A Mixed But Worthwhile Bag

Originally posted June 1, 2009

I suppose the first time I became aware of Richie Havens was at St Cloud’s Paramount Theatre sometime in 1970. On what seems in memory a spring evening, my parents gave me permission to sit through Woodstock, the documentary film chronicling the vast music festival that had taken place the summer before in upstate New York.

(The parental permission was required, if I recall correctly, by the theater’s management, as the movie had several scenes showing naked hippies either at play or washing up in lakes and ponds. I’m not sure if my folks knew about those scenes. Being sixteen at the time, I of course didn’t mind glimpses of naked gals – hippies or not – but I honestly went to the film for the music.)

And Havens’ exhausting show-opener was stunning. I knew about most of the other musicians whose performances were shown in the film: Sly & The Family Stone; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Sha Na Na (does anybody else think it odd that in 1969, Sha Na Na was viewed on the same level as the other acts at Woodstock?); Arlo Guthrie; Santana; the Who; and more. But I’d been unaware of Richie Havens.

I came out of the theater that evening fascinated by a lot of the music I saw but most of all by Havens. (I find it fascinating that thirty-seven years later, I saw Havens perform live in the same theater where I’d heard his music for the first time.) I didn’t rush out and buy a lot of it, but I was a lot more aware of those performers when I heard them on the radio, and their names went on a long and informal list of artists whose music I wanted to explore when I had time and resources. It took a long time before I got around to some of them. And Richie Havens was one of those whose work waited a long time for me to find it.

It happened, finally, in the late 1990s, during the years when my record collection grew at an alarming rate. During one of my regular visits to Cheapo’s in late May of 1998, I came across Haven’s 1977 album, Mirage. Listening to it reminded me that I’d once planned – however vaguely – to explore Havens’ catalog. I went back the next day and got another Havens’ LP: 1987’s Simple Things. And as the year moved on, I kept looking for Haven’s stuff in the new arrivals bins and sorting through what was already there in the bin with his name on it. By then end of 1998, I had ten of his LPs, and I’d add four more in the years to come.

Among them was 1974’s Mixed Bag II, in title and style a sequel to his first release, 1967’s Mixed Bag. Even in a time when I was bringing home an average of one new LP a day, both of those stood out. I found Mixed Bag during the summer of 1998 and Mixed Bag II that December, and both of them stayed near the stereo for a month or two, as I played them frequently.

Mixed Bag is still in print on CD, so I will forego posting it, but I’ve had a request for a repost of Mixed Bag II. Here’s what I wrote about it a little more than a year and a half ago:

Highlights of the album are Havens’ take on “Ooh Child,” which had been a Top Ten hit for the Five Stairsteps in 1970; his somewhat meandering version of “Wandering Angus,” a poem by William Butler Yeats set to a folk melody; a sprightly version of McCartney’s “Band On The Run,” and the album’s moving finale, “The Indian Prayer,” written by Roland Vargas Mousaa and Tom Pacheco.

But the album’s center, literally and figuratively, is Haven’s performance of the Bob Dylan epic “Sad Eyed Lady (Of The Lowlands).” Reflecting perfectly the organic feel of the entire album, the track pulls the album together. It may be called a mixed bag, but it holds together pretty well. It’s the kind of album Richie Havens specializes in to this day: Mostly acoustic, melodic, thoughtful and warm.

Mixed Bag II by Richie Havens [1974]:

“Ooh Child”
“Headkeeper”
“Wandering Angus”
“Sad Eyed Lady (Of The Lowlands)”
“Someone Suite”
“Band On The Run”
“The Loner”
“The Makings Of You”
“The Indian Prayer”

Coming Attraction:
A member at a board I frequent asked if anyone had Kate Taylor’s Sister Kate album, which I posted here more than two years ago. When I replied, someone else noted that it would be nice to have her later, self-titled album. To my surprise, I found it in the stacks, and I’ll be ripping it to share sometime this week. At the same time, I’ll repost Sister Kate. (And if anyone has a line on Taylor’s third album recorded in 1979 at – I believe – Muscle Shoals, it would be appreciated.)

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