Drummer played on at least 40 No. 1 singles on the Billboard pop chart

Hal Blaine
Hal Blaine

Hal Blaine the ubiquitous drummer whose work in the 1960s and 1970s with Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel and the Ronettes established him as one of the top session musicians of all time, died on Monday at his home in Palm Desert, California. He was 90. His son-in-law, Mr Andrew Johnson, confirmed the death.

Blaine, who played on at least 40 singles that reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart, was a reliable and adaptable musician, able to offer delicate brushwork on a ballad or a booming beat on records produced by Phil Spector, who was known for his Wall Of Sound.

Blaine brought drama to a song's transitions, often telegraphing a big moment with a flurry of strokes on a snare drum or tom-tom. If he had a signature moment on a record, it was on the Ronettes' 1963 hit, Be My Baby, produced by Spector.

"I was supposed to play more of a boom-chicky-boom beat, but my stick got stuck and it came out boom, boom-boom chick," he told The Wall Street Journal in 2011. "I just made sure to make the same mistake every few bars."

He was part of a loosely affiliated group of session musicians, who in the early 1960s, began dominating rock 'n' roll recording in Los Angeles. Along with guitarists such as Glen Campbell and Tony Tedesco, bassists such as Carol Kaye and Joe Osborn, and keyboardists such as Leon Russell and Don Randi, Blaine played on thousands of recordings through the mid-1970s.

The drummer heard on the Beach Boys' records was often Blaine and not the drummer the group's fans knew, Dennis Wilson. Blaine's other studio credits include Presley's Can't Help Falling In Love, Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson and Streisand's The Way We Were.

In 2000, Blaine was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with four other studio musicians, including drummer Earl Palmer, who had helped introduce him to session work. The Recording Academy gave Blaine a Grammy lifetime achievement award last year.

Blaine was born Harold Simon Belsky on Feb 5, 1929, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, to Rose and Meyer Belsky, who worked in a leather factory. When he was seven, the family moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where he was inspired to learn drumming by watching the fife and drum corps of the Roman Catholic school across the street from his Hebrew school.

After serving as an army cartographer during the Korean War, Blaine attended a drum school in Chicago. He began to play drums in strip clubs and, by the late 1950s, he was working with a jazz quartet.

Until the early 1960s, he thought of himself as a jazz drummer. But his work in the Los Angeles studios identified him, almost exclusively, as pop music's go-to session drummer.

Blaine is survived by his daughter, Michelle Blaine, and seven grandchildren. He was married and divorced five times.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2019, with the headline 'Drummer played on at least 40 No. 1 singles on the Billboard pop chart'. Subscribe