8 Amazing Facts About Hal Blaine's Drumming Career

Yesterday, Hal Blaine—one of the most famous and revered session drummers of all time—passed away. As a session player with the Wrecking Crew, he took it as his mission to always support the song.

Speaking about his role on Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody,” he told MusicRadar in a 2011 interview, “I’m not a flashy drummer. I never wanted to be a Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich. I wanted to be a great accompanist, and that was my role on this song. A song is a story, and if you interrupt the story with your playing, you’re not doing anybody any good at all. Dean loved my playing here. I helped him tell the story.”

While remembrances from musicians and fans have been pouring it, it’s given everyone an opportunity to reflect on just how big of a role Blaine played in the pop music of the 1960s and early ‘70s. It’s also unearthed a lot of interesting facts about his contributions and legacy.

Some of the facts you find below you may know already, while others may surprise you. Read through the list, listen to the playlist we created of some of his biggest songs, and enjoy for yourself his lasting contributions to music.


1

Hal was estimated to have played on thousands of tracks, with over 150 Top 10 hits and 39 No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. His No. 1 hits include tracks as diverse in genre and style as Jan and Dean's "Surf City" from 1963, The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man" from 1965, Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night" from 1966, and Captain & Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together" from 1975.


2

Between 1966 and 1971, Hal played on six straight Grammy Record of the Year songs. They were, in order:

  • "A Taste of Honey" by Herb Albert & The Tijuana Brass
  • "Strangers in the Night" by Frank Sinatra
  • "Up, Up and Away" by The 5th Dimension
  • "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon & Garfunkel
  • "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" by The 5th Dimension
  • "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel

3

His signature "Be My Baby" beat may have been arrived at by accident. In an interview with Modern Drummer, Hal said: "It was unintentional. It's possible that I was playing it straight 2 and 4, and at one point, maybe when we started rolling, on the first or second take I may have accidentally missed that second beat, so I played it on four. And I continued to do that. Phil might have said, 'Do that again.' Somebody loved it, in any event. It's just one of those things that sometimes happens."


4

Brian Wilson was a well-documented fan and protégé of Phil Spector, and as such, employed Hal to play on many Beach Boys hits, just as Spector had done for his own pop orchestrations. These Beach Boys songs included "Little Deuce Coupe," "Surfin' USA," "Fun, Fun, Fun," "I Get Around," "Help Me Rhonda," "Sloop John B," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," and "Good Vibrations." Of his work with both producers, Hal wrote in his 2010 autobiography:

"My particular sound for Brian was basically the Phil Spector sound with a few minor changes. For Spector the snare sound had to be very high and tight to cut through the 'Wall' and do all of the craziness that happened on the fades. The toms were left midrange, and I always played the snare and the floor tom in unison to strengthen the backbeat sound. I rarely used cymbals or played hi-hat eighths. For Brian I modified the snare to a lower sound combined with the floor tom and he loved it.

"Afterwards, I would overdub percussion effects. I was invited to experiment, and I don't ever remember Brian telling me not to play anything I thought might work. He wanted a good backbeat, and beyond that, whatever I wanted to do was okay."

Studio footage from the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" session, with Hal Blaine.

5

Blaine was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, as one of the first five sidemen to earn the honor.


6

Not only was Blaine a central component of the Wrecking Crew, but he also claims to have invented the name. According to his retelling, the phrase was in reference to old-school industry types claiming that this new crop of players was going to wreck the business.


7

The instantly recognizable drum lead-in on Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass' "A Taste of Honey" was a simple effort to get all the players to come in at the same time. According to Hal, "I just looked everybody in the eyes, as if to say, 'Follow me,' and I went 'boom-boom-boom-boom' on the bass drum and 'diddley-diddley-diddley' on the snare. There it was! Everybody came in beautifully. ...That drum part became the hook of the song. Herb loved it. A Taste Of Honey became a worldwide smash and my first Record Of The Year."


8

Hal overdubbed a single-hit drum part on Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer." The huge sound that comes in after each "lie-la-lie" was achieved by placing his large drums in the hallway of the studio in front of an elevator shaft, to capture the natural reverb there. According to Hal, "As I'm crashing down, the door opens and there's an elderly rent-a-cop, I guess. ... And as I came down with this explosion that shook the building, it's like he died or he thought he was killed. The doors closed, we never saw him again."

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