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Richie Havens: An idealist's look at money

Richie HavensRichie Havens career as a guitarist had one of the more unusual origins. The son of a piano player, Havens sang doo-wop and gospel on street corners in the notorious Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn as a child. In the early sixties, he hung out in Greenwich Village, taking in early folk music pioneers such as Bob Dylan. After several years of watching others play songs that moved him, Havens wanted to do the same.

With an innate knowledge of harmony, he tuned a guitar so that when strummed with open chords (without any fingers on the frets), they would play basic chord forms -- an unusual tuning. That way, he was able to play most popular songs by merely laying his thumb across a fret and moving it up and down the neck. Havens was then able to hit the stage at a folk club and play seven songs a mere two days after picking up a guitar for the first time. He's been playing that way ever since, and his unique style has fascinated both amateurs and pros such as Eric Clapton.

Havens continued playing on the folk circuit, and his three-hour set opening 1969's Woodstock festival made him a star.

Since then, he has built his following through incessant touring, and is especially well known as the foremost interpreter of Beatles and Bob Dylan songs.

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His inspiring covers, including classics such as "Here Comes The Sun," "Just Like A Woman," "All Along The Watchtower," "Lady Madonna," "Maggie's Farm," "Strawberry Fields Forever," and "Eleanor Rigby," manage to capture all that is amazing about the originals while simultaneously imbuing them with the Havens original style.

In addition to becoming a distinguished musician, Havens became a die-hard environmentalist, forming an organization called The Natural Guard in 1990 to teach children about the environment.

Havens recently released a new album entitled "Wishing Well," and spoke to Bankrate about how an idealist approaches finance.

BANKRATE: A career such as yours, which is mostly based on the road, is it lucrative?

RICHIE HAVENS: I pay my bills. I don't care about anything more than that, because what do I need? I eat once a day. My whole energy is put toward making a difference in my life every day. Which means I'm open to helping someone else make a difference. That's what I do. I do a lot of benefits. Homelessness, joblessness, other things. I work with people who have programs that need to be expanded.

BANKRATE: How much will you make for a road date?

RICHIE HAVENS: It really depends, because I do everything. I play small clubs, then concerts the next day, then festivals the next day, then colleges the next day. That's always been the case. The types of gigs I have fluctuate. For me, the money is the last thing on my mind. As long as I can get there and get home, do what I have to do and pay my bills, I'm very comfortable with that. All I need to know is, I paid my bills.

There are concerts that pay you a lot of money. If they have a big festival, a certain portion of that automatically goes to the artist. In festivals, we tend to get more then for other gigs, because that's the budget they have to work with. When you go to a club, I'll go for $3,000 a night, sometimes two shows a night. Then I'll go to a concert the next night, and there's 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 people sitting there. My take on it is that the people I want to be with and the people I'm living with on this planet are the types of people at every one of those gigs. That's what I'm doing. I'm communicating with the people I live with on this planet today.

BANKRATE: With so many albums costing so much these days, I imagine yours are low budget affairs. Korn's new album cost $4 million. How much does it cost for you to record an album?

RICHIE HAVENS: There's no need for that type of stuff. My last album cost me $30,000. I'll tell you why bands get away with that kind of excess. It's because it's being allowed. If the record company allows those kids to spend that much money, the record company expects to get it back. The band is only borrowing money from themselves. Whatever they're spending is their own money, in the end.

BANKRATE: I have to imagine it could have been done at half the price.

RICHIE HAVENS: It could have been done at one-tenth the price. But there is show business and there's the communications business. I'm in the communications business. My album "Cuts to the Chase," I did it at a friend's house. We did it in nine days. We did a song and a half a day. It was performance. We went into the studio, we ran through the song, we recorded it, we didn't have to spend $100,000 overdubbing stuff we thought should be there. My first album was made in four days. This last album I made in 12 days. So there's no need for that. It's craziness.

BANKRATE: Do you invest in the market?

RICHIE HAVENS: No, I don't. I've never done it. I'm fascinated by it. I never even knew what it was until recently, when the dot-coms started. Then I understood it more.

BANKRATE: So how have you prepared for the future, financially?

RICHIE HAVENS: I haven't. I'm living now. My future is the next minute, and it may not be the minute after. Who knows? I'm living now. That's the way I live. I live today, and hope someone calls me and says hey, you want to do something next week, because that means I'll get to next week. That's the way I am. I'm a right now person, because I'm living right now, and I dare say we're all finding that out now.

-- Posted: July 23, 2002

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