Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Song Of The Day No.41

Handsome Johnny

by Richie Havens (Mixed Bag, 1967)

Possibly most well known for his improvised song 'Freedom' which he played at Woodstock in 1969 in order to satisfy the insatiable crowd after he had run out of songs to play. The Brooklyn born musician took a while in picking up a guitar after first moving to Greenwich Village to recite poetry. The folk scene proved too much to resist and after two albums on Douglas Records he signed with Verve and Bob Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman. Mixed Bag contains just three Havens penned tracks, the rest of the LP is made up of covers ranging from famous acts like Bob Dylan or The Beatles to lesser known songwriters like Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs or folk singer Jerry Merrick.

'Handsome Johnny' was co-written by Havens with Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. The song employs Havens' typical intensely strumming style tuned to his customary open-G setting. The energy expelled in his strumming and strained baritone singing style is complemented by a simple marching bass line. The anti-Vietnam lyrics are obvious but the catchy of the melody keeps the song fresh over 40 years later.


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