Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Late, Great, Legendary Drummer Hal Blaine

The famous opening drum beats of The Ronettes' classic "Be My Baby"were performed by the same man who provided drums for Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'", Simon & Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade of Winter", and even the theme song to the TV show Batman. That man was drummer Hal Blaine, who was one of the legendary group of session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew (in fact, he was the one who gave the group its name). Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys called him "the greatest drummer ever." There are many both in and outside the music industry who would agree with him. Hal Blaine died yesterday, March 11 2018, at the age of 90.

Hal Blaine was born Harold Simon Belsky on February 5 1929 in Holyoke, Massachusetts. His family moved to Hartford, Connecticut when he was 7 years old. There he decided to learn drums when he was watching the fife and drum corps of the Roman Catholic school that was just across the street form his Hebrew school. It was not long before he was playing with that drum and fife corps. Mr. Blaine was 14 years old when his family moved to California. During the Korean War he served as a cartographer in the United States Army. After his service, Hal Blaine studied at a drum school in Chicago that was operated by Roy Knapp, who was also one of legendary jazz drummer Gene Krupa's teachers. He eventually began to play drums professionally in clubs and spent part of the late Fifties playing with a jazz quartet. Over the next few years he would play with Tommy Sands and Patti Page, as well as serving as a substitute for regular drummer Sonny Payne with Count Basie's orchestra at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.

Although Hal Blaine thought of himself as a jazz drummer, by the Sixties he was established as a session drummer on pop records. The songs on which Mr. Blaine's drums can be heard are both numerous and varied. He did a good deal of work for Phil Spector, including work on the songs "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Darlene Love, "Da Doo Ron Ron" by The Crystals, "He's a Rebel" by The Crystals (although actually performed by The Blossoms), and several others. He would also worked a good deal with The Beach Boys, so much so that on many of their records it is more likely one will hear Mr. Blaine's drums than Beach Boy member Dennis Wilson's. Among The Beach Boys' songs on which he played were "Barbara Ann", "California Girls", "God Only Knows", "Good Vibrations", and yet others. He played on several of Simon & Garfunkel's songs, including "The Boxer", "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "A Hazy Shade of Winter", "I Am a Rock", and "Mrs. Robinson". He also played on several of The Monkees' songs, including "Mary, Mary", "Papa Gene's Blues", "Sweet Young Thing", and "Zor and Zam". Over the years Mr. Blaine played on records by such artists as Herb Alpert, The Byrds, Glenn Campbell, The Mamas and the Papas, Dean Martin, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Elvis Presley, Johnny Rivers, and Tommy Roe. In all, Hal Blaine played on 40 songs that hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, more than any other drummer in the Rock Era. He estimated that he played on over 35,000 recordings, 6000 of which were singles.

After the Eighties Hal Blaine played fewer sessions as a drummer on pop recordings, although he continued to work in television and on commercials. During his career he recorded his own albums, including Deuces, T's, Roadsters and Drums (1963), Drums! Drums! A Go Go (1966), Psychedelic Percussion (1967), Have Fun!!! Play Drums!!! (1968), and Buh-Doom (1998). 

It is hard to argue with Brian Wilson's assessment of Hal Blaine as "the greatest drummer ever". He was certainly prolific, and there can be no doubt that he was so much in demand because he was so very good at drums. Mr. Blaine could be very subtle, as he often was when he played on ballads, which included everything from Shelley Fabares's "Johnny Angel" to Frank and Nancy Sinatra's "Somethin' Stupid". While Hal Blaine could be very subtle, he could also deliver powerful drum beats when needed. He played on such classic rock songs as Paul Revere and The Raiders' "Hungry", The Grass Roots' "Midnight Confessions", and Johnny Rivers's "Secret Agent Man". He was also had a jazz drummer's gift for improvisation. On Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water", rather than simply play the drums, he created percussion by using tyre chains. As proof of Mr. Blaine's talent, one need only look at a short list of the songs on which he played. Over the years he played on some of the most legendary songs in rock history

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