TRIBUTE: Richard Havers by Martin Chilton

Richard Havers
Photo from his Linkedin profile
Music writer RICHARD HAVERS, the author of Verve – The Sound of America and Uncompromising Expression, a history of Blue Note Records, passed away at the end of 2017. In this tribute his friend and colleague (most recently at UDiscoverMusic) Martin Chilton remembers him:

2017 ended on an incredibly sad note with the death of the esteemed music writer Richard Havers from cancer at the age of 66.

Richard was a significant figure in the jazz world and his publications – including his brilliant histories of Verve Records and Blue Note Records for Thames & Hudson in 2013 and 2014 – were models of expert research and intelligent music writing.

Richard was Universal Music’s jazz consultant and Editor-in-Chief of their website UDiscover, which he co-founded. Richard loved jazz and anyone who saw him lecture in the Verve Jazz Lounge at the Love Supreme Festival will have been struck by his charm and ability to share his infectious enthusiasm for music in general, and jazz in particular. Richard was a man who enjoyed music to the core of his soul.

Although he spent his early career in the airline industry before working in advertising, it was his move into music and writing that gave him the greatest satisfaction. He produced concerts for Paul McCartney, The Beach Boys, Chicago and America before becoming a noted author. His book with the Rolling Stones bassist, Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey, won the Blues Foundation’s Award for Literature in 2002. His most recent book with the band, The Stones On Air in the 1960s – published by Virgin Books last September – also received critical acclaim.

Richard was a multi-talented man. He ghosted autobiographies by Gary Barlow and legendary record producer Tony Visconti. He also penned numerous fine books on The Beatles and an acclaimed biography of Frank Sinatra. “While Bruce Johnston writes the songs that make the whole world sing, I'm just trying to write books that make a few people read…” he wrote modestly. He was a remarkably diligent, hard-working writer, including for The Telegraph and The Times.

It was always a pleasure to talk music with Richard. You were as likely to chat about the saxophone genius of Coleman Hawkins and Johnny Hodges as you were to ruminate on the country music influence of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.

He was particularly proud of his work for Universal, producing some fabulous box sets of music, including Louis Armstrong – Ambassador of Jazz, Ella – The Voice of Jazz and a ten-CD career retrospective of Nat King Cole. Richard discovered the power of Facebook long before most and helped convince Universal to start social media pages for most of their jazz artists. Without ever taking credit for it, he ran the Facebook pages for many jazz legends, including the official Louis Armstrong page, which has more than two million followers. He leaves an important legacy in the world of jazz.

Richard’s interests and knowledge were not limited to music, though. He wrote books about history, football, film and stage. Richard had a fascinating past. “Did you know Richard set up Turkey's first commercial radio station?” a mutual friend mentioned once. He had just done so much in his life. But whatever his past achievements, he was always full of enthusiasm for the next project, the next great jazz album to listen to.

Away from his professional life, Richard, who was born in Surrey, loved the countryside. In recent years, with his beloved wife Christine, he lived in the Scottish Borders, in Devon (he did sterling work as Chairman of the executive board of Visit Exmoor) and, finally, in Minehead in Somerset. He was a fine amateur photographer.

With Richard’s death, I have lost a loyal friend. At a difficult point in my life, he wrote to say: “Don’t worry, matey, as one door does its thing, so does another!” In subsequent times, I worked with him on Universal Music projects and enjoyed immeasurably his encouragement, support and steadfast loyalty – and the good humour he brought to every conversation.

The world is a far poorer place without Richard Havers and he will be sorely missed by all those who knew him; by his family and friends obviously, and also by all the many music fans who have taken so much pleasure from his work.

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