Hal Blaine – a reflection on pop music’s most recorded artist ever

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Hal Blaine (credit – Facebook)

Hal Blaine was a legend on the drums and news of his death has Getintothis’ Bernie Connor taking a look back at the career of this incredible musician.

The legendary studio musician Hal Blaine has died aged 90.

In an illustrious career spanning decades, he became one of the most celebrated musicians in popular music history. He is alleged to have been the most recorded drummer in history, clocking up over 35,000 tunes.

He began playing drums in the forties, subsequently playing with Count Basie and other jazz artists, earning his chips as a considerable live performer before settling into a life time of session work.

In the 1960’s the emphasis of the American pop music industry shifted from New York City to Los Angeles. This coincided with the rise and taking shape of a whole roster of younger players, who would serve the business for the next 20 years or so.

Blaine saw these young upstarts as a challenge to the old accepted order. He named them ‘The Wrecking Crew’, albeit he was a part of it, and they were the beginning of an incredible, fruitful, hugely successful raft of music, that in effect changed the face of pop forever.

Some of the musicians had seen action with the old hands; Hal, along with guitarists Tommy Tedesco and Carol Kaye played on sessions by Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley and Richie Valens before the waves broke and the industry surrendered itself to its own rosy future.

As the sixties moved on from one embryonic sound to an expansive studio glory, younger guns came on board and took the role of a session musician to a new, stratospheric high.

When the new industry began to roll, it was then that these musicians came into their own. One of the first producers to take advantage of this ever growing pool was Phil Spector. He utilised pretty much ever player in the pit and it was here that Hal Blaine created one of his most enduring recordings.

He was responsible for the thunderous beats that introduce The Ronettes’ astonishing ‘Be My Baby. His kit became the de facto beat in Spector and Jack Nitzsche’s wall of sound. He played on every one of those hits. Not only providing the backbeat, but also channelling the shape and overall feel of those recordings.

Through his work with Spector, he was brought to the attention of one of Phil’s biggest fans, Beach Boys writer/producer Brian Wilson. He again became the cornerstone of the band’s sound.

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Along with Carol Kaye, who by that time had moved exclusively to playing bass, and Joe Osborn, he created a rhythm section second to none in pop history. Their work dominated the American pop charts for well over a decade and saw therm straddle the many genres and splinters that fuelled popular music at that time.

I often say, had he just occupied the drum stool in the Beach Boys, that would have been a career well spent.

He played drums on pretty much every one of their tunes from that period that you’ve ever heard. His performances on two of Brian’s more futuristic works, Good Vibrations and Mrs O’Leary’s Cow (Fire) from the abandoned SMiLE album, are some of the most progressive performances of their age.

Both were recorded in 1966. But along with his role as ‘Dennis’ in the Beach Boys, he was also Ted Bleuchel in The Association, Mickey Dolenz in The Monkees and even Michael Clarke in The Byrds.

He banged it out, so to speak on some of the biggest selling records in pop history, covering artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra, The Mamas & The Papas, The 5th Dimension.

Blaine died of natural causes on March 11, 2019, at the age of 90 in Palm Desert, California. A statement from his family read “May he rest forever on 2 and 4“, referring to the second and fourth beats of a measure in music.

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