Hal Blaine at 80: 35,000 Sessions and Counting

It is quite probable that, to this day, Hal Blaine remains the most recorded drummer in music history. He played on 40, number one single records, 150 that made it to the top ten, and by his own estimate, played on about 35,000 recordings. Blaine virtually defined the role of the modern-day studio session drummer, and was instrumental in developing the multi-tom set-ups we see today.

Especially via his work with the much-heralded “The Wrecking Crew” with everyone from The Beach Boys and Elvis to John Denver and Phil Spector, Blaine’s roots were in jazz. He was first influenced by Krupa and Rich, played with Basie, and cut his teeth backing singers like Patti Page, The Four Freshmen, The Hi-Lo’s, and one Francis Albert Sinatra.

Blaine’s 1990 autobiography is still essential reading. In February, he celebrated his 80th birthday, and announced the formation of a Hal Blaine Scholarship Fund. To donate, visit www.HalBlaine.com. And released last year was an award-winning documentary, The Wrecking Crew,” which tells the story of those ground-breaking studio rebels.

The following interview with Blaine was a part of a book project on the influential, early drummers of rock that for one reason or another, never happened. In this extensive interview, the still-colorful Blaine speaks of his early influences, love for jazz, work with Tommy Sands, Nancy Sinatra, Phil Spector, The Beach Boys and many more.

When did you first want to play drums?
Hal Blaine: You know, when I first realized that I wanted to play the drums, I was too young to realize that. I was a kid. I was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Nice little town. I was not around any music, although I actually had three cousins who played drums, well really, two cousins who were drummers and one who was a violinist. She was the only female who played the violin but she also played drums. I was sort of surrounded by people who played drums, but I never even thought about drums. I moved to Hartford. Connecticut when I was about seven or eight years old, and like so many Jewish boys, I was put into a Hebrew school to study for my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13 years old. During that period, from about nine to 12, 13 years old, I had an old rocking chair that my mother had, and I used to take the top of it off and take the doweling, which was on the back, and they became drum sticks for me. And I started fooling around like that. Our Hebrew school was right across the street from a Catholic school, which I think was Saint Anthony’s and they had a marching band. They had bugle, snare drum (being played by) young kids and I use to watch them all the time after Hebrew school. I would go out back and watch these kids playing and marching and the priest used to see me, so he came over to talk to me a few times and I told him I fool around on drums. He invited me in. All of sudden I became the only Jewish drummer in the Catholic brigade, which was kind of funny. My parents didn’t mind. The loved the idea. At least I wasn’t in the streets causing any trouble. And I liked being a show off. All drummers are show off’s… major show off’s, When I got my first drums I was about 13. My older sister bought me my first little set of drums. It was a bass drum, cymbal and little high hat. That was my set of drums. I used to set it up on my front veranda. We lived up on the second floor. Then my dad had fashioned a kazoo with a big piece of rubber on it that went around and I could play my own songs and accompany myself on these little drums that I had. That was the first time that I sort of felt show biz, because all the kids coming home from school would stand out front and listen to me. It was very infantile, but to me, I was doing a show. Also at that time, my father worked at the Connecticut Leather Company in Hartford, Connecticut, and the place where he worked was right across the street from the State Theater in Hartford. The State Theater was one of those theaters where every band played and my dad started bringing me there at a pretty young age. It was a quarter to get in. And the poor man could hardly afford that quarter but he would take me every Saturday morning, drop me off when he went to work at 8:00. I’d be the first one in line and when the house lights came up, I was always front and center in the theater. To this day, I can smell the powder off of the faces of the performers and I saw every major band, every major comedian, every dance act. I mean real burlesque. I saw everybody and everything. I sat there through every show every Saturday morning until maybe 9:30 at night when my dad would get off. But they would do a show, movie, show, movie, show, movie. I also got very interested in film because I’d see all these wonderful movies. So that was sort of the beginning. Then my dad was not feeling so well and the doctor said that he had some problem with his lungs. Connecticut was a major tobacco area and he told him he had to move to California to get away from this. That’s how we moved to California and I was about 15. We moved to Los Angeles and lived with my uncle and auntie for a while. Then I moved down to San Bernardino, California, where I moved in with my other sister, my sister Belle. It was one of those housing projects that was very cramped and we were surrounded by mostly black folks. I got to know a lot of the black musicians who would invite me in to fool around with them. We were still kids, 15, 16. One of my best friends, a kid by the name of Bob Kaminski, was the first kid I met in California when I moved to San Bernardino. Same birthday. Same age. Same date. We’ve been friends ever since to this day. Bob sort of became a singer with the band. He sang great. And he loved to sing, so I had this little band I finally put together; this little, four, five, six-piece band. We would play these little jobs for $5.00 and a chicken dinner. I use to attend all the jam sessions down in the black neighborhood. Place called JD’s Rose Room. Playing there I got to jam once with Dizzy Gillespie, for an example. That was the stuff that I loved. be-bop was coming in and I loved be-bop. I loved jazz. I loved swing. Gene Krupa was my main influence. Buddy Rich was my second main influence at the time when I was a kid. When I grew up, I went into the service. From San Bernadino I went to Korea. Spent almost three years, came back, took my GI bill and went to Chicago. Studied with Roy Knapp at the Roy Knapp School of Percussion, which was Gene Krupa’s alma mater. Louie Bellson was there. A lot of fine drummers. Buddy Harmon from Nashville was there.

From the studying in Chicago, and that was eight hours a day of school, then I happened to get a job in a strip club that was eight hours, from eight at night until four in the morning. I used to go from eight in the morning until four in the afternoon to school, try to do a little homework and practice in between. At eight p.m. I was on stage with a trio, playing for these strippers. Now my name got around. There were a lot of strip clubs in Chicago and I probably worked all of them. I finally wound up at one place called The Post Time Club. And it was one of those clubs that was owned by “dez, dems and doze guys”. They owned all the clubs. They were known as The Outfit and it was plain and simple, they were all Italian, they were all Outfit. They took a liking to me. One of the owners, Little Vince, was always loaded with armor and he actually was fooling around with drums himself. He caught me in the office one time. He had a set of drums there. He had been practicing. Then I found out he had played with Harry James.

My main reading experience started happening when I was backing up all these strippers. There were 10 or 12 strippers every night, sometimes not the same ones. You had to sight read their music and most of them had music. Of course, at the strip club you had the slow song, medium song and a fast song. I had gotten a lot of great experience sight reading. Reading became second nature to me. As I have said through the years when I do clinics, a lot of drummers are afraid to read music and I try to explain that reading music is no different then reading the newspaper. When you first start out, and you are saying “The man ran.” But all that becomes second nature. You don’t even think about when you’re reading music. You’re reading in bits and spurts of whatever the lick happens to be. You don’t have to start thinking “eight-one-e- and- a two- e and-a”. It’s nothing like that. You’re reading automatically and unconsciously. That’s especially important with big bands. The other thing that I try to tell drummers, is to get a hold of the trumpet parts, the saxophone parts, the trombone parts, see what these guys are playing. Make little notes on your own music to catch some of their stuff. So little by little, that’s exactly what happens.

I went back to California after school, graduated and started working with little bands around San Bernardino . There was a very fine disc jockey that known as “Bill the Bellman,” who played a lot of pop music, swing music, jazz music, and they had a little studio at the radio station. He had heard me playing with a couple of these little bands and he asked me if I would come in and do some demos with him, which I did, and those were my first real recordings. He had a record company called Rocket. I think it was Rocket Records and Melody House Records. He had several labels. Boy, I was really hooked on recording. Once again, the show off drummers, they want to hear themselves and like anything else, once you have had enough experience and know what not to play, that’s the big thing once you finally get into the studios. I moved back into Los Angeles and started working with just a group of guys nobody had ever heard of. Glenn Campbell, Leon Russell and Tommy Tedesco were just a bunch of nice guys. There were no drugs by the way. We were making demos for everybody. Glenn Campbell could sound like anybody. And in those days the record business was centered on songwriters wrote songs for particular artists. If you wanted a Nat King Cole, you wrote a Nat King Cole song. You made a demo of that song and then there were song pluggers who would take that demo to Nat Cole or his producers at Capitol. Nat Cole would hear the record and if he liked the song he would record the song and it would go on the air. Little by little, and the timing couldn’t have been better, there was a thing called rock and roll that was starting to infiltrate the music business. Most of the drummers in Hollywood– and this was in 1956, 1957, 1958–hated the name rock and roll. They refused to play rock and roll. Naturally, when producers decided they wanted to make a rock and roll record, they were calling the guys that were making the rock and roll demos. All of a sudden, we started working with Sam Cooke, H. B. Barnum (sp), Joe Saracino, and different people around Los Angeles. They were putting names to groups, and we became–I can’t even remember all of the silly names–The Four Fabs, whatever. They were putting records out and they were hits. Pretty soon, all the big movies studios wanted rock and roll in some of their movie scores. They started calling us “The Wrecking Crew.”

How influential to you was your early association with singer Tommy Sands, in terms of making the transition from straight ahead jazz drummer to developing a rock concept?

Hal Blaine: There was a young gentleman who was being managed by Colonel Parker. His name was Tommy Sands. No one had ever heard of Tommy. Colonel Parker, of course, was managing Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley had just gone into the service. Tommy Sands was offered a singing part in a movie. It was a big hit called “The Singing Idol”. All of a sudden, he needed a rock band. As a matter of fact, they called it rock-a-billy. Tommy Sands was from Houston originally, and he was kind of a country singer. He had played guitar and he was just the nicest kid in the world. It happened that one of these Mafia type guys came to me, saw me playing at the Garden of Allah in Hollywood. This was a very, very famous nightclub in Hollywood. I was working with a jazz trio. This guy came to me and said, “ I’ve got this young man and he has an audition for Capital Records and we need a drummer. I said, “What’s the music? “ He said, “Well it’s rock-a-billy, it’s country.” I said, “You know, I haven’t had a lot of experience in that.” This guy said, “Well, it’s really rock and roll.” Well, I’d been listening to rock and roll, and all I heard were after beats and bass drum. So I said, “I’m really not interested.” He said, “Would you be interested in just doing the audition? I’ll give you $50 bucks or $75 bucks, just come in and audition. I know that you’ll fit in with the group. And once that they say ‘yes’ and they sign him, then you can go on and do your thing.” So I said, “Okay!”

I went to the Algiers Hotel, then on South Vine Street and met Tommy Sands and these two guys, Eddie Edwards and Leon Bagwell. Young kids, right out of Texas. I mean they talked that Texas talk. You can always tell a Texan…but not very much! I sat and kind of played, rehearsed with them for just a few minutes. They were just the nicest kids in the world. And I was playing rock-a-billy. Tommy came in and we rehearsed. Tommy said “You’ll be fine for the group.” I didn’t want to say anything to him, that I wasn’t going to be with the group, but we started talking about this that and the other. It turns out that Tommy Sands tells me his real name is Tommy Sancheck and a bell went off in my head. My piano teacher in Chicago was Benny Sancheck. He was Tommy’s father. So we immediately had a mutual love society going and they offered me a lot of money to play with him and travel with him, to conduct at times, and to be road manager at times. We went all over the world a number of times and played. We just had a wonderful time. At that time, Tommy had met Nancy Sinatra. We were playing at the Ambassador Hotel, The Coconut Grove, where I recently did a movie with Jim Carrey, “Man on the Moon.” We all met Nancy Sinatra that night. I guess Nancy and Tommy fell in love and before you knew it, they got married. Prior to the marriage, Nancy traveled with us, and during those travels, her mother was always with us. We always referred to her as “Big Nancy.” Sweetheart of a lady. And during that period was when I met Frank Sinatra for the first time. That’s a whole ‘other book or a whole other story. I stayed with Tommy until he went into the service, then I joined Patti Page. With Tommy, all these arrangements that we had, it was just a little bit of rock and roll, but all arranged for big band. Just cookin’ stuff. There’s a great album we did called “Sands at the Sands”. Thank goodness for the experience that I had playing big bands and admiring big bands. That was my meat. While I was with Tommy, I did a couple of weeks with Count Basie, when Count’s drummer, Sonny Payne, wasn’t able to play. I had already been playing the show and Count Basie talked to me about filling in, and I said, “Sure.” It was one of the greatest times of my life playing with that band. Of course Louie Bellson played with him, everybody played with him. It was a wonderful, wonderful time. When I joined Patti Paige. Patti was singing, “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” but she also had some great big band arrangements. She was on Columbia Records. Meanwhile, I was recording at Capital, which was my first major recording with Tommy Sands. I started recording at Columbia with Patti Paige. Patti’s then husband, Charles O’Curran, was a major choreographer at Paramount. He put me with Elvis. I spent four years doing movies with Elvis and also did his 1968 comeback special. It was during that period I kind of fell into it. It’s almost like a family. People get to know you. They know you’re responsible and you’re re reliable and that’s what rock and roll always meant to me. R & R meant responsible and reliability. They knew that I would be there on time to the next job. Anyway, working with Elvis and with Patti and with Tommy Sands, the word got around, who is the rock and roll drummer?

The developing of the concept to play rock and roll, was that difficult? How much work was that for you to become comfortable at rock and roll?

Hal Blaine: I would say that for me to become comfortable at rock and roll was absolutely overnight. It was nothing. It was just a matter of knowing what a song was, knowing what it was all about. Listening to the lyrics. Within a very short time, Phil Spector starting calling all these major producers in Hollywood. Earl Palmer, God bless him, was so jammed and busy with work, that he was throwing work to me all the time. That’s how so many of those people got to know me. Rock and roll was just another word for playing the drums. I was just playing the drums. I would listen to certain records on the radio. When I would hear a record and they were calling it rock and roll, I would listen to the drummer and he was just playing straight eights or dotted eights, whatever the feel was. There were only two feels of music: Straight eights or dotted eights. That was it. Many of the big drummers in Hollywood refused to play what they called “That loud, lousy crap.” I’ll tell you something. Within six months these guys were all calling me. “Can I come to one of your sessions? I want to see what you do”. That’s the way it was.

Who were the other players at that time that were doing the work?

Hal Blaine: Well when I got to LA, there was Irv Cottler. He was Frank Sinatra’s drummer. There was the guy with Les Brown, Jack Sperling, who was a wonderful big band drummer. Mel Lewis was there, and Shelly Manne, of course. Shelly and I became very good friends. He was a sweetheart. Larry Bunker, one of the great big band, be-bop drummers. Gene Estes.

So really at this point, there really was nobody, except for Earl, playing rock and roll in the studios. Were there any other drummers playing rock and roll in the studios?

Hal Blaine: There were several guys that were playing rock and roll in the studios. Earl Palmer. Sharkey Hall was great little drummer. I got to meet all these people, got to know all these people and we were all friends. We were in the same union. We would see each other at the union or sometimes pass each other in the hallways, in the studios. Somebody would be in Studio A and I would be in C and somebody would be in B. We would yak this way and that way. We were all friends. A lot of people thought that there was a terrible competition going. There really wasn’t. Not at all. It turned out I had my accounts, Earl had his accounts, Sharkey had his accounts. There were several other drummers.

There were a lot of guys of the old school that were sort of being phased out by us. When we came along, a lot of people asked me how we got the name The Wrecking Crew? Very simply, all the old established musicians with the three-piece suits, use to see us come into a date, wearing a pair of Levi’s and a tee shirt, smoking cigarettes, maybe unshaven, and they would say, “These kids are going to wreck the business.” I just automatically started calling us The Wrecking Crew. I finally had to have a secretary. She would book all the people. They would call my secretary and they’d say, “We need The Wrecking Crew.” She knew who to call, etc. It wasn’t always exactly the same guys but there were quite a bunch of guys that were all great musicians and if one wasn’t available the next one was, and so forth. They were all “A” players. Nobody was second or third or fourth string players. All the guys were really very, very good. They were very sober and reliable.

It’s a strange thing. Things will happen in the recording industry. I have a picture of four of the officials at Warner Brothers/Reprise. I have this beautiful picture of them handing me four Gold Records and they were for Frank Sinatra and Nancy Sinatra and I forget who else. Beautiful picture. When I went to Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas with Nancy Sinatra, we did a great show, an incredible show there, and it became an Ed Sullivan special. At one point, there’s a solo that I do on a song called “Drummer Man” that Nancy did, beautiful, she did it gorgeous. At the end of the song, as she was coming down, she’s getting ready to appear on stage again, and she says, “Hal was very instrumental in one of the records that I did that was such a big hit for me. Hope you like it and we go into “Boots.” “These Boots Were Made for Walking” was a song written by Lee Hazelwood. Billy Strange conducted. It was like yesterday. Richie Frost claims he did that record. Jim Gordon, a fine drummer, claims he did that record. I have a contract. I have the Gold Record. I have Nancy saying on the Ed Sullivan Show that I did and yet these guys continue. I don’t know. And I have often said, “I don’t care, they can say anything they want to say.” It really doesn’t bother me. I know what I did, and I was the drummer on “These Boots Were Made for Walking.” I was her drummer and Lee Hazelwood’s drummer. Lee Hazelwood took me to France. We did shows all around the world with these people. And Nancy has referred to me as her drummer man for as long as I’ve known her, 40 years maybe. Just did this big beautiful show with Nancy at the Whiskey A Go-Go with Eric Burdon and The Animals. Now about 35 years ago, I was one of the guys that sort of opened the Whiskey A Go-Go with Johnny Rivers. We did his first live album there. After all these years the Whiskey A Go-Go is still the one Hollywood spot where all the major stars want to play. It’s just a big old nightclub, and they use to have girls up in birdcages doing the twist and dancing and so forth. It was quite a place.

Getting back to drummers. Drummers are either going to learn to accompany or they are going to be soloists. I have never been a soloist. I am an accompanist. I want to hear a song and I play the song the way I feel it. Fortunately for me, being the rock and roll guy at the beginning of rock, people use to say to me, “Just do your thing. We want a hit.” They didn’t want to bother me. I remember one time I was scared to death. I had my first call at 20th Century Fox. I had been working at other major studios, but there was something about 20th Century Fox, Lionel Newman, who was known to be one of the toughest guys in the business and a great conductor, was the head of music at 20th Century Fox. We went out there to do some little cue. There was one place where a couple people were driving in a car, they turn on the radio and you hear all this wild rock and roll music, just for a couple of seconds, Boom, then they shut it off. That’s why we, The Wrecking Crew, were hired. We played this wild and crazy rock and roll. At Fox Studios, they did all these epics and all these sagas with 150 piece orchestras, and they used two microphones. It was beautiful. But rock and roll is not two microphones. There was a producer there who said to me, “Hal, we’re not getting that rock and roll sound that we hear on the radio, you know, that you guys do”. I said, “Well you know, one of the problems is they have one microphone on a very short stand about four or five feet in front of me, and one or two overheads for the rest of the band. It was five, six, seven guys. I said, “You’re not getting the sound because it’s not isolated.” And I didn’t know that much technically about it, but I was learning. He said, “What can we do? I said, “Usually, there’s one overhead just over me to pick up everything. There’s one on the snare drum. There’s one on the bass drum, and maybe one or two in front of the guys over here.This old man, his name was Hal, came up screaming, “Are you crazy? We don’t have those kinds of inputs. We can’t do those kinds of things. What are you trying to pull here?” I said, “Excuse me.” I felt so bad because Lionel Newman was standing and you could see the smoke coming out of his ears saying to himself, “Why did I ever get these idiots in here?” I told him, “Sir, all I’m doing is telling this gentleman that what we do in the other studios. I realize that you don’t have the inputs.” Well, they fooled around with jerry-rigging something, and they got it and it came out perfect. From that day on I was getting calls practically every other day from 20th Century Fox. I was doing “Batman” and all these series that they were doing. All of a sudden I was the rock and roll drummer. They didn’t know any other rock and roll drummers. So it was pretty amazing.

How about The Wrecking Crew’s sessions with Phil Spector? ( (Note: This interview was conducted long before Spector’s legal problems.)

Hal Blaine: Many people ask me about Phil Spector. The mystic mystery of Phil Spector. Whenever we did a Phil Spector date, and as I recall it was usually a Friday night because we would sometimes go half the night, it was always a big party. A major party. There was a big sign on the door “Gold Star” (studios). And by the way, every Tuesday morning I had breakfast with the Goldstar gang, It was the “Goldstar Breakfast Gang.” There is no longer a Goldstar Studios–but Dave Gold, Stan Ross, Larry Levin, Randy Van Horn and some of the producers and singers who worked there– we get together every Tuesday morning and reminisce and kibitz about Gold Star and about the business in general. Anyway, there was a big sign on the front door, whenever Phil recorded, that said “Closed Session.” But anyone that stuck their head in and peeked in, Phil would grab them, drag them into the studio and say, “Hal give them a tambourine. Give them a cowbell, castanets, whatever.” We always had 15 percussionists, just guys smacking and cracking, including Sonny Bono, who was not a percussionist. I use to give him a tambourine or cowbell or a something.

How big was this band?

Hal Blaine: Our band at Gold Star was myself and generally rhythm sections with piano, bass, drums, guitar. We would have four, five, six, seven guitars. We would have three, sometimes four basses. There were always four keyboard players, playing regular, upright, tack, electric. I never knew how Phil used to work on this stuff. A lot of the producers would come by just to see how he made records. They use to use this phrase, they wanted to see how Philip “sprinkled the fairy dust over the record and made it gold.” Phil Spector was the talk of Hollywood. We were doing the Blossoms, of course, the singers who did “Bobby Socks and the Blue Jeans.”(Note: The Blossoms recorded under various names, including Bob B. Sox and Blue Jeans) featuring the high tenor lead of Bobby Sheen). We were doing, of course, the Ronnettes. and Phil had actually been married to one of the young girls of the Ronnettes. Cher was singing backgrounds. It was an amazing assembly of people, and once again they were the top musicians. Ray Pullman was always on bass. Lyle Ritz upright. Jimmy Bond upright. Carol Kaye would be on guitar, along with Tommy Tedesco. There’s nobody finer than Tommy Tedesco. Some of the great jazz players were sitting there playing with Phil like Herb Ellis, Howard Roberts and Barney Kessel. All the greats. And Phil played the piano and also played guitar. He loved all these guys and these were the guys that he would call. We always had Steve Douglas on saxophone. Jay Migliore on baritone sax. Jim Horn sometimes on tenor. We had all the great horn players. This was two-track. This was years ago. Larry Levin, the engineer, had a way of getting us all on there. And it was rather a small studio. We were packed in there like sardines. This was the Wrecking Crew, while Phil called it his “Wall of Sound.” Everybody called it the “Wall of Sound.” One of the reasons for their great sound was they were one of the first studios to have a natural echo chamber built up in the attic somewhere, some kind of cement chamber. They could turn on that echo, and this is long before electronics and everybody had echo. It was pretty amazing. Leon Russell would be on piano, Don Randion piano. Al Delari , who became a big producer at Capital on piano. Larry Necktel on piano, the guy that got the Grammy for the introduction on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” that we did with Simon and Garfunkel. These guys were all super players.

Everything we did with Spector was a hit. They were all Gold and Platinum records, and that included the last stuff with John Lennon prior to his death. People ask me quite often about how I got the sound on my drums in those days. It was just a normal, four-piece set. I had a snare, small tom, which was a 12, a floor tom, 16ish. One of the things that I did for Phil was I rarely used any cymbals. I played my bass drum, which was a normal 22 bass drum with a head on each side, and a little dampening on each head. I was using calf heads. What we did was, every backbeat was snare and floor tom, I was giving them the highs and lows of the backbeats. That was something that Phil liked. That’s something I did always with Phil. In fact, I always did it with the Beach Boys, but the snare drum was not quite as high as the Beach Boys. There was a lick that I played that I became famous for, and that was on a song called “Be My Baby.” Every drummer in the world was playing that lick somewhere after that record came out. People ask me about that lick. I did a record with Frank Sinatra called “Strangers in the Night,” I did the same lick. Drum parts were never written for me. In the case of this lick, when we were doing that record, it’s very possible that when somebody pushed the record button and said, “Here we go,” I may have missed that second beat. So anytime I make a mistake, I will continue that mistake. It’s happened to all drummers, obviously. But that mistake was one of the wildest things that ever happened to me.

How about Jan and Dean?

Hal Blaine: Jan and Dean were a couple of young very handsome guys who were doing nothing but selling records. Earl Palmer and I were doing double drums with them. We use to sit and write our parts out identically. Same tom-tom licks, same snare lick. Anything we did was done in unison. Came out great. That’s the way Jan wanted it, Nobody knows why or anything about it. They were major hits, “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” and all those records. At one point, they had a lot of hits and 20th Century Fox came along and they wanted to do a(television series, “Jan and Dean on the Run,” something like that. Jan Berry was a medical student. Dean Torrence was studying architecture. They were both going to USC. They called me and said, “We’ve got a chance to do this television pilot for 20th and we want you to play our road manager and drummer on the show.” I said, “Sure, of course.” We had talked about this before but I had been working in some film as an actor. I worked at Disney and Paramount. I was working with Sal Mineo, a wonderful kid who was quite the drummer himself. He had done “The Gene Krupa Story.” Sal and I became pretty good friends, I was photo doubling for Sal and doing some stunts and doing some bits in this some “Z”movie. “On the Run”was about a couple of young guys, Jan and Dean, on the road, playing concerts. At one point, we did a free concert in San Diego for about 5,000 screaming kids and I brought the whole band down from LA. Now we had filmed all over the country, but this happened to be a concert in San Diego, one of the big concert halls, and I do happen to have that on film. (My character) was called Clobber the Drummer, and I had a running gag where their manager would say, “Clob, you got the music?” I would always say, “Have I got the music?” Like, leave me alone. He was a very nervous guy, this guy, Clobber. “You got the music? Have I got the music?” Just as we were getting on the airplane or whatever, they would cut to me running away. “ Clob, where are you going?” “ I forgot the music.” That type of thing. It really was very cute. We got all signed contracts at 20th. We were going to be big stars. We did this concert at the end of this run and this crew was with us through the entire pilot. William Asher was the director. He was also married to Elizabeth Montgomery. She also did a cameo in it. We shot all over the place. I brought the band down, The Wrecking Crew, and we had one heck of a band. It was a blowing band. All these guys are great players. I saw it not long ago. All the guys in the crew, they only knew me as an actor. They were coming to me and saying, “Hal, how did you learn how to play the drums like that, so quick, for this concert?” I had a double bass drum set up like Louie Bellson’s set up. Eventually they realized that I was a drummer, really not an actor. We had all signed contracts, we were going to be stars, they were picking me up in a limo every day. Then Jan had his accident. Not to get too gory, but he went under a truck in his little Corvette, He was pronounced dead on the scene. Someone kind of noticed some life and they got him, they brought him back, but unfortunately he was in a coma, for God, I don’t know how long. I use to go there every Saturday and I would just talk to him as if he could hear me. That was the end of the show. That was the end of everything. He did survive. To this day, they still go out as Jan and Dean. They have a fan club. Jan is completely crippled one side, almost like a stroke victim. But one side does not work. He’s married to a very nice gal, Gertrude, who’s been taking care of him. Every now and then he calls.

A lot of people ask me about the Beach Boys. I think it is common knowledge that I played on just about all of their hit records. It kind of ties in with Phil Spector. as so many of those things tied in with the various producers, conductors and arrangers. Brian Wilson use to come to the Phil Spector sessions a lot, because any time Phil Spector called a session, it went around town like wild fire. Everybody knew that Friday night, Phil Spector was going to be at Goldstar with the band, so a lot of people used to want to be there and see it and catch it. Brian was no exception. Evidently, Brian was driving the car one day and had heard “Be My Baby, ” and it blew his mind. He said, “That’s the greatest record I have ever heard,” and to this day, he still says that. He went through finding out who it was and all of a sudden, he showed up at Goldstar and wanted to meet Phil Spector. Phil let him sit there and watch. Most of us at the time, were already working with The Four Freshman, The Hi-Lo’s, The Lettermen, these various great groups. They all had hit records. When we went in and worked with Brian, we were never hearing final vocals. We just heard some humming or something. Brian was trying to explain the record to us. It was all in his head. He would have a chord chart, just a map. Start here, stop here, another stop here and here’s an ending. This is what chord charts were anyway with most arrangers. Lot of the biggest name arrangers would give us chord charts and say, “Do your own thing. You have carte blanche. Just make me a hit record,” because we did. Brian called me and we became very, very friendly, very close. He used to come to my house all the time. He would put my little daughter Shelly on his knee and he would play the piano and bounce her up and down. It was just a wonderful time. Brian was totally together, just absolutely together. Now, we would never see the other guys. Once in a while I would see Dennis, the brother, the drummer, to see what we were doing. Or he’d say, “ I need a set of drums on certain day, we’re doing a concert.” People ask all the time, “Wasn’t Dennis upset that you played on the record?” Dennis was never upset. First of all, whenever we were doing sessions, and we were making $35, $40.00 in the afternoon, that night, Dennis would be on stage making $35,000, $40.000.00.

That afternoon, Dennis was out on his motorcycle or his boat. He was doing something with some gorgeous lady somewhere, maybe getting married. He lived on a 45 degree angle. I mean, I always knew that Dennis was going to be in deep trouble some day because he was just one of those guys. He just led with his forehead. Yet he really was a brilliant piano player. He wrote some wonderful songs. He was happy that I was doing the sessions and the proof of the pudding is he hired me to do his solo album. “Pacific Coast Blue,” or something like that

Some years later, Brian was writing all these songs. Once again with Brian, it was always “Fun, Fun, Fun,” just like we did that record. It was always fun. We just had a ball. One of the ingredients for hit records for all of us was having fun and making a record feel good. If a record felt good, and by then they were into four track and eight track, if a record felt good, they could fix a glitch. If something went wrong somewhere, they could always fix that. With Brian, he had it all in his head. Out of nowhere we did “Good Vibrations”, and out of nowhere he wanted a theremin. None of us had ever even heard of a theremin. I had to go find a theremin player. There was a bona fide player, a Mr. Tanner, who played the theremin on records. We all thought he was nuts, and we didn’t know what it was. When we did “Good Vibrations”, we did it in so many sections, I don’t know how many sessions we did, but we would go in and we would sit down and Brian would give us some sheets and we would run through it once, maybe twice. Brian would say “Thank you,” and he would leave. That was the three hour, 12 minute session. The next time it might be four hours. He was putting these sections together for the song “Good Vibrations”, which even the Beatles and so many people said that the way he put this stuff together was just incredible. And we never heard the vocals, but I do know that, often times, Jan sang on Beach Boys records and often times, Beach Boys sang on Jan and Dean records. Big family, same studio. But once again, it was fun. We went for a feel. If it felt good it was going to be a hit. I’ll tell ya, almost everything we touched turned to gold. We were so fortunate to have been working with these people. We walked in on the Byrds one day, being produced by Terry Melcher, who happened to be the son of Doris Day. Terry was a very fine producer and he got a job at Columbia Records. Everybody said, “Oh Doris Day got this kid a job this kid, what are they going to do?” Well, he came in and we did a record called “Mr. Tambourine Man.” It probably took Columbia Records out of the hole if they were in a hole. Terry was one of those sweethearts and everything he touched turned to gold. It was just amazing to think about how young some of these people were. Terry was about 17, 18 and in those days.”

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2 Responses to “Hal Blaine at 80: 35,000 Sessions and Counting”

  1. Patti (Apoliona) Smart Says:

    Hi Hal. It was great reading about you. Met you through Tom Moffett In Hawaii and celebrated Hawaii’s statehood with you Tommy and Fely on a beach, listening on the radio and hearing that Hawaii became a state. I retired from Aloha Airlines, after 50 years in 2007 and in 2008, Aloha went out of business. So sad. Happy 80th and God Bless.

  2. Murray Rose Says:

    Dear Hal, I am a long lost family member my mother was Eva (Katz) Rose, Charles Rose was my dad, Marcia and Dave Katz were my aunt and uncle. You and your band members had supper at our house on Miami Beach in the early 60’s when you were appearing at one of the hotels with Tommy Sands. I have watched your success increase over the years but never wanted to bother you but when I read the bio of you at 80 and still counting I had the urge to send you this note to tell you there is family still around and I know where some of them are if you want to get in touch if you want more info please feel free to contact me at mrose@carolina.rr.com stay healthy and happy and the besy for you and yours