A sad day in rock and roll history, the death of Little Feat drummer and founding band member Richie Hayward was reported yesterday, August 13, Friday the 13th, sure enough. I was lucky to be at the Feat show in Seattle nearly two years ago, to see Hayward and Payne and Tackett and Barerre and Murphy and Gradney and Clayton with two of my best friends. Wrote this after the show; posting it now as a tribute to Mr Hayward, in gratitude for the joy he gave us all.
Read about Mr Hayward here in the Vancouver Sun.
Live Show – Little Feat
October 30, 2008 – Moore Theatre, Seattle
It comes as a complete surprise, although it shouldn’t. The music itself, the show, the whole thing. Little Feat? Never heard of ‘em. You buy their live album on the recommendation of a friend, because he has great taste in music. It’s good, it really is. Especially a few songs – Dixie Chicken, Willin’, Spanish Moon. And Apolitical Blues, and Old Folks Boogie, and All That You Dream. And of course Fat Man in the Bathtub. These get played over and over. You fall in love with Willin’ as a ballad before you really even get the words – then you realize it’s a song about a truck driver who uses various substances to get by, and you think, that’s not the kind of song I’m supposed to love. That’s the life I’ve tried hard to leave behind, the life where it’s cool to sing about driving trucks and smuggling dope. But you can’t help loving it.
And you cringe a little, or at least the part of you that moved to the city, got the degrees, made yourself into a professional with the kind of job no one in your hometown would understand, because you don’t make anything or fix anything or build anything or serve anyone food, that part of you cringes a little when your heart starts pounding faster knowing that something called Dixie Chicken is coming up next on the iPod song list.
One day you are reading the paper, and you see they are coming, and better yet, the friend who turned you on to them will be in town at the same time. The day of the show you spend what feels like seven hundred billion hours at the most excruciatingly boring conference you’ve ever known. One of the ways you get through it is to sing little bits of Feat lyrics now and then to yourself or just throw them into a conversation, let the other person look at you like you’re crazy, because, of course, you are, you’ve been driven absolutely stark raving mad by a lethal dose of boredom.
Finally it’s time to go, and you walk into the theatre just about fifteen minutes before show time, enough time for a quick beer at the bar and a look at the t-shirts and cd’s and other stuff on sale. The venue is small, your seats are good, a little off to one side but pretty close to the stage, not quite twenty rows away. There’s no opening act, so just a few minutes after eight pm, the Feat take the stage.
There are a lot of middle-aged folks there, mostly guys, mostly showing the effects of middle-age in their bellies (advancing) and hair lines (retreating), and they take the trouble to draw your attention to both effects with loud Hawaiian shirts. A small knot of them just in front of you, but far enough over so they don’t block the stage, start dancing in that weird hinky way people dance when they are stoned. They keep it up through the whole show. That same cringing part of you wonders what the hell you are doing in this crowd (middle-aged? them? Uh, wait, that’s you, now, too), and you wonder what your friend is thinking, and at the same time, you can’t imagine being anywhere else.
As the Feat launch into their first tune, one you don’t know because it’s not on the one and only album you have, you start to realize how good this band really is. Most of these guys have been playing together for the better part of forty years. Know exactly who they are, what they do, how to do it, when to take it seriously and when to play with it and when to say wtf, let’s just try to break it and see what happens. The sound is a bit mushy at first (or is that just your ears – out of practice listening to live rock and roll coming out of giant speakers aimed above your head) but the guy at the sound board fixes it, fiddles with it, gets it right. And they keep on playing, and singing, and you hear rock, jazz, Dixieland, blues, country, all of it filling up the hall with the astounding electricity of professionals joyfully jamming off each other and picking up power from the crowd.
When you realize Bill Payne is manhandling multiple keyboards, and twiddling his amps and sound and balance, and singing, and leading them all, you just have to sit back and shut up. When they insert the Bob Marley tune Get Up, Stand Up into the middle of Fat Man, you should be confused and put off, but they make it work so smoothly that you don’t even question where that came from, you just clap along. When you hear Sam Clayton start up the opening conga drum beat for Spanish Moon, it makes your heart leap and then come back down – the tune is great, they knock it out, but Lowell George’s voice is missing, and you miss it. When Paul Barrere asks everyone to sing along on Willin’ you’re as excited as any of the Hawaiian shirt dudes, and you sing at the top of your lungs about places you’d never heard of before – Tucumcari, Tahachapi, Tonapah – and drugs you’ve never taken. (No really, never.)
When Shaun Murphy takes on the John Hiatt tune, Feels Like Rain, it’s a collision of genius – his words, her voice, the band’s richly layered instrumental harmonies behind her, and she walks around in the audience singing, making you feel the words to this song like you never have before – “Down here the river meets the sea, and in the sticky heat, I feel you open up to me; love comes out of nowhere, baby, just like a hurricane, and it feels like rain.”
And when they come back for their encore, which is one long drawn out jam of Dixie Chicken, and everyone gets a solo – Kenny Gradney does things to a bass guitar you didn’t know were humanly possible, and Richie Hayward pounds on the drums like it was gonna die if he didn’t make it so, and Fred Tackett can do anything he wants, just anything, and Payne slaps the keys like a maniac, or gentles them like a lover – well, how can you stay off your own feat, then?