Revered Session Drummer Hal Blaine Dies at 90
Session drummer Hal Blaine, a member of the revered Wrecking Crew studio group and contributor to dozens of world-renowned rock songs, died at the age of 90 on March 11, his family announced.
Blaine is said to have appeared on over 6000 singles and more than 30,000 other recordings during his career, which began in the ‘40s and continued until his passing. He can be heard on the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around,” the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rose” and many others. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award last year.
In a statement on his Facebook page, Blaine’s family described him as “inspiration to countless friends, fans and musicians” and added the drumming-themed comment: “May he rest forever on 2 and 4.” The statement continued: “The family appreciates your outpouring of support and prayers that have been extended to Hal from around the world, and respectfully request privacy in this time of great mourning. No further details will be released at this time.”
Tributes came from across the music world. The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson said: “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.” Glen Campbell said: “As a member of the Wrecking Crew with Glen, Hal played on ‘Galveston,’ ‘Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife’ and ‘Where's The Playground Susie’ to name a few.”
Ringo Starr said Blaine was "an incredible musician" and wished "peace and love to all his family." Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith wrote: “Goodbye my old friend.see u in the next life.” Toto guitarist Steve Lukather said: “There will never be another... Google the hits he played on!!” Singer Michael Des Barres noted: “Hal Blaine is indescribable. His contributions to rock and soul music is as sacred as it gets.”
Much of the Wrecking Crew’s work, mainly under Phil Spector and his “Wall of Sound” production technique, went un-credited until Blaine’s memoir Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew was published in 1990. “As a tight-knit group of musicians, we had started in the early ‘60s making demos – two for $35,” he told Jazzwax.com in 2012, commenting on the discovery of film footage with the Beach Boys. “Then we joined the union, and all of a sudden we were making $1000 a day. We began backing the Beach Boys in the studio from the start. At that point, the music seemed rather infantile to me. But as we grew with Brian and his brothers, the music became increasingly sophisticated. When we recorded ‘Good Vibrations’ in 1966, the music was hugely sophisticated and imaginative.”
Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew with the Beach Boys
Blaine added: “The beat was always essential. Remember, while most people heard the records on the radio, the records were made originally as dance records. A single had to feel solid and pop and make people want to get up and move. That’s why people bought them.”
In Robert Hilburn’s 2018 biography Paul Simon: The Life, Blaine recalled how the giant drum sound for classic Simon and Garfunkel track “The Boxer” was achieved by producer Roy Halee by recording in a large room. “I set up two huge tom-toms and put on a headset so I could hear when the music got to the ‘Lie-la-lie’ part, where I hit the drums as hard as I could. There was this massive explosion in the room, which is what you hear on the record. It was amazing, but the thing I remember most about the session is when the elevator door opened just as I came down on the drums, and this elderly security guard looks and he hears this pow! It nearly scared him to death. He jumped back into the elevator, closed the door, and took off. We never saw him again, but I think about his face every time I hear ‘The Boxer.’”
Simon and Garfunkel – “The Boxer”