Hal Blaine

Hal Blaine
Hal Blaine in 2008.jpg
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
Associated acts

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.[1]

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.

Life and career

Blaine was born Harold Simon Belsky to Jewish Eastern European immigrants, Meyer and Rose Belsky (née Silverman[2]), in Holyoke, Massachusetts.[3] When he was seven, he moved with his family to Hartford, Connecticut.[4] He began playing drums at the age of eight,[5] and again moved with his family to California in 1943.[6]

From 1949 to 1952, Blaine learned drums from Roy Knapp, who had also taught jazz drummer Gene Krupa.[7] He began his professional career playing overnight sessions in Chicago strip clubs, which allowed him to practice and perfect his sight reading skills.[7] He subsequently played as part of Count Basie's big band and toured with Patti Page and Tommy Sands before taking up session work.[6] 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.[8] Blaine claimed to have invented the name as he thought the musicians were a "destructive force" in the conservative studio environment of the time.[5]

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.[9] The popularisation of the drum machine also reduced demand for session drummers like Blaine.[10] He kept busy recording advertising jingles for a number of years, before semi-retiring from performing.[9] Most of his wealth was lost following his divorce. At one point, he was working as a security guard in Arizona.[1]

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