by Daniel O’Neill ’21 A&E Staff
On Monday, March 11, in Palm Desert, California, legendary session musician Hal Blaine passed away at the age of 90. Blaine is widely considered one of the best session drummers of all time. He was a member of the group of session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew and is the most recorded drummer in history. He played drums in what is estimated to be over 35,000 songs.
In his long career, Blaine was awarded 150 top 10 hits on the charts, eight Grammy awards, and 40 #1 hit singles. He began playing as a session musician in his early twenties and never looked back. He started out working with Phil Spector, the legendary producer who is infamously known for murdering actress Lana Clarkson.
Once Blaine started working with Spector, he met and formed The Wrecking Crew, which included other legendary musicians like Glen Campbell and Leon Russell. The group worked with bands such as The Crystals and The Ronettes, utilizing Spector’s well known “Wall of Sound” technique.
Blaine also played drums for other famous acts, including The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, Leonard Cohen, Frank Sinatra, and Sam Cooke, among others. Blaine’s death left an impact on many people, including Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, who, after the recording of “Good Vibrations,” called him the greatest drummer ever. After Blaine’s death, Wilson tweeted, “Hal Blaine was such a great musician and friend that I can’t put into words. Hal taught me a lot, and he had so much to do with our success—he was the greatest drummer ever.” Because of his affiliation with The Wrecking Crew, Blaine was able to develop a wide variety of talent for different genres. From his drumming with Presley, to his recording with Sinatra, Blaine proved that he was one of the most diverse musicians of all time.
In 2000, Hal Blaine was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, along with a group of other side musicians who played in the studio with him. Blaine’s legacy is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, of session musicians today.
But when it comes to his style of playing, Blaine spiced up any song. His drums were known to make any song more dramatic; he would signature any transition with a change of tempo or a speedy fill. His skill as a drummer led many producers to replace their bands’ credited drummers. On The Beach Boy’s album, Pet Sounds, it is Blaine playing the drums, not the credited drummer Dennis Wilson. Blaine acted as a backing force for some of the most well-known and influential songs of all time.
Blaine’s legacy will live on for generations to come, as his talent as a musician in the studio has created countless hits that influence musicians today.