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Hal Blaine, who died Monday (11th) at the age of 90, passed away in his Palm Desert home, has been credited with playing on more gold and platinum recordings than any other
It was Blaine who coined the term “The Wrecking Crew” for his group of first-call studio musicians who transformed the Los Angeles recording industry by supporting legendary
vocalists on some of the most fabled albums of the 1960s. The Wrecking Crew, replaced equally trained, but staid musicians who didn’t have the feel to play rock and roll with the
likes of the Beach Boys, the Byrds and most famously, ELVIS!
“These very talented Session players were always in beautiful three-piece suits,” Blaine revealed back in December 2013. “I call them the Blue Blazers. We came in Levis and t-
shirts and everybody smoked in those days. I overheard a couple of these guys saying, ‘These kids are going to wreck the business.’ (One of the guys) told his personal secretary
whenever they needed rock and roll musicians to just book the wrecking crew.”
Blaine estimated he appeared on more than 35,000 recordings, including 6,000 singles. But members of the Wrecking Crew weren't credited on most of the records they played on.
“We did everybody’s records," Blaine said, "and nobody knew that.”
TURNED DOWN ELVIS...
Blaine, an inveterate joke teller, often made fun of how much money he lost through bad marriages. But, at the peak of his career, he was driving a Rolls Royce and living in a
mansion. He turned down an offer to work as part of Presley’s Las Vegas band, after recording with him as early as the “Blue Hawaii” album in 1961, because he would have lost
too much money from his recording opportunities.
Blaine received Grammy Awards for playing on six consecutive Record of the Year Award winners. They included:
"A Taste of Honey" with Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass in 1966
"Strangers in the Night" with Frank Sinatra in 1967
"Up, Up and Away" and "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" with The 5th Dimension in 1968 and 1970, respectively
"Mrs. Robinson" and "Bridge over Troubled Water" with Simon and Garfunkel in 1969 and 1971, respectively.
He also received a Record of the Year Grammy for “Love Will Keep Us Together” with the Captain and Tenille.
His other rock standards included such Beach Boys hits as “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me Rhonda” and “I Get Around.” He recorded “Everybody Loves Somebody” with Dean Martin
and “Half Breed” with Cher. Other artists he recorded with included George Harrison, Nancy Sinatra, the Mamas and the Papas, the Supremes, Henry Mancini, Neil Diamond, the
Carpenters, Sonny & Cher, John Denver and Barbra Streisand. He was the primary drummer for producer Phil Spector in the early 1960s, making him partly responsible for
Spector's famous Wall of Sound.
Blaine trained at the Roy Knapp Institute of Percussion in Chicago, where one of his piano teachers was the father of child country star Tommy Sands. Blaine started playing with
Sands when he got to Los Angeles, and he met both Nancy Sinatra, who married Sands, and Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker, who took an interest in Sands’ career, especially
when Presley went into the army.
HOW DID HAL BLAINE GET TO WORK WITH ELVIS?
Elvis was a fan of mine. I’ve been working with him since the day he got out of the service. Many years ago, in the Fifties, I started working with a young rock & roller, Tommy Sands,
and his manager was Colonel Tom Parker. Tommy Sands eventually married Nancy Sinatra, and that put me into the Sinatra clan and that whole Rat Pack type thing.
Anyway, I received a call from Paramount Pictures about a secret musical thing that was coming up. They didn’t say what it was or anything about it. I said, “You always pay me well
so I’ll do whatever.” Then they said, “You should blame your salary; we can’t use you on this project. We didn’t realize that you were an actor.” I said, “Well, I remember doing a few
little things on the side with acting.” They said, “We can’t use an actor, we need a drummer.” I said, “Believe me, I am a drummer. I don’t know what this is, but just ask around.”
Then I got a call from Col. Tom who said, “What’s this about you not wanting to work with Elvis?” I said, “I didn’t turn anything down.” He said, “No, no, no. You’re on it.” So that’s
how I got the call to start working with Elvis. I think the first record we did was “Return to Sender.” Major, major hit. Before we did “Can’t Help Falling in Love” with Elvis, as a
recording, because somehow that film was called Girls, Girls, Girls. That was our first work with him, and it wasn’t released until after Blue Hawaii. Eventually when the NBC special
came up, I was right there with the great director and producer Steve Binder. I became really good friends with all the guys that were part of the so-called Memphis Mafia.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE SEEING THE MEMPHIS MAFIA INTERACT WITH ELVIS?
Once in a while, he’d say something like, “I’m a little bit thirsty.” And God, 15 guys would run at him with Coke bottles in those days to see who could knock down the other guy. Elvis
was studying karate, jiu-jitsu, whatever it is, and whenever a star does something like that, all the other people started doing the same thing. Everybody started studying jiu-jitsu
and judo. It was hysterical to see Elvis come into the room, and one guy would leap out at him like, “Aaarr,” like he’s going to kill him, and Elvis would go into his stance of a karate
master. It was really disturbing. The demagoguery was unbelievable. It was like the 15 guys in the studio were bowing to him.
HOW WAS ELVIS WITH YOU?
Elvis came to see me in Las Vegas when I was with Nancy Sinatra at Caesar’s Palace. When you come off a stage with all the bright lights, it’s very, very dark for a few moments. All
of a sudden, someone grabbed me from behind and kind of lifted me up like they were doing the Heimlich maneuver, and it was Elvis. It was really exciting.
He said something to the effect of, “We’re going to be opening up here pretty soon, and you’re gonna be with me on drums.” And I said, “Oh, that’s great.” I really couldn’t say that I
wouldn’t be with him in front of anybody. I knew that if Elvis wanted to rehearse at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, that was it. I had to rehearse. It was almost impossible for a human
being to do that, and at the time, I had lost my wife. She had passed away, and I was left with a baby and child. Nancy was unbelievable though. She just came out of nowhere and
made sure there was always a nurse for the baby.
HOW WAS IT WORKING WITH ELVIS?
Any time I worked with Elvis was another feather in my cap. If I actually wore an Indian headdress, I’d be a chief. I did so many wonderful dates with Elvis.
How did you manage your schedule with Elvis?
I remember one time I got a call from MGM saying Elvis wanted me for a movie, I don’t remember which one. “We start at 1 o’clock in the afternoon and we go for who knows how
long.” I said, “Fine, but I have a problem. I cannot do a Friday night. I’m already booked with somebody on Friday.” Then Col. Tom calls me and he says, “What’s going on?” I said,
“It’s not a matter of money. I just can’t do it. I would never cancel a date on you, and I cannot cancel a date on these people.” He called me back and said, “You’d be able to get out
of there at 4 o’clock on Friday.” So I said OK and inked it in my book.
At quarter to 4 there were two or three little pieces of music left. There must have been four or five drummers there with the percussionists. I didn’t know what to do. So I put on the
old thinking cap and started working on a psychological thing. I found a producer, who is a friend and said, “I was told I could leave here at exactly 4 o’clock and I understand Elvis
is the star of this thing, but I know you run the whole outfit.” He said, “Damn right I do.” Four, five, six guys I spoke with, I did the same routine and each one said, “You’re damn right
I run this outfit.” So I left.
I went up to the session with Jimmy Bowen, and a couple of days later, he calls me. “Hal, what’s this about you walking out on an Elvis Presley date?” I said, “Jimmy, I don’t know who
told you that but I must explain. I had permission from Col. Tom. How did you hear this?” he said, “I had dinner with Col. Tom last night, and he said, ‘Who the hell does Hal Blaine
think he is walking out on Elvis?'” Jimmy said, “Don’t you ever do that again. If you get a call with Elvis, just cancel me. I’ll understand. Don’t worry about it. From now on, every time
you sign that W-4 that they pass around at the end of the date, you write double scale on it because you’re gonna get double scale from me from now on.” I said, “That’s awfully
HOW DID MAKING DOUBLE SCALE CHANGE YOUR LIFE?
I literally had Hollywood by the old balls. I had bought quite an estate. I bought a Rolls-Royce. Elvis, to me, was a wonderful client and they were paying me well. I enjoyed his music
and I met all his guys. We all had yachts down at the marina.
RECORDING WITH ELVIS...
Between March 1961 and June 1968, Hal Blaine played drums on 117 Recordings with Elvis, from the infamous movie Soundtracks, to the legendary 1968 TV Special studio
recordings at Western Recorders, and the 2 stand up shows on June 29th 1968.
Blue Hawaii Sessions - March 1961
Girls! Girls! Girls! Sessions - March 1962
Fun In Acapulco Sessions - January 1963
Roustabout Sessions - April / May 1964
Paradise, Hawaiian Style - July / August 1965
Easy Come, Easy Go Session - Sept 1966
Easy Come, Easy Go - I'll Take Love - Sing You Children - She's A Machine - She's A Machine (movie version)
Live A Little, Love A Little Sessions - March 1968
Studio Recording Sessions For NBC TV Special 'ELVIS' - June 1968
Live Recordings For NBC TV Special, 'ELVIS' (Stand Up Shows) - June 29, 1968 6pm and 8pm
Originating Source: The Desert Sun / Rolling Stone / Elvis Express Radio