An Appreciation: Devon Wendell and Don Heckman Remember Tony Gieske

February 27, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

Tony Gieske

Tony Gieske

Tony Gieske was right there amongst the greats that I grew up worshiping. He had photographed, Interviewed, or reviewed the masters like John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie to name just a few. His stellar career spanned over half a century.

As a student at NYU, I used to go to The New York Public Library and read his terrific interviews and articles for The Washington Post, The New York Herald Tribune, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, and The Hollywood Reporter while listening to the great artists he covered on my walkman. Tony’s humility, love, and seemingly limitless knowledge of jazz came through in his writing. He also stayed current on the jazz scene.

Many years later I was blessed to be able to be a colleague of Tony’s while working for Don Heckman and The International Review Of Music.

I got to know Tony while covering The Playboy Jazz Festival for Don and iRoM. He was an unassuming, charming man who was running all over The Hollywood Bowl taking amazing photos. He’d ask me who I was covering for the day’s program and then I’d see him in front of the stage snapping away. Most of the photos on my articles, Q&A’s, and reviews were taken by Tony. His photos always captured the fire of the performance.

I told him in 2011 how much of a fan of his I had been most of my life. He thanked me very humbly. I knew he loved Dizzy Gillespie and played cornet and I mentioned that I’d rather be playing trumpet like Dizzy, Fats, Lee Morgan, or Freddie Hubbard (All of whom he had witnessed in person) than play the guitar. He said with that one of a kind smile; “You know your stuff. I can tell by your writing. You could learn the trumpet fast.”

And then he was off to take some more photos. I felt elated. He had read my stuff.

He never boasted or bragged about his prolific career. He just smiled and kept doing what he loved. Tony Gieske will be missed and he will always be loved by musicians and the musically obsessed like myself.

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By Don Heckman

I’ve been around writers, photographers and editors all my working life. But I never met anyone who combined the roles of writer/photographer any better than Tony Gieske did.

Tony Gieske

Tony Gieske

I was familiar with his work while we were both deeply involved with the ’60s music scene in New York — Tony at the Herald Tribune, me at the Voice and the NY Times . Our paths crossed frequently in those ever-exciting years. And we quickly discovered that we had similar approaches to our writing and reviewing, founded on the fact that we both had been, and occasionally continued to be, professional musicians.

Like Tony, I believed that music critic/reviewers should be trained, experienced musicians. And his reviews continually triggered responses from the musicians he reviewed, expressing their pleasure that their work had been covered by someone who “got” what it was they were doing creativel.

In recent years, we ran into each other after we both relocated to L.A., where Tony worked for the Hollywood Reporter while I wrote for the L.A. Times.

In more recent years, I was proud to have Tony as a regular contributor, as a reviewer and a photographer, for my International Review of Music blog.

His writing style – with its literary qualities, his deep understanding of the music and his constant sense of whimsical humor – were among the best-, most frequently-read posts on iRoM.

And while you’re reading some of his reviews, be sure to look closely at his photos. We have many contributing phographers for iRoM, and Tony was one of the most unique. Like the great French photgrapher Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tony believed that a picture should be taken at “The Decisive Moment.” With jazz artists, capturing the “decisive moment” is vital, and no one did it better than Tony Gieske.

Add to that all of his warm, engaging personal qualities, ever-present even on the most stressful job environments, always quick with a jibe, eager to discuss some inside aspect of the music we were hearing.

Tony passed away Saturday after a long illness. He had been missing from the music scene for many months dealing with his malady. It was never quite the same without my dear friend. And it never will be.

Tony Gieske was one of a kind.


A Remembrance: Lou Reed

October 28, 2013

By Devon Wendell

Lou Reed; the King of New York, is dead. This information still doesn’t compute with me.  And at the same time, Lou’s death symbolizes the end of an era for this fellow native New Yorker.

About a week before Lou’s death, I learned that the historic Roseland Ballroom in NYC will be closing its doors forever after being a part of New York’s rich cultural heritage for 94 years. Lou Reed’s death was the final blow for me. Both Lou and The Roseland symbolized a New York that no longer exists due to mass gentrification and corporate consumerism. Masses of hipster trust fund kids (Who may one day turn Central Park into another Urban Apparel, tall sky scraper, or overpriced, trendy coffee shop) own the City now.

The grit and soul that Lou Reed, Hubert Selby Jr., William Burroughs, and John Rechy wrote about has been polished away. This is why I left and moved to Los Angeles in 2008. I’m too poor for the new New York City.

I had known Lou Reed off and on for most of my life. I first met him at Matt Umanov’s Guitar shop on Bleeker Street when I was purchasing my first electric guitar. I was ten or eleven. My mother was buying me a cheap Japanese knock-off of a Fender Stratocaster.

Lou Reed

Lou Reed

I already knew some of Lou’s songs like “Take A Walk On The Wild Side,” “No Money Down” and “Satellite Of Love.” But that didn’t matter to me. He was trying out some amplifiers and effects and I just wanted to know what they were so I asked, “How are you getting that sound?” At first he laughed and looked at the shop owner and turned to me and said dryly, “Years of bad playing.” He and the shop owner both laughed.

My mother whispered in my ear; “Don’t talk to Lou Reed, he’s mean.” My mother has never been great at whispering at a silent level and Lou heard this and said “Listen to your mother and I’ll listen to mine” and laughed.

About ten years later when I was a student at NYU, I would see Lou all over the place. In guitar shops, pizza parlors, at poetry festivals, or grabbing an egg cream at a news stand called The Gem Spa on 2nd Avenue near Saint Marks Place. For years I would just nod my head and keep walking, fearing my mother’s advice. One morning before my first class of the day, I decided to stop for breakfast at Pamela’s Coffee Shop on Broadway, just down the Street from NYU. I sat alone and I saw Lou sitting alone reading a newspaper, wearing his signature leather jacket and dark shades.

I had been studying the great Jewish American poet and short story writer Delmore Schwartz with whom Lou studied with when he attended College at Syracuse University.

I was very excited and decided to engage Lou about this. I expected him to chew me up and spit me out into the far reaches of the Bronx but instead his eyes lit up.

“You’re reading Delmore huh?” He replied. “He was the greatest man I ever knew.”

We then had an hour long conversation about Schwartz’s short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” as well as James Joyce, Yeats, William Burroughs, Hubert Selby Jr. and Raymond Chandler. We also talked about electric guitars which we would continue to do every time I’d see him after that. He knew more about guitars and gear than any musician I have ever known. We were both gear geeks and proud of it. Lou also invited me to do tai-chi with him very early in the morning in Washington Square Park many times, which I kindly declined.

To me Lou Reed was more than just the godfather of punk, goth, and alternative music, he was a permanent fixture of New York City like The Brooklyn Bridge or the Boardwalk in Coney Island. I was always guaranteed to run into Lou and have a true New York conversation with him. I never asked him about The Velvet Underground, Warhol, or his own career and I think he respected that.

As kind as Lou was, there was a “Fuck you” attitude when it came to fans or lunatics on the street approaching him and invading his personal space.

Lou was no ass kissing, people pleaser, which I could identify with, but which has made personal and professional relationships a struggle for me here in L.A. Sometimes a good “fuck you” is necessary and as honest as you can get. Lou was all about honesty. His music could be painfully honest but there was always a vulnerability to Lou’s lyrics and how he sung or read them. Whether he sang about domestic violence, death, drugs, sex, disease, alcoholism, or fear, it felt as if he were holding your hand through these realities. And New York City was the most prominent character in just about all of his songs and poems.

Lou was the poet of New York’s gritty streets but those streets are far from gritty anymore and the colorfully eccentric and intelligent characters that Lou spoke about are all gone. Now Lou has joined them as a sea of automaton hipsters flock the streets, too cool for school, and dressed like consumer shills. As I say goodbye to the Roseland Ballroom and Lou Reed, I realize that you really can’t go home again.

Goodbye Lou.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


An Appreciation: Lou Reed

October 27, 2013

Louminous

By Brian Arsenault

I was feeling pretty good. Saw both my real football and American football teams win this weekend. It’s been cold and windy. But sunny.

Then I went on the damn internet and saw that Lou Reed had died.

Lou Reed

Lou Reed

Lou who took me to Berlin — “Oh baby, it was paradise” — that magnificent work that the critics first panned and the public ignored.

How do ya think it feels,” Lou?  It kind of feels alone.

I just watched the film of your 2006 concert performance of Berlin which reminded me that people finally came to see what a great work it is.

And before that, when all those West Coast hippy bands were writing cute little tunes about Marrakesh and tokin’, you took us to the damn damage of lurking heroin. Dangerous not because it made you feel bad but so damn good while it was killing.

Was “Sweet Jane” a he or a she? We weren’t sure but we damn sure knew the pain was real.

You knew a lot about pain. The pain your parents gave you with electroshock treatments to keep you from being bi. The pain of watching lesser lights become what they call “superstars” while radio stations feared you.

The pain of misfits on the street: drag queens, junkies, failed musicians, angry poets. You know, people.

They finally invited you to the White House. How did that ever happen? How did it feel? But you did nice at the White House and as Ken Bruen writes of Jack Taylor, you didn’t do nice.

What you did was honest and raw and so effen real. Some got titillation from “AWalk on the Wild Side,” but you knew it was damn hard to walk through a life.

Glad you could be with us as long as you could. You took a hard edge to tell us something about what it is to be human. Can’t ask for more than that from a poet.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


A Twist of Doc – An Appreciation: The 43rd Anniversary Of The Death Of Jimi Hendrix

September 18, 2013

 By Devon Wendell

September 18th, 2013 and all I can think about is Jimi. How his music and legacy has haunted me my entire life. Jimi Hendrix died 43 years ago today, over 5 years before I was even born. Yet every feedback drenched note, cascading soulful ballad, and harrowing wammy-bar dive bomb has almost followed my every move since the age of ten.

It was something I hid and was ashamed of in my formative years because Jimi was associated with and marketed to a rock ‘n’ roll audience which was a no no for a “pure” bluesman like myself. Or so I believed. Although I had known the direct link between Jimi and Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, as well as the deepest of the Delta and Country bluesmen such as Son House, Robert Johnson, and Charlie Patton, when I first heard his music, he was mainly seen as the father of heavy metal.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

He was lumped into the same group of “classic” rockers such as Led-Zeppelin and The Who,which I failed to understand. I hated and still hate heavy metal or most rock music and Jimi’s music is far more profound than any of that stuff and is closer to a Robert Johnson or Miles Davis. I chalked it up to ignorance on the part of everyone who had been brainwashed into thinking all guitar music is “rock n’ roll” and buried this feeling of having an overwhelming link to Jimi until the rest of the world caught on to the depths of his creativity. That finally seems to have happened.

He was the only famous artist that I could relate to on a musical and personal level, though everything I had learned about Jimi was speculation from books and articles. And some of the famous artists with whom I got to come across who actually knew Jimi personally – like Jack Bruce and Buddy Miles – told me that there wasn’t a way of “Really knowing Jimi.”

I grabbed onto those second hand scraps of images with all of my might. Jimi’s shyness, insecurity, frustration, self-destruction, and the playboy image made my youthful self-loathing somewhat less painful. Plus I had a guitar which was little more than a blank canvas before my teens.  

Now I’m an adult and know the dangers of associating my self with anyone else’s image, true or false but at times when I’m playing my guitar, my way, to the best of my ability, I feel Jimi there with me. Sometimes he likes what I’m doing and sometimes I see him in my mind’s eye wincing at a missed note or chord gone horribly wrong. Because I had some of the same chemically induced demons as Jimi, I try not to take these feelings too seriously anymore. I nearly followed Jimi and Robert Johnson into an early grave but somehow I miraculously survived.

I try my best to shake Jimi’s influence on my playing now the same way a young, ambitious saxophonist may struggle with all of his might to shake the influence of Lester Young or John Coltrane but it’s not that easy because his music is everywhere, in every genre now. Jimi’s music is sacred and shouldn’t be mocked.

September 18th, 1970 marked the passing of contemporary music’s last true virtuoso. There certainly hasn’t been anyone as influential on a single instrument since his death.

We’re all still waiting for the next one to come from somewhere and the longer it takes, the more we must pause to give thanks for his life and music. Rest in peace Jimi.  

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


An Appreciation: Bobby “Blue” Bland

June 27, 2013

By Devon Wendell

Bobby “Blue” Bland was truly the last of the stand and deliver blues crooners. Since Bland started recording in Memphis in the mid-‘50s — as part of the thriving blues scene that included Roscoe Gordon, Rufus Thomas, Junior Parker and B.B. King — he changed the world of modern blues and soul music forever.

Bobby Blue Bland

Bobby Blue Bland

When I first heard Bland’s classic sophomore album Two Steps From The Blue (Duke, 1961) I was in high school, and I became obsessed with his music. On classic tracks such as: “I’ll Take Care Of You,” “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do,” “Further On Up The Road” and “Turn On Your Love Light,” Bland demonstrated that he could bend notes, moan, groan, and use his voice like an instrument, much like B.B. King (Bland’s  collaborator and friend) did with his guitar.

I was young when I first heard Bland, and wasn’t used to seeing an artist singing the blues without either playing the guitar, harmonica, or piano as well, which at first made me hesitant to buy his records because I was all about the guitar. But when I heard the command and the soul in Bland’s voice, I was hooked.

There was desperate pleading mixed with great joy in Bland’s vocals that fused perfectly with his very funky rhythm arrangements. Bland freely mixed the Memphis blues, which he helped to pioneer, with gospel and R&B.

One of the greatest experiences of my life was at The Apollo Theater in NYC when I was 14 years old. On one bill there was Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ray Charles, and B.B. King. It was truly one of those pinch myself moments as a die hard blues musician and fanatic. It was easy to get backstage in those days and I got to spend time talking with Bland and King. At one point, Bland put his hand on my shoulder and told me,  “You’ve got to work very hard to be a musician, twice as hard if you play the blues. It’s no easy life son and no joke.” B.B. chimed in, “Ain’t that the truth.”

Until that time, I naively thought a career would just land on my doorstep but Bland’s words stayed with me and from then on, I constantly attended jam sessions in New York, sat in with many blues and rock greats, and started playing and writing more than I had before that encounter.

Bland knew about working hard. He recorded and toured consistently from the mid-‘50s up until near the time of his death.

Today, if you want any recognition in the blues, it’s all about playing the guitar like everyone else, and not having your own musical identity. The art of true blues crooning died with Bland. He was one of the last blues originals.

Bobby “Blue” Bland passed away in Germantown, Tennessee, on June 23rd, 2013. He will truly be missed and shall never be replaced.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


An Appreciation: James Gandolfini

June 20, 2013

 By Devon Wendell

James Gandolfini died on Wednesday.  He was never a musician, to the best of my knowledge, but he played the role of Tony Soprano with the high drama of a Puccini opera.

Sometime around 2001, after The Sopranos had already become a huge hit on HBO, I found out that the man himself, the star of the show James Gandolfini, who played  the head mafia boss Tony Soprano, was from Westwood New Jersey. Aside from my grandparents on my father’s side as well as my dad, aunt, and uncle, I didn’t think anyone was from Westwood,  a small suburban town in Bergen County New Jersey, right outside of Paramus.

I had already seen a few episodes and I loved the character of Tony Soprano because he wasn’t the Hollywood cliché on an Italian mob boss from Jersey or New York, he was the real thing.

Growing up in Brooklyn, before the gentrification pushed away most of New York’s ethnicity, there were plenty of guys who had the charm, wit, and toughness of Tony Soprano, or more importantly the soulfulness that Gandolfini brought to that character.

My aunt (who passed away in February of this year) had remained in the home that she, my dad, and uncle Frank were raised in, in Westwood New Jersey by my grandparents.

During some tough times in my life, she had let me move back in on the top floor. I’d venture into the small town to find some signs of life and often I would see Gandolfini perusing the local shops. I’d also see him on his motor- scooter, riding along the Westside Highway in Manhattan. Wherever I would see him, people would yell out; “Hey Tony!” and he’d always wave to his fans and smile with gratitude.

Gandolfini brought the spirit and attitude of the rock n’ roll music that Sopranos producer David Chase would make part of the show’s score and ever present landscape. No one else could have brought so much to one role as he did. Although Tony was a bigoted, misogynist criminal, he was lovable, much like Carol O’Connor’s portrayal of Archie Bunker on All In The Family. Gandolfini made us see past the flaws of the character and right into the heart of the man. Gandolfini had starred in many films over the last two and a half decades but his acting choices for the role of Tony Soprano will live with us forever, white bathrobe and all.

Gandolfini passed away of a heart attack in Rome. He will surely be missed.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


An Appreciation: Ray Manzarek of The Doors

May 22, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

Now that we are 13 years into the new millennium, the rock icons of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s are getting into their 60’s and 70’s.  It’s been nearly 46 years since the Summer of Love and while they aren’t dropping like flies, every few months or so, we seem to hear that yet another well known name has died on the younger side of old age.

It was sad but not shocking to hear of the passing of Ray Manzarek yesterday.  At age 74, he died in Germany of gall bladder cancer with his entire family by his side — not a bad run for a rock star who survived the most turbulent of times in a band that was a lightning rod for controversy.

Manzarek was the main musical architect of The Doors’ iconic sound.  It just wouldn’t have been remotely possible without his instantly recognizable, shimmering keyboard parts. His passing gives us pause to reflect upon the legacy of The Doors.

You always know it instantly when you’re hearing Ray Manzarek.  He played mostly a Vox Continental organ, which defined his sound, and a small Fender Rhodes bass keyboard.  His style was elegantly arpeggiated and colorful, working well on pop singles and expanded onstage. And, all those beautifully utilitarian bass parts in The Doors’ tunes were from his left hand!  This was a nifty detail for kids like me who were keen on how all this was done.

Ray Manzarek

Ray Manzarek

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The Doors attracted controversy because they took artistic chances, which usually ended up sounding phenomenally memorable and meaningful. They pushed the envelope much more than most did, artistically. It’s good to remember that Manzarek’s and Morrison’s well chronicled pairing was based on a shared affinity for art, film, and poetry before they decided to play music together.  The group always sought to fuse their musical roots in classical, jazz, flamenco, blues and rock ‘n’ roll with Morrison’s unique poetic stance.

Their sound made Morrison’s dark thoughts, ramblings, rants and crooning appealing and seductive, wrapping them up in silver paper, for us.  Disturbing lyrics were delivered as temptation.  They lured us in with music so we would experience the lyrics on an expanded level.  Every A-side song they put out was one to get psyched for on 20/20 AM radio in the family car, and later the rest of the albums flourished on the FM dial.   Given the musical and poetic depth of so many of the B-side doors cuts, the Doors influence is undeniable.  They are still as important an American band as there will probably ever be.

Live, they were hardly a pop band.  Erratic, unpredictable and ready to lurch in any direction, they really had to react to each other onstage.  If you watch film of the band or just listen to their live tracks you can see and hear the three players locked into each other, spotting Morrison to push him and the audience higher and closer to the elusive “other side.”

There was little they wouldn’t try.  The results were utterly unique, and to so many who experienced the group in the present tense, they were indispensable to the times.  Taking the musical tension Manzarek established between guitar, organ and drums — and setting a personality like Morrison’s loose over it all in a pop format — mesmerized most young people at the time.  With the backdrop of the Vietnam war and the tensions of the generation gap, The Doors had the leverage to rip young minds wide open.  People wanted desperately to “break on through to the other side.” This was way beyond the Beach Boys.  This was dancing into the dark side.  That was the power of popular music in those pricelessly tragic times.

The Doors: John Densmore, Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison

The Doors: John Densmore, Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison

There never has been a whole lot of middle ground with The Doors.  People seem to either passionately love them or hate them.  The folks that hate them are often too young to have grown up while they were current.  But their music also continues to appeal to the open ears and minds in any generation.

I grew up near where they rehearsed in Santa Monica, and I loved them as a kid.  I still love them.  On their way up, they used to play the lunch concert circuit for high school kids here in LA.  But they were finished before I even got to high school — hell, they were only together for about 6 years!  But they always sounded so mysterious and exciting!  The combination of Manzarek’s swirling keyboards, Robby Krieger’s slithering guitar, and John Densmore’s delicate jazz touch on drums under Jim Morrison’s voice was the greatest.  Every voice in the mix was so distinct, so clear, and so different.  It all worked phenomenally well for them as an ensemble.  Nobody sounded remotely like them.  Not even close.  Still.   Chemistry like that is as precious as it is volatile and dangerous.  Strong stuff indeed.

Robby Krieger reflected the other day that Ray Manzarek was a very smart guy to recognize in 1966 that Jim Morrison was a real talent … and not just the jerk that many who knew him felt he was.  Morrison’s legacy as an ugly drunk is well documented, but The Doors collective work with him is a treasure.  To have experienced it when it was current puts it into its true artistic perspective.  For those of us lucky enough to have been there, it is still no less than iconic.

And none of this would have been possible if Ray Manzarek hadn’t collaborated with the other three Doors.  He put the whole amazing thing in motion.   RIP, Ray.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


An Appreciation: George Jones (1931 – 2013)

April 28, 2013

He Stopped Loving Her Today

By Brick Wahl

I’ve never told anyone this before, but there was a two week stretch there maybe a decade and a half ago when I must have listened to “He Stopped Loving Her Today” a hundred times. Over and over. Once turned to twice turned to thrice turned to twenty times. I couldn’t tell you why, but there I was, in the dark, maybe a little stoned, George Jones singing this most perfect song ever in a tone I knew I could never match in words even if I spent a lifetime trying.

George Jones

George Jones

I met a trumpet player once, a fine jazz musician, a bebopper, who confessed to me over a couple whiskeys that he wished he could play like George Jones sang. The other jazzers kind of laughed nervously, unsure what to say. I said nothing. I knew exactly what he meant.

I started writing this a verse or two into the tune. A couple sentences later I spun it again. And again. He stopped  loving her today fades, a piano descends five notes, strings disappear way into the background and are gone. They’re Nashville strings but you couldn’t tell here, they’re so subtle, the band is so subtle too, the drummer swings the thing like a funeral dirge. Which it is. They placed a wreath upon his door.

I had a fight with the wife once, said things I wish I hadn’t, hid in the living room in the dark, and kept thinking about those letters by his bed, all the I love you’s underlined in red.  I played the song. Played it again. Again. I went into the bedroom and said I love you. It was underlined in red.  In my mind I mean, three little words underlined in red.

This might sound like the dumbest thing you ever heard, but then I’m not talking to you people. I’m talking to the people who heard George Jones finally died, the ol’ Possum, and found themselves singing they left a wreath upon his door. You knew you would too. And you knew you’d cry just a little. Which you did. He stopped loving her today.

To screen a video of George Jones and “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” click HERE.

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To read more Brick Wahl posts on his personal web site click HERE


An Appreciation: Richie Havens (1)

April 23, 2013

By Brian Arsenault

Richie Havens (1941 – 2013) was not the greatest or most celebrated musical figure of his generation.  He was something better.

Richie Havens was an embodiment of the notion that we could all live together, black and white, all people, as people should live together. He was a gentle voice amidst a lot of anger.

Richie Havens

He seemed to say by just who he was, or who we thought he was, that we could live without bombs and guns, hatred and resentment, riots and repression. Without  careers, economic classes, endless competition to get ahead, get to the top, rule the world.

We could be color blind. Better. We could like whatever color you were because you were you, not your color. Whatever you were was cool, good to be, open to me. Open to you.

He could strum that guitar like no one before or after. It reverberated. It throbbed. It reached down deep in us with rhythms born in Africa and brought by ships to these shores. And simmered in the Delta, then sent up the Mississippi to Chicago and electrified.

He could sing with that deep voice with so much feeling and warmth and, yes, love. When people, some people at least, believed in love as the primary life force.  Or at least that it could be.

In that performance at Woodstock, all that was best in an era was on stage.  Was all our lives.  Was all our hope.

If it was a Camelot that couldn’t last, none can.  If it was a lie, if it was an illusion, it was a beautiful one and he was a beautiful man. And as long as he lived at least a little of that light lived. “Handsome Johnny” indeed.

The world is a little darker tonight.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


An Appreciation: Richie Havens (2)

April 23, 2013

By Devon Wendell

I was very saddened to learn that Richie Havens passed away on Monday, April 22, 2013, of a heart attack at 72 years young.

I wasn’t born early enough to witness Havens during his heyday of the ‘60s, performing the small folk clubs in New York City in the early part of that decade to his electrifying performance at The Woodstock Festival in 1969.

The first time I heard Havens was at a free concert in Prospect Park, Brooklyn when I was 13 years old.  The way this fellow Brooklyn native strummed his guitar like a man possessed by some ancient divine spirit, and sang as, if he were channeling every form of American spiritual music brought tears to my eyes.

I remember getting to talk to the humble Havens after the show. I told him I played guitar and he smiled and said “never give up, ever!”

Richie Havens

Richie Havens

I vividly recall Havens’ rendition of Fred Neil’s mournful “The Dolphins” being performed that hot Brooklyn afternoon. Sweat poured down his face, his eyes rolled to the back of his head; his entire body gyrated to every vocal phrase and percussive guitar strum like a preacher on the verge of speaking in tongues. He’d bar the neck of his guitar with his thumb, having reached a place where “proper” musical theory and technique could no longer be contained by the spirit within.

After that first encounter, I studied his records very closely. I also rented the Woodstock film and witnessed his performance of “Freedom” which left me transfixed and also sad.

I found there to be this extremely sad and pleading quality to Havens’ music as if he was able to capture that lost, searching feeling of those people seeking higher meaning on a socio and spiritual level but never quite reaching the mark. I imagined flocks of young people wandering the planet like tired Gypsies looking for answers or sometimes just a question that made sense, only to find dishonesty, greed, violence, and division at every turn.

Havens’ music personified all of that but always with optimism. There was great hope with that sadness and that dichotomy made his music so powerful and accessible to all people, from his debut album in 1965; Richie Havens’ Record (Douglas) to his final studio album in 2008; Nobody Left To Crown(Verve Forecast) And countless number of performances that left people riveted all over the world.

In a career that spanned over 50 years, Havens was not only a brilliant poet in his own right, but also an artist who could cover other musician’s material and make it his own.

His versions of The Beatles “Here Comes The Sun” and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” made the originals feel stale to me. Haven’s courageously covered these songs when they were new, adding his own very personal style and arrangements to them.

Havens’ music will always be alive and relevant because so many of us are still searching, some more tired than others but I can see him smiling and saying “never give up, ever!”

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


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