Hal Blaine played on so many #1 hits it’s almost impossible to imagine another drummer even coming close to his resume. Bruce Gary, drummer for The Knack, once said he was disappointed to find that his 10 favorite drummers turned out to all be Hal Blaine. Let that sink in—a professional drummer, paying extra attention to the drums in his favorite songs, was surprised that they were all the same person. Blaine was just that good. Hal Blaine passed away Monday, March 11, 2019 at the age of 90.
But beyond good, Blaine understood how to play to a song, perhaps better than anyone who’s ever sat behind the kit. His range of styles, from Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley to Brian Wilson’s later studio experiments with The Beach Boys. Wilson called him “the greatest drummer ever.”
I’m so sad, I don’t know what to say. Hal Blaine was such a great musician and friend that I can’t put it into words. Hal taught me a lot, and he had so much to do with our success – he was the greatest drummer ever. We also laughed an awful lot. Love, Brian pic.twitter.com/vLOX3RIKc6
— Brian Wilson (@BrianWilsonLive) March 11, 2019
“Hal, let’s go, man. Play hard and strong all the way.” That was Brian Wilson directing drummer Hal Blaine during the “Good Vibrations” sessions. He played on 35,000 tracks—recorded tracks! How many drummers play 35,000 songs in their entire lifetime, even counting practice?
Blaine was the drummer for the infamous session group, The Wrecking Crew—an apt name for a collection of musicians that would “kill it” every time the red light was on. It’s one thing to be a great drummer, it’s another to be even greater when the tape is rolling, producers, composers, and engineers are giving you direction, and you’re playing with a group of people trying to make the song as good as it can be. Not everyone records together these days, but back in Blaine’s time it was just how things were done. That meant if one person was off, the take had to be redone. There were no computers, “undo” button—it was all tape and minimal microphones.
At a time when almost all drum sets were standard 4- or 5-piece kits, Blaine’s 12-piece beast stood out, to say the least. It was versatile, a combination of ’69 Ludwigs and custom Blaemire spun fiberglass drums. It might just be “the world’s most recorded instrument.”
Did you know Blaine started out played at Strip Clubs? Dancing has always required a beat, and in a time before DJs that came from drums. And, love it or hate it, we have Blaine to thank for the working drummer’s bread and butter, the “disco beat.”
In an interview with Dom Famularo in 2017, Blaine tells some great stories from his life. These are some unbelievable stories. With musical biopics increasing in popularity, might we see The Hal Blaine Story? Please? Hollywood, are you listening??
Though he was a master at playing on others’ albums, he also made his own. Check out this Hal Blaine solo album, Drums! Drums! A Go Go, which has some of the most fun drumming arranged to be the centerpiece of the big band in a truly Blaine way.