Richie Hayward: Big beat in Little Feat

It’s been a week for rekindling memories of the 1970s – the Knebworth Festivals, student protest, Jimmy Reid and the UCS work-in.  Now, news that another of our generation has fallen by the wayside: Richie Hayward, drummer with the incomparable rock band of the decade, Little Feat, has died from liver cancer at the age of 64.

Hayward was a founding member of the band, along with Lowell George, pianist Bill Payne and bassist Roy Estrada.  Hayward  was widely admired by fans and fellow musicians for his ‘powerful combination of swing, funkiness and formidable rock’n’roll muscle’ (in the words of Adam Sweeting in The Guardian).

On the Little Feat website there’s this summary of the classic Lowell George years:

Feat’s story began in 1969 when songwriter, performer, multi-instrumentalist, and all around colourful character Lowell George, formerly of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, set out to form his own band – at Zappa’s suggestion. The brilliant and often idiosyncratic George connected with keyboard master Bill Payne, and, along with drummer Richie Hayward and Roy Estrada, founded Little Feat…

This initial line-up recorded the band’s first two LPs-their rootsy, 1971 self-titled debut, featuring the classic cut ‘Willin’, and its follow-up, Sailin’ Shoes, which added ‘Easy To Slip’, ‘Trouble’ and the infectious title track to their repertoire. After Estrada’s departure in 1972, Paul Barrere, Sam Clayton and Kenny Gradney (all still in Feat today) signed on…

Next up was Dixie Chicken (1973), a New Orleans-influenced gumbo of greatness that offered up the signature title track and ‘Fat Man In The Bathtub’, among other delights. The two LPs that followed, Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (1974) and The Last Record Album (1975) served up ‘Rock & Roll Doctor’, ‘Oh, Atlanta’, and ‘All That You Dream’.

I remember seeing this classic Little Feat lineup at the Palace Theatre, Manchester on 6 February 1976, a concert memorable not only for the fine music, but also for the drive there and back on the motorway through the thickest fog I think I’ve encountered.  We had to wait a fair while for Little Feat to arrive on stage as a consequence.  The music they were playing at this time is captured on two classic live recordings, both available to download legitimately as the band have given permission for their shows to be hosted on the Internet Archive:

The band’s music at this time was impeccable – ‘a seething brew of rhythmic ingenuityand formidable collective songwriting’, as Adam Sweeting writes in his Guardian obituary.  Lowell George was a dab hand at surreal lyrics:

Spotcheck Billy got down on his hands and knees
He said “Hey mama, hey let me check your oil all right?”
She said “No, no honey, not tonight.
Come back Monday, come back Tuesday, and then I might”

Billy got so sad, dejected, put on his hat and start to run
Runnin’ down the street yelling at the top of his lungs
“All I want in this life of mine is some good clean fun”
“All I want in this life and time is some hit and run”

(‘Fat Man in The Bathtub’)

All this is demonstrated in a clip from the Pinkpop music festival, The Netherlands, June 1976. As one commentator observes: ‘Sometimes we have to define what “the shit” is. After peer review, and a most thorough cross-discipline investigation, we find that in, most senses, and in all probabaility, that this is the muthafucking shit’.

‘Rock & Roll Doctor’ from OGWT in 1975:

In an appreciation for The Word, David Hepworth writes of seeing Little Feat at their first appearance in London in 1975, as a support act for the Doobie Brothers (!).  It was, he writes:

One of the most joyous, intense rock and roll shows I’ve ever witnessed. Like Bob Dylan and the Band they seemed to be responding to the fervour of the audience by dancing on the very precipice of their competence. You could tell from the looks on their faces that they were storing it all away to tell the folks back home of their return. They did three encores. Lowell George stood there and looked at the madding crowd and muttered “You people are crazy”.

Anyway, Richie Hayward was in the drum chair then, as he was from the days when they started as a bizarre offshoot of the Mothers, during the time when they were the original alt-rock group and probably the hippest group in the world, through to the jazz funk years and their initial collapse in the wake of the death of Lowell George. When they got back together in 1987 he was in place and he played his last show with them on July 11th.

Nobody ever sounded like Little Feat at their best, no other group seemed to be thinking like Little Feat at their best and their best is to be found in the first five albums.

‘Dixie Chicken’, ‘Skin It Back’ and ‘Spanish Moon from a legendary performance at the Rainbow Theatre, London in 1977:

These YouTube clips feature photos taken at the 1976 Manchester concert, matched to performances from the same period:

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