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Hal Blaine
Hal Blaine

(Hal Blaine has played drums on 362 chart hits, including such acclaimed records as "MacArthur Park," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Strangers In The Night" and "Mr.
Tambourine Man." Of course, he was the heartbeat of the group of musicians he nicknamed "The Wrecking Crew" and played on countless Beach Boys hits including "Good Vibrations" and Pet Sounds. A schooled musician, Hal began his career as a big band drummer, and as he points out, he was with Count Basic long before he was with the Beach Boys. Actually, Hal worked as a session player on Brian's outside productions for several months before he moved behind the drum kit on a Beach Boys date. Of all the session players, Hal is the one who had the closest personal relationship with Brian. He begins these reminiscences by describing a typical session, circa 1966.)


HAL: "I would arrive; my drums were pre-set up. Brian would come out and sit at the piano and work on the groove of the particular song we were going to do. A lot of times, he would have me come and sit by him, just to hear the pulse of it. Everybody would listen.

"Many times, he would have just a chord sheet, and somebody would run off a bunch of copies, enough for each guy, and then we would more or less make our own notes as to what sounded like a break. We would go from there. Try different things. A little louder here, a little softer there. In a relatively short time, the arrangement would come together. We could sit down and write out our own parts; we were kind of individual arrangers. Yet it took Brian to give us the general picture and the material, of course. The song is the story.

"Brian would then be in the booth, and he would say, 'I want to hear more from the piano here' or less. He would be giving directions as a composer or arranger or producer. Somebody would say, 'Let me try this bass line for you He would listen and say, 'Great' or 'It's too busy: or 'I need more.' We would each do those kind of things. Because Brian started with me, I had a lot of waiting to do while he worked out the parts with everybody else. So I used to do crossword puzzles. They kind of kept my head clear. "In my case, fortunately, he had so much respect for me that I almost had carte blanche to ‘Do whatever you feel.’

And I think the word 'feel' was the most important word of all. As long as it felt good, a little mistake didn't matter. If a record really felt good, he would say, ‘That's it.’ You could always see the smile on Brian's face when it felt right and he was happy. Sometimes, somebody would say, ‘I have a funny note on the bridge,’ and he would say that it could be ‘fixed.’ A lot of times, Brian had me come in the booth. Any time we did a playback, he would ask me 'How does it feel to you?' If it didn't feel right, I would tell him we could do one more and make it feel better.

"At first, the Beach Boys to us were a bunch of young kids who didn't have arrangements. Nobody thought of the genius of Brian Wilson. They were just super-fun young kids...the ocean and the sand and surfing and so forth. We were doing these big hit records, like Spector's humongous records. They were also ’chord sheets,’ but it was very professional.

"To understand how different working with Brian was, you have to know that we had all been working with heavy professionals who came in with full arrangements. There was a certain kind of decorum; you were very quiet during takes, of course. And after a take, people would run to the soda pop machine or for coffee. My habit was to listen to playback, because I never wanted there to be some glitch, especially at the drums, and have them discover it two days later. It would stand out like a sore thumb, so I would insist on doing it over again.

"But with Brian and the guys, it was just a bunch of kids who didn't really know what they were doing. It was almost like we were in somebody's living room. Everyone of us was pushing thirty, and these kids--who knew it was genius? It was surf music, hot rod music...just another fad. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that thirty years later the records would still be so powerful.

"I think that every one of the 'Crew's' stories would parallel the fact that most of us, except for Larry Knechtel, were playing jazz and ‘pop.’ We were all nightclub musicians, worked on TV shows, records and theaters. That type of thing. We were all schooled, learned musicians. When we got into rock 'n' roll, however that happened, it was just a fluke. But we were already used to having microphones around us and studios and all that background and experience we had really made a difference.

"In those days, all musicians in the big orchestras wore blazers and neckties. There was no talking or whispering. You kept your eye on the conductor. We came along as the crew who were going to wreck music; they thought we were nuts. We wore Levis and t-shirts. We smoked cigarettes. There was no booze. Although musicians were famous for drugs, there were no drugs. We were straight, responsible, reliable people, and we did know what music was all about.

I don't think I could have done what I did if I hadn't gone to school and majored in drums and percussion and minored in piano. I was also studying singing and sight-singing, which goes along with sight reading. And for the three years I was going to school, I was working the strip clubs.

"The classes in arranging and piano all helped me in the long run, working with Nelson Riddle and Henry Mancini. They wrote magnificent arrangements, and you played every note. But 'The Crew' was known as loud, bang, crash; nobody would recognize that we were trained musicians.

"I can't tell you exactly which song it was, but there were times when we would look at each other, at Gold Star, and Brian would say something that didn't make sense to us as trained musicians the way an arranger would explain something. He was some kid, not that we were upset over it, but sometimes the way it would come out was very amateurish, and there would be a glance around the room, like 'What? Are they kidding?' We thought, ‘Isn't it something, Capitol is letting these kids do this?’ And then they took the world by storm; every time you turned on the radio, there they were.

"And then we started to hear a little bit of sophistication. By then, they all had more time in the studio, more experience. The songs were aimed at the young generation. But to me, this was strictly a non-professional group. I personally had been working with the Hi-Los and the Four Freshmen and the Four Preps who were dynamite singers who all read their parts, and everything was heavily arranged. Once in a while when the boys came in and sang the harmonies, it wasn't quite the Freshmen but it was a unique sound.

"Until maybe after a dozen dates, then there was tremendous respect. We realized this was no longer a joke or a fad or an amateur thing; you started realizing you were part of a major thing, and you realized what Brian was saying, even if it wasn't the way we were used to it being said. After a while it came automatically. We knew what he meant.

"And when the hits started happening, those were feathers in all of our caps. We were making Beach Boys records, and now everybody in town was talking about us. Whereas Brian wanted us because of the Spector dates, everybody else now wanted us because of the Beach Boys dates.

"I remember one time during that period, some of his CPAs were there or business managers, and we were listening to a playback and Brian was standing there with his ear glued to the speaker, and these people were trying to talk to Brian about finances, and the guy was saying something like ‘There was too much money in Sea of Tunes.’

This is all during a rather loud playback. Brian said, ‘Do what you want to do. Leave me alone.’ So this guy sat down and wrote some kind of check. I never saw so many zeroes. Brian never even looked at it; he took the pen while he was listening, glanced down, signed it, and he pushed it away and they left."


"I had an old tape box that I used to use with brushes, just to get a different sound, whether it was after beat or time. In the case of Brian, I did a lot of things. There were the 'famous' orange bottles. We used to drink orange juice out of the vending machines. I took three of these small six or eight ounce plastic orange drink bottles, and I cut them down to three different sizes in length. And I taped 'em together, and I used a little vibraphone mallet. Brian loved that kind of stuff. Just different sounds. I used to do a lot of overdubbing with tambourine and shakers that may not have been on the record but they helped the feel.

"They were fun times, fun sessions; we knew we were part of something that was going to be extraordinary. I always wondered how could he have such depth and feeling at that young age. It doesn't usually happen. It has to be like a prodigy, to come out of a guy who never really studied music and he could sit at the piano and play these songs that became international favorites. For such a young guy to be putting out such music...to put together such poignant messages...he had to be some kind of genius."

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