Hal Blaine (born Harold Simon Belsky; February 5, 1929 – March 11, 2019) was an American drummer and session musician. He was one of the most prolific session drummers in the history of popular music, playing on a large number of hit records. Blaine is most remembered for his work with the Wrecking Crew, a group of musicians who recorded prolifically in the Los Angeles music scene and played behind a large number of musicians in the 1960s and 1970s.
Blaine was born Harold Simon Belsky to Jewish Eastern European immigrants, Meyer and Rose Belsky, in Holyoke, Massachusetts. He moved with his family to California in 1943. The following year, aged 15, Blaine survived the Hartford circus fire – one of the worst disasters in American history.
In the 1940s, Blaine learned drums from Roy Knapp, who had also taught jazz drummer Gene Krupa. He played as part of Count Basie’s big band and toured with Patti Page and Tommy Sands before taking up session work. Unlike many of his jazz contemporaries, Blaine enjoyed playing rock ‘n’ roll and this meant he played on numerous such sessions during the 1950s. He was a key member of The Wrecking Crew, the close-knit group of Los Angeles session musicians that played on hit records during the 1960s.
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. He kept busy recording advertising jingles for a number of years, before semi-retiring from performing
Blaine was a prolific session player and by his estimation played on over 35,000 recordings, including 6,000 singles. 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”. He can be heard as part of the Wall of Sound on the Ronettes’ 1963 US #2 hit “Be My Baby”,produced by Phil Spector at Hollywood’s Gold Star Studios. Max Weinberg wrote, “If Hal Blaine had played drums only on the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, his name would still be uttered with reverence and respect for the power of his big beat.” Rolling Stone magazine listed the song as No. 22 on The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Blaine also played on Beach Boys sessions during the mid-1960s (covering for the group’s official drummer Dennis Wilson), including the group’s critically acclaimed 1966 album Pet Sounds and single “Good Vibrations”.
In March 2000, he 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). He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2010.
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