Hal Blaine: In Memoriam

Word has come that Harold Simon Belsky, known to the drumming world and the universe at large as Hal Blaine, has left the building at the age of 90.

He was one of the most recorded percussionists in history, a master of any style and genre’, and virtually changed the way drums were played, the way drums sounded in the recording studio, and in reality, the actual set up — in terms of sizes and sheer numbers of drums –that is commonly used in set ups today.

And all through a career that can barely be described by the word “astounding”–Blaine’s work spanned in the neighborhood of six decades backing artists ranging from Frank Sinatra and John Denver to The Supremes and Simon and Garfunkel–he was unfailingly generous to one and all with his knowledge of music, music history and drumming.

By way of his work with the cutting edge studio giants known as “The Wrecking Crew,” Blaine virtually defined the concept of the modern studio drummer in line with how to play, what to play, how the drums should be set up and miked, and just what drums were needed for any situation.

Drummer Max Weinberg, in his book on Blaine, wrote about an experience he had with the Springsteen band while playing the Wemley Arena near London. “Bruce asked me to come into his dressing room,” Weinberg wrote. “I went in, he pointed to the wall and said, ‘Look at that.’ I looked at the wall but didn’t see anything except peeling wallpaper. ‘Look closer,’ he said. Finally, I got right down on the spot he was pointing to and right there, in a crack in the paper, rubber stamped to the wall, it said ‘HAL BLAINE STRIKES AGAIN.’ When asked to explain about the stamp, Blaine replied, ‘I always stamp my charts. And there’s a reason why I started that; it wasn’t all ego. He went on to describe that occasionally he would need to find a particular chart amidst ‘five hundred pieces of music in a pile,’ and he needed some mark to do so. ‘Eventually I had a rubber stamp made up, and from that day on, I’ve always stamped every piece of music I play.'”

In the end, Hal Blaine did strike again and again, on almost 40 number one recordings, and thousands of records, at least that we know of. But whatever the track or whatever the session, Hal did, indeed, strike again and stamped each and every piece of music with his instantly identifiable, percussive signature.

Bruce Klauber

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