The death earlier this week of the drummer and one of the founding members of Little Feat, Richie Hayward, was a sad day for a number of music aficionados. Richie was a dynamic drummer, fully ambidextrous whose beats and rhythms flowed across his drum kit. Not only was he the backbone of the Little Feat sound, he was a great showman who turned in great performances night after night.
With the 6th annual River Roots Live festival coming up next weekend here in Davenport, I would like to share a story about meeting Richie Hayward backstage when Little Feat played the initial event in 2005. I had been hired to be the stage manager and announcer for the event, a position I'd done a number of times for the local Davenport Chamber of Commerce for other festivals they had. Little Feat happened to be the headlining band for the Saturday night part of the festival that year.
Before the show, I talked extensively with Bill Payne, the keyboard player for Little Feat, who has long been one of my musical heroes. I learned long ago that famous musicians usually don't like to be asked about their music or "what were you thinking when you wrote that song", especially by a local crew member in the backstage area. Most of the more famous musicians I've worked with over the years want to be treated like normal people.
It turned out that Bill and I had a mutual interest in photography. He had spent a good portion of the day traveling around the Quad Cities and taking pictures of various places in and around the towns. He said, "I think this is a neat area. You have so many little neighborhoods throughout all these towns. I got a lot of great shots of houses, store fronts, the riverfront. A day like this makes the long travel we go through on tours somewhat bearable."
I had known that Richie Hayward was born in Iowa (in Clear Lake - 1946) and raised in Ames. I was hoping to be able to ask him about growing up in Ames, which was about 55 miles from where I grew up in Newton. In fact, Ames High School and Newton High School were in the same conference and natural sports rivals for years and years. I was wondering if he had any recollections of growing up in Central Iowa.
Richie was hanging around the stage before the gig, joking and talking with other members of Little Feat and their crew, so I didn't feel it was appropriate to go up and talk to him about growing up in Iowa. So, I just sort of left it at that, figuring that I wouldn't have a chance to speak with him. I will have to say, however, that it was pretty cool to be standing on the ground about 10 feet behind Richie Hayward looking up at him play on the stage watching him masterfully roll across his drum kit with such a fluid nature. He was truly mesmorizing to watch.
As Little Feat was finishing their encore, I was positioned toward the back of stage right, near a set of service stairs. Little Feat's trailer was parked next to the stage with a ramp coming from it onto the stage. The band accessed the stage by going up the steps in the side of the trailer and then out onto the stage via the ramp. When the band had finished their final song, they all stood at the front of the stage acknowledging the crowd of nearly 8000 people who had come to hear them play that evening. When they left the stage, the all took the ramp back onto the trailer. Except for Richie Hayward. He turned around and came barreling at me, trying to get down the service steps at the back corner of the stage. And, of course, I was in the way. He sort of ran into me, grabbing on to me in the process. He said, "Watch it, big guy. You're gonna get hurt if you're in the way!"
Well, I wasn't expecting anyone from Little Feat to be coming off stage in that direction. I apologized to him and got out of his way. I felt sort of like a dolt because the last thing you want to be on or behind the stage is "in the way." Even though it may be my job to be in the way.
As the evening was wrapping up, the members of Little Feat were on their bus cooling down after the show. I had paid the remaining money due to their road manager, Denny Jones, and he and I were talking about a little bit of everything. (Earlier in the day, Denny told some amazing stories of life on the road in the 70's and 80's when he worked for bands such as Poco, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Lionel Richie, The Tubes, and Kenny Loggins. He also told some great stories about playing in a Southern California softball league 25 years ago with members of the Eagles. Their team was called the Hollywood Hoovers - and not because of a sponsorship by the vacuum cleaner company. The term "Hoover" described heavy cocaine users in the day.)
As Denny and I were walking back to the Little Feat bus, we paused and shook hands and I headed over to one of the RV trailers that we had for some of the bands that weekend. Standing alone along some bicycle rack fencing near the trailer was Richie Hayward, smoking a cigarette. He was just surveying the departing crowds, hanging out trying to wind down after the show.
I was hesitant to go up and talk with him, but he sort of saw me and acknowledged me. I went over and said, "Hey, sorry to get in your way up on the stage."
He said, "Aw, hey. No harm, no foul."
I said, "You sort of surprised me by coming that way off the stage. Everyone else was going off on the ramp through the trailer."
Richie sort of laughed and said, "They all say that I'm a little different."
I thought it would be a good time to ask him about growing up in Iowa. I said, "So, when did you graduate from Ames High?"
He sort of jerked his head and gave me a startled look. But he then said, "I graduated in 1965."
I told him that I had grown up in Newton and he said, "Oh, you're a Cardinal!" (The Cardinals were Newton High's nickname). I told him that I was, indeed, a Cardinal.
I asked him if he had gotten his start playing with bands around the Ames area. He said he had. "In fact, my first paying gig was when I was 13 years old. We played the... hmm... " He was having trouble recollecting his first gig, considering it was nearly 45 years prior. He then said, "It was either in the Moose Lodge or the Elks Club in Nevada." (Nevada, IA is a town about 10 miles from Ames.) We played for a bunch of old farts. My mom set up the gig."
He said his mom was very supportive of his love for music and playing the drums when he grew up. He said, "I lived in Clear Lake for about the first six years of my life and I found that I liked to bang on things. When we moved to Ames I got hooked on playing drums. I think I was seven or eight." He said he got his first set of drums not long after that.
Richie said that he played in a number of different bands while in junior high and high school, but he knew that staying in Ames, IA wasn't in the cards for him. "As soon as I graduated from Ames High in 1965, I think the next day I was on my way to California," he said laughingly.
He said he was bumming around Southern California for a while before he answered an ad in a local free paper for a "freaky drummer". "I liked the wording of the ad and I had to go see who would be on the lookout for that kind of guy," Richie told me.
It turned out that person was Lowell George. And with that, their longtime friendship and collaboration began. They played in a band for a couple years before going their separate ways for a year. But in 1969 they formed Little Feat with Bill Payne. "And the rest, as they say in Hollywood, is history," he said.
Hayward's style of drumming crossed over into many different styles of music. In addition to his work with Little Feat, Richie also played in the studio and on tour for such diverse performers as Eric Clapton, Barbra Streisand, Robert Plant, Taj Mahal, Van Dyke Parks, Joan Armatrading, and James Cotton.
Last summer, Richie was diagnosed with a severe liver disease and took a leave of absence from the band. I don't know if it was cancer, but I do know that Richie was living in Canada with no medical insurance. A number of fund raisers were held to help him with his medical bills, but he died Thursday of complications from pnuemonia in a hospital near Vancouver, B.C. where he was awaiting a liver transplant.
My short visit with Richie and him telling me stories about his early years in Iowa will stick in my mind as one of the highlights of my life. He was very down to earth and friendly during his conversation. I stuck out my hand and thanked him for the years of enjoyment his music had brought to me. He said, "Thanks, man. You keep rockin', ya'hear?"
It's sad and too bad Richie couldn't keep rockin' a little while longer. He might not of been the one of the most famous drummers on the music scene, but as Larry Luttrell, a drummer from Chicago once told me, "Richie Hayward is a drummer's drummer."
You keep rockin', Richie. Ya'hear?