Leonard Haze, the original drummer for veteran Bay Area rock band Y&T, has died at the age of 61.

Haze was with Y&T through its first dozen years, and though he left the lineup in 1986, he returned for a second stint in 2001, remaining until his second departure in 2006. His other projects included a period of touring and recording with Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan's solo band; in recent years, Haze had been performing with his own project, HazeXperience.

According to a press release posted by HazeXperience, Haze was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) several years ago. "Even so," the band noted, "he had fought to keep playing drums, performing regularly with his band, HazeXperience, and joining Y&T onstage at the Fillmore in San Francisco in both 2015 and 2016. HazeXperience was scheduled to open for Y&T at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma Nov. 18 and 19, and had been in the midst of recording an EP of new material."

Calling Haze "not only a bandmate but a close friend," HazeXperience guitarist Jim Bradley said they shared "not just a passion for music but also our appreciation for fast cars, cool RC planes and Fireball Whisky" and noted, "Leonard was taken from us way too soon."

"Leonard was a good friend, a great drummer, and a true ambassador for the world of rock 'n' roll," added lead singer Jeffrey Winslow. "I'm shocked that he's gone, but thankful I got to know him while he was here."

Y&T frontman Dave Meniketti shared his own "shock and sadness" on Facebook, saying he'd reached out to Haze's wife after hearing the news and had been told Haze passed away in his sleep. "Although his health had recently declined, they felt he had a few years left, so this is unexpected," added Meniketti. "My deepest condolences to Leonard's family and friends. His impact on the rock scene was well documented."

Even though he was never a household name and Y&T arguably never lived up to their full commercial potential, Haze betrayed no bitterness or sense of regret about the way his career turned out. "The worst gig I've ever had is still better than the best day anyone has working a 40-hour week," reads the pull quote in his HazeXperience biography. "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?"

See Other Rockers We've Lost in 2016