Another music idol of baby boomers has passed, a man who played drums on many, if not most, of the songs that all us boomers grew up with and loved. Novelist Michael E. Petrie of Laguna Niguel, California, not only remembers the man, but recorded with him back in the 1970s.
The heartbeat of Rock-n-Roll beats no more.
How many boomers even recognize the name Hal Blaine? Hal may have been the least heralded musician that we all listened to during our youth. He was not a member of our boomer generation, but who could ever forget the attention-grabbing drum solo— Bum-ba-bum-BOOM— that launched the 1963 hit “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes. Probably the most indelible drum introduction of any song in rock-n-roll history.
As a very young teen, I spent hours listening to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. I played Good Vibrations over and over, with absolutely no idea that the complex percussion I loved in that song was not created by Beach Boy drummer Dennis Wilson, but rather the anonymous Hal Blaine. He was the heartbeat of so many of the songs we grew up listening to.
There was no escaping his infectious beat. Just about anyone with a turntable or a radio, without realizing it, heard his drumming on songs that included Elvis’s Return to Sender; the Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man; Barbra Streisand’s The Way We Were; the Crystals’ He’s a Rebel; Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night; Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson and Bridge Over Troubled Water; the 5th Dimension’s Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In; even the Carpenters’ Close to You and Barbra Streisand’s The Way We Were. Also on the long list of artists he played for are Jan & Dean, Sonny & Cher, Mamas & Papas, Petula Clark, Paul Revere & the Raiders, John Denver, Nancy Sinatra, Johnny Rivers, and many others.
And, of course, when we boomers were not listening to music, we were watching television. Bet’cha did not know that Hal Blaine was the drummer on the theme songs for Batman, The Partridge Family, and dozens of other shows.
Hal is estimated to have appeared on more than 35,000 recordings, including some 6,000 singles. Among that number are several I will personally never forget: the ones he did at Capitol Records with yours truly.
I actually had the privilege of working with Hal in the 1970s when I recorded an album of my own original songs at Capitol Records Studios, the iconic round record-shaped building in Hollywood, California. Capitol brought in all their own session musicians, one of whom was Hal Blaine. Even then, I had no idea of his musical notoriety. An entry from the journal I kept back then simply says, “Recording at Capitol is downright intimidating. All the session players are extremely professional. I was told the session drummer, a fellow named Hal, has played on Beach Boys songs and Elvis recordings.”
Here’s one of the cuts I wrote and sang, with the legendary Hal Blaine playing drums. It’s called Last Song.
Hal Blaine was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman in 2000 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy in 2018. He was truly the heartbeat of rock-n-roll. R.I.P. Hal Blaine.
Mike’s mystery novel is You’re the Only One I Can Trust: A Novel.