Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward was recently diagnosed with a serious liver condition and will be taking a temporary break will from the road. Keyboardist Billy Payne offers a little more on Hayward’s condition and his sub, Gabe Ford.
The news was devastating. Richie Hayward’s health was in severe jeopardy. He would need time off for tests. The process could take a year or more, no one was sure. Originally he was slated to continue touring until the end of the year. But that was not to be. Richie and I were in the back of a van in Gothenburg, Sweden, en route to the sound check and show that evening when he let me know he would not be able to tour beyond the upcoming show in Billings, MT, August 8, (the last of three one-off’s scheduled before the bulk of dates taking place after August 18).
A week later I was at home in the U.P. of Michigan on the phone with Paul Barrere, who was out in California. We discussed a short list of drummers we thought might be able to sit-in for Richie. This was a continuation of a discussion that had taken place in Europe. But now time was very short. I finally said to Paul, “I know the solution has got to be right in front of us, and it suddenly hit me”…..”Gabe Ford!”
__Gabe Ford has been a drum tech for Richie Hayward the last two-and-a-half years. Following Little Feat’s 2009 Jamaican excursion, Gabe flew from Montego Bay to Boston to embark on a six- week tour with his uncle Robben. Howard Burke, our front of house engineer and consummate fisherman, attended one of the shows from that tour April, 2009, at the Mondavi Art Center at UC Davis. He heard Gabe play drums that night with Robben Ford, Ruthie Foster, and Jorma Kaukonen from Hot Tuna. Howard was mightily impressed with Gabe’s performance and told me so on one of those unending bus rides we endure when Feat is on tour. (This conversation was certainly in the back of my mind when I mentioned Gabe Ford’s name to Paul a few months later.) __
On one of Feat’s most recent tours, I asked Gabe if he would consider playing percussion with us on any shows he would like. No pressure, just sit in with us when and if the spirit moved him. I told him Sam was fine with the idea and so was Richie. He told me that he would prefer to make sure Richie and Sam were taken care of. I said that that was fine, that I respected his decision. He obviously took his job very seriously.
Gabe is a quiet person who plays his cards extremely close to the vest. His eyes convey another story, though. He has a lot going on upstairs, that much was evident to me in years we spent touring around the world. Still, I didn’t really know who he was, and I don’t think anybody in our band or crew did either. I was struck by the fact that when Howard Burke approached him to sit in for Richie he didn’t flinch. He was asked if he thought he could handle it and he said without reservation yes. Who was this person that was wary of playing percussion with us but would step into the hot seat of one of the best drummers on the planet?
I asked Gabe what it was like to observe Richie’s playing the last couple of years. He told me that there were just bits here and there that he felt he might be able to incorporate into his style. Richie is one of the most unique drummers in the world. That said, Richie and Gabe share a lot of the same influences: Elvin Jones, perhaps the most prominent, along with Miles Davis, Coltrane, Howling Wolf, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and on and on. Gabe told me that Richie’s drum parts were the thing that impressed him the most. Only Richie Hayward could have come up with the drum part for, “Hate To Lose.” (He used two snares, for example.) Richie plays in a free-form manner but with the element of orchestration. That orchestral quality was something Gabe was intensely aware of. He sat at the master’s feet, so to speak, for two-and-a-half years. Again, you couldn’t begin to buy that kind of education.
Our thoughts were very much with Richie that night, as well. Prayers and hope that he could rejoin us reflected the attitude of everyone (band, crew, friends and fans) connected to this family. We had, so far, negotiated riding the tail of the comet.
Bill Payne Backstage in Westbury, NY 2009