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Hal Blaine, The Greatest Studio Drummer of Them All, Sets Down His Sticks For The Last Time

COW Blogs : Ron Lindeboom's Blog : Hal Blaine, The Greatest Studio Drummer of Them All, Sets Down His Sticks For The Last Time
Today, the greatest studio drummer of them all passed away. Hal Blaine set down his sticks for the last time, at 90. In my opinion, he invented more beat patterns than even Ringo. He was a consummate pro and quite a nice man. Years ago, my wife Kathlyn bought his book and he not only signed it but also hand drew a great cartoon of him flailing away behind a massive kit. He scribbled a sweet note to Kathlyn, along with the funny cartoon.

I got to talk with him on the phone the day that we placed the order for his book and we chatted about some of my favorite drum patterns that he created. As a drummer myself, he was one of my heroes and I learned to play many of his beat constructions. RIP, Hal Blaine. You were one of the true monsters in music.

I should note that I started writing some of these thoughts and collecting some of these videos on my Facebook page, where Kathlyn replied:

Here are just a few highlights from a career that included 40 #1 hits, 150 top 10s, some 6000+ singles, and 35,000 tracks, among them some of the greatest songs ever recorded.

Hal's beat construction on this one is brilliant, side-sticking and so many other techniques used in this Latin-pop inspired ditty. I hated this song as a kid but as I became a more adept and proficient drummer, I realized what brilliance Hal brought to Jimmy Webb's "Up Up and Away."

One of my personal favorites is Simon & Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade of Winter."

Or would it be his drums on The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man"?

And don't get me started on how I loved "Along Comes Mary."

Why yes, it's Hal Blaine yet again...

And who could forget The Beach Boys best song, with Hal Blaine on drums...

Here's a Grammy tribute to Hal featuring Herb Alpert, one of the greatest friends ever to recording artists. Herb's A&M Records was an oasis for artists in what was far too often, a desert. All my friends who worked for the label loved it and had not an unkind word for the man.

And 13 minutes of awesome music featuring Hal and friends from the documentary The Wrecking Crew.

Finally, here's an interactive list featuring a few highlights from Hal's career. Take a look and let us know about some of your favorites.

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Mar 14, 2019 at 11:11:48 amComments (4)


Re: Hal Blaine, The Greatest Studio Drummer of Them All, Sets Down His Sticks For The Last Time
by Bob Zelin
I have not looked at this post for a while, but I have not seen other comments on this - and I know for a fact that probably 50% of the audience of Creative Cow plays some musical instrument. That's just the way it goes for editors and graphics people.

And with that said -
my vote for most important bass player of all time is Carol Kaye (even though there are plenty of better bass players). Back in the days of intense prejudice for women, she just shined through !
Proof that if you "have it" - you don't need special preferential treatment. You're just better than everyone else.

hey, you brought up Good Vibrations -
well look at this -

Bob Zelin
Rescue 1, Inc.
Re: Hal Blaine, The Greatest Studio Drummer of Them All, Sets Down His Sticks For The Last Time
by Bob Zelin
I have hesitated to comment on this. And believe me, I know exactly who Hal Blaine is - but are you insulting Ringo ?
I am not a drummer - but these people are -

how dare yo (cannot type a )

o Ze
  • n

    aah !

    Bob Zelin
    Rescue 1, Inc.
    Re: Hal Blaine, The Greatest Studio Drummer of Them All, Sets Down His Sticks For The Last Time
    by Tim Wilson
    Fantastic stuff, Ronald, and very sad news indeed. Like many music nerds, my first reading material wasn't books, but record sleeves, so I'd been paying attention to Hal's work since 1964 or so, first through Simon & Garfunkel, and so many more of course.

    Here’s a nifty graphic putting all of his #1s in one place.

    Because most of the tributes naturally focus on his hits, they skip over his remarkable contributions to TV and the movies. He played on themes for shows including Batman, The Brady Bunch, Three's Company, and virtually every track for The Partridge Family, plus plenty for The Monkees.

    Hal played on nearly every track for Elvis once he left the Army, which includes piles of soundtracks (Viva Las Vegas, anyone? How about Clambake?!?!) as well as the Elvis '68 TV special. Some film highlights beyond Elvis include the themes from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To) and The Way We Were.

    Rather than go straight to the obvious highlights, though, or even necessarily my favorites (which include some of yours too, Ronald), I’m going to point to a couple of tracks that led me to your game with Kathlyn, “Who’s that on drums?” before I knew that the answer was pretty much always going to be “Hal Blaine.” This wasn’t by any means an obvious conclusion to draw, because Hal bent his approach to the needs of the session. As drummer for The Knack Bruce Gary would say, he found out that Hal Blaine was TEN of his favorite drummers.

    The very first song I ever heard that made me say "WHO'S THAT ON DRUMS???" was a deceptively complicated pop trifle called “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe, and it spent four weeks at #1, starting on March 15, 1969 (50 years ago almost to the day as I write this).

    I say deceptively complicated because even though it’s basically two verses and the chorus three times (it actually starts with the chorus, which I’m a sucker for.) There’s not even a bridge, but it manages to go through 11 key changes in less than three minutes! And while there are other instruments, I always heard it as a duet between the drums and the strings.

    You already know it was Hal Blaine, and the string arranger was the great Jimmie Haskell.

    This really is an astonishing track. Bubblegum pop on one level, exceptionally baroque on another, and a drums-strings pas de deux the likes of which we’ve yet to hear again. I used to listen to this on repeat for hours, singing at the top of my lungs – including the drum breaks and strings stings (c’mon, you know you sing instrumental parts too!) spinning around and around the room until I was DIZZY.

    Check Hal’s snare kicking it off like a gunshot.

    I make no apologies whatsoever for my love of The Partridge Family. David Cassidy would have been a star without the TV show. His stepmother Shirley Jones WAS a star, an Oscar-winner no less, with one of the greatest voices that humankind has been blessed with, and these were some terrific tunes by the best pop scribes of the day. And yes, some of the greatest musicians of the time, including Hal Blaine.

    There are almost too many highlights of Hal’s work for The Partridges to choose from, but “I Can Hear Your Heartbeat” in particular spotlights one of my favorite things about Hal’s skill: what he DOESN’T play.

    One of the keys to appreciating Hal (or any drummer, really) is to listen to when he starts and stops, and the gaps in between what his hands are doing. Hal’s bass pedal opens the song as the titular heartbeat, with a gentle caress of the cymbals before the whole kit comes swinging in after the first verse. This one is a real gem.

    Even people who aren’t that much into our level of nerdery have likely heard the phrase “Wall of Sound”, and may even associate it with its originator, producer Phil Spector, and some of the indelible tracks he created using that approach. You mentioned “Be My Baby”, Ronald. Others include “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” from The Righteous Brothers (featuring Earl Palmer on drums) and Tina Turner's “River Deep Mountain High”, which featured Hal and Earl playing together. The Wall of Sound might also add two or more bass players to those couple of drummers, plus an army of guitarists, percussionists, and an orchestra, all playing at the same time, creating a wave of vibrations that no amount of multi-tracking could replicate. Hence, Wall of Sound.

    Mike Nesmith used this “Wall of Sound” trick to fine effect when he produced one of the best tracks he wrote for The Monkees, “Mary Mary”, so sharp that it appeared in FIVE episodes, yet still manages to be too little known.

    “Mary Mary” features FIVE guitarists (Glen Cambell and James Burton both on lead, with Peter Tork among the rhythm players), two bassists (Larry Knechtel and Bob West), and two drummers (Hal with Jim Gordon, whose name may also be familiar to many folks from Derek & The Dominoes, George Harrison, Delaney & Bonnnie, et al.), with notable percussive support from Cary Coleman.

    This is definitely Hal kicking it off, though, with a snare lick so sweet that Mike looped it three times and added it to the front of the track, making it that much easier to sample. And sampled it was, including on a nifty cover of this track by Run-D.M.C. that also used Mickey’s vocal singing the words “Mary Mary”. (Even though they changed Mike’s lyric on the verses, Mike is the only writer credited.)

    I should mention that The Monkees’ version of “Mary Mary” was never released as a single in the US, but WAS included as a cardboard cutout single on the back of Honey Combs cereal!!!! Yes, I had it, though, like a fool, I failed to keep up with it.

    Anyway, this is GROOVE, kids. Take it away, Hal!

    Last but not least, Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” (1968) was so far ahead of its time that it STILL sounds like it’s from the future. Originally recorded early in 1968, it was re-recorded a few months later for the famed Elvis ‘68 TV special, but scrapped at the last minute.

    The second version of "A Little Less Conversation” was used to outstanding effect in the 2001 version of Ocean’s Eleven, and a subsequent remix by Junkie XL charted even higher than Elvis’s original, going to #1 in 14 countries including the UK.

    And all of ‘em featured Hal’s drums, absolutely swinging.

    Folks probably know the song “A Little Less Conversation” well enough (although anyone who doesn't should check it out immediately), and in this little clip from the aforementioned Wrecking Crew movie, you can see 2008 Hal playing along with 1968 Hal for 30 seconds or so.

    Watch his right hand in particular. It’s practically floating on air. He’s holding the drumstick so lightly that I bet you could have snuck up behind him and snatched it right out of his hand.

    That subtlety and grace is yet another reason why so many drummers, including you, Ronald, think of Hal as the greatest of the greats.

    Famously something of a self-promoter, he was also the first to tell you that many, many drummers had better chops than his. They could play faster, or hit harder, but Hal was in a class by himself when it came to providing exactly what every session needed, nothing more, nothing less, which is he kept getting called to play so many of them.

    As his family posted on Hal’s Facebook page, “May he rest forever on 2 and 4.”
    @Tim Wilson
    by Ronald Lindeboom
    Tim, I am blown away at what a wonderful tribute you made here. Damn, man, you have me in tears. Have I told you lately how much I love working with you? You sir, are a ninja. Hal would be proud to read this, I have no doubt.

    My son is a drummer, too. One day he walked in when I was playing one of Hal's signature grooves -- much akin to the beat he used in Elvis's "A Little Less Conversation" -- and he said, "Man, what is that? How did you guys do that kind of thing in the Sixties?" And I told him, "Easy, we just copied Hal Blaine -- everybody copied Hal Blaine." Then I taught him how the beat breaks out.

    I had never seen the comment made by the drummer of The Knack, Bruce Gary, when he said that Hal Blaine was TEN of his favorite drummers. That made me smile because I learned the same thing when many of the 60s and 70s bands were actually recordings made by Hal Blaine and The Wrecking Crew. So yeah, I guess he was 10 of my favorite drummers, too.

    I could be wrong but I remember reading that the Wall of Sound used on "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" was three drummers -- Hal, Earl Palmer and another whom I have forgotten. They wanted a huge fat sound and Phil Spector along with the Wrecking Crew got it without a doubt. I can still remember walking from the dairy to a store across from Knott's Berry Farm in southern California, to buy The Righteous Brothers. Some nuggets of your life you never forget. I had some friends who worked with The Righteous Brothers (they were heroes to us Orange County kids) and sadly, I never got to work with them -- but I did get to work with many of the people who played live with them.

    Big hugs to you, Tim. Thank you for a wonderful tribute. This was so cool to read.




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