Legendary Drummer Hal Blaine, Who Played For Everyone From Beach Boys to Elvis Presley, Dead at 90

Hal Blaine played on rock hits like "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Good Vibrations"

Photo of Hal Blaine
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Hal Blaine, the legendary session musician labeled by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as perhaps “the most prolific drummer in rock and roll history,” died Monday. He was 90.

Blaine’s death was announced in a statement on his Facebook page.

“Hal Blaine – loving father of Michelle Blaine; grandfather of Anthony, Josh, Aaron, Whitney, Tempest, Ever and Lyryk; and inspiration to countless friends, fans and musicians – has passed on today, March 11th, 2019 at the age of 90,” the statement read. “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. No further details will be released at this time.”

Photo of Hal Blaine
Hal Blaine. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

The musician cemented his legacy as a member of the “Wrecking Crew,” a group of first call studio musicians in Los Angeles in the ‘60s and ‘70s. With them, he played on more than 35,000 songs, by his own estimation, including classics like “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel and “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys.

Blaine himself coined the “Wrecking Crew” name, and explained to Modern Drummer in 2005 that it came from derisive comments from an older generation of musicians.

Wrecking Crew - Hollywood
Hal Blaine. Robert Knight Archive/Redferns

“All the guys in the suits would say, ‘Oh, no, these kids in their blue jeans and T-shirts are going to wreck the business,” he said.

Blaine — who was born Harold Simon Belsky on Feb. 5, 1929 to Lithuanian and Polish immigrants in Holyoke, Massachusetts — played on more than 40 No. 1 and 350 Top 10 tracks, he said in his 1990 memoir, Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew.

Among those were songs for artists like Sam Cooke, Sonny & Cher, the Mamas & the Papas, the Monkees, Phil Spector, Steely Dan, John Lennon and John Denver – not to mention classic tracks like “Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds, “Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra, “The Way We Were” by Barbra Streisand and “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel.

'The Wrecking Crew' Inducted in to the Hollywood Rockwalk, Los Angeles, America - 25 Jun 2008
Don Randi, Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine. Picture Perfect/REX/Shutterstock

Blaine also played drums on more than four Elvis Presley records, and with the Beach Boys, including on their seminal 1966 album Pet Sounds.

On working with the Beach Boys, Blaine wrote in his memoir he was happy he hadn’t discounted their experimental sound as some of the older studio musicians had.

“I felt good about being part of their music. It’s what I had been working for all my life. A lot of the older Hollywood studio musicians said they wouldn’t play that stuff. They packed their bags, and a lot of guys left the business forever,” he wrote. “But some of them got smart. Players who had been badmouthing the Wrecking Crew started hanging around to find out what was going on. I’d hear things like, ‘Hey, I thought it was just a stupid rock and roll thing, a fad. I had no idea.’”

Beach Boy Brian Wilson paid tribute to Blaine on Twitter after his death, writing: “I’m so sad, I don’t know what to say. Hal Blaine was such a great musician and friend that I can’t put it into words. 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. Love, Brian”

Ronnie Spector also remembered their time together, recalling their hit “Be My Baby.”

“25 Months ago Hal Blaine and I made music for the last time together at the NAMM Convention. Today I regrettably have to say goodbye to Hal, and thank him for the magic he put on all our Ronettes recordings… and so many others throughout his incredible career,” she wrote on Facebook. “Thank you Hal. Love forever, Ronnie xxx.”

Blaine was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 as a sideman, and in 2018 received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.

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