In Remembrance of Little Feat's Legendary Drummer
The news came as a stunning blow. Though word of his illness surfaced in mid-2009, there was hope… some hope he would survive. But he didn't. So Richie Hayward's death came as a devastating shock for those of us who shared that hope with him, his family, his friends, and his band Little Feat, all of whom rallied around the drummer as he and his wife, Shauna, sought solutions to his situation.
Richie Hayward was a drummers' drummer. Right from the start, as a member of Little Feat, the Los Angeles-based band founded by ex-Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention guitarist/vocalist Lowell George, Richie's playing suggested something new. As the albums rolled out — Little Feat, Dixie Chicken, Feats Don't Fail Me Now, Time Loves a Hero… so Richie evolved into a player whose slinky, syncopated grooves percolated with a power that might be easily be described as funky rock 'n' roll… a potent mix of Earl Palmer meets Joseph 'Zigaboo' Modeliste meets Ringo Starr meets Bernard Purdie meets Elvin Jones… but sounded exactly like Richie Hayward and unlike anybody else.
Teenage Nervous Breakdown is rock 'n' roll mayhem propelled by punky, pulsating push and manic fills. Then there's the sleaze of Spanish Moon, and the crowd pleasing Fat Man in the Bathtub and captivating Dixie Chicken. On the DVD Little Feat Live at Rockpalast , shot in 1977, one witnesses a frenetic group of players spaced out on the highs of the times.
On the DVD High Wire Act: Live in St. Louis 2003, the evolution of Richie and maturity of one of rock's most unique bands is evident. The Feat were – and remain – about the feel, with everything in the mix, from Americana blues and country, to 50’s rock, 60s R&B, 70’s LA soul , and the band's beloved New Orleans second-line and zydeco. And Richie did it all with flair.
Take a listen to Day at the Dog Races, the odd-times, groove-shifting, fill-busting fusionesque instrumental on Time Loves a Hero. And the pumped-up-and-funky High Roller from the same album. Or the title track and Mojo Haiku from Let It Roll, as well as the title track and blistering Texas Twister on Representing the Mambo.
The live albums Hoy Hoy and Neon Park confirm that Richie's mind-blowing playing was at the core of a band whose slinky subtleties belied the complexity of what was really happening within the music. But then, that was Little Feat. And that was Richie Hayward.
Those subtleties certainly didn't go amiss with the many major names who enlisted Richie over the years. Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Buddy Guy, Johnny Lang, Joan Armatrading, Eric Clapton, Robert Plant… For rock drumming with a difference, listen to Plant's Shaken 'n' Stirred album from the mid 80’s. Richie rocks without cliches on this oft-overlooked drumming classic by the Led Zeppelin frontman.
On a more mainstream level, Buddy Guy's Mustang Sally saw Richie pump out a radio-friendly groove that helped put the legendary bluesman on to MTV and back into the charts. Yes, Richie certainly has his fans. For drummers Steve Gadd, Tony Braunagel, Rod Morgenstein, Chester Thompson, Geoff Dugmore, David Garibaldi and a lengthy list of others, many groundbreaking pioneers themselves, Richie was a uniquely funky player with an inimitable sense of style. John Bonham — indeed all of Led Zeppelin — was another big fan. After all, what musician — or even closer to the heart of the matter — what drummer could resist that feel?
Sadly, aside from those drummers in-the-know and fans of Little Feat who extol his greatness in terms of high reverence, Richie Hayward isn't exactly a household name. Like guitarist Jeff Beck, who Richie dreamed of playing with (they're both on Guy's Mustang Sally, though they didn't do the session together), Richie played from the heart, with a soulful feel and a creative approach that eluded those who sought to copy him.
Watching him behind his kit, playing with such rock intensity, one couldn't help wonder how he could be so damned funky. Or subtle. While most players groove on the kick, hats and snare, Richie's concept encompassed the complete kit, with seemingly random linear patterns and fills flowing together like some seamless rhythmic line boosted with enthusiasm and his commitment to a combination of roots and creativity.
Quiet and contemplative, Richie could be called shy, but he wasn't really. Indeed, he had a quick wit and a dry sense of humor that suggested he knew much more about life and its situations than he would ever reveal. Sadly, despite the fact that he had much more to offer than most, Richie avoided doing drum clinics or playing drum festivals; he didn't feel he was good enough, and remained convinced of that despite efforts to change his mind. Always warm and friendly, he could be accommodating to a fault, offering time and a word to anyone wanting a moment with him. He loved making music, and couldn't wait to get better and be back with Little Feat. He loved his family and wanted things to be better for their sake, too.
With his new wife, Shauna, their home on Vancouver Island, just off the coast of western Canada, plus friends who loved him as he loved them, Richie had finally found true happiness… at last. And though he will be revered as a great drummer, let us also remember Richie Hayward as a wonderful person. Indeed, he was both. And much more.
Written by: Wayne Blanchard
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