Remembering Richie Hayward by Bill Payne (The Later Years)

August 11, 2011

Richie Hayward at his final show – photo by Polly Gray

On August 12, 2010 Little Feat’s founding drummer Richie Hayward, who was suffering from liver cancer, passed away from complications of lung disease while awaiting a liver transplant. Little Feat’s Bill Payne has written the following essay on his longtime friend and band member.

A look at Hayward’s later years appears here, with Payne’s memories of the early days over on

Influences and the Dance*

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, ala “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.)

Accidents Happen

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”)

The Wilderness and Back

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.
Drum solo in 2009

Broken Bones and Signs of Things to Come

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.

A Proper Band

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.

How Was I?

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.”

Hayward with Little Feat in 2009


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 photo shoots, when asked by the photographer to wait while he change film, Richie would wander off and someone would have to find him. Again, frustrating, but that was Richie. He certainly had moments when none the above was a factor. But the tendency for his attention to drift was there enough to establish a pattern.

All The Years and Tears Flowing Down

We were 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).

  • The article is posted on Little Feat’s website and on my website) I should also note that Gabe Ford is a cancer survivor. I didn’t realize it at the time I wrote the article.

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.

Billings, Montana (The Last Stand)

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.

I would like to thank the band for their additions and helpful suggestions to my stories. Thanks to Gary Bays and Bridget Nolan for an attentive eye as editors on multi-levels. Thanks to Michael Simmons for his generous suggestions and fact checks.