I am saddened to hear about the loss of Richie Havens. His music means so much to me, as it does to so many people around the world who are mourning his death today. I first heard of him back in 2002, shortly after I moved to New York. I was watching a documentary about Woodstock, and I saw this bearded black folk singer furiously strumming away and singing his heart out while drenched with sweat. I didn’t fully realize what I was watching then, but later I would come to realize the significance of his set at Woodstock. I sought out more of his music and became a huge fan over the next several years. I got the opportunity to see him perform live a couple of times, at B.B. King’s Restaurant, and on a beautiful summer afternoon outdoors at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s R&B Festival at MetroTech Center in Brooklyn.
One of my dirty little secrets is that I fiddle around on the guitar sometimes, and I learned to play it in the unorthodox style that Richie Havens plays. It is a credit to his incredible generosity as an artist that I know how to do that at all. Richie was always very open about giving away his secrets. He posted lessons on his old website and released an instructional DVD showing everyone how he figured out his own unique Open D style of playing. He was a remarkable human being, and I hope that people will continue to be inspired by his courage and creativity for years to come.