Prolific Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine, whose signature style can be heard on hits by such icons as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, the Ronettes and more, passed away on March 11, 2019. He was 90 years old.
“Loving father of Michelle Blaine; grandfather of Anthony, Josh, Aaron, Whitney, Tempest, Ever and Lyryk; and inspiration to countless friends, fans and musicians. 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,” read the announcement on his Facebook page.
The Massachusetts native was born Harold Simon Belsky on February 5, 1929. He began playing drums when he was only eight years old and eventually launched his professional career playing overnight sessions in Chicago strip clubs. Blaine went on to play as a part of Count Basie’s big band and toured with Patti Page and Tommy Sands. As the burgeoning rock ’n’ roll genre took off, Blaine left the world of jazz behind to venture into heavier beats. During this time he became a key member of The Wrecking Crew, a collective of session musicians in Los Angeles that played on hit records throughout the 1960s. Blaine is credited with inventing the name, which was coined for the way this new generation were seen as “wrecking” the careers of their predecessors.
One of the most in-demand drummers of his time, Blaine played on over 35,000 recordings, including 6,000 singles. This included such hits for the Beach Boys as “California Girls,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” and “Good Vibrations.” Largely considered by many to be his most significant contribution to pop music was the opening four-beat drum pattern for the Ronettes’ 1963 single “Be My Baby.” This beat became an iconic sound of 1960s pop, and appeared on countless other songs by various artists.
His signature beats can also be heard on “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” by Elvis Presley, “Something Stupid” by Frank and Nancy Sinatra, “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher, “Mr Tambourine Man” by the Byrds, and “The Way We Were” by Barbra Streisand, among others. Blaine also played on six consecutive Grammy Award Record of the Year winners: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass in 1966 for “A Taste of Honey,” Sinatra in 1967 for “Strangers in the Night,” The 5th Dimension in 1968 for “Up, Up and Away,” Simon & Garfunkel in 1969 for “Mrs. Robinson,” The 5th Dimension in 1970 for “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” and Simon & Garfunkel in 1971 for “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Blaine, along with the rest of the Wrecking Crew, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. During this induction, the Hall of Fame credited Blaine with “playing on more hit records than any drummer in the rock era, including 40 No. 1 singles and 150 that made the Top 10.” He was later inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2010 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.
Since the announcement of his passing, tributes have poured in from various artists that worked with Blaine. This includes Beach Boys creative leader Brian Wilson who said, “I’m so sad, I don’t know what to say. Hal Blaine was such a great musician and friend that I can’t put it into words. Hal taught me a lot, and he had so much to do with our success — he was the greatest drummer ever. We also laughed an awful lot. Hal, we love you and our memories will last forever.”
Blaine was married and divorced five times. He is survived by daughter Michelle and seven grandchildren.