Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Hal Blaine, legendary drummer for The Wrecking Crew passed away at the age of 90, leaving behind a catalog of work that reads like a who's who of 1960s music royalty. Considered to be the most recorded musician in history, Blaine and his session regulars shaped popular music as we know it. He was a trained and educated musician, but because he and his band played rock 'n' roll, the older, established session players looked down on them, claiming they would "wreck the business." This remark gave way to the Wrecking Crew's name.
Whether you realize it or not, Hal Blaine influenced you and how you experience modern drumming in some capacity. His credits include The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, The Mamas & The Papas, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Sonny & Cher, Neil Diamond, John Denver, The Ronettes, and on and on. That's not including the endless amount of movies, TV shows and commercials he played on. Of course, a jam-packed resume that's longer than your arm is impressive, but with Blaine it was quality and quantity with over 40 tracks reaching number 1 on the charts.
Hal Blaine played with skill, power, dexterity, creativity and heart. The variety of groups he played with was a testament to his abilities, knowing when to lay back and when to dig in. The sign of a great drummer is the ability to write a part that inspires both drummers with its technical skill and non-musicians with its simplicity. Blaine's drum parts did that. He wrote hooks on the drums that were as integral to the song as the melody or the lyrics. One of the best examples of this is his work on The Ronettes' 1963 single, "Be My Baby". The absence of the snare on beat two was supposedly an accident, but Hal played it so confidently that the mistake seemed intentional, creating one of the most emulated and recognizable drum parts in history.
Blaine's influence extended beyond playing into the design and type of equipment drummers use today. He co-designed his legendary "monster kit" with his drum tech Rick Faucher. It was a custom-built Ludwig with 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14 and 15" fiberglass concert toms on top of his standard Ludwig maple kit. No one played a drum set this big at the time so stands and mounting systems didn't exist. Faucher Frankensteined together a drum rack out of heavy-duty rolling mic stands and Ludwig fittings to create the first-ever drum rack system. The two rolling racks allowed Rick to move the massive kit in and out of studio sessions quickly and easily. Hal also played his kick drum extremely muffled with thick Kevlar heads and pillows inside, delivering a dry, dead, thuddy sound that recorded very well. He also developed a modified bass drum beater, which was cut down into a flat, square shape.
Regardless of your drumming background, the contributions of Hal Blaine to the instrument and to music in general will be felt for generations to come. As his family said, "May he rest forever on 2 and 4."