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NPR 2019-03-13

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Hal Blaine, 'Most Recorded Drummer In History,' Dies At 90

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Drummer Hal Blaine died yesterday at the age of 90. Blaine helped shape the sound of American music in the 1960s. He was part of the Wrecking Crew, a loose collective of Los Angeles session musicians. Blaine's drumming can be heard on more than 100 top ten hits from Sam Cooke to The Beach Boys. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this remembrance.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Though he spent most of his career in the background, Hal Blaine stepped out front in 1963...

(SOUNDBITE OF THE RONETTES SONG, "BE MY BABY")

LIMBONG: ...When he opened The Ronettes' "Be My Baby."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE MY BABY")

THE RONETTES: (Singing) The night we met, I knew I needed you so.

LIMBONG: But you've also heard him play for Elvis Presley...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A LITTLE LESS CONVERSATION")

ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) A little less conversation...

LIMBONG: ...Sonny and Cher...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT YOU BABE")

SONNY AND CHER: (Singing) I got you, babe.

LIMBONG: ...Simon & Garfunkel, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, The Crystals.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HE'S A REBEL")

THE CRYSTALS: (Singing) He's a rebel, and he'll never, ever be any good. He's a rebel because he never, ever does what he should. But just because he...

LIMBONG: Hal Blaine was prolific and versatile. He was born in 1929 in Holyoke, Mass. As a kid, he grew up watching the drummers for his favorite big bands. After a stint in the Army, he cut his teeth drumming in strip clubs after school.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE WRECKING CREW")

HAL BLAINE: You get all these new women coming and dancing, throwing this music at you, and you got to read it immediately.

LIMBONG: In a 2008 documentary about the legendary session musicians called "The Wrecking Crew," Blaine talked about how the experience was great training for sight reading.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE WRECKING CREW")

BLAINE: To this day, I can sit down, you can throw any kind of music in front of me, and I will - you know, it might be the hardest thing in the world, but I'll be completely relaxed through it, and nobody will know that inside I'm saying, holy cow, this is really something.

LIMBONG: Session musicians never get the same kind of recognition that comes with actually being in a band like The Beach Boys. But Hal Blaine told WHYY's Fresh Air in 2001 that he didn't mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BLAINE: Not at all because I knew what it was leading to because my phone started ringing off the hook with - from Phil Spector dates and Beach Boys dates. All of a sudden, I was getting calls for Elvis Presley and Mamas & The Papas. I mean, everybody came out of the woodwork.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA DREAMING")

THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS: (Singing) All the leaves are brown, all the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray, and the sky is gray.

LIMBONG: Hal Blaine was eventually recognized. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy last year. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS SONG, "CALIFORNIA DREAMING")


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