Remembering Hal Blaine, Wrecking Crew Drummer on 100s of Hits

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Glen Campbell with drummer Hal Blaine at a Wrecking Crew session (Photo: Denny Tedesco archives; used with permission)

When legendary drummer Hal Blaine died on March 11, 2019, a lot of people discovered the Los Angeles-based studio musicians known as The Wrecking Crew.

During their heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, The Wrecking Crew were the musical backbone on hundreds of classic rock recordings, including scores of Top 10 pop hits.

These recordings included huge hit singles by the Beach Boys (including “Good Vibrations” and “I Get Around”), the Mamas and the Papas (“Monday Monday”), the Monkees, the Righteous Brothers (including “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”), Elvis Presley, Sonny and Cher, the Byrds (“Mr. Tambourine Man”), the Association, the Grass Roots, the Ronettes (“Be My Baby”) and countless others.

Herb Alpert’s 1960s hit recordings featured The Wrecking Crew as the Tijuana Brass. He was also the principal drummer on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album.

Related: Brian Wilson, Herb Alpert and Ronnie Spector are among those who paid tribute to Blaine

Among the 40 #1 hits on which he played were “He’s a Rebel” (The Crystals), “Surf City” (Jan and Dean), “This Diamond Ring” (Gary Lewis and the Playboys), “Eve of Destruction” (Barry McGuire), “Strangers in the Night” (Frank Sinatra), “Poor Side of Town” (Johnny Rivers), “Mrs. Robinson” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Simon and Garfunkel), “Dizzy” (Tommy Roe), “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” (the Fifth Dimension), “(They Long to Be) Close to You” (The Carpenters), “I Think I Love You” (The Partridge Family), “Indian Reservation” (Paul Revere and the Raiders), “Half Breed” (Cher), “Song Sung Blue” and “Cracklin’ Rosie” (Neil Diamond), “The Way We Were” (Barbra Streisand), “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” (John Denver), and “Theme From Mahogany” (Diana Ross).

Blaine estimated that he played on 35,000 individual songs in all.

Listen to Blaine’s drums on the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”

The family’s announcement of Blaine’s passing read:

“Hal Blaine – loving father of Michelle Blaine; grandfather of Anthony, Josh, Aaron, Whitney, Tempest, Ever and Lyryk; and inspiration to countless friends, fans and musicians – has passed on today, March 11th, 2019 at the age of 90. May he rest forever on 2 and 4. The family appreciates your outpouring of support and prayers that have been extended to Hal from around the world, and respectfully request privacy in this time of great mourning. No further details will be released at this time.”

Hal Blaine was born Harold Simon Belsky on February 5, 1929, in Holyoke, Mass. He became a professional drummer in 1948 and joined the band of teen idol Tommy Sands in the late ’50s. Relocating to Los Angeles in the ’60s, he became the most in-demand session drummer in the city, playing on most of Phil Spector’s hits as well as Elvis Presley’s film soundtracks and many of the Beach Boys’ recordings.

His drums can also be heard on recordings by Steely Dan, Glen Campbell, Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole, Trini Lopez, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, John Lennon, Dusty Springfield, Sammy Davis Jr., Emmylou Harris, Love, Dean Martin, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and others.

Related: Mark Lindsay talked to us about Blaine’s unique contribution to a Raiders #1 hit

Between 1966 and ’71 Blaine played on six consecutive Grammy Record of the Year winners: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in 1966 for “A Taste of Honey”; Frank Sinatra in 1967 for “Strangers in the Night”; The Fifth Dimension in 1968 and 1970 for “Up, Up and Away” and “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”; Simon and Garfunkel in 1969 and 1971 for “Mrs. Robinson” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Listen to Blaine’s drums on this #1 smash

The Wrecking Crew was the subject of a 2015 documentary, produced and directed by Denny Tedesco, son of the the late guitarist Tommy Tedesco. Blaine published his memoir, Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew, in 1990.

Watch The Wrecking Crew trailer

Related: Our interview with the producer-director of The Wrecking Crew documentary

Among the other prominent members of The Wrecking Crew were Plas Johnson, Earl Palmer, Leon Russell, Glen Campbell and Carol Kaye.

Blaine was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.

Wow, indeed…

Best Classic Bands Staff

2 Comments so far

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  1. JCB
    #1 JCB 12 March, 2019, 10:55

    Maybe the most consequential drummer that ever lived. 350 top 40 hits, 40 #1’s, will never be duplicated. His biography is fascinating.

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  2. Larry
    #2 Larry 15 March, 2021, 14:39

    At age 13 I was given by my “Hip” Grandmother Hal Blaine’s record album, “H.B. Have Fun, Let’s Play Some Drums”, in 1967. I never turned out too good as a drummer but enjoyed it! My Grandmother, though somehow knew that this artist was gifted and….she was right.

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