The following is an interview outtake from my feature story on session legend Elliott Randall that appeared in the August 2013 issue of Guitar Player.
You crossed paths with Richie Havens back in the early days, is that right?
Talk a little bit about him and his influence on you.
In 1963, which would have made me just 16, I wound up working the entire summer in New York at one of the larger Greenwich Village coffeehouses called the Café Bizarre—bizarre as in strange. The place did live shows from about 7:00 at night until maybe the 3:00 in the morning, and there were four acts that would alternate. When I first came in, we were working as the backup band for one of the acts for a quarter of the evening. The first band that we backed up was the Ronettes and the second was the Capris. It was an amazing education. At the same time, there was a trio working at the Café Bizarre called the Richie Havens Tad Truesdale Trio featuring Natoga on drums. Tad would just sing and Natoga would play these wonderful conga parts. His real name was Daniel Ben Zebulon, and he wound up playing with Richie for decades after that as well.
I saw Richie play about four years ago in Northern California and he had a conga player. I wonder if that was the guy.
I wouldn’t doubt it. These are all childhood friendships. So Richie befriended me very quickly and I responded very quickly because I thought he was a very magical fellow. Not only did he sing amazingly well, his acoustic guitar style blew my socks off. He was a locomotive—that plus his tunings and all. He turned the guitar almost into a different instrument. With the exception of the congas, he was like a full band, and the energy with which he played is hard to describe. One should at least see some of his videos because what he has to offer throughout eternity is a very special magic.
He was the guy who turned me on to marijuana. I remember sitting opposite the Café Bizarre at the New York University Law School as he was rolling a joint, and he said, “Come on, try some of this!” But in a way he’s always been my guru. I don’t mean to get all hippie dippie here, but throughout my life he’s always appeared at the most magical moments.
I recorded three or four albums with him all over the States with different producers. He would always request me, and I would always fly in very, very delighted. And we also did some gigs together. I remember him asking me to come and play in Denver, Colorado for a week, which was quite the scene because after every set he’d need to run backstage and they’d have an oxygen mask ready for him. I mean, that’s how much energy he’d put into his performances.
I remember doing some stuff at St. John’s Cathedral in Harlem. It was a very interesting avant garde concert, with Carman Moore, the fellow who composed Balloons After Noon. Out comes Richie in his flowing robes, and he gave me a big hug and it just made my whole night before I even played a single note. So he’s really been with me forever. In my sort of public farewell to him, I said that I felt that Richie was going to always be around me no matter what. Again, not trying to be hippie dippie, but what he has imparted will always be with me.