'Greatest drummer ever' Hal Blaine dies aged 90

By Mark Savage
BBC Music reporter

Image source, Getty Images

Hal Blaine, one of the most prolific and influential drummers of his generation, has died at the age of 90.

Over the course of his career, he played on countless hits by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys and John Lennon, amongst others.

But his most recognisable riff was the "boom-ba-boom-crack" bar that opened The Ronnettes' Be My Baby.

On hearing of his death, the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson called him "the greatest drummer ever".

"Hal Blaine was such a great musician and friend that I can't put it into words," Wilson said in a tweet, posting a photo of him and Blaine sitting at a piano.

"Hal taught me a lot, and he had so much to do with our success - he was the greatest drummer ever."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who played at Blaine's 90th birthday party last month, added: "Godspeed Hal. He gave us all so much. Feeling very blessed to have celebrated his life with him."

"Today I regrettably have to say goodbye to Hal," added Ronettes singer Ronnie Spector on Facebook, thanking him "for the magic he put on all our Ronettes recordings… and so many others throughout his incredible career."

Forty number one singles

Although he was never a household name, anyone with a record collection almost undoubtedly owns one of Blaine's songs. By his own count, he played on more than 6,000 tracks over the course of his career.

He was also known to carry a rubber stamp saying "Hal Blaine Strikes Again" that he would imprint on every record he worked on and every studio he played in.

According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 2000, Blaine "certainly played on more hit records than any drummer in the rock era, including 40 number one singles and 150 that made the [US] top 10."

Among those songs were Elvis Presley's Return to Sender, The Byrds' Mr Tambourine Man, the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations, Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson, The Mamas and the Papas' California Dreamin' and the theme song to Batman.

Blaine also played on eight songs that won a Grammy for record of the year, including Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, 5th Dimension's Aquarius/Let The Sunshine and Frank Sinatra's Strangers In the Night.

"Godspeed Old Friend," said Sinatra's daughter Nancy Sinatra - who was backed by Blaine on Somethin' Stupid - as she posted a picture of her performing with the drummer.

Blaine was born Harold Simon Belsky in Holyoke, Massachusetts on 5 February, 1929.

He started playing drums at the age of eight, using rails he'd removed from a chair in the living room. He later received tuition from Roy Knapp, who also taught Gene Krupa how to play, and became a session musician in the 1950s.

The following decade, he became a crucial member of the Wrecking Crew, a group of elite Los Angeles session players who served as Phil Spector's studio band and helped shape his signature "Wall of Sound" technique.

Blaine took credit for the band's nickname, arguing they were seen as a destructive force in the buttoned-down music industry.

Although the Wrecking Crew's contributions were largely overlooked in their prime, their reputation grew over the years, and the band were inducted into the Musicians' Hall of Fame in 2007.

The fill that opened Be My Baby, in particular, became a rock standard - the drum equivalent of Chuck Berry's Johnny B Goode riff. It's been replicated on songs like The Jesus and Mary Chain's Just Like Honey, The Hollies' Just Like A Rock, Lykke Li's Sadness Is A Blessing and Duran Duran's Is There Something I Should Know.

Incredibly, the riff came about by accident: "I was supposed to play the snare on the second beat as well as the fourth, but I dropped a stick," Blaine later admitted.

In later years, he published his memoirs, appeared at symposiums and gave lessons to aspiring drummers.

A statement from his family said he died peacefully at home.

"May he rest forever on 2 and 4," said a Facebook post.

"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."

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