Hal Blaine

Last updated

Hal Blaine
Hal Blaine in 2008.jpg
Blaine recording at the Record Plant in 1995
Background information
Birth nameHarold Simon Belsky
Born(1929-02-05)February 5, 1929
Holyoke, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedMarch 11, 2019(2019-03-11) (aged 90)
Palm Desert, California, U.S.
Years active1949–2019
Associated acts

Hal Blaine (born Harold Simon Belsky; February 5, 1929 – March 11, 2019) was an American drummer and session musician estimated to be among the most recorded studio drummers in the history of the music industry, claiming over 35,000 sessions and 6,000 singles. His drumming is featured on 150 US top 10 hits, 40 of which went to number one, as well as many film and television soundtracks.

Session musician Profession; musician hired to perform in recording sessions or live performances

Session musicians, studio musicians, or backing musicians are musicians hired to perform in recording sessions or live performances. Session musicians are usually not permanent members of a musical ensemble or band. They work behind the scenes and rarely achieve individual fame in their own right as soloists or bandleaders. However, top session musicians are well known within the music industry, and some have become publicly recognized, such as the Wrecking Crew, and The Funk Brothers who worked with Motown Records.


Born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Blaine moved with his family to California in 1943 and subsequently began playing jazz and big band music before taking up rock and roll session work. He became one of the regular players in Phil Spector's de facto house band, which Blaine nicknamed "the Wrecking Crew". Some of the records Blaine played on include the Ronettes' single "Be My Baby" (1963), which contained a drum beat that became widely imitated, as well as works by popular artists such as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Diamond, and the Byrds. [1]

Holyoke, Massachusetts City in Massachusetts, United States

Holyoke is a city in Hampden County, Massachusetts, United States, that lies between the western bank of the Connecticut River and the Mount Tom Range. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 39,880. As of 2018, the estimated population was 40,358. Sitting 8 miles (13 km) north of Springfield, Holyoke is part of the Springfield Metropolitan Area, one of the two distinct metropolitan areas in Massachusetts.

Big band music ensemble associated with jazz and Swing Era music

A big band is a type of musical ensemble that usually consists of ten or more musicians with four sections: saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and a rhythm section. Big bands originated during the early 1910s and dominated jazz in the early 1940s when swing was most popular. The term "big band" is also used to describe a genre of music. One problem with this usage is that it overlooks the variety of music played by these bands.

Rock and roll is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States in African-American communities during the late 1940s and early 1950s from musical styles such as gospel, jump blues, jazz, boogie woogie, and rhythm and blues, along with country music. While elements of what was to become rock and roll can be heard in blues records from the 1920s and in country records of the 1930s, the genre did not acquire its name until 1954.

Blaine's workload declined from the 1980s onwards as recording and musical practices changed. In 2000, he was among the inaugural "sidemen" inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2018 he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Hall of fame located on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, United States

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie, recognizes and archives the history of the best-known and most influential artists, producers, engineers, and other notable figures who have had some major influence on the development of rock and roll. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was established on April 20, 1983, by Ahmet Ertegun, founder and chairman of Atlantic Records. In 1986, Cleveland was chosen as the Hall of Fame's permanent home.

The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award is awarded by The Recording Academy to "performers who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording." This award is distinct from the Grammy Hall of Fame Award, which honors specific recordings rather than individuals, and the Grammy Trustees Award, which honors non-performers.

Life and career

Blaine was born Harold Simon Belsky to Jewish Eastern European immigrants, Meyer and Rose Belsky (née Silverman [2] ), in Holyoke, Massachusetts. [3] When he was seven, he moved with his family to Hartford, Connecticut. [4] He began playing drums at the age of eight, [5] and again moved with his family to California in 1943. [6]

Hartford, Connecticut Capital of Connecticut

Hartford is the capital city of Connecticut. It was the seat of Hartford County until Connecticut disbanded county government in 1960. The city is nicknamed the "Insurance Capital of the World", as it hosts many insurance company headquarters and is the region's major industry. It is the core city in the Greater Hartford area of Connecticut. Census estimates since the 2010 United States Census have indicated that Hartford is the fourth-largest city in Connecticut, behind the coastal cities of Bridgeport, New Haven, and Stamford.

From 1949 to 1952, Blaine learned drums from Roy Knapp, who had also taught jazz drummer Gene Krupa. [7] He began his professional career playing overnight sessions in Chicago strip clubs, which allowed him to practice and perfect his sight reading skills. [7] He subsequently played as part of Count Basie's big band and toured with Patti Page and Tommy Sands before taking up session work. [6] Unlike many of his jazz contemporaries, Blaine enjoyed playing rock and roll and this meant he played on numerous such sessions during the 1950s. He was a core member of the Wrecking Crew, the close-knit group of Los Angeles session musicians that played on hit records during the 1960s. [8] Blaine claimed to have invented the name as he thought the musicians were a "destructive force" in the conservative studio environment of the time. [5]

Gene Krupa drummer, composer, bandleader

Eugene Bertram Krupa was an American jazz drummer, band leader, actor, and composer known for his energetic style and showmanship. His drum solo on "Sing, Sing, Sing" (1937) elevated the role of the drummer from an accompanying line to an important solo voice in the band.

Count Basie American jazz musician, bandleader, and composer

William James "Count" Basie was an American jazz pianist, organist, bandleader, and composer.

Patti Page American singer and recording artist

Clara Ann Fowler, known by her stage name Patti Page, was an American singer of pop and country music. She was the top-charting female vocalist and best-selling female artist of the 1950s, selling over 100 million records during a six-decade long career. She was often introduced as "the Singin' Rage, Miss Patti Page". New York WNEW disc-jockey William B. Williams introduced her as "A Page in my life called Patti".

Blaine played less session work from the 1980s onwards as computers and electronics began to be used in studios, and producers began to bring in younger players. [9] The popularisation of the drum machine also reduced demand for session drummers like Blaine. [10] He kept busy recording advertising jingles for a number of years, before semi-retiring from performing. [9] Most of his wealth was lost following his divorce. At one point, he was working as a security guard in Arizona. [1]

Drum machine electronic musical instrument designed to imitate the sound of drums or other percussion instruments

A drum machine is an electronic musical instrument that creates percussion. Drum machines may imitate drum kits or other percussion instruments, or produce unique sounds. Most modern drum machines allow users to program their own rhythms. Drum machines may create sounds using analog synthesis or play prerecorded samples.


Blaine died of natural causes on March 11, 2019, at the age of 90 in Palm Desert, California. [11] [12] A statement from his family read "May he rest forever on 2 and 4", referring to the second and fourth beats of a measure in music. [13] Beatles drummer Ringo Starr and Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson expressed public condolences and praised Blaine's musicianship. [5] Ronnie Spector praised Blaine for "the magic he put on all our Ronettes recordings". [5]

Legacy and recognition

Blaine was a prolific session player and by his estimation played on over 35,000 recordings, including 6,000 singles. [8] [14] He is widely regarded as one of the most in-demand drummers in rock and roll history, having "certainly played on more hit records than any drummer in the rock era". [15] His drumming can be heard as part of the Wall of Sound on the Ronettes' 1963 single "Be My Baby", [16] produced by Phil Spector at Hollywood's Gold Star Studios. Drummer Max Weinberg wrote, "If Hal Blaine had played drums only on ... 'Be My Baby', his name would still be uttered with reverence and respect for the power of his big beat." [17] The pattern was created when Blaine accidentally hit the snare on just the fourth beat, instead of the two and four. It was a mistake that Spector decided to leave in. [18] Blaine is also credited with popularising the "disco beat" after he recorded a "pshh-shup" sound by opening and closing the hi-hat at appropriate intervals on Johnny Rivers' "Poor Side of Town". The effect had been widely used in jazz, but professional recording engineers disliked it because of its resemblance to white noise. The sound subsequently became sought-after by producers in the 1970s. [7] [ additional citation(s) needed ]

Stamp used by Blaine Fake "HAL BLAINE STRIKES AGAIN" stamp.jpg
Stamp used by Blaine

"Hal Blaine Strikes Again" was a rubber stamp used by Blaine to mark music scores and places where he played. When asked to explain about the stamp, Blaine said, "I always stamp my charts. And there's a reason why I started that; it wasn't all ego." [17] The stamp was used for any piece of music Blaine played on. [17] Another drummer, Mike Botts, then with the band Bread, recalled: "Every studio I went to in the late sixties, there was a rubber stamp imprint on the wall of the drum booth that said, 'Hal Blaine strikes again.' Hal was getting so many studio dates he actually had a rubber stamp made. He was everywhere!" [19]

In 2014, Blaine was portrayed by Johnny Sneed in the film Love & Mercy , a biopic of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. [1]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Hal Blaine among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire. [20]

Awards and accolades

Blaine played on six consecutive Grammy Award Record of the Year winners: [9]

In March 2000, Blaine was one of the first five sidemen inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (one of the other inductees was his long-time friend and drumming colleague Earl Palmer). [21] He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2010. [22] In 2018, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. [23]

Selected performances

In addition to playing on 150 US top 10 singles, Blaine played drums on 40 recordings that hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100. [5] The dates given are when each song reached number one: [24]


See also

Related Research Articles

Earl Palmer American drummer

Earl Cyril Palmer was an American rock and roll and rhythm-and-blues drummer. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Wrecking Crew (music) Loose collective of session musicians based in Los Angeles whose services were employed for thousands of studio recordings in the 1960s and 1970s

The Wrecking Crew was a loose collective of session musicians based in Los Angeles whose services were employed for thousands of studio recordings in the 1960s and 1970s, including several hundred Top 40 hits. The musicians were not publicly recognized in their era, but were viewed with reverence by industry insiders. They are now considered one of the most successful and prolific session recording units in music history.

Jim Gordon (musician) American musician

James Beck Gordon is an American musician and songwriter. Gordon was a popular session drummer in the late 1960s and 1970s and was the drummer in the blues rock supergroup Derek and the Dominos. In 1983, in a psychotic episode associated with undiagnosed schizophrenia, Gordon murdered his mother and was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.

Carol Kaye is an American musician, who is one of the most prolific recorded bass guitarists in rock and pop music, playing on an estimated 10,000 recordings in a career spanning over 50 years.

The Boxer 1969 Simon and Garfunkel song

"The Boxer" is a song recorded by the American music duo Simon & Garfunkel from their fifth studio album, Bridge over Troubled Water (1970). Produced by the duo and Roy Halee, it was released as the lead single from the album on March 21, 1969. The song, written by Paul Simon, is a folk rock ballad that variously takes the form of a first-person lament as well as a third-person sketch of a boxer. The lyrics are largely autobiographical and partially inspired by the Bible, and were written during a time when Simon felt he was being unfairly criticized. The song's lyrics discuss poverty and loneliness. It is particularly known for its plaintive refrain, in which they sing 'lie-la-lie', accompanied by a heavily reverbed snare drum.

"This Diamond Ring" is a 1965 song written by Al Kooper, Bob Brass and Irwin Levine. It was first recorded by Sammy Ambrose on Musicor #1061, then by Gary Lewis & the Playboys on Liberty #55756. Lewis' version charted first, #101 on the January 2, 1965, Billboard "Bubbling Under" chart. Both versions charted on January 9, Lewis still at #101 and Ambrose at #117. Ambrose dropped off the charts at that point, but Lewis made #65 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart the next week and his version continued to climb until it reached #1 on February 20, 1965.

Be My Baby single by the Ronettes

"Be My Baby" is a song written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector. It was recorded on July 5, 1963 at Gold Star Studios Hollywood by American girl group the Ronettes and released as a single in August 1963 and later placed on their 1964 debut LP Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica. Ronnie Spector is the only Ronette to appear on the single; her future husband Phil produced their elaborately layered recording in what is now considered a quintessential example of his Wall of Sound production formula.

Joe Osborn American bassist

Joe Osborn was an American bass guitar player known for his work as a session musician in Los Angeles with the Wrecking Crew and Nashville with the A-Team of studio musicians during the 1960s through the 1980s.

"For All We Know" is a soft rock song written for the 1970 film Lovers and Other Strangers, with music by Fred Karlin and lyrics by Robb Wilson and Arthur James. Both Royer and Griffin were founding members of the soft-rock group Bread. It was originally performed, for the film's soundtrack, by Larry Meredith. It is best known for a cover version by American pop duo Carpenters in 1971, which reached No. 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and No. 1 on the US Billboard Easy Listening chart. The song was also a hit for Shirley Bassey at the same time in the United Kingdom. It has since been covered by a large number of artists.

Lawrence William Knechtel was an American keyboard player and bassist, best known as a member of the Wrecking Crew, a collection of Los Angeles-based session musicians who worked with such renowned artists as Simon & Garfunkel, Duane Eddy, the Beach Boys, the Mamas & the Papas, the Monkees, the Partridge Family, the Doors, the Grass Roots, Jerry Garcia, and Elvis Presley, and as a member of the 1970s band Bread.

Hes a Rebel single by The Crystals

"He's a Rebel" is a song written by Gene Pitney that was originally recorded by the girl group the Blossoms. Produced by Phil Spector, their version was issued as a single credited to the Crystals, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in November 1962. It was Spector's first number one hit since "To Know Him Is to Love Him" (1958).

Cecilia (Simon & Garfunkel song) 1970 Simon & Garfunkel song

"Cecilia" is a song by American music duo Simon & Garfunkel, released in April 1970 as the third single from the group's fifth studio album, Bridge over Troubled Water (1970). Written by Paul Simon, the song's origins lie in a late-night party, in which the duo and friends began banging on a piano bench. They recorded the sound with a tape recorder, employing reverb and matching the rhythm created by the machine. Simon later wrote the song's guitar line and lyrics on the subject of an untrustworthy lover. The song's title refers to St. Cecilia, patron saint of music in the Catholic tradition.

(Youre My) Soul and Inspiration song

"(You're My) Soul and Inspiration" is a song by American pop duo the Righteous Brothers. It was the group's first hit after leaving their long-time producer Phil Spector. The song was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who also wrote the group's first hit "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" along with Phil Spector. It is the title track of their album. The single peaked at No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and reached No. 15 on the UK Singles Chart. Billboard ranked the record as the No. 3 single for 1966.

The T-Bones

The T-Bones were a Liberty Records recording group from 1963 - 1966. The studio recordings of all of their albums but the last were done by American session musicians, The Wrecking Crew.

Alvin Wayne Casey was an American guitarist. He was mainly noted for his work as a session musician, but also released his own records and scored three Billboard Hot 100 hits in the United States. His contribution to the rockabilly genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

<i>The Wrecking Crew</i> (2008 film) 2008 film

The Wrecking Crew is a 2008 American documentary film directed by Denny Tedesco, son of guitarist Tommy Tedesco. It covers the story of the Los Angeles–based group of session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, famed for having played on numerous hit recordings throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. The film premiered at the 2008 South by Southwest Film Festival.

Don Randi is an American keyboard player, bandleader and songwriter. He has performed on innumerable recordings, including many as a session musician and member of the Wrecking Crew, as well as releasing his own jazz records.

Bill Pitman American guitarist

William Keith Pitman is an American guitarist and session musician.

Mike Deasy American singer, songwriter, singer-songwriter, saxophonist and jazz musician

Michael William Deasy is an American rock and jazz guitarist. As a session musician, he played on numerous hit singles and albums recorded in Los Angeles in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He is sometimes credited as Mike Deasy Sr..


  1. 1 2 3 Lewis, Randy (March 11, 2019). "Hal Blaine, prolific 'Wrecking Crew' drummer who worked with Frank Sinatra and Elvis, dies at 90". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/12/obituaries/hal-blaine-dead.html
  3. 1 2 Blaine, Hal; Goggin, David (1990). Schwartz, David M. (ed.). Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew. Emeryville, California: MixBooks. ISBN   978-1888408126.
  4. Harrison, Smith (March 12, 2019). "Hal Blaine, celebrated as 'the most recorded drummer in history,' dies at 90". Washington Post. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 "'Greatest drummer ever' Hal Blaine dies aged 90". BBC News. March 12, 2019. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  6. 1 2 3 4 "Hal Blaine, Studio Drummer Dies at 90". Variety. March 11, 2019. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  7. 1 2 3 4 "4 Things You Didn't Know About Hal Blaine". Drum Magazine. September 21, 2018. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  8. 1 2 "The Wrecking Crew's Hal Blaine: my 11 greatest recordings of all time". Music Radar. May 23, 2011. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 "Hal Blaine". Performing Arts Society. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  10. Sandomir, Richard (March 11, 2019). "Hal Blaine, Pop Music's Go-To Studio Drummer, Is Dead at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  11. Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (March 12, 2019). "Hal Blaine, drummer who dominated mid-century pop, dies aged 90". The Guardian. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  12. Fessler, Bruce (March 11, 2019). "Hal Blaine, most honored drummer in rock history, dies at Palm Desert home". The Desert Sun. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  13. "Hal Blaine, Wrecking Crew Drummer, Dies at 90". Billboard. March 11, 2019. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  14. "Hal Blaine". Modern Drummer. July 2017. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  15. "Hal Blaine Biography". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  16. Whitburn, Joel (1992). Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. New York: Billboard Books. ISBN   978-0823085545.
  17. 1 2 3 Weinberg, Max; Santelli, Robert (1991). The Big Beat: Conversations With Rock's Great Drummers. Foreword by Bruce Springsteen. New York: Billboard Books. pp. 75–77. ISBN   978-0823075713.
  18. https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/8502158/hal-blaine-every-no-1-hit-wrecking-crew-drummer
  19. "Americanheritage.com – The Wrecking Crew". Americanheritage.com. Archived from the original on September 25, 2010. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  20. Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  21. Amendola, Billy (2005). "An Interview with Hal Blaine". Modern Drummer . ISSN   0194-4533.
  22. "Modern Drummer's Readers Poll Archive, 1979–2014". Modern Drummer . Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  23. Fabian, Renée (January 9, 2018). "Tina Turner To Queen: 2018 Recording Academy Special Merit Awards". The Recording Academy .
  24. Bronson, Fred, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard Books, 1992
  25. Bidini, Dave. On a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock. Random House. p. 28. ISBN   978-1-551-99675-2.
  26. "Surf City". AllMusic. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  27. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 "The Beatmaster". Washington Post. July 13, 1997. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  28. Blaine 1990, p. xviii.
  29. "Reaching the Eve of Destruction". The Wall Street Journal. December 9, 2014. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  30. Bronson, Fred (1988). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. New York: Billboard Publications, Inc. p. 223. ISBN   978-0823076772.