By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Word of Blaine’s work, with Phil Spector and the Beach Boys in particular, spread to every producer in Hollywood, and more were coming from England, Nashville and New York, seeking the sound of the Wrecking Crew, whose touch seemingly turned records gold. Hitmakers like Bones Howe, Lou Adler and Snuff Garrett were regular customers for that sound, and getting it often involved Blaine’s polite instructions on proper mike placement for the full-on crazy rock effect. “Producers wanted me to come up with things,” he says, “and I learned very early on the word hook. If you listen to so many of those hit records, you’ll hear a hook that I did somewhere, drumwise, and it happened near the beginning, in the middle and in the end. And those were the hooks that made hit records of that era.” (An example of a Hal Blaine hook is the well-known snare-and-tom-tom triplet fills he plays on just about every Phil Spector song.)
In other words, Blaine wasn’t called upon to be a mere drumming machine, but rather a valued contributor — interestingly, valued most by producers we regard as creative geniuses. “On Pet Sounds,” he says, “Brian Wilson gave me carte blanche — ‘Whatever you think, whatever you feel, go ahead’ — and I was playing little plastic orange juice bottles, little clicks and bings and bangs and anything else I could grab. Brian used to come to the Spector sessions, at the Gold Star studios on Santa Monica and Vine — it’s not there anymore — and he loved the stuff we were doing. When I would suggest castanets in the middle of a rock & roll record, everybody would say, ‘This is not a Mexican record.’ But it’s just a time, it’s just rhythm.
“And that’s the way we used to make records — to make them feel good; if they felt good, we had a good record. Jingle bells in the middle of a rock & roll song? Nobody ever heard of that, and the other players were saying, ‘Are you crazy, what’re you talking about?’ And Phil says, ‘No, leave it that way!’
Still, preparedness remained the key to Blaine’s success: “I always had score paper with me, reams of it, and I rarely did a date where I didn’t write the part out; once in a while you’d fake something, but generally I knew all the stops and starts, where I would play a fill, etc.”
The work kept coming for Blaine and the Crew throughout the ’60s, but tapered off toward the mid-’70s. Blaine took it in stride, went on the road with John Denver, and eased himself into a slightly saner schedule of pet projects for the love of playing, such as working with his friend David Grisman on an album of traditional Jewish melodies called Songs of Our Fathers, and its companion volume, coming soon. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, has a permanent exhibit at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, and now the Smithsonian wants to acquire his famous Ludwig blue-sparkle drum set. You can learn more of his jam-packed story in his newly reissued book, Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew (Mixbooks), as well as a recent audiobook, Hooray for Hollywood (and Local 47)(available at www.halblaine.com). Or, best of all, you can spin your radio dial to the nearest classic rock station and savor the next Hal Blaine chart topper, which ought to be coming along any minute now.
Hal, you know what you accomplished is pretty phenomenal, don’t you?
“It’s amazing the way it all went,” he says, “and they were fun times, they really were. We knew we were making history. But trust me when I tell you, I never had that kind of ego. It was my work, and it was what I loved. Basically, I’m an accompanist — but I’m a great accompanist. And that was my feat in life.”
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