Sad, sad news today from the worlds of music and friendship: Richie Hayward – founding member, drummer, writer, and singer in the seminal American rock and roll band Little Feat – lost his year-long battle with liver cancer today. He was only 64.
I first became familiar with Richie and Little Feat when I was in the tenth grade. My neighbor and surrogate older brother, Erich Swartz, returned home for Thanksgiving and brought with him a copy of Time Loves a Hero. To say I was hooked was an understatement – within a week I owned their entire discography, and I’ve been a passionate FeatFan ever since. Thirty-five years, in round numbers, including the lean years in the eighties when there was no new Little Feat music.
Like all great American stories, Little Feat had an incredible second (and third.. and fourth..) act, reuniting in 1988 to great acclaim. By then, I had moved to Los Angeles and hooked up with the Maltose Falcons Brews Band. Our bass player at the time, Dennis Fink, knew the band! He lived near several of its members in beautiful Topanga Canyon, which is also home the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, an amazing open-air theater in the woods. Dennis came to rehearsal one night and told us that Little Feat was playing a benefit for the theater (“Feats for Seats”), as several of their family members had served on its Board of Directors over the years. He also relayed an invitation from the band – if we schlepped their gear in and out of the theater, we could join them for dinner and watch the show.
My response now would be the same as it was then.. what’s the question?
That night, I met my musical heroes, and I was welcomed into the amazing Little Feat family.
In the mid-‘90s, when Little Feat took over their own promotional work and used fan volunteers to great effect, I was the regional FeatFan coordinator for Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Arkansas. When I moved to Seattle in 1999 to work for Microsoft, I sent an email to the community informing them why I was resigning my post. I shortly got an email from Paul Barrerre, asking, “hey, can you get software?”
Paul being the generous man he is, he offered to trade me back-stage passes for the software. Pretty soon, he stopped asking for software and started asking how many passes I needed. These folks who I’d regarded as titans of rock and roll since I was fifteen became, in my late thirties, my friends.
Every time they come to town, Gale and I go to the show and hang with the band, and every time, we spend a little more time there. I recall particularly a gig they played at the Triple Door in Seattle. Richie was in fine fettle that night, and he probably spent half an hour with us after the show. Gale took particular interest in Richie’s tour book, a minute-to-minute guide that the road manager assembles for each member of the band when they’re on the road. Richie went over it with her in great detail, and confessed that he’d never seen anyone outside of the band quite so interested in a tour book.
The best musicians show you a clear path to their heart through their playing. The expression on Richie’s face in the photograph to the right says it all. When Richie would come off-stage after a particularly epic show, his sweaty face would split into an ear-to-ear grin as he said, “man, that was fun.”
It sure was, Richie, for you and for us, for your entire career. Who’d’ve thought that a five-word want ad placed by Lowell George in 1969 (“Drummer wanted. Must be freaky.”) would lead to such an incredible forty-year-plus ride?
My thoughts and prayers go out tonight to Richie’s incredible wife, Shauna, his son, Severin, and the rest of the Hayward and Little Feat families.
The world is slightly less syncopated today than it was yesterday. A great talent, a beloved husband and father, and a cherished colleague has left us. Rest in peace, Richie, and thanks to you and your family for all the years you spent on the proud highway, bringing joy through your music.
Now that you’re up in heaven with Lowell, there must be one hell of a jam going on.
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