Tuesday, May 21, 2013

when the music's over turn out the light

A couple of musical RIPs to catch up on. Firstly, Richie Havens, who died on April 22nd. I really only encountered Richie Havens and his music twice, firstly when I saw the film of the Woodstock concert - titled, imaginatively, Woodstock - and secondly when I saw him in the acoustic tent at Glastonbury in 2002, the last time I went to the festival. On both occasions the centrepieces of his set were the two heavily-strummed semi-improvised epics Handsome Johnny and Freedom, the latter being a variation of the old blues standard Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child that Havens basically made up off the cuff while he was asked to fill a gap in the Woodstock schedule while various of the higher-profile acts were stuck in traffic.

Two remarkable things about the Woodstock footage: firstly that Havens appears to have the world's biggest thumbs - most people can't use the thumb on their non-strumming hand to fret barre chords, but Havens seems to manage it. The other thing is that having been born in 1941, Havens would have been only 28 years old at the time of Woodstock; I think if you didn't know that you'd have put him at at least 40 from watching the footage. This is mostly because he's missing most of his teeth, something you'll be able to see quite easily from the footage, what with its close-up up-the-nose camera angles.

Secondly, Ray Manzarek, who died yesterday. Manzarek was the keyboard player with The Doors, and as such probably responsible for most of the distinctive aspects of their sound. As I said here, the fact that he was the keyboardist and the bass player (via a Fender Rhodes) and that the bass parts weren't played on a guitar gave them their unique sound. It was only when they employed the services of a proper bass guitarist for their last proper album LA Woman that they were able to produce something as rocky and sinuous as its title track. Which is not to write off their earlier stuff, particularly when it features in one of the greatest film openings in cinema history.

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