RIP Hal Blaine


#1

The word “legend” gets tossed around a bit too easily sometimes, but in this case it’s appropriate. Hal was the key member of the Wrecking Crew, that legendary assemblage of musicians in California who played on virtually everyone’s records that were recorded in Los Angeles back in the day. That’s Hal and the crew on Pet Sounds. That’s Hal and crew on all those amazing Phil Spector-produced singles.

Fun fact: Blaine was the drummer on SIX straight Record of the Year Grammy winners.

90 years old. One hell of an amazing life.


#2

If you ever really sit and listen to the entire, unedited (maybe not the single version) song, “Good Vibrations” is one of the most bonkers and insane tracks of that entire era. Love this:

And here’s Hal playing on the Wrecking Crew documentary from a few years back, as a 78-year old.


#3

Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye were an incredible rhythm section. RIP


#4

That Lost Studio vid is great. I’m sad to hear that this guy I’ve heard a ton-of but never heard of has passed away.


#5

RIP. He had great range - he was the drummer on “Summer Rain,” “Never My Love,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Close to You” and “Strangers in the Night” among a million others - but he is surely best known for the big sound he used on Phil Spector records, starting with “Be My Baby.”

Here’s a lesser-known Spector track he appears on, because it captures that sound perfectly. And what could be better than Hal Blaine and Darlene Love together?


#6

Of the musicians featured in The Wrecking Crew documentary (filmed between 1997 and 2003 I think), the only major players left are bassist Carol Kaye, sax/winds player Plas Johnson (that’s his sax on lead on the Pink Panther theme), Chuck Berghofer (that’s his bass doing that amazing sliding thing on “These Boots are Made For Walkin’”), guitarist Bill Pittman, and maybe someone else I missed. And obviously since “The Wrecking Crew” had a pretty loose and fungible list of members, there are others still around.

That documentary is on HULU btw. Highly recommended!


#7

#8

One iconic track with Hal playing:

There have been numerous disputed stories about Bruce Botnick and Jac Holzman being dissatisfied by Love’s ability to play the tracks on Forever Changes and those two bringing in various Wrecking Crew peeps to play, including Hal Blaine. Members of the band for years swore those rumors weren’t true. Then there were stories that it was Wrecking Crew latecomer Jim Gordon on drums.

Apparently about 10 years ago Blaine – who wasn’t real prideful and often didn’t mind other drummers taking credit for his work – got one too many buttons pushed on this score, and produced his AFM Union contract and canceled check showing that he was indeed the drummer on this track that made it to the album.


#9

Wow!!

Think I’ll bust out my vinyl copy of that LP in memoriam.

And you do remember my story about that album, right? The time I met John Stirratt of Wilco and we were talking music faves. He mentioned how much he loved an album called Forever Changes by Love and, thanks to triggercut’s recommendation, I pulled the CD out of my coat pocket right on cue and said, “You mean this?” I felt cooool af, all thanks to you. :D


#10

Beats by Blaine. (The drum sample is “Mary Mary” by the Monkees)


#11

Never heard of him… then I ran into this blog post: https://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2019/03/man-of-1000-dances-rip-hal-blaine-by.html (which links to a top-10 list of youtube clips of Hal Blaine songs).

I know a lot of these! Any World That I’m Welcome To, Cecilia, That’s Life, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, Be My Baby… so many!


#12

Weird. I have never heard of this group. They seemed to have headlined a concert followed by the Doors and Canned Heat.


#13

OK, I’ll bite.

By the time of their third album, Forever Changes, in 1967, Love – the band – was in real trouble. They were basically two people creatively: Arthur Lee, an intimidating African American dude who’d grown up in South Central Los Angeles and played in folk and R&B bands in dive bars all over southern California for years, and Bryan MacLean, who was a white kid (and music prodigy) of great privilege; he’d grown up in Hollywood with parents who hob-nobbed with the stars (Bryan’s dad was a famous architect who built mansions for the rich and famous and became rich and famous himself).

But it’s June of 1967. Love were one of two rock bands – The Doors being the other – signed to prestigious folk label Elektra. But Love was falling apart. Lee had angrily fired a couple of band members for being too drunk/stoned constantly to even play gigs, and the band was pretty shoddy even when they had their shit kind of together. The first two Love albums were basically '60s garage rock with some folk-ish hues at the edge, with two minor hits: “7 & 7 Is” and “Little Red Book”, both of which became garage punk standards. (Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett was trying to pick out the descending guitar riff on “Little Red Book” in the studio and Roger Waters overheard it and was intrigued…and the two ended up re-purposing that lick, without the syncopation, into their own song, “Astronomy Domine”.)

So Love needed to make a new record, but Arthur Lee and Bryan MacLean didn’t have any confidence the remaining fuck-ups in their band could play any of the songs. They’d also been smitten by the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” album in 1966, and just as they were writing the songs for their new record in May of '67, Sgt. Pepper came out. The two songwriters/singers in Love came up with a bold plan: they’d try to write a record in that vein. It’d be cool to try, for one thing. And they could use session musicians anyway because they’d make it way too complicated for their band to play onstage or in studio.

And that’s how Forever Changes got made and released in 1967. It flopped on release. The record is full of orchestrations, much more quiet pop stuff, and zips all over the map, stylistically. But it came out after the Summer Of Love, and no one wanted to hear what Love was laying down. Forever Changes is a dark and harrowing record. Arthur Lee grew up knowing who the drug dealers and hustlers and pimps and street gangs were in Los Angeles. He knew the bikers and organized crime figures too. And he’d seen shit like the Watts riots close up. and now he was looking at all these dumb kids – some just damaged and broken by how they didn’t fit in, others trying to prey on them, and still others trying to figure out how to get rich off that hippie culture – and realized “This shit is going to come down and it’s gonna be ugly.” For his part, Bryan MacLean related to the lonely hippie kids a lot and also realized: they’re lambs to the slaughter…

No one wanted to hear that in '67, so grim, prophetic songs like “A House is Not A Motel” just scared people off. But after the Manson murders (Manson family member Bobby Beausoleil was an early confidant of Arthur Lee…Lee eventually realized Beausoleil was nuts and running with fucked up people and moved the future murderer to arms-length) and Altamont and the 1968 Democratic Convention, Forever Changes looked a lot more current than it felt at the time, when it was considered this weird, gloomy thing.

To me, Forever Changes is the dangerous-ness that the Doors always wanted to try to capture but couldn’t. It’s become one of the most revered records in pop music over the years, often mentioned in the same breath as Sgt. Pepper or Pet Sounds.

And yep, Hal Blaine was one of the session musicians who was tabbed to please come in and play because the actual band couldn’t handle the arrangements in studio.