The Hal Blaine Collection Vol. 1
In the past few months we’ve encountered great session drummers and the songs they played on: Bernard Purdie, Ricky Lawson and Jim Gordon (see links at the end of the post). The godfather of all session drummers, by force of the number of classic hits he played on, probably is Hal Blaine. Bruce Gary, the late drummer of ’70s band The Knack, memorably said that he was disappointed to learn his 10 favourite drummers were all Hal Blaine.
You’ll have heard Blaine on at least 40 number one hits (some of which are featured on this and the upcoming second mix), and he appeared on more than 150 top ten hits (ditto). By his own estimate, he has played on more than 35,000 songs, scores and jingles. Blaine also holds a special record. He appeared on six consecutive Grammy Records of the Year, from 1966-71: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’ “A Taste of Honey”; Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”; The 5th Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away”; Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson”; The 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”; and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.
Blaine, it is said, gave the collective of LA-based session musicians the name The Wrecking Crew, though bass guitarist Carol Kaye disputes this, or that the collective was ever even known by the name. The Wrecking Crew had other great drummers in the already featured Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner (favourite drummer of both Lennon and Dylan) and the very great Earl Palmer, but Blaine’s CV towers above them all.
Born Harold Belsky in 1929 into modest circumstances in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and growing up in Hartford, Connecticut, Blaine learnt his craft from watching great jazz drummers like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich performing live. Surviving a fire in a circus in Hartford at the age of 15, and tending to its victims, propelled young Hal to pursue his great dream: to become a musician. Soon after the fire, the Belsky family moved to California. While the parents stayed in Santa Monica, Hal moved in with his sister in San Bernardino. There, he formed a band with high school buddies, playing his first gigs. As a professional he would musically return to San Bernardino by way of a hit song he played on: Jimmy Webb wrote “Up, Up And Away” about a balloon ride he took in that town.
At the age of 19, Blaine became a professional drummer. That is, he did so as a soldier, serving two years in Korea in an army band. Coming home, he made the most of the G.I. Bill, which subsidised ex-soldiers’ further education, and enrolled in the Roy C. Knapp School of Percussion in Chicago, where he learnt the technical skills of drumming as well as to read music — a most useful skill for a drummer who wanted to play as part of an arranged assemble.
After graduation he played on Chicago’s club circuit before returning to California in 1957, where he joined a respected jazz combo, the Carol Simpson Quartet. This engagement led to a big break: he was asked to join the band of teen idol Tommy Sands, as drummer and road manager. He stayed with Sands for three years, gaining much experience both on the road and in the studio. Hanging around the Capitol studios led to recording gigs with the likes of Connie Francis (he played on her hit “Where The Boys Are”) and Patti Page.
The next big break came in 1961: playing on Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”. He’d go on to play on Elvis’ records throughout the 1960s. You can see him drumming behind Elvis in the marvellous clip of “I Don’t Wanna Be Tied” from Girls! Girls! Girls!.
Soon Blaine became a key component in the development of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. Few drum beats have been as influential and instantly recognisable as those Blaine played to open The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”. It was one of those happy accidents: Blaine says he actually played the wrong beat at the beginning, and just stuck with it throughout the recording. He also played on Spector classics such as The Crystals’ “He’s A Rebel” (with Darlene Love uncredited on vocals), The Ronettes’ debut hit, “Walking In The Rain”, and the greatest Christmas pop album of all time, A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.
From Spector’s studios, Blaine moved on to The Beach Boys, who had always drawn from Wrecking Crew players. One of them, guitarist Glen Campbell, even joined them as a temporary member on tour.. Blaine’s first record with them was “Little Deuce Coupe” in 1963, giving Dennis Wilson more free time for surfing. Blaine played on all but three tracks on Pet Sounds — the title track, “Here Today,” and “I’m Waiting For The Day” on which young Jim Gordon got his break — as well as on hits such as “Good Vibrations”. He also drummed for Beach Boys’ soundalikes and Brian Wilson pals Jan & Dean, including on their classic hits “Surf City” and the eerily prophetic “Dead Man’s Curve” (Jan Berry was seriously hurt in a car crash, not far from the actual Dead Man’s Curve, in 1966).
In between, Blaine and other members of the Wrecking Crew, served as the house band at the famous T.A.M.I. Show, backing many of the acts appearing on the bill of the 1964 concert that was turned into one of the great concert films (though he didn’t back the Rolling Stones nor James Brown). Blaine and fellow collective members also played for Elvis on his 1968 “comeback” TV special.
Blaine’s incredible run of hits kept coming through the 1960s and early ’70s. The last big hits, in 1975/76, were Captain & Tenille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” (which it did, until recently), John Denver’s “I’m Sorry” and Diana Ross’ “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?”.
As gigs dried up for the Wrecking Crew, Blaine kept going doing unglamorous work, such as playing on ad jingles. But he was never a forgotten man. In 2000 he (and Earl Palmer) were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and includes home-kicked covers. PW in comments.
1. Nancy Sinatra – Drummer Man (1969)
2. The Mamas & The Papas – I Saw Her Again Last Night (1966)
3. Simon & Garfunkel – A Hazy Shade of Winter (1968)
4. P.F. Sloan – From A Distance (1966)
5. The 5th Dimension – Stoned Soul Picnic (1968)
6. The Association – Windy (1967)
7. Sonny & Cher – The Beat Goes On (1967)
8. The Grass Roots – Midnight Confessions (1967)
9. Barry McGuire – Eve Of Destruction (1965)
10. Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice (1966)
11. Jan & Dean – Dead Man’s Curve (1964)
12. The Ronettes – Be My Baby (1963)
13. The Supremes – The Happening (1967)
14. Duke Baxter – I Ain’t No School Boy (1969)
15. Ike & Tina Turner – River Deep, Mountain High (1966)
16. Thelma Houston – I Just Gotta Be Me (1969)
17. Dusty Springfield – The Other Side Of Life (1973)
18. Carpenters – Goodbye To Love (1972)
19. Partridge Family – Brown Eyes (1971)
20. Spanky And Our Gang – Like To Get To Know You (1967)
21. Johnny Rivers – By The Time I Get To Phoenix (1966)
22. Bobby Darin – Don’t Make Promises (1966)
23. Dean Martin – Houston (1965)
24. Petula Clark – My Love (1965)
25. Elvis Presley – Bossa Nova Baby (1963)
26. Kenny Rogers & The First Edition – Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In) (1968)
27. T Bones – No Matter What Shape (My Stomach Is In) (1966)
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Previous drummer collection:
The Bernard Purdie Collection Vol. 1
The Bernard Purdie Collection Vol. 2
The Ricky Lawson Collection Vol. 1
The Ricky Lawson Collection Vol. 2
The Jim Gordon Collection Vol. 1
The Jim Gordon Collection Vol. 2