On Friday, veteran drummer Hal Blaine will be presented with a lifetime achievement award at the Route 66 Rendezvous Cruisin’ Hall of Fame dinner at the San Bernardino Hilton. And though he’s upbeat about the whole affair (“Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be fun,” he says), it’s downright mind-blowing to realize that this award will be one of hundreds Blaine has received in a lifetime that is, indeed, crammed to the gills with achievements.
Thousands of recordings, hundreds of hits, several Grammies, and an immeasurable stack of experiences to recount later, Blaine’s drumming has permeated the minds and souls of generations of music listeners. If names like Presley, Diamond, Sinatra, Carpenter, Wilson, Spector, Streisand, Simon or Garfunkel mean anything, chances are you’ve been swayed by Blaine’s impenetrable, wildly innovative beats.
The 79-year-old Palm Desert resident received his professional start worked in San Bernardino music shops before getting his break in the industry that led to over four decades behind the kit in the studios of Los Angeles. Now, how’d it all happen?
“I got lucky in the music business,” he says in a matter-of-fact, laid back manner. (Well, that, plus a sizable portion of talent, we’re sure.)
Blaine attributes one of his first big breaks to his drumming on Sam Cooke’s 1963 single, “Another Saturday Night.” “It became a big hit and as they say, the rest is history,” he says. The making of such history went into overdrive when Blaine became part of The Wrecking Crew, a group of session players who performed on many of rock’s early hits. Blaine says the name came about because most of the established musicians in Hollywood at the time had refused to play rock & roll. “They felt like we were a bunch of kids . . . they see us in t-shirts and Levis and say, ‘These kids are going to wreck the business,’” he recalls.
Blaine’s first Grammy for Record of The Year was A Taste of Honey with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. But did he feel it would become a big hit when he had recorded it? “You know, we never knew then,” he says. “We just did it and took our money and went home. But there was a lot of pride, obviously.”
“When I did ‘Strangers in the Night’ with Frank Sinatra, who knew this would be his major comeback?” he asks. “When I did ‘Everybody Loves Somebody’ with Dean Martin, it was just kind of a fluke, but it became one of the biggest hits in the world, and his theme song. And ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ ‘The Graduate,’ ‘The Boxer,’ all those great songs that we did through the ’60s, ’70s and part of the ’80s, it’s really amazing. It’s hard for me to believe.”
If it’s hard for Blaine—who turns 80 in February and still plays on occasion—to fathom, then it’s a total impossibility that the rest of the world could as well.
“As far as I’m concerned, I did what I set out to do, to make a name for myself in the music business,” he says, “and it certainly worked.”
And what does the hitmaker of rock’s emergent years think of today’s popular rock? Well, he doesn’t listen to any of it.
“I listen to the very genteel station down here, KXWY I think it’s called,” he says. “Very quiet type of music. You know, I spent so many years pounding; I don’t need pounding music anymore. Just nice, quiet music that I can enjoy.”