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Hal Blaine

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Hal Blaine
Blaine recording at the Record Plant in 1995
Blaine recording at the Record Plant in 1995
Background information
Birth nameHarold Simon Belsky
Born(1929-02-05)February 5, 1929
Holyoke, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedMarch 11, 2019(2019-03-11) (aged 90)
Palm Desert, California, U.S.
Years active1949–2019

Hal Blaine (born Harold Simon Belsky; February 5, 1929 – March 11, 2019) was an American drummer and session musician,[1] thought to be among the most recorded studio drummers in the music industry, claiming over 35,000 sessions[1] and 6,000 singles. His drumming is featured on 150 US top 10 hits, 40 of which went to number one.

Born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Blaine moved with his family to California in 1943 and began playing jazz and big band music before taking up rock and roll session work. He became one of the regulars in Phil Spector's de facto house band, which Blaine nicknamed "the Wrecking Crew". Some of the records Blaine played on include the Ronettes' single "Be My Baby" (1963), which contained a drum beat that became widely imitated, as well as works by popular artists such as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, the Carpenters, Neil Diamond, and the Byrds.[2]

Blaine's workload declined in the 1980s as recording and musical practices changed. In 2000, he was among the inaugural "sidemen" inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2007 he was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum as a member of the Wrecking Crew and in 2018 he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Life and career[edit]

Blaine was born Harold Simon Belsky to Jewish Eastern European immigrants, Meyer and Rose Belsky (née Silverman),[3] in Holyoke, Massachusetts, United States.[4] When he was seven, he moved with his family to Hartford, Connecticut.[5] He began playing drums at the age of eight,[6] and again moved with his family to California in 1943.[7]

From 1949 to 1952, Blaine learned drums from Roy Knapp, who had also taught jazz drummer Gene Krupa.[8] He began his professional career playing overnight sessions in Chicago strip clubs, which allowed him to practice and perfect his sight reading skills.[8] He subsequently played as part of Count Basie's big band and toured with Patti Page and Tommy Sands before taking up session work.[7] Unlike many of his jazz contemporaries, Blaine enjoyed playing rock and roll and this meant he played on numerous such sessions during the 1950s. Blaine rarely performed live, with the exception of working with Nancy Sinatra at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in the 1960s, and with John Denver's band in the 70s.[9]

He was a core member of the Wrecking Crew, the close-knit group of Los Angeles session musicians that played on hit records during the 1960s.[10] Blaine claimed to have invented the name as the "old-school" studio musicians feared these new, younger guys were a "destructive force" in the conservative studio environment of the time.[6]

Blaine played with guitarists Glen Campbell and Tommy Tedesco, bassists Carol Kaye and Joe Osborn, and keyboardists Leon Russell and Don Randi. Mr. Blaine played on thousands of recordings through the mid-1970s. John Denver brought Blaine on tour in the mid-1970s.[11]

Blaine played less session work from the 1980s onwards as computers and electronics began to be used in studios, and producers began to bring in younger players.[12] The popularisation of the drum machine also reduced demand for session drummers like Blaine.[13] He kept busy recording advertising jingles for a number of years, before semi-retiring from performing.[12] He lost most of his wealth following a divorce. At one point, he was working as a security guard in Arizona.[2]


Blaine died of natural causes on March 11, 2019, at age 90 in Palm Desert, California.[14][15] 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.[16] Beatles drummer Ringo Starr and Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson expressed public condolences and praised Blaine's musicianship.[6] Ronnie Spector praised Blaine for "the magic he put on all our Ronettes recordings".[6]

Legacy and recognition[edit]

Blaine was a prolific session player and by his estimation played on over 35,000 recordings, including 6,000 singles.[10][17] He is widely regarded as one of the most in-demand drummers in rock and roll history, having "certainly played on more hit records than any drummer in the rock era".[18] His drumming can be heard as part of the Wall of Sound on the Ronettes' 1963 single "Be My Baby",[19] produced by Phil Spector at Hollywood's Gold Star Studios. 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.[20] Drummer Max Weinberg wrote, "If Hal Blaine had played drums only on ... 'Be My Baby', his name would still be uttered with reverence and respect for the power of his big beat."[21] The pattern was created when Blaine accidentally hit the snare on just the fourth beat, instead of the two and four. It was a mistake that Spector decided to leave in.[22]

Blaine is also credited with popularising the "disco beat" after he recorded a "pshh-shup" sound by opening and closing the hi-hat at appropriate intervals on Johnny Rivers' "Poor Side of Town". The effect had been widely used in jazz, but professional recording engineers disliked it because of its resemblance to white noise. The sound subsequently became sought-after by producers in the 1970s.[8][additional citation(s) needed]

Facsimile of stamp image used by Blaine

"Hal Blaine Strikes Again" was a rubber stamp used by Blaine to mark music scores and places where he played. When asked to explain about the stamp, Blaine said, "I always stamp my charts. And there's a reason why I started that; it wasn't all ego."[21] The stamp was used for any piece of music Blaine played on.[21] Another drummer, Mike Botts, then with the band Bread, recalled: "Every studio I went to in the late sixties, there was a rubber stamp imprint on the wall of the drum booth that said, 'Hal Blaine strikes again.' Hal was getting so many studio dates he actually had a rubber stamp made. He was everywhere!"[23]

In 2014, Blaine was portrayed by Johnny Sneed in the film Love & Mercy, a biopic of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson.[2]

The instrumental song "Hal McBlaine" – a portmanteau combining the names of Blaine and guitarist John McBain – by psychedelic garage rock band Wellwater Conspiracy on their 1999 album Brotherhood of Electric: Operational Directives is an homage to Blaine.

Awards and accolades[edit]

Blaine played on six consecutive Grammy Award Record of the Year winners:[12]

In March 2000, Blaine was one of the first five sidemen inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (one of the other inductees was his long-time friend and drumming colleague Earl Palmer).[24] He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2010.[25] In 2018, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.[26]

Selected performances[edit]

In addition to playing on 150 US top 10 singles, Blaine played drums on 39 recordings that hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100.[6] The dates given are when each song reached number one:[28]


  • Deuces, T's, Roadsters and Drums (1963)
  • Drums! Drums! A Go Go (1966)
  • Psychedelic Percussion (1967)
  • Have Fun!!! Play Drums!!! (1968)
  • Buh-Doom (1998)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 144. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  2. ^ a b c Lewis, Randy (March 11, 2019). "Hal Blaine, prolific 'Wrecking Crew' drummer who worked with Frank Sinatra and Elvis, dies at 90". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  3. ^ Sandomir, Richard (March 12, 2019). "Hal Blaine, Wrecking Crew Drummer, Is Dead at 90". The New York Times.
  4. ^ a b Blaine, Hal; Goggin, David (1990). Schwartz, David M. (ed.). Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew. Emeryville, California: MixBooks. ISBN 978-1888408126.
  5. ^ Harrison, Smith (March 12, 2019). "Hal Blaine, celebrated as 'the most recorded drummer in history,' dies at 90". Washington Post. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e "'Greatest drummer ever' Hal Blaine dies aged 90". BBC News. March 12, 2019. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d "Hal Blaine, Studio Drummer Dies at 90". Variety. March 11, 2019. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d "4 Things You Didn't Know About Hal Blaine". Drum Magazine. September 21, 2018. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  9. ^ Sandomir, Richard (March 12, 2019). "Hal Blaine, Wrecking Crew Drummer, Is Dead at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved September 17, 2022.
  10. ^ a b "The Wrecking Crew's Hal Blaine: my 11 greatest recordings of all time". Music Radar. May 23, 2011. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  11. ^ Sandomir, Richard (March 12, 2019). "Hal Blaine, Wrecking Crew Drummer, is dead at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved September 17, 2022.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "Hal Blaine". Performing Arts Society. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  13. ^ Sandomir, Richard (March 11, 2019). "Hal Blaine, Pop Music's Go-To Studio Drummer, Is Dead at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
  14. ^ Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (March 12, 2019). "Hal Blaine, drummer who dominated mid-century pop, dies aged 90". The Guardian. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  15. ^ Fessler, Bruce (March 11, 2019). "Hal Blaine, most honored drummer in rock history, dies at Palm Desert home". The Desert Sun. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  16. ^ "Hal Blaine, Wrecking Crew Drummer, Dies at 90". Billboard. March 11, 2019. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  17. ^ "Hal Blaine". Modern Drummer. July 2017. Archived from the original on March 21, 2019. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  18. ^ "Hal Blaine Biography". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  19. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1992). Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. New York: Billboard Books. ISBN 978-0823085545.
  20. ^ "Remembering Hal Blaine". Drum Magazine.
  21. ^ a b c Weinberg, Max; Santelli, Robert (1991). The Big Beat: Conversations With Rock's Great Drummers. Foreword by Bruce Springsteen. New York: Billboard Books. pp. 75–77. ISBN 978-0823075713.
  22. ^ "Hal Blaine: Every No. 1 Hit The Wrecking Crew Drummer Played On". Billboard.com.
  23. ^ "Americanheritage.com – The Wrecking Crew". Americanheritage.com. Archived from the original on September 25, 2010. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  24. ^ Amendola, Billy (2005). "An Interview with Hal Blaine". Modern Drummer. ISSN 0194-4533.
  25. ^ "Modern Drummer's Readers Poll Archive, 1979–2014". Modern Drummer. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  26. ^ Fabian, Renée (January 9, 2018). "Tina Turner To Queen: 2018 Recording Academy Special Merit Awards". The Recording Academy.
  27. ^ "Why Elvis Presley's Drummer Found His Friends 'Really Disturbing'". February 3, 2021.
  28. ^ Bronson, Fred, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard Books, 1992
  29. ^ Bidini, Dave (November 2, 2011). On a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock. Random House. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-551-99675-2.
  30. ^ "Surf City". AllMusic. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "The Beatmaster". Washington Post. July 13, 1997. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  32. ^ Blaine & Goggin 1990, p. xviii.
  33. ^ "Reaching the Eve of Destruction". The Wall Street Journal. December 9, 2014. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  34. ^ Bronson, Fred (1988). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. New York: Billboard Publications, Inc. p. 223. ISBN 978-0823076772.

External links[edit]