So, I thought I'd try something different with the blog. Welcome to "Reflections on the Road", a series of stories looking back on my musical journey thus far. No particular chronological order, just stories that come to mind. Hope you enjoy them!
Episode 1: RICHIE HAVENS WOODSTOCK GUITAR
I first discovered Belize in the mid 90's, and what started as a week's holiday soon developed into a yearly musical sojourn. When I arrived on the island of Ambergris Caye, I was surprised to find a thriving folk and blues music scene populated by the many North American and European "expats" living on the island. I quickly got to know some of the local performers and was able to borrow a guitar from a Canadian woman who happened to be playing an afternoon set at the Holiday Hotel, a small, pink three story wooden structure on the beach in San Pedro Town. I don't remember her name, but I am very thankful to her for helping me secure a gig at the hotel. Thus began my yearly musical journey in this exotic tropical country. One which would involve everything from opening for Jerry Jeff Walker of "Mr. Bojangles" fame, to cancelling a tour after breaking three fingers. But alas, those stories are for another day. This one involves Richie Havens... or at least his guitar. And a famous one at that!
Our story begins at the previously mentioned Holiday Hotel, with an invitation to perform at a remote jungle lodge by a rather eccentric and somewhat drunken man by the name of John Luce. "Perform for our dinner guests", he said, "and I will give you a great discount on a room at my lodge, and dinner will be on me... Oh ya, and no need to bring your guitar, because I have a very special one that you can play!" Despite my prodding, "special" was all I could get in securing a description of the mysterious stringed instrument in question. Well, how could I refuse. I had wanted to check out all that Belize had to offer, and after the heat and humidity of the keys, the thought of lush rainforest in the rugged Maya Mountains bordering Guatemala was extremely appealing!
It was an easy Island Ferry from San Pedro back to Belize City, and a two hour bus ride to San Ignacio, gateway to the Cayo District and the beautiful Maya Mountains. Then the real adventure began. Climbing aboard a Range Rover, I was transported up precarious, pot holed "roads" to the location of my next gig, Black Rock Jungle Lodge, located in a breathtakingly beautiful location overlooking the Macal River. The sounds of Scarlett Macaws and Howler Monkeys greeted my arrival, and it truly felt like I had arrived in heaven on earth! There was not much time for sightseeing though. It was almost dinner time, and the 20 or so guests seated at the longish tables appeared eager for entertainment. John quickly ushered me into his back office and proudly pulled out a somewhat mouldy, beat up guitar case, held together by copious amounts of duct tape. My heart dropped. Was this is the special guitar? I hoped it could be tuned. I hoped it had strings! As he opened the case, an equally sad Guild D40 emerged, complete with a fair chunk of the sound board missing between the sound hole and bridge. Once it was in my hands, I breathed a sigh of relief. The action was crazy high, but hey, it was playable, and almost in tune! "So you know who this guitar belonged to?", asked John as he handed me a photo and some official looking paperwork. The unmistakable visage of Richie Havens appeared in the photo, and the "Certificate of Authenticity" said something like, "I certify that this is the guitar I played at Woodstock...etc. etc.", signed "Richie Havens". Seriously? I was skeptical to say the least. It seemed just a tad unlikely that such an iconic instrument would be found in a remote Central American jungle. "I kid you not", he said, "now get out there and do it justice". And so I did, or at least I tried! Maybe it was just my imagination, but I swear I could hear "Motherless Child" emanating from the sound box as I began playing. The rusty, somewhat dirt encrusted strings thudded against the neck, as I struggled with the action. But, in the end, it was a fabulous show, the faces of the audience glowing in the candlelight, the welcome coolness of the night, the jungle providing an amazing symphonic accompaniment. I suppose I'll never know for sure if it really was Richie Haven's Woodstock guitar. But, you will have to agree, it makes a great story to tell the grandchildren!
Richie Havens was a prolific and beloved American singer-songwriter. Born in 1941, he died in 2013. Richie was the opening act at the original Woodstock Music Festival in 1969 and had a long and diverse musical career, including a collaboration with the electronic band Groove Armada in his later years. He established a program called the Natural Guard in 1990 focusing on inner city improvement projects for children. Havens started chapters across not only the U.S. but also in Belize, where he was known to perform. He played a Guild D40 at Woodstock, subsequently adding an upper pick guard to the instrument. He is known to have played newer Guild D40's in later years. The Richie Havens Signature Dreadnought was issued by Guild Guitars to honour his career.
John Luce was the manager of Black Rock Jungle Lodge in Cayo District, Belize up until his tragic murder in 2001 in the very office where he first showed me that "special" guitar. Yikes!