Interview: Hal Blaine - JazzWax

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March 23, 2011


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Marc,this feature on Hal Blaine-someone I had never heard of before-is the best response I can imagine for those periodic grips about your coverage outside of the jazz field. Before I had ever heard of Coltrane,Miles or Bird,when "jazz" was only Al Hirt or maybe Armstrong singing "Hello,Dolly" on the Sullvan show,the songs Blaine played on were the backbone of my listening habits. And I listened a lot-Murray The K,B.Mitchell Reed,"Mad Daddy" and his "stax o' wax",Gary Stevens and Eddie O'Jay. When AM radio wasn't the wasteland it is today,there were wonderful,memorable songs played crisply,with style,swing and yes..."soul". Those mini-dramas-like timeless jazz solos-managed to say so much in the alloted time,yet had 'licks' that you couldn't get out of your head(not that you wanted to). He's A Rebel,I Get Around,Bridge Over Troubled Water,Wouldn't It Be Nice-when I fell asleep with my transitor radio propped against my ear 45 years ago(covers over the head as I was "asleep"),those were the songs and beats I heard. Thanks to your writing,this "educated consumer" knows they're going to sound even better. Bravo!

Richard Salvucci

Guitarist Dennis Budimir too...I read somewhere that there is a documentary in the works.....

Rick M

I first became aware of Hal when my parents took me to see Nancy Sinatra in Vegas sometime in the mid sixties. He was the first professional musician that made an impression on me and probably caused an interest in music to go beyond the superficial level that most people experience. I guess you could say he brought me to YOUR blog, Marc!

Jery Rowan

Marc, just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed your Hal Blaine interview.

In the late ‘60s to mid ‘70s I spent a fair amount of time in and out of such LA recording hot spots as Bell Sound, Larabe, Westlake Studios, et al and more often than not I’d bump into Hal playing a session in the studio next door. I think he once told me he’d been averaging three sessions a day for most of that particular month. To say he was the number one call in town at the time would be putting it mildly. And he was always gracious with his time, willing to talk shop at the drop of a stick or take you on a tour of his electronic drums -- something new in percussion technology in those days.

And, like you stated, he was the talk of the recording studios back then. Cranking out hit after hit after hit. But nobody outside of the Hollywood recording scene really new his name. He was truly the world’s most famous unknown drummer.

Jery Rowan

... And another dirty little secret:

Many of the hit vocals of that period were not necessarily those of the artist(s) identified on the records -- The Monkees and The Partridge Family immediately come to mind -- which were "sweetened" by such studio singers as Ron Hickland, Gene Moreford, Al Capps and a "Wrecking Crew" of other vocalists who could sight-read parts just like the fine musicians who worked in the studios with them.

1960s Hollywood R&R: A period of smoke and mirrors.

Phil Kelly

Hal was aalso responsible for two big changes affecting all drummers playing studio gigs during the 60s /70s period. One was the low tuning of tom tom heads to prouduce that flabby "boing" sound that every producer insisten upon ( regardless of who was playing the date ) The second thing was a large set of rack (or rail ) mounted single headed tom toms ( usually a set of 6 to 8 ) ranging from very small to quite large that Hal designed . Pretty soon ( much to the delight of the drum manufacturers ), the octa -tom sets were also an investment most studio drummers of the era had to spring for.

Phil Stanton

I first became aware of Hal Blaine by studious reading of liner notes on LP covers in the '60's. His name kept coming up, more than any other of the session players on these cuts - naturally I was fascinated by this almost mythical musician and I've followed his career since then. Thanks for the interview - and I'm glad to read that Hal is still alive!!

just me

hal rocks... hes my step dads old old old friend... they served in wwII together


Thanks for your great,insightful article on
Hal Blaineand The Wrecking crew.Great reading!

zach jansen

Hal blaine is one of the very best when it comes to drummers he played on over 40 no 1 hits my favorite is this diamond ring 1965

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of 55 More Songs," "Anatomy of a Song," "Rock Concert: An Oral History" and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax has won three Jazz Journalists Association awards.
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