Blaine recording at the Record Plant in 1995
|Birth name||Harold Simon Belsky|
|Born||February 5, 1929|
Holyoke, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||March 11, 2019 (aged 90)|
Palm Desert, California, U.S.
Hal Blaine (born Harold Simon Belsky; February 5, 1929 – March 11, 2019) was an American drummer and session musician estimated to be among the most recorded studio drummers in the history of the music industry, claiming over 35,000 sessions and 6,000 singles. His drumming is featured on 150 US top 10 hits, 40 of which went to number one, as well as many film and television soundtracks.
Born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, Blaine moved with his family to California in 1943 and subsequently began playing jazz and big band music before taking up rock and roll session work. He became one of the regular players 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, Neil Diamond, and the Byrds.
Blaine's workload declined from the 1980s onwards as recording and musical practices changed. In 2000, he was among the inaugural "sidemen" inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2018 he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Blaine was born Harold Simon Belsky to Jewish Eastern European immigrants, Meyer and Rose Belsky (nee Silverman), in Holyoke, Massachusetts. He began playing drums at the age of eight, and moved with his family to California in 1943.
From 1949 to 1952, Blaine learned drums from Roy Knapp, who had also taught jazz drummer Gene Krupa. He began his professional career playing overnight sessions in Chicago strip clubs, which allowed him to practice and perfect his sight reading skills. He subsequently 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 and roll and this meant he played on numerous such sessions during the 1950s. 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. Blaine claimed to have invented the name as he thought the musicians were a "destructive force" in the conservative studio environment of the time.
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. The popularisation of the drum machine also reduced demand for session drummers like Blaine. He kept busy recording advertising jingles for a number of years, before semi-retiring from performing. Most of his wealth was lost following his divorce. At one point, he was working as a security guard in Arizona.
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. Drummer Ringo Starr and Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson expressed public condolences and praised Blaine's musicianship. Ronnie Spector praised Blaine for "the magic he put on all our Ronettes recordings".
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". His drumming can be heard as part of the Wall of Sound on the Ronettes' 1963 single "Be My Baby", produced by Phil Spector at Hollywood's Gold Star Studios. 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." 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. Blaine is also cred 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.[additional citation(s) needed]
"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." The stamp was used for any piece of music Blaine played on. 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!"
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). He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2010. In 2018, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.