First, the basics. Richie was living in the Vancouver, B.C. area when he announced last year that he had liver disease. And he had no health insurance. Communities of musicians and fans put together benefits , donated and collected money to help pay for a liver transplant to save Richie's life. Richie was waiting for a transplant when, a few days ago, he was hospitalized with pneumonia. On August 12, 2010, he died.
Copyright Hank Randall www.randallphotography.com
I'm a drummer. I've also experienced life-threatening liver disease. That is enough to make this death personal to me. But that's only a sliver of the reason I feel such sadness and loss. I'm not an educated musician--I don't read the drum magazines and talk the latest rhythm styles and equipment. Sometimes, when I go into Forks Drum shop here in Nashville, I really feel as if I rode in on the turnip wagon. However, I've got educated ears. I've been listening to an eclectic mix of music with worshipful reverence since I first heard the Beatles, Stones, Vanilla Fudge, and all the other greats of the 60's. My repertoire expanded into 50's rock 'n roll, 40's swing, 30's blues, onward and outward. I had a particular love for funky music, ignited by James Brown (thank you, WVOL radio) and all the music coming out of New Orleans from Mac Rebennack (Dr. John), the Meters (evolving into the Neville Brothers), Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint and others.
Then, in '72 or '73, I heard a band that flat knocked me on my ass: Little Feat. It seemed as if they had taken the best piece from every sound and style I loved, blended it together and added their own character. I think the song that did it was Dixie Chicken, and my reaction was a violent exclamation, "Who the F-- is That?!" I immediately became one of those Feats fans who are sometimes whispered about as "cultish." I didn't like everything they did, and I had to grow into some of their albums. But this was a measure of my musical maturity and had nothing to do with their sound.
The heartbeat of that sound, the thing that drove it and wove through it, was Richie's drumming. This is not a reflection on the brilliance of the rest of the band--Lowell, Mr. Vanilla Grits, was a genius and any of the others, Paul, Bill, Kenny, Sam and then Fred Tackett and the others, would stand alone as consummate artists. Richie, however, was on a level somewhere above greatness. There are some drummers and musicians who I admire, and for whom I have a touch of envy or jealousy, but this is probably because I think I could have a chance to be as good as them, in my own way. Not Richie. I never envied him or entertained even a dew drop of suspicion that I could play like him. He was a Master.
I lack the vocabulary to adequately describe Richie's drumming, and I certainly can't explain it in terms an educated musician would use, but perhaps to do so would miss the organic, effortless way he played. Playing drums like Richie did requires a suspension of thought--if you have to think about the patterns and accents, you've missed it. Yesterday I read a comment eulogizing Richie that said something like: most drummers are basically just time keepers, but Richie played his drums like a musical instrument. This is funny and true. I've heard too many drummers who merely keep time and others who play fills and fancy crap throughout a song without a clue as to the dynamics or tonal structure of the tune. The former are boring and the latter are so distracting, they take away from the overall sound.
Richie certainly kept the driving beat, but at the same time he wove rhythmic patterns and accents around and into the music that were so subtle you almost couldn't hear them. He could be understated and play simple riffs that were the defining facets of the diamond--the one cut that made it sparkle and throw off rainbows. Please excuse my syrupy and sugary prose here, but I'm trying to describe something that lies beyond and above language. Who can really write about music, anyway?
There have been times I played when something happened that was almost like a drug. The bass player and I would start feeding off each other, maybe a rhythm guitar would be adding a syncopated counter beat, and we would get into a pocket or groove that was self-sustainable. The sound seemed to come from somewhere else. Everyone in the band would feel it and feed off it. It was magical and it's almost impossible to describe if you haven't felt it, but it's like being a part of a perpetual motion machine that breeds life. To get there you have to turn off conscious thought--thoughts are like middlemen that get in between your playing and the sound. Thoughts distract from it--they want their cut of the money and that stifles the whole thing. Jimi Hendrix could hit that pocket without even trying. And Richie Hayward lived there. From the moment his drums slid into Fat Man in The Bathtub or kicked into Spanish Moon, he was in the pocket, in the groove, applying a nanosecond of delay on the backbeat, building a rhythm that rolled through the song like a quiet juggernaut.
I've been to many Feats concerts. I've heard them on good nights and not so good ones, and I'd rank them--at their tiredest or with the most screwed up sound system or acoustics--against any band living or past. Invariably, I've ended up getting as close to the stage as possible to watch Richie play. I've stared so hard from so close that he became aware of me and smiled or seemed a little nervous. And I always saw and heard magic. I don't have many heroes and I've met or known too many musicians and celebrities to install many people on pedestals. But I make the exception for Richie Hayward. I'm indescribably sad that I'll never hear a new song given life and heartbeat by his innate talent and brilliance. We've lost a great one.
Please take a moment and watch: