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Richie Hayward at the kit for Little Feat in Courtenay, B.C., in July. It was his last performance. (Ken Kelly for The Globe and Mail)
Richie Hayward at the kit for Little Feat in Courtenay, B.C., in July. It was his last performance. (Ken Kelly for The Globe and Mail)

Richie Hayward saved his best feat for his last performance Add to ...

Richie Hayward wore a red fleece sweater with a hood. Sitting just offstage, he shivered beneath a blanket.

He huddled near a sound board, as though the heat it generated was a camp fire.

It was summer, but the sun had gone down and a wind had come up.

Mr. Hayward was sick. He had been diagnosed with liver cancer almost exactly a year earlier. He had played a final show in Montana with Little Feat, the band for which he had been the drummer for four decades, before leaving the tour to recuperate at home in Courtenay.

A year before the diagnosis, he had married Shauna Drayson, a Comox Valley woman who can be found on weekends serving food to the homeless. Her business involves providing companion services for seniors. Now, her compassion and her skills were needed at home.

She stood beside her husband as Little Feat performed as the final, headlining act at Vancouver Island MusicFest last month.

The plan was for the drummer to join in for a few songs.

No one was certain if he would have the strength.

Little Feat is one of those bands musicians appreciate, whose songs appear on lists of best-driving tunes, whose fans wax rhapsodically about a never-ending rock, soul, blues, funk groove.

Critics love 'em and the English hail them as original American geniuses.

Mr. Hayward was born in 1946 in Clear Lake, Iowa, a resort town later to be infamous for a plane wreck. The great Buddy Holly, as well as Ritchie Valens and deejay the Big Bopper, died after performing at the Surf Ballroom, as their plane crashed into a snowy cornfield three days before Hayward's 13th birthday.

In 1966, Mr. Hayward answered an advertisement in a Los Angeles underground newspaper: "Drummer wanted - must be freaky." He eventually formed a band with Lowell George that came to be Little Feat, an outfit that took all the musical ingredients America had to offer before mixing it through a New Orleans blender. Mr. Hayward's rhythm became a Little Feat signature.

The band split up after Mr. George died of a heart attack in 1979, before re-forming several years later. Meanwhile, the drummer became a much-in-demand session player, as well as performer. His credits read like a who's-who list from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - from Bob Dylan to Warren Zevon, including the likes of Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder, Robert Plant, Tom Waits, Buddy Guy, and James Cotton.

If you've listened to rock music some time in the past 40 years, you've likely tapped your toe and bobbed your head to Richie Hayward.

More recently, you could find him attending jam sessions at Comox Valley pubs, grooving to the music and, on occasion, taking a turn on the drum stool. He hung out with Pacific Disturbance, a local five-piece rocking blues band.

It was his misfortune to be an American without health insurance, and, though married to a Canadian and living in Canada, not yet qualified for our system.

His musician friends held a fundraiser in Courtenay last September that raised $53,439.63 for his medical bills.

Others made contributions through the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.

Friends who called themselves the North Pole Allstars recorded a "funky labour of love" called Santa Gotta Get Some, proceeds from the exclusive download going to his fund.

When the drummer's wife let it be known that his children and stepchildren had not seen him perform, Little Feat were enlisted for a concert on Vancouver Island.

They had performed the night before at a beer festival at Chico, Calif. They drove several hours to San Francisco airport, flew to Vancouver, then boarded a charter flight to Comox Valley Airport. It was a long haul and a quick turnaround in 24 hours and not all their equipment made the trip.

No one was certain if he would have the strength to perform.

At last, he joined the band onstage to sing along to Don't Bogart That Joint (the Jamaican national anthem, his wife quipped online) before settling behind the drum kit onto a stool that bore his name.

"He went from freezing on the side of the stage and looking very fragile before turning into this monster drummer," said Doug Cox, the festival's artistic director.

He played three songs - Spanish Moon, Skin it Back and Fat Man in the Bathtub.

Said Mr. Cox: "It was a naked, beautiful, private performance moment that was shared between guys who had made music together for 40 years - and an audience of 8,000 people."

The moment was recorded by producer Derek Bird of CBC Radio. The corporation's staff has a special connection to MusicFest, where one of the stages is named for the late David Grierson, an on-air host and festival emcee who died suddenly six years ago.

After his performance, Mr. Hayward exited stage left.

A cellphone photograph captured the moment as Mr. Hayward reached for his wife. Mr. Hayward's eyes were closed, his mouth open in a smile. The look on his face can only be described as joyous.

"Richie was beaming," his wife later wrote.

It was his final performance.

The drummer died of complications from pneumonia on Thursday morning at a hospital in Victoria. His wife held him as he passed. He was 64.

Special to The Globe and Mail

 

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