Richie Hayward, founding drummer of Little Feat, died August 12 in Comox, British Columbia, Canada, after fighting liver cancer for more than a year.
When I met Richie for the first time, I was still a college student at the University of Maryland in the spring of ’79 (shortly before Lowell George’s tragic passing) and Little Feat played a concert on the great lawn near our dorm. Nineteen years later, in Topanga Canyon, I happened to meet Richie again, this time at a party at the home of Patricia and Fred Tackett. However, it wasn’t until the following year, in the fall of 1997, when we saw each other backstage at a benefit concert in Topanga Canyon, that we started dating.
By New Year’s Eve 1997, I was happy to find myself his sweetheart. Our time together criss-crossed from Topanga Canyon to Martha’s Vineyard, where I lived during the summers presenting concerts, and even to dates “on the road” so that too much time did not pass before we could be together again. After we split up and life took us in different directions, we always remained good friends and continued to hold deep respect for each other, our lives, and our new paths.
Richie had a special place in his heart for Santa Barbara, where he had lived with his family from 1987 until 1989, and where he returned often for concerts and to visit with friends. North to Santa Barbara on the Pacific Coast Highway was one of his favorite directions to point his beloved Mustang for what were often high-speed drives. When riding with him—he loved race car drivers, and often drove like he thought he was one—I’d beg him to slow down on the canyon curves and, with his sense of humor always intact, he’d teasingly say, “You know you drive like an old woman, don’t you? This car can’t drive slowly.” I remember eating at La Super Rica, his favorite restaurant, at the start of a memorable evening when Little Feat played at the Santa Barbara Bowl with Joe Cocker. Richie loved the Bowl, with its view to the ocean, and always felt so at home on that stage.
Growing up in Ames, Iowa, Richie lived on a rural route and purchased his first drum kit sight-unseen out of a Sears catalogue when he was still in grade school. Every afternoon he would run home to see if his drums had been delivered. When he told that story, and so many others, he would end with one of his favorite sayings—“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
Richie loved his cottage in Topanga Canyon and filled it with friends, memorabilia, warmth, and children. He was a devoted parent and cared for his son Severin and his daughter Natalie for several years as a single parent. Natalie, now with a baby of her own, shared her sorrow recently, stating, “I am at a loss for words. All I can say is he made my life better in so many ways and I will always love him.” When Sev was injured in a car accident, Richie nursed him back to health, knowing from his own experience with a serious motorcycle accident, some years before, what it took to deal with such a traumatic experience. I saw him light up with pride when his older children showed up at his home for the holidays. Despite a sometimes turbulent personal life, Richie remained very grateful for his friends and for the life he had made for himself in Topanga Canyon. After a long tour he would return to his home and always say, “I live here!” as though he couldn’t quite believe his good fortune.
Richie was a talented and influential drummer’s drummer whose innovative work also made him a popular session musician among rock’s elite. He had a funky style all his own and was rightfully considered one of the best drummers in the world. He was the driving beat behind Little Feat’s jam band sound—well before the “jam band” label existed.
He recorded with Eric Clapton and Robert Plant in the early 1980s, and relished the times he traveled to Europe and the Mediterranean for those sessions, staying on in Mallorca and celebrating his success. Plant recently paid tribute to Richie, stating in the U.K. Independent that he had “been a real admirer of his work with Lowell George back in those days, so it was a real thrill to end up working alongside him, with him bringing his gift to my songs. He was a man of amazing dexterity and superb feel. He was one of the most colorful, humorous, self-effacing guys I have ever come across.”
Over the years, in addition to his work with Little Feat, Robert Plant, and Eric Clapton, he recorded and performed with many other artists including: Ella Fitzgerald, Delaney Bramlett, Jonny Lang, Ry Cooder, The Doobie Brothers, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Taj Mahal, Bob Seger, Stephen Stills, Tom Waits, John Cale, Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, and Emmy Lou Harris. Hayward treasured those friendships, born in the classic rock era of the 1960s and 1970s, like family.
Richie was a very strong presence in the music scene in Topanga, often playing Abuelita’s with the No Name Band, a group of mostly younger musicians that formed around him. He was a great mentor to these guys, and a friend to the younger generation growing up in the canyon, including Forest and Inara George, Lowell’s children, who were always welcome at his home. He encouraged and praised up-and-coming talent openly. As one talented young friend, Amilia Spicer, recently stated, “Musicians of his caliber may think that someone new and coming up is great but they often don’t say so, but Richie gave his heart out like that.”
During his final year, hundreds of his friends, fans, and family members rallied around him. Jackson Browne and others participated in different benefits across the world to help with rising medical costs, as Richie, like many musicians, did not have health insurance.
Although in recent years we didn’t spend as much time together, having both moved away from Topanga Canyon, Richie remained a dear friend and will always be in my heart. He was sweet, funny, generous, and an authentic soul—a truly “cool guy” who I will miss daily.
And in the end, I know he was exactly where he really wanted to be, and extremely blessed to have his devoted wife Shauna come into his life. Together they shared his precious last years living at her home in Canada, on Vancouver Island, where he embraced her young children as his own. He was surrounded by their love when he passed on the morning of August 12. He will be deeply missed by his loving friends, fans, and family.