Hal Blaine, drummer who dominated midcentury pop, dies aged 90

Drummer on hits by Sinatra, Presley and Beach Boys ‘greatest ever’, says Brian Wilson

Hal Blaine. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Hal Blaine. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

 

Hal Blaine, one of pop music’s most prolific and brilliant drummers, who played with Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys and more, died on Monday at the age of 90.

The news was announced on his Facebook page, where he was described as a loving father and grandfather, “and inspiration to countless friends, fans and musicians.” It added: “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.” His son-in-law Andy Johnson said Blaine died of natural causes.

Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys paid tribute, saying Blaine “was such a great musician and friend… 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.” As a session musician Blaine played drums on the band’s album Pet Sounds, as well as on hits including I Get Around and Good Vibrations.

Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees said he was “deeply saddened… Hal played drums on the soundtrack of our lives for many of us”, while the country singer Margo Price called him “one of the most talented and prolific drummers to ever live”.

Born in Massachusetts in 1929, Blaine learned drums as a teenager and found work playing big-band jazz with Count Basie. He quickly made the jump to rock’n’roll once the new scene began to flourish, and joined the Wrecking Crew, a collective of session musicians named by Blaine for the way they were seen by older players to be “wrecking” music.

Blaine ended up performing on American number-one songs from a huge range of stars, including Can’t Help Falling in Love with You, by Elvis Presley, Something Stupid, by Frank and Nancy Sinatra, I Got You Babe, by Sonny & Cher, Mr Tambourine Man, by the Byrds, and The Way We Were, by Barbra Streisand.

Of the Byrds, he once said: “I don’t think they even mentioned me on any of the albums. In those days they didn’t do that… It was considered a scandal that The Monkees didn’t make their own records. It broke to the world in all the trades and movie magazines that not only The Monkees didn’t – nobody did!”

Some of his most celebrated performances are with Simon & Garfunkel on songs like Bridge over Troubled Water, The Boxer and Mrs Robinson.

But perhaps his most significant contribution to pop music was on the Ronettes song Be My Baby: its opening four-beat drum pattern became one of the iconic sounds of 1960s pop, and ended up appearing on countless other songs by artists including the Jesus and Mary Chain and Manic Street Preachers. It was one of many songs Blaine played for Phil Spector as Spector perfected his maximalist “wall of sound” production style.

In 2015 Blaine admitted the Be My Baby rhythm was a mistake. “I was supposed to play the snare on the second beat as well as the fourth, but I dropped a stick. Being the faker I was in those days, I left the mistake in and it became: ‘Bum-ba-bum-boom!’ And soon everyone wanted that beat.”

Blaine played on fewer recordings from the 1980s onwards, and after an acrimonious divorce he took work as a security guard in Arizona. But in 2000 he, along with the rest of the Wrecking Crew, was inducted in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. According to the Hall of Fame, Blaine “has certainly played on more hit records than any drummer in the rock era, including 40 No 1 singles and 150 that made the Top 10”.

Blaine’s family said he is survived by his daughter, Michelle, and seven grandchildren. – Guardian