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Richie Havens in 1968: 'The Direction For My Music Is Heaven'

The New York folk singer finds unity and spiritual awakening in the West Coast

Richie Havens
Jan Persson/Redferns
July 20, 1968

"I'm going straight into what I'm doing. The direction for my music," says Richie Havens, "is heaven, of course. We gear all things to the realm of heaven – which is the mind, the organized mind."

On Saturday afternoon of his last weekend at the Fillmore, Richie Havens walked around the zoo. He is a very active man, but he is very peaceful. He has time to rescue a group of baby chicks from two rock-throwing boys. And he has time to think about himself, his music, and people today.

"I'm interested in the world getting itself together," he said. "And its really going on. It's right on time, because it never can be late and it never can be early.

"You can't even kill yourself if it isn't your time to go. People have no control whatsoever over what happens to them, and they are beginning to realize this.

"The future lies in the time of living. Your doing something will get you into tomorrow, if you want to call it tomorrow. If you want to make those distinctions at all."

He sees his music in the context of what is happening in his mind and what he feels is happening in the people, especially the young people, who listen to him.

"It's a matter of oneness," he explained. "You've got to get away from not being together in body and mind and soul. Now people are becoming conscious of this. It's a heavy spiritual trip."

Richie is 27 and has lived most of his life in Brooklyn and Greenwich Village. His songs are folk-oriented, but like Dylan or Donovan, he has gone beyond the straight folk idiom into his own bag.

I asked him about his feelings toward his music, and suggested that there was a great deal of passion in it.

"I haven't had a chance to 'feel' about my music," he answered. "It actually is those feelings. It's there and I don't have to think about it."

On the central role played by music in the spiritual awakening he described, Richie commented:

"Music is the major form of communication. It's the commonest vibration, the people's news broadcast, especially for kids."

His current listening includes such artists as Hamilton Camp, Kenney Rankin, and Joni Mitchell. But he sees the importance of "psychedelic" music:

"It did what it was supposed to do. It woke people up. It woke up a lot of ears, made a lot of good ears. Now these people are listening to what the musicans listen to, getting to the sources."

Before returning to the Fillmore in May, Richie was on a two-month tour of colleges in the east and else-where in the country. Despite the constant travelling and the grind of concerts, he enjoyed the tour. "Every night, in a new town, at a new college, we met the same groovy people. There is a unity of personality among the people who know."

Richie has gone through a lot of changes since he first came to the West Coast, and particularly to San Francisco and Berkeley, a year ago. He appreciates the San Francisco "scene" and said that the city "attracted all the right vibrations it needed to do what it did, and exported the things it didn't need."

His third album on Verve Forecast will be coming out this summer, probably in July. He has already begun recording in Los Angeles. The new album includes more of his own material than the others. It was described by a friend as "beautiful songs, soft and loving."

On earlier albums he has re-interpreted material by other composers, and has been especially successful with the usually impossible task of bringing something new to Bob Dylan. I asked him his reaction to Dylan's abrupt reversal of direction on John Wesley Harding.

"Dylan has gone around a full circle," he commented. "He is starting all over again, but on a higher level. He'll probably go through the same progressional changes again, but on a new level. Everyone's going around that circle, it's just that we didn't all start at the same time, so we don't all get to the same place at the same time. There's an uneven distribution of awareness."

Richie connected this "uneven distribution of awareness" to the inability of parents and the "older generation" to really appreciate what is happening in contemporary music and in the life of their children in general. "The parents themselves lack what they taught their children to have. The kids are taught respect and manners and honesty, and then they grow up in a world which doesn't give this to them. So they rebel.

"But now people are getting to know. Everybody is starting to do what they're supposed to do. Astrology, zen – it all ties in. People are contributing to each other on the astrological level; giving mind, body, and soul. Giving life. They're always been doing it, but now they're starting to be aware of it. This is new."

For himself, Richie Havens has an unlimited future without substantive ambitions or drive. "Everything I want to do, and to accomplish," he says, "is on the other side of the universe. That's peace of mind, energy, freedom. And I'm making myself ready to go, joyfully and willingly.

"I think I'm ready to be everybody's friend, and to do anything for anybody. It's heavy."

This story is from the July 20th, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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