SCOTT SIMON, host:
Richie Havens is the man who opened Woodstock. He hasn't stop performing since, or inspiring. He's just released his 30th album, "Nobody Left to Crown."
(Soundbite of song "If I")
Mr. RITCHIE HAVENS: (Singing) If I could tell the story, what secrets time would tell of those who've gone glory and those who went to hell.
SIMON: That's "If I" from this new CD. Richie Havens joins us from New York. Mr. Havens, thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. RICHIE HAVENS (Singer): Oh, my pleasure, really.
SIMON: Can I get you to you to talk about those early years? You were - as I understand it, what, you were a performing poet in Greenwich Village.
Mr. HAVENS: Yes. I actually was sort of discovered - a friend of mine and I, who used to sing du-op(ph) in Brooklyn together, found out that the word that the big guys in the neighborhood were calling us, which was beatnik, and we had no clue what it was, you know. So we went to Manhattan to see what a beatnik was and found out it was us.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: I understand, like, arguably the most prominent beatnik of all was influential in getting you to start a career in music, Allen Ginsberg.
Mr. HAVENS: Absolutely, yes. I used to come from Brooklyn, you know. We'd sit in the Gas Light(ph) and all that and listen. And he used to come over and look at our two books we had on the table, and finally he says to us, what's in those books? And we said, poetry, you know. He says, get up there. So I ended up on stage in the Gas Light. We used to see them just about every night. Carowak(ph) was there and quite a few guys. I remember this is how I met Wavy Gravy, actually. But he had a different name then.
SIMON: Let's listen a little bit to "Nobody Left to Crown."
(Soundbite song "Nobody Left to Crown")
Mr. HAVENS (Singing): What if politicians were all good guys? Oh Lord, don't we wish they were. Wouldn't be so dependent on courts of laws that make us all feel like defendants sometimes.
SIMON: "Nobody Left to Crown." What are we meant to incur from that title?
Mr. HAVENS: Well, the song underneath that title was sort of guided to question certain things about our state of community. Out of working so hard to put someone in who is the crown for this short four-year period of time, we've been disappointed each time around. So we figured it, well, we need to do our own thinking, our own speaking out.
(Soundbite of song "Nobody Left to Crown")
Mr. HAVENS (Singing): Home on the range. Where the fear and the antidotes play, where seldom is heard an encouraging word and our leaders do nothing all day.
SIMON: Do you feel any differently about that title given events of the past few weeks?
Mr. HAVENS: Well, I'll tell you, that title was originally recorded in 1968, and it referred to that time and what was going on in that time. And lo and behold, it's back again.
SIMON: Can I ask you a Woodstock question?
Mr. HAVENS: Absolutely!
SIMON: Is it true you were the first act because very few other people could get there because the crush of traffic was so great?
Mr. HAVENS: It sort of clogged itself up the first day of the concerts. And we got in there about six in the morning, and here we are still sitting here at 3:30 in the afternoon, so something's wrong. And it was the road to it - it was closed, and no one could get there, actually. So I hear this loud noise in the parking lot out back of the hotel they asked us to come to. It's a glass bubble helicopter. I thought it was a news guy. It was a farmer who owned the copter and said, sure. I'll take some people over, and we happened to be the first.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: Mr. Havens, I know you've got a colleague in there, Walter Parks.
Mr. HAVENS: Yes.
SIMON: You want to perform a song for us?
Mr. HAVENS: Way Down Deep?
(Soundbite of song "Way Down Deep")
Mr. HAVENS (Singing): Somehow I am sleeping as a dream goes flying by. Somehow I am shaking awake. Somehow I could dream and try to realize. I can even feel the earth shake. Am I dreaming, dreaming way down deep. Somewhere in the darkness, I straggle to the light. Somehow I am falling down - falling down. Somewhere in the twilight I finally get my sight. I can even see what's coming round. Am I dreaming, dreaming way down deep? Well, that's dreaming, dreaming as I sleep, as I sleep. Somehow I am sitting on the mountain where I live. Somehow it's been so bright. Somehow I believe I'm getting older, getting older. Somehow I don't know my left from right. Am I dreaming, dreaming way down deep? Am I just dreaming, dreaming in my sleep. Just dreaming in my sleep. Just dreaming in my sleep.
SIMON: Thank you so much, Mr. Havens.
Mr. HAVENS: Oh, my pleasure.
SIMON: Is it true at your concerts you know the first and last songs you're going to play but you don't plan the rest in advance?
Mr. HAVENS: Exactly.
SIMON: And what's the idea there?
Mr. HAVENS: Well, the idea there is for me never to have to go on the stage and play the same set over and over again.
(Soundbite of laugher)
SIMON: Oh, OK.
Mr. HAVENS: It's interesting because many times people have come up to me after singing some songs, and they'd say, Richie, do you know what you did? And I'd say, what? And they'd go, I wrote these songs down for you to sing and you sang them all in a row. But that's the kind of communication thathappens, you know. It's like if you let the audience lead, then you are the audience yourself.
SIMON: Mr. Havens, can you play us out on a song?
Mr. HAVENS: Sure. How about "Here Comes the Sun"?
SIMON: Richie Havens. Thanks also, by the way, to Walter Parks, who joined him on the guitar. The new release is called "Nobody Left to Crown." It forms another song verse as well, and to hear that and learn more about "Nobody Left to Crown," you can go to www.npr.org/music.
(Soundbite of song "Here Comes the Sun")
Mr. HAVENS: (Singing) Little darling, it seems like a long, long, lonely winter. Little darling, it seems like so many years since you've been here. Here comes the sun, here comes the sun. And I say it's all right. It's all right. It's all right. It's all right. It's all right.