Hal Blaine: A Tribute

Legendary drummer and Wrecking Crew member Hal Blaine passed away on March 11, 2019, at the age of 90.

Hal was one of the most popular, and most recorded, drummers of all time. The list of artists he worked for, and the hit records he performed on, is staggering. From Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” groups to the Beach Boys and countless other examples—the biggest names in the business—Hal’s career as a studio musician was unparalleled.

What a legacy, and what a life.

This one hits close to home. Beginning in late 1962 with the sessions for “Linda,” Hal played  on all of producer Jan Berry’s sessions for Jan & Dean through early 1966. Beginning with the “Surf City” sessions in March 1963, Jan instructed Hal and the great Earl Palmer to play in tandem—in unison—in the studio. All of their parts were written out note for note, and Jan’s original charts and scores still exist. These pioneering dual drum sessions produced a fat, driving sound that became one of the hallmarks of Jan’s productions.

Hal Blaine
HAL BLAINE
Earl Palmer
EARL PALMER

In producing the Wrecking Crew in the studio, Jan kept up a constant back-and-forth dialog with Hal. Beginning with Dead Man’s Curve / The New Girl in School in 1964, Jan & Dean’s albums featured the liner credit, “Orchestra Conducted by Hal Blaine.”

Hal also served as contractor for Jan’s sessions, and often backed the duo in live performances with other Wrecking Crew musicians.

Notable live performances with Hal included shows recorded in Sacramento, California, on October 24, 1964, which became the basis for the hit album Command Performance (1965). Performances for the legendary concert film The TAMI Show followed on October 28-29, 1964 (with a theatrical release in 1965).

In November 1965, concerts with Hal and the Wrecking Crew, conducted by George Tipton,  were filmed in San Diego for Jan & Dean’s 1966 television pilot On the Run (Ashmont Productions / 20th Century-Fox). This classic concert footage featured Hal playing his famous blue double-bass Ludwig kit with caricatures of Jan & Dean on the outer bass drum heads.

Hal Blaine
Legendary Drummer HAL BLAINE Backing JAN & DEAN at the Hollywood Bowl

Hal’s character in the pilot was “Clobber,” the drummer in Jan & Dean’s road band. His gag was, “Have I got the music?! . . . I forgot the music.” “He’s a good drummer,” joked fictional manager George Fennenbock. Clobber is seen with bongos strapped around his neck in segments shot at the San Diego Zoo.  Hal had a wicked sense of humor and was fond of off-color jokes—a perfect fit for Jan & Dean. The duo’s comedy series  On the Run was slated to debut on the ABC network in the fall of ’66—but Jan’s life-changing automobile accident in April ended everything.

Hal Blaine
HAL BLAINE — “Drums! Drums! A Go Go” LP Cover, 1965

Hal and Jan were close personal friends who often socialized together outside of the studio. Hal was 12 years his senior and very much like an older brother to Jan. Hal was devastated by Jan’s car accident. He spent a lot of time at Jan’s bedside, and played on all of Jan’s post-accident recordings in the ’60s and ’70s, beginning with the first Carnival of Sound related sessions in April 1967.

Jan Berry
JAN BERRY with close friend and drummer HAL BLAINE, 1967
JAN BERRY with Friend and Drummer Hal Blaine, Circa 1969-70
JAN BERRY with Friend and Drummer HAL BLAINE at Park Lane Circle, Circa 1969-70

I am grateful that I got a chance to interview Hal. He was always gracious and loved to talk about his time with Jan, and Jan’s influence on his career. Hal called me after receiving a copy of my book The Jan & Dean Record, and I was truly thankful for his enthusiastic support of the project.

Thanks for the music, Hal. Rest easy, my friend. You had a long and productive life, and we are all the richer for it.

“Here we go . . . Top, fellas!”

Mark A. Moore
Author of The Jan & Dean Record

Follow in Social Media:

One thought on “Hal Blaine: A Tribute”

  1. I learned drums from my neighbor, Gene Gunnells. (look him up)
    Gene always put Hal Blaine at the top of his list. For good reason; Hal recorded (worked) for a living. He was a drummer who made money working on more successful musical projects than just about anyone-ever.

    Sure, there’s better drummers. Cobham, Lenny etc are virtual math wizards sitting behind the kit. Jimmy Keltner was genio as well.

    But none are more successful drummers (IMO) than Hal.

    Yes, even you, Buddy.

    dp

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.