performing Seeger songs. "I've been in and out of Pete's life and him in and out of my life for a very long time, and I sang some Pete songs, (such as) ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?' for many years (and) all those songs like that, and really, he deserves all of the accolades he can get, because ... he was a total educational machine, let me put it that way."
When asked which performer from the birthday celebration's all-star roster he was looking forward to sharing the stage with the most, Havens offered a guarded answer. "You know, I've seen some names come and go, so I don't really talk about it (laughs), because he might not be there," he explained. "It's one of those things; it's bringing itself together at the last minute mostly."
We also asked Havens about his role in the 2007 Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There," in which he played Old Man Arvin and delivered a killer back porch-style cover of Dylan's 1965 classic, "Tombstone Blues." Havens shared his thoughts on the film, which featured six performers -- including Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger and Christian Bale -- playing different versions of Dylan.
"I was asked to play this part in the new Dylan film, which I had no knowledge of at the time, that they were putting it together, and it was very interesting, because of the way the movie created personas that Bob went through to become Bob -- and other names (laughs).
"It was a fantastic idea, and it came out and it worked. It not only worked for the people who were expecting it, but it was (also) a wonderful introduction of him to people who never actually heard Bob Dylan. That's the good part. Now, (Dylan)'s even feeling better, because he's been doing the rock and roll he always wanted to do. He's a rock 'n' roller by nature too, just like me."