We were all in anticipation of seeing Richie. It had been almost a year. We traveled up to Vancouver Island to play a concert, taking the next day off to visit with Richie and his wife Shauna at their home. Throughout that long year I had many conversations with Richie on the phone. There was not one time I didn’t hang up without crying. He was a brother to me, to all of us. Family. Our family. So much had changed. Gabe Ford, Richie’s drum tech for two-and-a-half-years was playing with the band. My girlfriend, Polly Gray, was coming up to meet me from Seattle. She had her camera with her. This would be the last time to document Little Feat and Richie together. Shauna had been posting on CarePages the last year, keeping everyone, fans and band alike, current as to Richie’s situation. Hope is everlasting, they say. We all wanted him back in the band. Gabe was ready and more than willing to move back into the slot of his drum tech if that happened. In my heart, I knew it couldn’t happen. When we arrived at the gig he was there with Shauna waiting for us. It was a tearful reunion full of hugs and love. Shauna posted what happened that evening:
From Shauna Hayward:
The band did several songs before they did Willin'. During Willin' Paul stopped and called Richie out to sing Don't Bogart That Joint with him. It was a huge singalong with the crowd. Richie then took over the drums from Gabe and played on Spanish Moon, Skin It Back and Fat Man. The band finished the set and all came to the front of the stage and did a wave and a bow. Richie stood slightly off stage only to play percussion for the encore: Oh Atlanta. It was amazing site and sound, lot`s of tears and cheers.Then the gig..... The weather had turned a bit cold, and the wind picked up....but did not take away from anything yet to experience. We kept Richie warm beside Dave's board, with blankets, and love, then Paul invited him up to sing the Jamaican national anthem! It was amazing x Smiles and laughter larger than anything I could describe x Richie was beaming x He played three songs....Spanish moon, Skin it back, and Fat man. I cannot touch with words...all that happened....just know, that it was the magic of love, everywhere
Polly took a defining photo of Richie that night. The joy on his face says it all.
A month later, August 12, 2010, Richie passed away. The band was in Falmouth, UK.
More tears. Where did all the years go?
I try and imagine what it must have been like for Richie Hayward to venture west from the confines of Iowa to the free-for-all of Hollywood, CA, La La Land, in 1966. Richie never struck me as someone with much patience; his entrance into the chaos and excess of that time must have resembled a balloon after someone let the air of it.
He was a buzz saw let loose in an environment of studied indifference to cultural norms, at least those norms associated with the 50’s that still lingered with some folks in the Midwest--one thinks of Iowa and conjures up images of fire flies flickering away on a hot summer night, the folks on the porch talking about the weather, family, Lawrence Welk, and the size of that pork tenderloin sandwich they had for lunch. Iowa. Flat, the heartland of America, flags, corn dogs, 4-H clubs and livestock at the State Fair, eating corn picked fresh right off the stalk in the ubiquitous cornfields. Then there was the weather everyone talked about incessantly and for good reason: the extreme heat and cold, incapacitating ice-storms, tornadoes, floods, droughts, locusts--Old Testament reckoning--more flat landscapes, and, ultimately, a place of mind-numbing reality conducive to over eating and inertia, or conversely lending to an over active imagination where one filled in the blanks. But for others it was a place for honing one’s skills to nuance, to an open mind and an acceptance of the beauty of simplicity, coupled with the desire to enhance it where one could. (I would recommend William Least Heat Moon’s book on Kansas, PrairyErth, for more on the minutiae of what lies beneath the surface of a place, its people and history.)
And while Richie tried and tested each of the above, nothing was going to keep him in Iowa. His imagination, along with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake mentality, would never afford him that luxury (the foot on the gas took precedence).
He was destined to carve a place in musical history as one of the most unique and arguably best drummers there ever was.
Jagged cut to Southern California: The famous LA haze could not obscure the confounding wreckage of tangled freeways, human lives, nor the anvil hanging over one’s psyche of potential disaster from the San Andrea’s Fault, which rumbled and shook the ground from time to time as a reminder that we were living on borrowed time. The noise and anarchy of Southern California resembled a fifty-car pile-up on the famous Grapevine, during an impenetrable fog. There was a “the dogs run free why don’t we” attitude led by Kim Fowley and his crazy crew of psychedelic adventurers. Fowley was part of Frank Zappa’s Freak Out album that heralded a break with the previous generation.
Frank had it right. LA was not cool. It was full of plastic people. But who cared?
People, plastic or not, were living on the fringe at a frenetic pace and there was no stopping the tidal wave of youth claiming their territory.
There was the lemming-like migrations to the Sunset Strip. Cruising down the Strip on a sunny day, the top down, one could almost hear the faint strains of “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb,” echoing off the nearby canyon walls, residue from a less complicated era. And at night, Gazzarri’s, Pandora’s Box, The Whisky A Go Go, and further off the Strip, The Troubadour, where the hip and curious met, crushed together like sardines, some dancing like a load of laundry in a washing machine at slow cycle, while others on the outside fringes drank, smoked pot in the corners, shutting out the world of freeways and congestion for another type of congestion that involved touching. LA is a city of cars, creating a bubble between you and them, and no matter that you could walk somewhere, you always drove. The clubs were where you had contact, real contact with others. The promise of sex filled the air. Free love was not a slogan any longer. People would just as soon fuck as shake hands. Valley girls liked having sex, their underarms and legs sculpted smooth. That was Southern California, complete with bronze surfer dudes and dudettes, Everybody’s going surfing, Surfing USA.
The thread that held everything together, while conversely threatening to rip everything apart, was music. There was a revolution in the works fanned by FM radio. In Southern California you had KMET, KMPX, KLOS, and the DJ’s that pioneered the free format: Tom Donahue, Jim Ladd, B. Mitchell Reed, Jeff Gonzer, Dr. Demento, and many others, where one could immerse themselves in the best of what we now look back on as a truly Golden
Age in music (Rock & Roll, Blues, Jazz, Folk). This free format stoked imaginations, gave a true sense of community in a part of the world that seemed devoid of any such concept, creating a soundtrack to people’s lives while providing context to events both local and global. The very basis of this experiment was to expand the idea of freedom and test the boundaries of authority. The Vietnam War and the attendant Draft drew the lines of demarcation between those pushing those boundaries and those who felt strict adherence to control of morals and duty to country. A collision course was set in motion like a huge wave hitting a jetty, the result manifest in the Sunset Riots. Nationally, the War protests, along with the Race Riots in 1967, fomented the Law & Order crowd Richard Nixon wielded into a political and philosophical base two years later—whose reverberations are still being felt today through the voices of Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, and Fox News.
What made it all so surreal was the lifestyle associated with the California experience, that still captivates people from around the world—sunny weather, fast cars, fast women, movie stars, the Pacific Ocean, and the varied landscape of mountains, beaches, and deserts.
Iowa and Hollywood might as well have been two completely different planets. And there was Richie Hayward in the middle of it all with a rage in his heart and mind that never really cooled out until he became ill some forty odd years later.
For those that knew him, saw him play, think of the motion in which he attacked the drums. A flurry of arms and legs, mouth opened, eyes wide open, a blur of sound and fury coming from cymbals, snare, toms and kick. It seemed that he could go off the road at any moment, crash and burn. That was the exhilaration of style and substance he brought to his playing, his life. It enamored many, frustrated and angered more than a few, was truly a marvel to witness, and left me more than a few times scratching my head wondering what the hell made him tick.
I met Richie summer of 1969. It is an absolute fog for me as to where I met him. Lowell George might have arranged for us to tag up the first time at a club around the Melrose area in Los Angeles—Lowell lived in Los Feliz, not too far away.
The club was dank, dark, and weird. There couldn’t been more than five people in the place. I have no recollection of a band playing there, although I’m sure there must have been some music going on at some point. What I do remember is seeing Richie and the two of us laughing about a guy that was semi-hidden in the recesses of the room moaning in a Droopy the Dog cartoon voice, “This is baaad, verwee, verwee, baaaad!!” He would quiet down for a few moments and begin the mantra again, always with the same inflection. And though we were laughing, there was a point where with arched-eyebrows Richie suggested we get the hell out of there. It was indeed, baaaad, verwee, verwee, baaaad!
For years we talked about it wondering what the hell the poor guy was going on about.
Not too long after that we met again at Lowell’s, Richie set up his drums and the three of us played some various songs and riffs. Nothing particularly coherent. I loved what I heard, though, coming from the drums, which is to say I had never heard anything like it in my life. Not as polished as Keith Moon or Mitch Mitchell, but we weren’t in a recording studio, we were in Lowell’s living room. Lots of cymbals, a wild kick drum and plenty of toms. Later, after he left, I asked Lowell if he was going to be in the band—we were in the process of putting players together for what would eventually be Little Feat (the name was either non-existent or up in the air at that point in time). Lowell told me that Richie was with the Fraternity of Man (“Don’t Bogart That Joint”) that played some prominence in the icon movie, Easy Rider). I said, “Lowell, how can he be in that band and be in ours?” He said, “Don’t worry, you’re going to play on their record and then they’re going to breakup, Richie will then join us.” Welcome to Hollywood!
The first year was spent looking for a record deal. We were approached by several labels, including Atlantic Records, where the President of the label, Ahmet Ertegun, after hearing our musical offering merely said, “Boys, it’s too diverse.” We jettisoned those songs shortly thereafter. Along the way we auditioned at least fifteen bass players at Lowell’s house, of which Paul Barrere was one of them—Lowell knew he played guitar, yet told him, “Don’t worry, the bass only has four strings.”
With a new lineup of songs, we finally approached producers Ted Templeman and Lenny Waronker from Warner Bros., this time successfully, which paved the road for bringing in the bass player we had wanted all along, Roy Estrada, from Frank Zappa’s band. He had been sitting on the sidelines waiting to see if we could land a deal or not. That said, Roy was a hero to me. The four of us journeyed into the beginning of musical history with Warner Bros. Records as our stewards.
Take a look at the old photos of Richie. He could’ve been a movie star. The mustache took on a D’Artagnan quality. Swashbuckling. Richie always had access to some great hats. On our first album, Little Feat, he is wearing a top hat taken from the Warner Bros. lot, I believe. They let us rehearse there in Burbank. There was a huge box with all kinds of hats in it, and, well, Richie took his pick. It fit him in every sense. For the album cover, we stood in front of a building in Venice, CA., of which was a winter scene painted by the L.A. Art Squad, featuring what Venice might look like if another Ice Age hit—no one was mentioning Global Warming back then, although it was nearly ninety degrees that afternoon and we were dressed in big overcoats and winter hats. Out of all of us, he was the only one of us with any style for the occasion. It didn’t occur to me that Richie was the only one with any real experience for winter, having been raised in Iowa.
The memories I have, many of them, are fragmented, especially from the early times. It was such a free-for-all back then. Paul, Fred, and I were talking with Mac Rebennack (Dr. John), one night in Clearwater, FL, about the craziness of those times. Mac offered his condolences. Earlier, before Paul and Fred showed up, he told me he had lost four friends in the space of less than a week. Life was moving fast. There was no doubt we lived through a remarkable time period, he said. It was all brand-new, and, in many ways, uncharted territory. I told Mac that when we joined Warner Bros. in 1970 the roster included him (Mac was actually with ATCO, which was part of the Warner family), Ry Cooder, Van Dyke Parks, and Randy Newman. I was absolutely floored that we were in that kind of company. It was a period of genuine financial help from the music industry. Warner Bros. funded our first tours, for example. Touring was a channel, as much as having a hit record--which Little Feat never had—to reach an audience. Live music. Real players. We were in heaven, and hell, as it turned out. This is where we really got to know each other. On the road.
Little Feat’s first tour started December 25, 1970. We were in Cincinnati, OH, at the Reflections Club. It held about a thousand people. We had two nights booked. The place was packed to the rafters. We figured out very quickly that the crowd was not there to see or hear us but to engage in the raucous singing of football songs. Ohio State was going to the Rose Bowl. No amount of volume from us on stage could drown out their singing. Amazing. Richie had some ideas of his own to try the second night, though.
Same ol’ crowd was hanging out again…. (reminds me of a song). Richie said he wanted to introduce the band. Lowell and I looked at him, shrugged, and said go ahead.
He sauntered up to the mike, unzipped his pants, took out a sausage, cut off the tip, took a bite and introduced us to a thousand crazed Ohioan football freaks singing and screaming the same songs they had sang the night before. Not one of them took any notice. Richie stomped back to the drums, sat down and with a “FUCK IT!!” counted off the first song, hitting the snare as if he was punching everyone in the place out.
Years later, I discovered that a few folks did indeed witness Richie’s introduction, those of which included Craig Fuller, Craig (Sarge) Shertz (who many years later was our front of house mixer for the Let It Roll tour and follow-up tours—I had also worked with Craig on some James Taylor tours in the early eighties), some folks from the sound company Show Co, and a couple of folks from WB, all of whom were prominent in our career. All told about nine people out of a thousand. It was like something out of a Dickens novel. As in so many things in life, there is no way anyone could have scripted it.
(The Ohio Buckeyes, coached by Woody Hayes, lost the 57th Rose Bowl to Stanford, 27 to 17.)
That first tour also took us to Buffalo, NY. I was with Richie in a supermarket, he came around the corner and said, “Think Fast!” He threw a grapefruit right into my stomach, knocking the air out of me, doubling me over. I wondered why the hell he did it, and when I finally got my breath asked him he wasn’t being malicious about it, but he didn’t have a response either. I just figured I would have to watch him from there on out. In an attempt to save money, we had to share rooms. My partner was Richie. This lasted about two nights, as he would leave the TV on at all hours. I couldn’t sleep with it on, and he had no intention of going to sleep until he was damn good and ready, usually around 4 or 5 in the morning. This was not going to work. I later thanked him, as the result of our incompatibility warranted getting my own room, at least on that tour.
I never roomed with him again.
Off the road I had more than a few times where I couldn’t afford to have a place of my own. Despite the fact we didn’t room with each other, Richie was always generous to me. I lived with him and his family on and off a few times over the years. One of those places was a Spanish-style apartment complex located on the border of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. We were just off the Sunset Strip on Carole Drive, adjacent to the Cock & Bull Restaurant and their parking lot—we had to park on the street. Bing Crosby’s brother, Harry, having consumed more than his quota of drinks, lost control of his vehicle and ran into my car, a 68’ two-door blue Chevy—it looked like something the narcotics squad might drive. I was encouraged mightily by the Hispanic parking attendants to sue him, which I couldn’t do. I felt sorry for him. Just down the street, an easy walk, was the Whisky A Go Go. Still, as close to the action as we were, there was a tangible tranquility to the area. The apartments were spread out and divided on two sides of a pleasant walkway. Hollywood scriptwriters, drug dealers, musicians, occupied the premises. Everyone knew each other. Richie and his family lived in one of the two-story-structures. He was married to Pam Hayward, one of the Price sisters. Pam was a dominant force in his life, and a disruptive one at that. (She had two other sisters, Patty and Pricilla (Prissy), married to Lowell George and Rick Harper, respectively. “Uncle Rick” was a dear friend of the band and our first tour manager. Their mother, Lulu Belle, was a famous session singer, having performed on records with Ray Charles, “I Can’t Stop Loving You;” sang the high part on, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and the theme to “Star Trek.” She was a true Southern belle.)
Richie, Pam, and their young daughter, Rachael, lived in the apartment closest to the front on the left side as you entered from the street. It was tucked just far enough away to provide a realm of privacy. Richie and Pam held court there, night and day. There was a round table just off the kitchen where everyone would convene for conversation, the partaking of sacrament (coke) and drinks to take the edge off, along with reefer madness. Lowell used to sneak up on the south side of the apartment, negotiating a narrow pathway between Richie’s and the apartments next door, and press his face against the windowpane scaring the hell out of us. Laughing, we would then encourage him to come around and join us. (On the Let It Roll album recorded in 1988, we made mention of Lowell and his antics in the song, “Hanging On To The Good Times.”)
Despite the high-octane drugs, there was also some of the best guacamole I’ve ever had, served with Richie’s favorite: chicken taquitos. Muy rico. The conversation was incessant. I’m sure we solved the world’s problems ten-fold night after night, day after day. Richie was quite manic a good deal of the time. More than once he wanted to kick in the fireplace in the living room so he could have a real fire rather than the fake, gas log variety. Every time we would have to talk him off the roof. No! Don’t do it! You’ll have to pay for it. Relax!! It got to be a routine scenario we would all play our part in. Clenching and unclenching his fists, he would invariably give up and move off to another room sputtering profanities. Funny thing is, a few years later the apartments were vacated—the owners had sold them, given us notice—and were scheduled to be moved and carted off to another part of town. They literally lifted them off the lot one by one. In the process, the workman had to rip through the fireplace in Richie’s apartment. They found a stash of sixty thousand dollars worth of silver certificates, apparently stolen in a bank heist from the Thirties. When Richie found about this he was apoplectic.
As I pointed out earlier, Richie’s life rotated between the one foot on the brake and the other on the gas, Part of the brake was his family. As crazy as Pam was--and he was right there with her--he would be the one to have to hold it together sometimes—a tough task given his desire to put the pedal to the metal and let it fly. It clearly frustrated him to be in that position. He loved his family, don’t get me wrong, but he clearly needed some help and wasn’t getting any. His solace was playing drums. Whether at a rehearsal or on stage, they formed the environment for his freedom. Sitting behind the drums and playing was one of the few places—other than racing his car around the curves of the canyons or straight-aways in the Valley, or later riding his motorcycle--where he felt he could just be himself. He loved motion. But, to his unending grief, whether playing the drums or riding his motorcycle, he was ultimately held accountable. The laws of human interference and physics were unbending. Richie held to the quick starts and stops, brake and gas, brake and more gas, as a means to deal with the fleeting freedom offered him.
Richie’s sense of humor was legendary. I’m convinced his irreverence and inventiveness with phrases and words was an Iowan concept—Iowa has many towns with different pronunciations: Madrid (Mad-rid), Cairo (Cay-roh), Nevada, (Nuh-vay-duh), Berlin (Burr-lin). He could take just about anything and turn it into something else. He would chant: Yom Na Ho I want a Pinto!! He wound up with a Mustang years later (I guess it worked to a degree). One of his play-on-words took place at Lowell’s house the first year of the band. Richie was listening to a song I wrote. He thought it sounded good and asked me what I called it. I said, “Thanks For Everything.” He said, “Snakes On Everything?” A nanosecond later I said, yes, “Snakes On Everything.” To this day I’m not sure if he was messing with me or really thought I said it. I never brought up the subject again. The song title stuck and appeared on the first Little Feat album in 1971.
One of the ironies of Richie’s use of words was the lack of them in our songs. He and I wrote one song, “Tripe Face Boogie.” He wrote the lyrics, I provided the music and melody. The curator at the Rock & Roll Museum in Cleveland, OH, eleven years ago, asked me if I had anything I would like to contribute. There were some notebooks I offered that covered the beginning years with Little Feat. Everything from the formulation of lyrics to a general list of ideas, hopes and aspirations, that I documented, some cartoon doodles, legal documents from Warner Bros. One of the items I was looking for was a lined yellow sheet of paper that had a character drawing of Richie’s along with the lyrics to Tripe Face. I was in my garage in Calabasas, CA, looking for it. The place was a mess, boxes and paraphernalia everywhere. I was balanced on some boxes, there was a ladder lying on its side. As I stepped from the boxes onto the ladder my right leg slipped through and I cut myself. I wasn’t badly hurt but the pain more than caught my attention. There was a sizeable gash that took many weeks to heal. All of that and I didn’t find the box with Richie’s lyrics. Later, I finally found it in the one place I hadn’t looked, had in fact said didn’t exist. Cheryl told me to look just inside the door to my studio on the left, there was a small door there, and behind it were some boxes. I kept saying there wasn’t a door on the left; there was a door on the right with boxes, too, that I had looked at a few times with no luck. I was wrong, there indeed was another door on the left hand side. It held a treasure trove of lyrics, music, notebooks and day-at-a-glance yearbooks, along with tour itineraries and the accompanying financial results from our accountant. I also found Richie’s drawing and Tripe Face lyrics.
Over the years we rehearsed at quite a few places around Los Angeles. One of the places we hung out was on Cahuenga Blvd. West in Studio City. We rehearsed in the evenings, as there were businesses operating during the day. It was Little Feat’s clubhouse, in effect. Lowell was rarely there. He didn’t like rehearsing. For the rest of us it was a chance to just play, try things, jam. I had a cassette recorder, nothing special, to document what we were doing. Miles Davis had “Bitches Brew” out and we were doing our version of that kind of thing. The instrumental we came up with was called “The Jungle.” I used to record dialogue and music off of old movies on television with that recorder: The Marx Brothers, “A Night At the Opera,” “A Day At The Races,” and “Go West”(there was a section of music from a song, "You Can’t Argue With Love” that I did a take-off on for the ending of Paul’s classic song, “Old Folks Boogie.”) “The Jungle,” was taken from a movie of the same name with Cesar Romero, Rod Cameron, and Marie Windsor. The script revolved around a search for some elephants that killed Rama Singh’s (Cesar Romero’s) brother, and that Rod Cameron was responsible. Cameron, who had escaped a horrible death, was also frowned upon as a coward. He said that wooly mammoths (thought extinct, so how in the hell….never mind, it’s Hollywood, sort of, filmed in India) had killed everyone.
There was a wonderful score of Indian music accompanying the film. I played some of it for the band. We then took off on our own thing and starting jamming in a really aggressive groove. Paul and I got to one section and started playing a lick out of nowhere simultaneously. We couldn’t believe it! It went on and on. Richie was in a syncopation that I had never heard, Kenny right with him, Sam Clayton had an absolute lock on the groove. There was zero compression on the recording so everything was just huge. This jam was the antecedent to “Day At The Dog Races.” When I went to play it back I was listening to film. I heard Marie Windsor say, “Maybe they know where the wild herd is Rama Singh.” Somehow I hit record again, realized what I had done and let out an OHHHH NOOOO!! I was starting to record over our jam. Thankfully I stopped it in time--the tape is now missing in action.
This was the height of our taking off on instrumental excursions with our music. We simply carried that spirit over to the stage. It might have been why Lowell felt left out, and would literally leave the stage, later when we’d play “Dog Races.” It was our playtime, jamming was fun for us. We tried different grooves every night. In terms of the freedom we felt, particularly Richie, playing in that rehearsal room, I’m not sure it was ever quite the same again. The Alley, in North Hollywood, was another great place to rehearse, but we were a lot more regulated in what we played by the time we got there, and besides, there was a dramatic change about to take place with Richie and Little Feat while we were at that rehearsal hall on Cahuenga.
Lowell had had it with Richie and asked him to leave the band. There was concern about his playing, his attitude was defiant when asked to pull it back a bit and just play a regular groove. It was sad given how much fun we had been having. Lowell said let’s get someone else. We all went with the flow. Freddy White, whose brothers, Maurice and Verdine, played with Earth, Wind, & Fire, came into the band for a brief stint. Freddie was laid back in demeanor, to the point that we called him Mo, for Molasses. He was quiet and humble. He fit in nicely. He held a steady beat, simple but effective, a groove oriented player, very solid. We did at least one tour with Freddy. Back in town at the rehearsal hall on Cahuenga Freddie and I jammed together a few times and fleshed out the groove for “Day At The Dog Races.” I cherry picked melodic lines listening to a cassette of our one-on-one jams to create and complete the instrumental. Later, a change of mind took place on all sides. Richie came back into the band, while Freddy joined Earth, Wind, & Fire. Maybe things had been running too smoothly, I don’t know. I’ve always thought we thrived on the tension, of which with Richie back in the lineup there was still quite a bit, but a wary truce was in order for the time being. The ups and downs of the band are more than I wish to relate, to be honest. Let’s just say trying times were in abundance.
With the exception of the first year of putting the band together, Little Feat was a launching pad for playing on other artist’s projects. We were, and still are, known as a musician’s musicians band. This is what Lowell and I had discussed from the beginning.
Richie told me a story of working with Ike Turner. I’m not sure of the year; it was either 1974 or 1976. (It very well could have been in the time when Richie was not working with Little Feat.) Richie was at Ike Turner’s studio recording some tracks--Tina Turner was not involved in any of the following. It was a nightmare scene. Lots of blow, a gun on the console, a room where Richie could crash, but with all the drugs he was ingesting he wasn’t getting a lot of rest. Richie had told Ike a few times that he had things to take care of at home. Ike wasn’t letting him out of the studio. The gun next to the blow said it all. This went on for a couple of days or so. Out of sheer exhaustion Richie collapsed in the room provided for him, when someone burst in roughly waking him up and shouted, “We’re gonna play on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, GET UP, LET’S GO MOTHERFUCKER!!”
Kirschner’s show had a huge following. The filming was done in front a large and rowdy concert crowd. Filming is always a pressure situation, but this was through the roof. There wasn’t any time to run anything down. There were at least two other acts on the bill. Richie was completely crazed from lack of sleep, and wasn’t told until they showed up at the taping what song they were going to do. He told me, in fact, he didn’t know the song at all and was asked to count it off. On top of it all, the bass player in the band hated Richie. He had been on his case in the studio the entire time. He didn’t like a white guy from Iowa playing in the band. He was staring darts at Richie while hurling verbal abuse. Nice atmosphere for performing. Richie told me he was so scared he just launched into the song somehow and managed to pull it off. The whole episode sounded incredible to me; but years later, Jeff Porcaro, Toto’s drummer, told me essentially the same story of being held captive in Ike’s studio when he worked for him.
In 1972 Paul Barrere joined Little Feat. Richie told me about Paul, a gifted blues guitar player and singer who was playing a concert with his band, The Lead Enema, in a loft in downtown Los Angeles. Richie and I agreed that Paul would make an incredible addition to the band. It didn’t take much to get Lowell on board, as he was feeling he wanted to play less rhythm and more slide. The band was in a major transition following the album, Sailin’ Shoes, and the subsequent tour that followed its release. We had lost Roy Estrada to Captain Beefheart’s Band. Roy needed a break. We needed a break. It was collectively what the doctor ordered, for us, at any rate. We needed a bass player. I was fearful we would be going through the same cycle we had been in the first year the band formed, with bass player after bass player trying and failing. Dolf Remp, one of the owners of S.I.R., heard we were on the hunt and told our road manager Rick Harper about Kenny Gradney. Kenny and I got together to play a bit, try some songs, and the search came to an abrupt halt. He was amazing. The band was rehearsing at the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank for a Hawaiian gig, The Crater Festival. Kenny said he wanted us to meet his partner, percussionist Sam Clayton. Both Kenny and Sam had been working with Delaney and Bonnie. Sam fit like a glove from the get-go as far as we were concerned, but he had reservations, which vanished after playing in front of forty-thousand people inside the Diamond Head crater in Honolulu. Our sound was looser, more aggressive, less song-oriented, more emphasis on playing. We swung into a new gear entirely.
The next gig was at the Fox Theatre in Long Beach, CA. I was laying down on a hard bench between sound check and the show that night trying to sort out how to arrange “Tripe Face Boogie” and turn it into a jam. What I envisioned was Richie and I, along with Sam, going free-form and then, on my signal, doing a signature lick that was already in the song, bringing everyone else into familiar territory. It was the beginning of years of Richie and my excursions into the known and unknown. Jamming, but with a crucial difference. There were chord and rhythmic changes, patterns that turned familiar surrounding by much that was unfamiliar, evolving each night, each year, through many tours. It was not long after that night in Long Beach that the jam in “Dixie Chicken” materialized, leading to “Day At The Dog Races,” “Day or Night,” “Mercenary Territory” and others. A good formula, that to this day, with Gabe Ford, is still a very much an active part of the show and the way we approached our song writing.
What made Richie’s style unique can be traced to his influences: Mitch Mitchell from Jimi Hendrix’s band; jazz drummer Elvin Jones; The Who’s Keith Moon, to name a few. Each one of these drummers utilized a lot of cymbals, interesting kick drum patterns, snare and tom hits, an orchestral range of intensive ebb and flow motion, enveloping the other instruments in a veritable wash of sound. It was not an exercise in simply keeping the beat. It was about adding colors and filling arrangements with percussive accents.
Richie was certainly capable of hitting the regular 2 & 4 in a rock and roll song, a la “Oh Atlanta,” but left to his own devices he would use his cymbals, jazz strokes on the snare and high hat, and toms to infer those beats. When he was on, he was as good as there was. When he faltered, it gave the audience and band alike the feeling of going off the cliff, and then he would pull it out of the tailspin. Usually. He was completely unconventional in his approach. When it was just Richie and myself playing off one another, the effect was magnified, as I would change tempo or go with him if he did, moving in and out of genres (jazz, New Orleans, rock and roll, cartoon music, avante garde musings) in the course of a improvisation that only the two of us could play. It was our dance, and on more than one occasion a brilliant one. We were both reacting to what each other played at lightning quick speed.
(The dance continues with Gabe Ford.)
Richie was involved in two motorcycle accidents, one of which was documented on the back of one of our albums, The Last Record Album. The second one took place a few years later. Richie was back on the bike, having nearly lost his life in the first accident, to see Lowell, who was rehearsing for his solo tour at the Paramount Ranch in Agora Hills. (Later, we finished Down On The Farm with engineer Ray Thompson and assistant Billy Youdleman and the Wally Heider Mobile that was on the premises.) Some kids speeding by in a car yelled something at Richie, who turned to take a look on curvy road and drove the bike into a huge rock crushing his femur and tibia. It was another horrific accident. One of Richie’s legs would be shorter than the other after this.
Richie was in the hospital in traction. I had left the band, essentially, and Lowell had promised the guys that he would put it all back together when he got off the road. It never happened. He died on tour, June 29, 1979. We were in the middle of recording Down On The Farm. It was a very dark time for all of us. Richie was just beginning to see just how dark things could get. The brakes were back on, and back on hard.
That August we put on a benefit concert for Lowell at the Forum in Los Angeles. Richie was unable to join us, as he was still laid up. A dear friend of ours, Rick Schlosser, sat in at rehearsals and for the event. That concert marked a farewell salute to Lowell and what was the beginning of the end for Little Feat. Other than going into the studio in 1980 to record a couple of songs for Hoy Hoy it was pretty much over. A new era was launched. It was every man for himself.
And later on the moon declined to shine its light so benevolently
its grace withheld from our company (lyrics from Under The Radar)
Richie’s whereabouts was a complete blur to me. I kept up with him on rare occasion. To be honest it was difficult for me to even think about Little Feat. I don’t know if it was that way for anyone else, but the time had come to explore new territory. I heard that Richie was touring with Joan Armatrading and Robert Plant. He lived over in Majorca for a while. I was hiding in my own world with Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and others. I was proud of having been in Little Feat, but I was battling coming to grips with my feelings over Lowell’s death, my fights with him, and all that comes with being close to your brothers in the band. I just put my head down and tried to find fresh air.
Years later, after the band came back together for another ride, I was impressed by how everyone had really grown in that time of wandering. We had worked with some of the best and brought that knowledge back to feat. Richie was still Richie, of course, just a bit left of center, but somehow more grounded in his playing, more mature. He continued to amaze me as someone that had the mold broken and completely shattered in his style of playing. And while Richie was held in high esteem by most, I’m not sure he was always appreciated for just how truly outstanding he really was. He made it seem easy. It wasn’t, as a couple of really great drummers found out.
We were on a big summer tour as an opening act, onstage in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd. “Let It Roll” was on the set list and we were ready to launch into it hard and fast. We started in on it and what I heard coming from the drums scared the hell out of me. I thought Richie had suffered a heart attack. The beat was so incongruous it was as if the person was flailing to keep up with the band. I turned around in a panic and saw it was the drummer from the act we were on tour with. To be fair to that person, I’m leaving his name and the band he played with out of this. The look in his eyes was HELP! My look said, “You are in the hot seat, PLAY!” Later I went up to him and said, “I’m sure you thought it was an easy groove, right?” He said, “Yeah” in a low voice, his head down. I told him not to worry, that many folks had underestimated not only Richie, but the band itself, as to how easy it was to play our music. I wasn’t crowing about it, it’s just a fact. The changes are not simple, nor is the groove, as he found out. I know his respect for Richie went up immeasurably after that incident. The same thing happened when we were in the studio cutting a record with Tony Brown. Richie was on tour with Eric Clapton. The person playing drums, again I won’t mention who it was, wanted to play “Dixie Chicken” in between getting the sounds and starting the track we were hired to play. We took off on it and it just fell apart. He just couldn’t play it. Again I said, sounds easy, right? You know the rest of the story.
Richie would continue playing injured. The motorcycle accidents were one thing. I’m quite sure there were residual aches and pains that accompanied him every night on stage. In New York City he jumped over a turnstile—he didn’t have the correct change—and broke his right foot, the one he used to play the kick drum. He wrapped it up and played through the pain. I believe he stepped off a curb years later and either broke it again or sprained it. He played that night. He had an amazing capacity to perform no matter what. To be honest, everyone in the band at one point or another has had to play hurt. It comes with being on the road. The show goes on.
Richie’s playing in the late 90’s was starting to get more and more erratic. By 2000 and onward something was definitely wrong. He would be brilliant one night and then just drop off into something else. He was hesitating between the beats at times. I asked him about it and he didn’t know what I was talking about. I suggested he listen to a tape, as every show we did was being recorded. He never did. But even on his worst night he was so much better than a lot of drummers. Still, I was worried about him. His breathing, while always short, was getting worse—he had asthma, smoked too much--well, he did just about everything too much. And while we would joke that he would probably outlive every one of us in the band, I began to believe that much of that talk was just our whistling past the graveyard.
Eric Clapton came to hear us in Detroit. He brought his band with him to the concert. I saw him backstage and thought I would drop the question as to why, after having seen us in NY a week or so before, had he come back again with his band mates to yet another Little Feat gig?
He said, “I wanted my band to hear a proper band.”
I loved that comment. It said a lot about what Little Feat has always been about. We were not rock stars; well, not all of us. Richie played a stint with Eric, and later Bob Dylan. To my mind, a proper band or not, rock stars or not, Richie Hayward was a rock star. He lived the life, dressed the part, although nothing ostentatious: cool scarves, hats, clothes, and shoes. He was bigger than life. Richie was beyond question a natural at what he did as a player. I never saw him play on a practice pad before a show, ever. No real warm up, just got out there on stage and starting pounding away. Girls in every port, the adulation of professionals and fans alike, the ability to endear himself and distance himself with people with a manner that suggested an insular world privy only to a few. The one constant that ran in all of his relationships was his lack of confidence. Whenever he would come off stage he would invariably ask, “How was I?” And he would absolutely mean it. I was used to the question after years of being asked, but others that had just met him were floored when he’d confront them with it. He wasn’t looking for a critique so much as affirmation of his having played well, or, as important, that he hadn’t sucked. And though it wasn’t that cut and dried a proposition, he was truly at odds with his ability to judge from performance to performance how he did, how he was perceived.
Little Feat played the International Jazz Festival in Rochester, NY on June 10, 2006.
Richie had a miserable night, came off stage and asked me, “How was I?”
There had been plenty of nights over the years where I would lie and say hey you were great, or just tell him it was mostly okay with the exception of a song here or there.
I would nail him sometimes and tell him what I really thought, but tonight was different.
I asked him a question.
“How do you think you did?”
“I wasn’t very good tonight at all.”
I asked him if he had trouble hearing everything and he said no, he could hear the monitors fine, it was just something wasn’t clicking for him that night. He was really feeling bad about it. I thought it best to level with him. I suggested first and foremost that he stop using the band as his own personal practice pad, that if he was having a tough time to ease up on what he was playing. Not to try every lick he could throw into a phrase.
I said, “You need to simplify your playing, gain confidence, and then play your fills.
But to thrash away hoping you can get into a groove, hold it, while trying to execute fills that are beyond your reach at the moment is not helping matters.”
Lastly, I told him to play softer, just slightly softer to aid in the adjustments. (Playing live requires a series of adjustments. The louder you play, the less chance you have to recoup any sense of sonic stability. You’re just creating and adding more noise.)
I then told him the part I knew would devastate him. I didn’t really have a choice. This was something he needed to know.
“Richie, Steve Gadd was in the audience tonight.”
Richie visibly sagged. Steve Gadd is not only a brilliant technician on the drums but with all the “feel” in the world, as well. He was the last person Richie wanted to know was there that evening. Steve was one of his icons. I told him that Gadd was more than capable of knowing that everyone can have a bad night from time to time. But I then went on to tell Richie that he would be doing himself a favor if he thought of Gadd being there every time he went onstage. I said, “The truth of the matter is there are musicians and regular fans from all over the world that hold you up as an icon. These folks revere you. You owe it to them each time you sit behind the drums to give the best you have. You owe it to yourself and to us.”
I have wondered about his insecurity for years, and his ability to set himself up as a target. He drove all of us in the band crazy at times, and of course, we drove him crazy, as well. His big question was always WHY? This would be for anything from travel plans, to playing something a certain way, to the catering…really, just about everything. WHY? Richie had a great intelligence; the “why” was a reflexive question.
Ted Templeman was producing Time Loves a Hero. Paul and I had approached Ted to work with us. Lowell had suggested that Paul and I get more involved in the band. Lowell moved to the sidelines on this project, not entirely, but enough to give the band some more room. I had worked with Teddy on quite a few Doobie Bros. albums. Ted liked to make sure the drums were tuned to perfection. That was how he and Donn Landee, a truly stellar engineer, came up with great sounding records. They built the overall sound of the record around the drums.
Ted had patiently told Richie his plan more than a few times before we went in to record. Ted is a quiet person--not a lot in the way of theatrics. But Richie was not dialed in on his approach. To that end, Ted told Richie point blank, “I will make sure your drums are tuned every day. DON’T TOUCH THEM!” Richie asked WHY? Ted silently fumed and looked at the ceiling, turned to me and shrugged as if to say, what is with this guy?!!
Every day Richie would arrive at Sunset Sound, jump behind the kit—Ted had already been there hours earlier getting the tuning to his satisfaction--and began retuning the snare and toms. Ted was beside himself. I told him that I didn’t think Richie was doing it to piss him off, he just couldn’t control the urge and leave them alone; he had to fiddle with the tuning. It was apparently a nervous tic. I could only guess. It didn’t matter how many times Ted told him to lay off and leave the drums alone, Richie would show up the next day oblivious to any of Ted’s instructions. It was funny in some ways and frustrating in others. Years later, George Massenburg hired an expert to tune his drums and the very same scenario took place. Why, indeed.
I began to notice other patterns in his demeanor, one that took many more years, on my part, to fully comprehend. It was his inability to figure out the arrangement of a song unless he was able to take it from the top each time. If I said, let’s run it from the last verse into the final chorus and from there I’d like to make a change that would affect the ending, he couldn’t absorb the change. He didn’t read charts, so that didn’t help either. Richie’s drum style was based on reaction to what he heard. It wasn’t about the progression of a form that held his attention. In a certain sense it made him a more pure player. It did not, however, give him much in the way of confidence to be constantly under the gun to learn new twists and turns involving nuance and precision to arrangements. Basically, that never changed. I tried through eye contact and body motion to show him where an arrangement was going, when something was about to be cut off or him shifting gears to another tempo, etc.
At photos shoots, when asked by the photographer to wait while he changed film, Richie would wander off and someone would have to find him. Again, frustrating, but that was Richie. He certainly had moments when none of the above was a factor. But the tendency for his attention to drift was there enough to establish a pattern.
We were in St. Louis a few days ago (I’m writing this as of June 27, 2011). Looking out my hotel window at the Arch, a flood of memories came hurtling back at me. On July 18, 2009, we played a concert next to the Arch. We had just gotten back from a three-date run in Sweden. In an article I later wrote on Gabe Ford:
(*) The news was devastating. Richie Hayward’s health was in severe jeopardy. He would need time off for tests. The process could take a year or more, no one was sure. Originally he was slated to continue touring until the end of the year. But that was not to be. Richie and I were in the back of a van in Gothenburg, Sweden, en route to the sound check and show that evening when he let me know he would not be able to tour beyond the upcoming show in Billings, MT, August 7, (the last of three one-off’s scheduled before the bulk of dates taking place after August 18).
(*) I should also note that Gabe Ford is a cancer survivor. I didn’t realize it at the time I wrote the article. Read the article here.
Richie was deathly ill. His liver was basically shot. His breathing problems were mounting. The photos I took at the gig reflect his condition. Richie looks drawn and skeletal. He barely made it through the set. We were all very tired, given the jet lag and humidity on a hot summer evening in St. Louis. Richie was in a state I had never seen him before. He needed every ounce of energy he could to play the last few songs. I was scared for him. A friend of mine saw him and later told me he knew he had cancer from the way he looked that night. We had three more shows with him before he left the band, hopefully to return if he regained his health. The last full show, as it turned out, was to take place in Billings, MT, on August 7, 2009.
I rented a car in Billings, MT, and took off for Little Big Horn early in the day before the show that night. The combined eeriness and peacefulness of the battlefield, in what had been a horrific event, somehow reflected the feelings I had about the show we were later going to play. I knew in my heart it would more than likely be the last time Richie played a complete show with us, and in of all places Montana, where so many momentous events had taken place in my life, as well as the sacred place I had been drawn to visit that day. The reverberations of history were all there, converging in subtle waves. It was disturbing yet comforting; the openness and stillness of the prairie contributing to my perceptions. The cycles of life move effortlessly whether we attach ourselves to them or not.
I was pretty sure Richie felt the same way. That night had to count as a last statement. He played that evening in magnificent fashion. He was brilliant. Listen to his solo in “Fat Man In The Bathtub.”
It rained on and off during the concert, which was held outdoors. Afterwards, as we were waiting to be taken back to the hotel, we were all standing under an awning, as it was still lightly raining, talking about how great the show felt. He didn’t ask, “How was I?” this time. Richie had a smile on his face as a large as the Big Sky above us. He knew he had played as well as he ever had in his life.