Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

BLAINE, Hal

(b Harold Simon Belsky, 5 February 1929, Holyoke MA) Drummer and nominal leader of the Wrecking Crew. With drummers Earl Palmer and Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie, as a studio musician Blaine played on more pop and rock records than just about anyone. He played on more number one Billboard hits than anybody else, 39 of them 1961-76, and on six consecutive Grammy-winning Songs of the Year 1967-71. He had a rubber stamp made, and stamped sheet music, recording studios and drum cubicles 'Hal Blaine Strikes Again'.

He told Marc Myers in 2011, 'When the demand for rock exploded at the very start of the '60s, record companies had to churn out tons of music with a big beat and a tight sound. To hold down studio costs, producers had no choice but to bring in musicians who could nail songs the first time. That meant us.'  The Wrecking Crew was an ad hoc group of 30 and more studio musicians which at various times included the likes of Glen Campbell and Leon Russell; Blaine came up with the name when an older musician complained that 'These young studio guys are going to wreck the music business.' We still remember the outrage when fans discovered that the Monkees didn't play on their own records; it tuns out that a lot of the others didn't either, because they simply weren't good enough. 'At concerts, people hear with their eyes,' said Blaine. 'Teens cut groups slack in concert, but not when they bought their records.' It was all an industry secret for many years, because nobody wanted to spoil the party.

But Blaine was more than a technician; he added something every time. He wanted to hear the song run through first, to hear the lyrics, the story, to find out where the drama was. When Brian Wilson replaced his brother Dennis with Blaine on the Beach Boys' 'Little Deuce Coupe', Blaine said, he tightened his snare and hit the floor tom-tom on the same beat as the snare, adding tension to the group's soft vocal sound. On Elvis Presley's 'Can't Help Falling In Love With You', 'I used brushes on the snare drums with my right hand and a soft mallet on the tom-tom with my left. The result was a hint of surf and Hawaii that Elvis liked.' (The song was for the soundtrack of Blue Hawaii.)  

Read Marc Myers at JazzWax.com.