Richie Hayward: Highly rated Little Feat drummer who also backed Bob Dylan and Robert Plant

A founder member of the American group Little Feat, Richie Hayward was a drummer's drummer, much admired by fans and fellow musicians for his playing ability and the way he drove this fine band, best known for "Willin", the trucker song written by their original leader, the singer and guitarist Lowell George.

Little Feat mixed blues, jazz, country, soul and funk into a potent gumbo and owed much of their popularity to the way the members interacted and improvised and the seamless way they would segue from "Cold Cold Cold" into "Triple Face Boogie" on the 1974 cult album Feats Don't Fail Me Now or from "Skin It Back" into "Fatman In The Bathtub" during their appearances on The Warner Brothers Music Show at the beginning of 1975. "Back in the '70s, before there was that term 'jam band', we used to jam all the time," Hayward said.

Staged over two nights in nine European cities, the Warners Bros package tour also featured Bonaroo, Graham Central Station, Montrose and Tower of Power but proved most memorable for the fact that Little Feat blew nominal headliners the Doobie Brothers off stage on more than one occasion, including at the Rainbow Theatre in London. Rave reviews followed and the group also appeared on The Old Grey Whistle Test, performing blistering versions "Rock'n'Roll Doctor" and "Fat Man In The Bathtub" despite the recording taking place at 9am.

When they came back to the UK the following year, Little Feat were special guests of The Who at Charlton Athletic's ground The Valley and headlined Hammersmith Odeon. In 1977, Time Loves A Hero, their sixth studio album, made the Top Ten in Britain, while the double live set Waiting For Columbus also charted on both sides of the Atlantic in 1978.

George died of a heart attack in June 1979 and Little Feat disbanded after completing the album Down On The Farm. Having contributed to such '70s classics as John Cale's Paris 1919 as well as Pressure Drop, Some People Can Do What They Like and Double Fun by Robert Palmer with his bandmates, Hayward was an in-demand session and touring player and subsequently worked with Joan Armatrading, Peter Frampton, Nils Lofgren, Warren Zevon, Carly Simon, Kim Carnes, Robert Plant, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. Little Feat reformed in 1988 and have remained active since. Hayward retired from live work last year after being diagnosed with liver cancer, though he guested with the band on their recent appeances in Canada.

Born in Clear Lake, Iowa, in 1946, Hayward grew up in the Midwest. "There wasn't a lot going on musically," he recalled. "There was one guy to learn drums from. I took lessons from him for just three months and then passed them up. In junior high, I was in the school band and they taught me nineteen rudiments but I quit. I didn't march well. The rest of it is all self-taught. My dad had these Dixieland records and I would hear things that I liked and try to emulate them and it would come out just a little bit different, I guess," he said of his unique drumming style that seemed to bypass the snare. "I didn't start out thinking, 'how can I be weird?' It wasn't like that. I don't know why or exactly how it's different."

Hayward moved to Southern California and met George when he joined his group, the Factory, after their original drummer ran off to join the Moonies. Herb Cohen, who already managed Frank Zappa, secured the band an unlikely appearance as the Bedbugs on the anachronistic post-civil war sitcom, F Troop, in 1967, but their sole album flopped. George left but Hayward soldiered on with the psychedelic blues quintet The Fraternity of Man, whose personnel included another Zappa associate, the guitarist Elliot Ingber. They made two albums and contributed the country-rock flavoured "Don't Bogart That Joint" – credited as "Don't Bogart Me" for obvious reasons – to the soundtrack of the epochal road movie Easy Rider. Hayward admitted that The Fraternity of Man were as wild as the characters portrayed by Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in the film. "I spent most of my time bailing them out of jail!" he observed.

By 1969, he had rejoined George and the bassist Roy Estrada – who'd both had stints with Zappa's Mothers Of Invention – and the keyboard-player Bill Payne to form Little Feat. Named after Mothers drummer Jimmy Carl Black's comment about George's little feet – the misspelling a tribute to the Beatles – the original line-up recorded two critically-acclaimed albums – Little Feat and Sailin' Shoes – without making much headway. They split up for a while, and Hayward worked with Ella Fitzgerald, Goldie Hawn and Ike Turner, who fired him. "I was too pale for them," he remarked.

In 1973, Little Feat reunited with Kenny Gradney replacing Estrada on bass and the addition of guitarist Paul Barrere and percussionist Sam Clayton. The influence of New Orleans funk became more prominent on the Dixie Chicken album and the subsequent Feats Don't Fail Me Now, and the group built quite a live following. George even mixed a couple of legendary bootlegs which helped enhance their reputation further. Hayward also played on Thanks I'll Eat It Here, George's solo album issued just before his death, and had a bit part in the film version of The Buddy Holly Story.

However, the drummer hit a low point in the mid-'80s until Plant called. "I was at home in Los Angeles, thinking I'd never work again, I was behind in the rent and everything," he said. "Then I get this call and it's Robert in person. It just blew my mind. He said, 'come over and play a little bit'. I was on the plane the next day and didn't come home for two and a half years. That was a fun record to do," he said of the Shaken 'n' Stirred album which was recorded at Rockfield studios in Wales in 1984. "We'd all just get together and play and something would happen and we'd just go an elaborate on that, groove on it, and it turned out on this album. Unusual stuff. Robert wanted a modern album, he didn't want it Zeppy."

In 1988, the five surviving members of Little Feat's classic line-up came back and, with singer and guitarist Craig Fuller and guitarist Fred Tackett, recorded the Let It Roll album which made the US Top 40. Shaun Murphy replaced Fuller in 1993 but left in 2009, after the release of the Join The Band album which featured guest vocalists such as Bob Seger and Emmylou Harris. Drum technician Gabe Ford took over from Hayward last year. Little Feat are currently on a tour of the UK.

Robert Plant paid the following tribute to Hayward. "I'd 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 colourful, humorous, self-effacing guys I have ever come across."

Richard Hayward, drummer, singer, songwriter: born Clear Lake, Iowa, 6 February 1946; married; died Victoria, British Columbia 12 August 2010.

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