Doug Thompson: HAL BLAINE – DANCE TO THE DRUMMER MAN!

Doug Thompson headshot

My last blog on January 26th on “The Wrecking Crew” documentary went through the roof in terms of readership, so Boss Segarini tells me.  I think that’s mainly because Denny Tedesco, the Director of the documentary about the session musicians of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, re-posted it to his list of contacts.

And I barely touched the surface in praising this incredible labour of love from Denny, whose father, guitarist extraordinaire Tommy Tedesco, was so much a part of that incredible era in music.

Denny and Tommy Tedesco

Having said that, if you saw the blog, you may (or may not) have noticed that I didn’t use any video excerpts from “The Wrecking Crew”.  That’s because I didn’t want to infringe on Denny’s own site with the many outtake interview segments.  I just provided the link and you can see them for yourself.  In case you missed it, here’s the link again: www.wreckingcrewmovie.com.

Blaine and Tesdesco

Tommy Tedesco and Hal Blaine

After my Wrecking Crew blog was published, I was contacted by the nephew of drummer Hal Blaine, who said Hal would like to e-mail me.

Hal Blaine

I gave his nephew my e-mail address, and a few days later heard from Hal, who I hadn’t talked to since November of 1981.  A few weeks ago, Hal celebrated his 86th birthday and I really appreciated him taking the time to contact me.  After Hal and I had exchanged e-mails, I went back and listened to my two interviews with this amazing drummer who was so much a part of the soundtrack of our lives.  The interviews (and Hal) were and are, fascinating.

That made me want to tell the world a little more about Hal, so if you’ll indulge me, here’s just a taste of the incredible career of Hal Blaine from my interview archives.

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From the Doug Thompson Interview Archive – Hal Blaine

There were a great many famous drummers in rock history…some more legendary than others – Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, John Bonham, Neil Peart, Dave Clark, D.J. Fontana, Karen Carpenter, Ginger Baker, Sandy Nelson, Charlie Watts, Sheila E, Phil Collins, Stewart Copeland, Motown’s Benny Benjamin and many others, but only one man played drums on hundreds of hit records, commercials as well as TV and movie scores.

blaine

Hal Blaine! 

And what a story he has.

This column could literally be filled with only song titles from the hit records on which Hal played drums.  “He’s A Rebel”, Be My Baby”, “The Lonely Bull”, Return To Sender”, Hey Little Cobra”, “I Get Around”, “California Girls”, Dead Man’s Curve”, “Little Old Lady From Pasadena”, “Everybody Loves Somebody”, “Something Stupid”, Out of Limits”, “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine”, “Mrs. Robinson”, “Windy”, “MacArthur Park”, Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “Close To You”, “I Think I Love You”, “Annie’s Song’, “Ventura Highway”, “Young Girl”, “The Happening”, “Theme From Mahogany”, “Love Will Keep Us Together”, “18 Yellow Roses”, “The Way We Were”, “I Got You Babe”, “Thank God I’m A Country Boy”, “This Diamond Ring”, “That’s Life”, “Fun Fun Fun”, “She’s A Fool”, “Mountain of Love”, “Eve of Destruction”, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’”, “Good Vibrations”, “Elusive Butterfly”, “California Dreamin’”, “Sooner or Later”, “It Never Rains In Southern California”, and so many, many more…but there were a few hits that featured Hal on drums that totally surprised me.  Jay & The Americans “Cara Mia” and “Come A Little Closer” (for some reason, I thought they were recorded in New York); “Blue Bayou” with Roy Orbison (mainly because I assumed Roy held all of his sessions in Nashville); Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy” featured Hal Blaine’s dynamic drumming; “Cracklin’ Rosie” and several others by Neil Diamond (again, I assumed Neil recorded in New York); Lorne Greene’s Ringo” (I don’t really know why this surprised me, Lorne was filming his TV series “Bonanza” in LA, so it makes sense he’d record his number one hit there too) and anyone who remembers the Bill Drake radio station ID’s from the mid 1960’s and that powerful three-note news intro, the famous “Rum! Pum! Pum!” – that’s Hal too.

The famous “Rum! Pum! Pum! is right at the beginning of this shocking (but hilarious) short about CKLWs 20/20 News

(Editor’s Note – Drake radio jingles were recorded in L.A using the Johnny Mann Singers, more than likely, Hal Blaine played on ALL of these jingles.)

Early HalHal Blaine started playing drums in his early teens.  He joined the U.S. Army in 1946, and after his discharge, played drums in various small bands, attended the Knapp School of Percussion, played drums in a Chicago strip club, became friends with comedian Lenny Bruce, came to the attention of singer/actor Tommy Sands, toured with him, toured with Patti Page, came to Hollywood…and quickly became a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend.
The first Top Ten hit Hal played drums on was Jan & Dean’s “Baby Talk” in 1959.

Hal Blaine played drums on six consecutive‘Record of the Year’ Grammy Award winning songs: for 1965’s “A Taste of Honey” by Herb Alpert & The GrammysTijuana Brass, for 1966’s “Strangers In The Night” from Frank Sinatra, for 1967’s “Up, Up And Away” by The 5th Dimension, for 1968’s “Mrs. Robinson from Simon & Garfunkel, followed by “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” by The 5th Dimension in 1969 and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” from Simon & Garfunkel in 1970.  Hal also played drums on an additional seventh Grammy ‘Record of the Year’ for  Captain & Tennille’s 1975 number one hit, “Love Will Keep Us Together”.

Here’s Hal in his own words, discussing a few aspects of his career.

Byrds-Mr-Tambourine-Man-45On Hal’s first gold record: The Byrds, “Mr. Tambourine Man” for producer Terry Melcher, was my very first gold record.  That’s an example of a group of musicians who really wanted to play on their own record and they could play, but they weren’t studio musicians at that point, so they sat there, watched us and learned…and had hits.”

On recording with Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel and producer Roy Halee: “Paul, Artie and Roy were all tremendous professionals, they let you do what you think is creative,they never stopped your creative juices.  If you feel like you want to add Simon, Art, and Roysomething to a record, ‘do it’.  On “Mrs. Robinson”, I used a finger slide on a conga drum.  It’s been done for years, but it just hadn’t been done on a pop record in that way.  In that case, it worked perfectly.  It was the [Grammy Awards] ‘Record of the Year’ that year.  I also played drums on “The Boxer”.  Roy [Halee] had me near an elevator shaft at Columbia studios and he’d mic’d the shaft so that after Paul and Artie sang “Lie la lie”, came that big echoed crash…that was me.  Scared the heck out of the security guard I tell you, when he came to check on the noise.”     

On Phil Spector sessions: “Philip was creating his own mystique.  There was such a   aura over those sessions and every one of them was a great party, except for the guitar players.  I always felt bad for them because Philip was Phila guitarist, is a guitarist, and Phil wanted certain specific inversions on the guitar.  He’d say, ‘Hold your fingers this way’ or ‘try it this way’.  We always had long rehearsals and holding metal strings down, really hurts guitar player’s fingers and you could only do that so long before you just had to have a break.  But Phil had a way of holding you there, without letting you rest, almost to the breaking point, until he finally let you go. And then his classic line was always, ‘Don’t touch the mikes’.  For me, I always felt like a racehorse during Phil’s sessions because he’d hold me back and hold me back during rehearsals, then when we’d actually record and he finally heard ‘the take’ that he liked, he’d give me ‘that’ look or he’d wave his arm and that meant ‘go’ and that’s when I’d play triplets and just go crazy at the end of a song.”

Spector SessiomOn working with ‘copycat’ record producers: “When you have a hit, everybody wants to jump on that hit and once in a while, you’d get booked on a session with a new producer who wanted you to give him the Phil Spector drum sound or they’d want this beat from this record or that tom fill from that record.  That’s just one of the things you learn to put up with if you’re going to be a studio musician, you’re hired and they pay you a lot of money to do what you’re told.  I’ve never walked out on a session, as close as I’ve come sometimes, especially when you’re working with one of those producers who want to make you a little bit crazy trying to ‘borrow’ licks from a previous record I’d played on.  To be honest, I can’t remember any hit ever coming out of those kind of sessions.  To me, a hit is intangible, but certainly, one of the main ingredients is originality and yes, you can try to copy that success, but it never turns out the same.”  

John and PhilOn recording with John Lennon on the Phil Spector produced “Rock and Roll” album: “John Lennon was very nice to me.  The sessions were, as far as I’m concerned, they went just like Phil Spector sessions.  It was the ‘wall of sound’, there must have been ten guitar players.  John seemed to have a wonderful time with all these Hollywood greats surrounding him.  At the very first session, I walked into the studio and saw John sitting by himself, this was before anyone else had gotten there.  I walked over to him to introduce myself and his opening line to me was ‘You don’t need to introduce yourself to me.’  We had a long talk and he told me how much he appreciated my work and of course, I told him how much I appreciated his work. Just an amazing musician, but very down to earth in the studio.”

 

 

Hal Blaine’s website is: www.halblaine.com.

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Now, this is specifically for anyone reading this in the Toronto area.  Denny Tedesco’s “The Wrecking Crew” documentary is a MUST SEE.  I’m hoping it’ll be nominated for an Academy Award next year.  If you loved the music of the 1960’s and ‘70’s that was created in Los Angeles by Hal Blaine and the rest of the Wrecking Crew, you WILL NOT be disappointed.

WC Poster

Get yourself tickets to the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema at 506 Bloor Street West from Friday night February 20th to March 5th.  If you come on Feb 20th and 21st, Denny Tedesco will be there in person for a Q & A session, along with his mother, his aunt and his two kids (it’s a family affair).

Check out www.bloorcinema.com for times of the screenings.

The Hal Blaine Video Gallery

7 Records of the Year

The 6 Consecutive and 1 later Grammy Winning Records of the Year – 1966 – 1971 and 1975

“A Taste of Honey” by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass

“Strangers In The Night” by Frank Sinatra

“Up, Up And Away” by The 5th Dimension

“Mrs. Robinson from Simon & Garfunkel

“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” by The 5th Dimension

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” Simon & Garfunkel

…and Hal also played drums on an additional seventh Grammy ‘Record of the Year’ for  Captain & Tennille’s 1975 number one hit, “Love Will Keep Us Together”.

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Doug’s column appears here every 4th Monday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com.

DBAWIS_ButtonDoug Thompson has spent his entire adult life in broadcasting, both in Canada and the U.S. and has won 152 awards for his work.  He worked with Canadian actor John Candy for 17 years, writing and producing commercials, specials and several weekly radio programs.

Currently, he’s writing and producing the second season of a television program for the Hi Fi channel in Canada called “Hi Fi Salutes”, a series of short biographical documentaries on Canadian musicians, producers and record industry pioneers.  One of those programs recently won a Platinum Award at the World Film Festival in Houston.

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