Leonard Haze, Original Drummer for Y&T, Dies at 61

Leonard Haze behind the kit (Photo: Courtesy of Y&T)

Leonard Haze, original drummer for East Bay hard rockers Y&T, died Sunday at the age of 61 after a long battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A press release from Haze's band, HazeXperience, stated "Haze had been battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for several years, making breathing difficult. Even so, he had fought to keep playing drums, performing regularly with his band, HazeXperience, and joining Y&T on-stage at the Fillmore in San Francisco in both 2015 and 2016."

Haze died in his sleep Sunday evening in his hometown of Hayward, where he, Bob Gardner, and Wayne Stitzer started playing together in an unnamed cover band back in 1972. A year later, guitarist Dave Meniketti joined the group and the band found a name before their first show: Yesterday and Today, taken from the Beatles album they were listening to on Haze's stereo while they were brainstorming.

Gardner and Stitzer would leave the group, to be replaced by bassist Phil Kennemore and guitarist Joey Alves. With the new lineup, Yesterday and Today began writing their own songs and playing shows all over the Bay Area and beyond. They were often the headlining band, with bands like Van Halen, Mötley Crüe and Stevie Ray Vaughan opening for them.

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Y&T made a name for itself not only for their heavy riffs and Meniketti's smoking leads, but for Haze's standout drumming; his kick drum work was compared frequently to that of Led Zeppelin's legendary drummer John Bonham.

The band would go on to record several albums with that lineup, finally having a radio hit with 1984 with "Don't Stop Runnin'" off their sixth album, In Rock We Trust. The following year the band released their biggest hit, "Summertime Girls," which had a popular MTV video that was surely a product of its time.

In 1986, Haze was booted from the band he founded for unknown reasons. But he never gave up playing and later joined former Deep Purple singer Ian Gillian's group, with whom Haze toured to 71 countries, including the Soviet Union.

Haze joined a reformed Y&T in 2001. But left the band in 2006. He continued to play on other projects while battling COPD. He reportedly started HazeXperience just two years ago and he would play shows while hooked up to an oxygen tank.

"The worst gig I've ever had is still better than the best day anyone has working a forty-hour week," Haze says on his website. "Getting paid to play music is a dream job on par with being a pro athlete, astronaut, or movie star. To make money doing something you love for 35 years...who says we didn't make it big?"

Haze played his last show with HazeXperience on Aug. 20 in Sunnyvale, and he had two more shows scheduled in November at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma. He was also recording new songs for a new EP.

After his death was announced, many in the Bay Area expressed condolences for Haze.

"Rest in Peace to long time friend and a major influence in my musical life Leonard Haze. I'm just shocked to hear the news this morning," Jimmy Francis of the band "Crucifix" wrote on Facebook.

Old bandmates weighed in as well.

"It is with shock and sadness that I type this. Leonard Haze, the legendary drummer, and a guy I spent decades with creating great music together, has passed away at 61. This, just a few days after his birthday," Meniketti wrote on Facebook.

Haze is survived by his wife Kelly and his stepdaughter. Y&T band mate Kennemore died in 2011 at the age of 57, shortly after being diagnosed with lung cancer while touring with Y&T.

Watch Haze playing with Y&T in San Francisco in 2015:

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