Hal Blaine Interview
I am not in awe of too many people, but when I checked my messages and found a message from Hal Blaine saying that he would be glad to give me an interview in response to my request for one, I couldn’t believe it! The most recorded drummer in the world was going to chat with me about his career, and his life, and his experiences in the music business over the past forty plus years! I just couldn’t believe it! You see, Hal Blaine has played drums.. and percussion on nearly every pop record I ever listened to growing up. His discography would impress anyone not even interested in pop music, let alone an old AM radio hound like myself in the 60’s and 70’s. You name the act, and Hal’s played with them! From Sinatra, to Elvis. From the Byrds, to Count Basie. We’re talking thousands and thousands of hit albums and singles, almost too many for Hal himself to remember without the help of his trusty log book! If anyone has the right to be a “Mr. Non-Approachable Celebrity” it’s Hal Blaine, but Hal Blaine won’t have any of that. I found Hal to be
one of the most personable, sincere, down to earth, and funniest guys you would ever want to meet..with a rich history of anecdotes that would fill ten more volumes of books to follow-up his first book “Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew”. He also has a CD out, “Buh-Doom”, which is a fun hour of Hal telling some of his favorite jokes and stories. Both of these items can be found on his website at www.halblaine.com
SE: Out of all the musicians in the wrecking crew Hal Blaine is almost a household name these days.
HB: Well, you know I’ve been on so many hits obviously. I was actually in last Sunday’s Times crossword puzzle.
SE: (laughing) Really.
HB: So I have really arrived!
SE: I’ll say!
HB: Really arrived.
SE: You were born in Massachusetts, was it?
HB: I was born in Mass, yeah.
SE: And that’s where you grew up?
HB: Well, I was there for the first seven years of my life, then I moved to Hartford, Connecticutt and I was there until about age fourteen, and then we moved to California when I was fourteen.
SE: Oh Really? Why California?
HB: Well, my parents had brothers and sisters out here, you know my aunts and uncles, and they wanted them to come out, so we came out…Dad, …we were just dirt poor. I mean literally. My dad went to work for my uncle and while he was doing that…this was in the city of Santa Monica..actually I had become a beach boy..(laughs). I worked at a number of the swim clubs, beach clubs down on the beach at Santa Monica. It was all movie stars, directors, actors. And I met so many of these people. It was great.
SE: Great for networking.
HB: Well, I was just a kid..fourteen, fifteen. But my job was to bring their tables out, their umbrellas, their backrests and so forth. But it’s kind of funny that I wound up doing the Beach Boys records eventually…and only one of them..Dennis..was the only real beach boy.
SE: How old were you when you knew that the drums were it for you?
HB: I was pretty young. I was probably seven or eight or nine years old. I started fooling around with what I called drumsticks. They were actually the dowels out of the back of a rocking chair that my mother had. It was an old fashioned rocking chair and it had dowelling in the back and I took either two of either the shortest or two of the longest ones and I kinda used them as drumsticks.Then I’d put em back.
HB: My folks thought it was cute, you know. It was no big deal, and then when I was thirteen I got my first little set of drums. My sister Marcia, she bought me my first set of drums. It was a bass drum, a snare drum, and a cymbal. Anyway, that was really, you know where I got started. And when her son turned about fourteen I gave him one of my sets of drums, a big double bass drum type Louie Bellson setup. Louie and I went to Roy Knap school together in Chicago, but that was years later after I got out of the service…But anyway, you know, I was just a kid and screwing around, and I had a sister living in San Bernadino and my sis kinda wanted me to stay with her so I went down there and I got into San Bernadino High and you know, met a bunch of guys and I had a little band. And eventually three of us joined the service together. They were having a special drive and I knew I could get my G.I bill, and so forth…so we did three years…of couple of years in Korea and then when I got home I took my G.I. bill and went to Chicago..Roy Knap School which was Gene Krupa’s alma mater..and Buddy Harman and I were there together. A bunch of drummers, about five hundred drummers..that was the school in those days.
SE: Those first bands that you put together, were they pretty much swing or big band stuff?
HB: Yeah, more or less. But they weren’t big bands, they were five, six, seven piece bands. We were just playing dance music, pop music. I was singing and then I had my best buddy Bob Kaminski….he was singing with the band. He sounded just like Bing Crosby. People just loved him, and he was only about sixteen years old or something.
SE: Now, is this when you were in the trio?
HB: Well, there were many trios, and quartets, and so forth where I as doing funny hat bands and shit like that. I started doing comedy and MC-ing., no that was after Korea. that was part of a professional…I was working with guys…I was now in the union and so forth and working with union guys, and uh, those little bands in high school were nothing, you know?
SE: What were your first paying gigs like?
HB: You know, I think the first time I ever got paid for a gig was at a place out here in Norco, California out near Corona..and it was called the Chick-A-Bunny and they served chicken and rabbit.
HB: And we used to get five bucks plus a chicken dinner, or a rabbit dinner..and I didn’t eat rabbit so…for me it was a chicken dinner.
SE: Right. (laughs)
HB: But it was a long drive from San Bernadino all the way out to Norco.
SE: I can only imagine that if you’re a drummer and you aren’t traveling with a band, you usually wind up playing in some club’s house band for comics or strippers…
HB: Well, that all happened eventually with me. My earliest drumming, where I was getting some technique…I was in Hartford, Conn…I was in a …I think it was the St. Anthony’s Brigade. It was a drum and bugle thing when I was about thirteen or fourteen, and that really started to get my chops going. And then I started to do little dumb shows out on my front porch. I was about thirteen when I got my drums. We lived on the second floor and I’d run home after school and I’d set up my drums on the front porch and I’d be beatin’ the shit outta the drums for all the kids to hear. You know, a definite drummer showoff type of thing. And then, after the service was when I really started working, and I did my first recording in San Bernadino with a very noted disk jockey in those days, Bill The Bellman. And he had written some songs and needed some demos done. And that kind of started me in demos. Then I went to Chicago, did all the studying and all that hard work, came back to L.A. and fell into doing demos, workings clubs,actually with people like Glen Campbell and Leon Russell. We were all working in these shithouses as we called them. Places like The Palamino and The Crossbow. They were pseudo Country joints. then word got around that we were pretty hot! I mean the record business was all different in those days. In those days you made demos which you tried at least to make sound like masters and alot of them became masters. But Rock n Roll was something that was just starting…late 50s. I fell in with this kid Tommy Sands…did my first major recordings at Capitol with Tommy and got to know all those guys at Capitol and they were all in the dark about the words Rock ‘n Roll. You know, they knew the phrase, but they didnt know what the hell it was. so when they would start to do a record and they needed Rock ‘n Roll…they’s say ” Get those guys that do Rock ‘n Roll. Get that Hal Blaine,” you know,…”Get that Glen Campbell and Leon Russell.” And we became, you know, a big team.
SE: The Wrecking Crew!
HB: Exactly! And then The Wrecking Crew of course really grew where
we had so many more different people. I mean obviously when there’s ten dates going in a day, you can only do three or four of ’em. So there became a whole other whole nucleus of great players. People like Joe Osborne, who just came off the road with Ricky Nelson…a great bass player. And Carol Kaye who was really a Fender guitar player and she started playing Fender bass. we had guys like Jimmie Bond. Jimmie was a great upright bass player..standup bass player. And Lyle Ritz was a standup bass player. Red Calander…in those days there were a whole bunch of those guy’s that were just wonderful jazz players. And they weren’t against Rock ‘n Roll as much as alot of the musicians were who refused to play. And within a couple or three years I mean, we had the town sown up. That’s all there was to it. If they couldn’t get us, they didn’t do the date. Same way with the movies. People like Walt Disney who I worked for…people thought that Rock and Roll was a dirty word and really felt that we were a bunch of unpolished, unprofessional, Rock ‘n Roll street musicians who couldn’t read music and didn’t know a thing about music. And they were totally shocked when we would go in and do a date, you know, that was completely written out and we’d do it note for note. And they used to say, “How did you do that?” And Tommy Tedesco had that famous line that he told the conductor at Disney. He said, “We practice a lot during the day.”
HB: It was hysterical. We fell down laughing.
SE: At what point did you cross paths with Lenny Bruce?
HB: This was back in the 50’s. When I got out of the service and went back to
San Bernardino, there was a new night club being built, called The Magic Carpet. They needed a band and I got to know the owner, who was actually an organ player, and I put a band together and we had a band. Well, every two weeks there’d be a new comic doing dinner type shows, which really didn’t go on in San Bernardino but this club, he really wanted . . It was a real dinner club and Lenny Bruce came in. He was one of the acts that worked there several times. Lenny and I became really good friends. His car was always fucked up; he could never drive anywhere so I would drive him everywhere. I wasn’t married at the time so I had nothin but time on my hands, so it was wonderful. We would drive up the mountains. He wasn’t familiar with Lake Arrowhead, and Big Bear and all of that. He lived in L.A. and I’m pretty sure he was from New York.
SE: Long Island.
HB: Yeah, and he was going through a divorce at the time. All the shit you go through, so, we just became friends. He was just a good guy. A funny guy. I like to say my life is comedy, comedy is my life, and my life has been one big joke. And fortunately through the years I got to work with… I mean, name the comic and I’ve worked with them, that is, from that era; like the Bob Hopes, and George Burns’ and so forth. Today, of course, there are ten million comedians out there, you never hear of these guys until they get their own show or something. But Lenny, he didn’t have any music. The first time I rehearsed with him, he just said, “ Just play anything man, I don’t give a shit what you play.”
HB: “Just announce me BA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA! That’s it!” So that’s what we did. We were all good fakers. I had a great pianist from England,
James Chadbourn. I don’t know whatever happened to James. He was a
great player. I had a real good band.
SE: Did you record any of that stuff?
HB: No, unfortunately. None of it ever got on tape, that I knew of.
SE: Did you ever work with any of the artists that came out of the Brill Building or were you strictly West Coast?
HB: Well, I worked with Neil Diamond, I was doing Neil’s records and whoever else’s. You know, everybody started coming to the West Coast because we were making so many hits out here. My God, we always had the Top 10 or 12 songs on the charts every week, so people were coming here from England, people like Peter and Gordon. Everyone wanted the Wrecking Crew, and of course it was the Phil Spector Wall of Sound that really broke open that whole thing where people wanted that sound. They wanted that studio, Gold Star, and they wanted Larry Levine that engineer. The real bass player in those days on fender was Ray Pullman, who passed away very young – that’s how Carol Kaye happened to have come into being where she went from, because We used to use her on just rhythm guitar, a little electric guitar, but she started playing fender bass when Ray died, who was a great bass player, a great arranger.
SE: What was your first session as a hired gun like? Who was your first big artist to work with?
HB: I think it was Sam Cooke (another Saturday night).
SE: And in those days, everything was done live?
HB: You know, . most of it was two track or even four track. They didn’t have the electronics and stuff like they do today. You know, you can have 250 tracks.
SE: And today you don’t even need a band.
HB: – Exactly. But In those days, we would at lease rehearse with the singer, if not do it live. It was fifty-fifty; sometimes it was live, and sometimes it was a track. and they would overdub their voices, and the engineers in those days would do what they used to call ping-ponging. Ping-ponging is where they would take stuff from one track and kind of transfer it over to another, then put the voice on that track and finally move the whole thing over to . . . it was very . . . the technology was the shits in those days.
SE: (laughs) So you were there right at the beginning of stereo mixing.
HB: Oh, absolutel .
SE: And mixing drums in stereo.
SE: Did you oversee any of that?
HB: Well, no I really didn’t, but there came a time in the early 60’s when I designed a set of drums that you’ve heard on many records. I just called them my Monster’s, and I made the mistake of giving it all to Ludwig like a fool, and they said thank you.
HB: I was a Ludwig drummer, and I was sure that they would call it the Hal Blaine Monster Something, and of course they didn’t (laughs).and then They rarely ever spoke to me again. And they started making multi-millions. Anyway, through the years there have been many tales written about those drums and how the guys could go from left to right… pan from left to right on a stereo record, I’m trying to think off the top of my head… . Indian Nation . . .
SE: The Raiders?
HB: Paul Revere and The Raiders. Everybody wanted those drums because no one had ever seen or heard anything like that before.
SE: Those Toms [drums] were heard all over those Partridge Family albums.
HB: Right. That was me.
SE: Those Toms had a very distinctive sound. At the first Tom hit I heard on “It Never Rains in Southern California,” I said, “That’s got to be Hal Blaine!”
HB: Yeah, it sure was. That was a good song. but once again, we were so lucky to be in there at the beginning of all of this. because All of these great songwriters were writing those kinds of songs, and they wanted our musicians, so we rarely went in to play a song that wasn’t really destined for Hitsville. working with people like Johnny Rivers, who was writing all of his own songs, like “Poor Side of Town.” And of course, with Johnny, he owned the record company, he owned the 5th Dimension. He owned a lot of stuff and became a very wealthy young man. I saw him recently at the 35th anniversary of the Whiskey A Go-Go, where I had worked with him and Joe Osborne, which was when I first really got pretty hip to Joe Osborne, who’s just . . . I mean, there’s nobody like him. When you listen to the 5th Dimension and all those records, and those records that we did also with Larry Knechtel playing keyboards –
SE: You guys had a sound!
HB: Yeah, everybody wanted our particular trio that was just hit after hit. Lou Adler was just producing all that stuff from Shelley Fabres to Jan and Dean, and it just went on and on and on for Lou Adler. And not only for Lou Adler but for all these great producers, like Joe Sarisino, all these producers that wanted us, and used us, and we made all these hit records, I mean hundreds of hit records.
SE: I recently pulled up your Discography on the Web; it was about ten pages long, yet still seemed incomplete.
HB: There are so many people I’ve forgotten about. I did an album with Dusty Springfield, for example, and I didn’t realize it until recently when it came up.
SE: Weren’t there a lot of soundtracks that you played on as well?
HB: Oh, we did so many, from the Brady Bunch to . . . God, everybody! And
then movies . . . see, all of this was just starting into movies so we would get a call – I’ll tell you one of the great stories: I got my first call at Twentieth Century Fox. Now, I had worked at other movie studios where they were just putting in a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll into a soundtrack, but when I got to Twentieth [Century Fox] that day, there was about a twelve or fourteen piece band. They wanted a James Brown type of sound. That’s the way the producer talked about it, and that’s kind of the way the arranger had written stuff. “But,” he told me, “It’s just gonna be dog meat.” In the movie, this couple’s driving down the road and the guy turns on the radio and that’s what they hear, because they were afraid to use rock ‘n’ roll in soundtracks. It was a dirty word; the connotation it had then is like the connotation gangster rap has today.
HB: So we went in and the first thing that happened was, I sat down at my drums. I had a guy who always set up my drums, been with me about thirty-seven or thirty-eight years now, and there was the local engineer, who set up the microphones. Here we were, first call of Twentieth Century Fox, one of the biggest contractors in Hollywood, and we were playing the first song, when this producer comes out of the booth. Now, this booth was about thirty-five steps up the side of the wall to a booth in the sound stage of Twentieth Century Fox where all the Newman’s, Alfred Newman, Lionel Newman, all the wonderful music came out of there for all those movies. So, all of a sudden, we were just a little horseshit band, and this guy comes out [of the booth] and says, “For some reason we’re just not getting that radio sound, and we really want to get that sound.” So I say to the guy, “You know, I don’t want to create anything here, but you’ve got one microphone sitting about five feet in front of the drums only! And a couple of overheads picking up the rest of the band, I said ; this is just not the way it’s done to get that sound. So he says, “ Well, what do we have to do?” And I said well, “You know, just on the drums, which is my particular instrument, there’s usually a bass drum mic, and maybe a mic catching the snare and a tom-tom and one overhead, maybe two, and then of course the horns and so forth.” Then this guy – I’ll never forget, because his name was Hal – this white haired guy, came running down . . . “Goddamnit! We don’t have these kinds of inputs; we don’t have blah, blah, we can’t do this blah, blah!” And I say to him, “ Geez, mister, I’m really sorry,” and the goddamn contractor is looking at me like he wants to fucking murder me. Why did I ever hire us in the first place, these assholes! who are not the Lionel Newman type of musicians.
HB: Eventually, they sort of jerry rigged some of it and we did it, and it came out great. And From that day on, it was like everyday I had calls from Twentieth [Century Fox]. I had to turn them down because it didn’t pay very much; I was doing records that paid much more money. But, before you know it, we’re doing Batman out there, we’re doing all those shows and rock ’n’ roll, became the thing! It was no longer a dirty word! And, they realized that most of us (laughs) were in fact educated musicians who had degrees, you know? so all those guys who used to put their noses up at us, were now stickin’ their noses in our ass because they wanted work! All these older guys, and they were nice people, and they were wonderful fiddle players and so forth, you know, It’s like any other business, you start hiring your friends, and all of those guys, really, became very good friends and were wonderful musicians, reliable, responsible, and they were always there. In fact, I started contracting very early on, so I was hiring all these guys, and of course I became (laughs) my goodness! a contractor! And when you’re a contractor in Hollywood, shit! There’s nothing better! Every date you do you’re getting double scale whether you’re playing or just sitting there.
SE: In those days, did they ever offer you an option of taking a piece of the record, or a flat rate?
HB: Never. No one ever offered anything. We were in on union scale and a lot of us were double scalers. Tedesco, for instance. If you wanted Tedesco, you had to pay double scale and if you wanted me, eventually, you’d have to pay double scale. Because we were so in demand, Tommy and I were just . . . there were times we’d lay down at 4:30 in the morning, and they’d wake us up at 8 A.M. to start playing again, the Mama’s and the Papa’s and all kinds of people.
SE: When you did the music for the Batman TV show with Nelson Riddle, was that your connection to Sinatra?
HB: Some of Batman was Nelson, but most of it was Billy May.
SE: So, you had the connections?
HB: You know, not really, because I hadn’t started playing with Frank, yet. I might have been playing with Nancy, although I knew Frank, who I hadn’t started playing with until ’63 or ’64. But, I was already working with Sammy Davis, Dean Martin, people like that and They were all on Frank’s label.
SE: What was a Sinatra session like?
HB: Well, I mean it was magic. All your life . . . I mean, I had met Frank in 1957 through a phone call from Germany. That’s how I met Frank Sinatra.
HB: Amazing, amazing, amazing. That’s a whole other book in itself.
SE: I bet.
HB: But, I had no idea, I didn’t realize . . . that’s when I kind of became . . . and maybe it’s just an ego thing with me, but I really became a part of the Sinatra family. I was always with Nancy and her mother, and I was as working with a kid by the name of Tommy Sands, and Tommy had married Nancy. This happened to be when I met Sinatra over the phone; it happened to be their engagement party in Miami. Everybody in show biz was there, a lot of people that I’d worked with, some of the comedians, Buddy Hackett, and Rickles. I think Rickles was there, you know, all kinds of people, and big Vegas people too. In fact, some of the comedy acts from Vegas that happened to be playing in town all came to the party, and Steve and Edie, I mean, all kinds of people! And, uh, I was very tight with Frank’s wife, Big Nancy. But they were already divorced but of course (laughs) Frank was still in the ballpark! Now, remember, I was about twenty-five years old, and Big Nancy was about thirty-five years old, maybe forty, so there was nothing between us at all! It just so happened that I was Tommy’s drummer, conductor, and road manger. And some idiot at The Miami Herald, or whatever the paper was, had written, a thing about “Who’s that new foursome around town, you know, Tommy Sands, and Nancy Sinatra, and Big Nancy Sinatra, and Tommy’s bon vivante, drummer, conductor,” . . . some bullshit like that.
HB: And that’s what happened. Somebody read it to Frank (laughs) and that’s when the phone rang. So, I had a little talk with Frank about . . . “Mr. Sinatra, you gotta believe me!”
HB: “There’s nothing at all,” I told him. “And I’m surprised! You know, you’re a big guy! And you still believe this shit you read in the newspaper?” Anyway, we had this conversation, and the wind up of it was “Ok, Hally, you pick up all checks, sign my name, leave a nice tip.” And I said, “Great! Don’t worry about it, everything is taken care of! Please don’t worry about it, and we’ll see you when you get back to this country.” And, of course, we did a couple of times, Palm Springs, here, there, I used to hang down there with Tommy and Nancy and Big Nancy, and Frank would pop in, so I was not a complete stranger.
SE: So you played on a lot more than “Strangers In the Night?”
HB: Oh, lots of records. I played on “That’s Life,” one of my favorites! I mean big band blowing, like I did with Basie. You walk into a Sinatra date – and I’ve told this story many times, and it’s so beautiful – A Sinatra date was always a seven hour call, three hours rehearsing, one hour off. Grab a coffee, and three more hours recording. And the first three hours, while you rehearsed, they checked and double-checked, triple checked, quadruple checked every microphone, every line and every chair to make sure there were no squeaks. I mean, they absolutely, double-checked everything so that when Frank walked in, he was ready to go! He would just walk in, say “Hi guys,” come around and say hello to everybody, walk into the booth, “Let’s make a record!” And boom! We would! There was the record I made with him that I just loved, at the beginning of his comeback, called “Softly As I Leave You.” A beautiful, beautiful fuckin’ record! I just loved that record. And I have here a trophy of a drumhead that Frank signed for me, just a very nice thing that I have on my wall. It really makes me feel good. But “Strangers In the Night,’ was his only gold single. He had many hit records, many gold records, but never a number one on the charts, pop, killer diller! And obviously, he was thrilled, as were we.
SE: And Frank was basically a one-take-guy?
HB: That’s it! Rarely did Frank say to Jimmy Bowen who was producing “Jim? Let me try one more, guys, I hope you don’t mind,” Phew! Are you kidding?
SE: I’ve read a lot of strange things about Phil Spector over the years. I don’t know what’s fact and what’s fiction.
HB: Well, you know, when I talk about Phil Spector, I have to talk about the fact that he was our mentor. He was the guy who really started all of us on the way to major hit records, and hit record after hit record, and after hit record. It was always a Friday night, it was always a party. It was just a great time and the camaraderie was incredible!
SE: His way of recording was a little unorthodox, wasn’t it?
HB: It wasn’t necessarily unorthodox. It’s just that he got that incredible sound because of
Gold Star Studios, Larry Levine, Stan Ross, the engineers that were there, and Dave Gold, the owners. They had one of the first major echo sound systems and it was a natural echo. In other words, if you listen to old records you never heard echo, but these guys started adding it, and it wasn’t electrical echo. They actually built an echo chamber so that they could take a small voice and make it a LITTLE BIT BIGGER. You know, that type of thing. And shit! Everybody wanted that and Phil came along, and instead of just a voice (laughs), he’d put in a whole band in with that echo chamber.
SE: Why did they tear that studio down?
HB: They didn’t tear it down, it burned down.
SE: Oh, it did?
SE: Couldn’t be fixed up?
HB: No, unfortunately, they decided to hell with it. When they did the big Brian Wilson Documentary, this guy called asking me if I’d be a part of it, and I said, “Sure!” He said, “ do you think we could film it at Gold Star?” And I said the problem with that is that it had burned down about fifteen years ago. So they said “aww shit! what can we do?” And me in my comedic way again, told him, “well, there’s a parking lot there, we can do it in the parking lot.”
SE: A lot of natural echo!
HB: And we did it in the parking lot. It was no big deal, but they filmed me. I was expecting to do a little interview; they had make-up people, catering people, dressing rooms, and a crew you wouldn’t believe! They spent a fuckin’ fortune! They filmed me for three solid hours out in the hot sun. When it was over with, I went over to this guy who was directing, producing, whatever, and I said, “You know?, you said you needed me for about fifteen or twenty minutes. I’ve been here for three hours. I never did talk fees with you and I wouldn’t talk now because it’s done.” There should have been a tremendous fee, or at least S.A.G. or something. I said, “You’ve got three hours, and probably use three seconds.” “Oh no, no, no, no, Hal,” they said. “This is great stuff, we need this stuff.” When it finally showed, David Crosby said, “Well, Brian finally hired Hal Blaine to play drums on the records.” Then, they cut to me, and it says, “Hal Blaine” over my shirt there was a chyron that said Hal Blaine , and I say, “Working with Brian was wonderful,” click! I’m gone! That’s what they used.
SE: They’ll probably use the rest of it down the road for something.
HB: Unbelievable! Well, I’ never thought of that. But we did do it at the parking lot of Gold Star. I must tell you, Steve, every Tuesday morning we have a breakfast club of all the guys from Gold Star – Dave Gold, Stan Ross, Larry Levine, and some of their friends – and we all tell jokes and reminisce about the old days. You know, we’re all getting up there, we don’t know how long any of us will still be around.
HB: So . . . No, I know, and it’s ridiculous! But I’ve decided that this will be my last year of work. Bass Player Magazine called me and asked if they could bring me to New York to be part of a super-band that they’re putting together for Joe Osbourne, who’s getting a Lifetime Achievement thing. I said sure, I’d love it! So, they said that they were hoping that Paul Simon would be playing. All of these people we recorded with, Jimmy Webb on piano, and so forth. So, it should be a lot of fun.
SE: I hope they videotape it.
HB: Well, I don’t know, they did tape the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony, but they never showed us the part with me, or Earl Palmer and Scotty Riddle getting ours.
SE: Yeah, they edit those shows down a bit.
HB: Well It was a five hour taping. They could only use an hour and a half or two, or whatever. I guess Earl really bitched, hollered, and screamed because they finally sent us a video of that first hour.
SE: How’s Earl doing?
HB: Yeah, Earl’s still hanging in there. We’re really good friends. We still talk every now and then, but we’re kind of retired, we kind of put it over to the whole new regime. They’re wonderful people, and wonderful players, great guys, and girls . . . and it’s time I mean . . . Shit! I’ve spent thirty-five-something-years, almost forty, and now I’ve spent twenty years paying off my fuckin’ ex-wife! You know?
HB: It’s amazing how that shit happens! I don’t know if you’ve been through a divorce, but I heard a story the other day that just blew my mind. There was a man in the market with his little boy, and the little kid was going, “I want ice cream! I want candy!” So, finally, the father reached in his pocket and gave him a quarter and said, “Okay, go get something! Leave me alone!” So the kid was tossing the quarter up and down and catching it. The quarter would fall on the floor, and go under the apples and he’d find it and come back up, and one time he was throwing it, and it hit a shelf and it went bing! Right down his throat! And this kid was laying there choking and people realized that this baby’s dying! They were holding him upside down, trying the Heimlich, trying everything. There was some woman standing there writing a check at the counter. She put the checkbook down, took off her jacket, walked over, took the little boy, stood him up on the counter, pulled down his trousers, reached up, and took him by his balls. Very gently she started massaging, squeezing, and pushing, and all of a sudden, pop! The quarter popped out of his mouth, and everybody was applauding her, and it was wonderful! The father said, “Oh God, I don’t know how to thank you, I almost lost my boy! Thank God there was a doctor here!” And she said, “Oh no, I’m not a doctor.” He says, “Really? What are you?” She said, “I’m a divorce attorney.”
HB: I love classic stories man, and that’s one of them.
SE: So when you started doing sessions for the Beach Boys, how long did it take before you knew that there was something a lot more here to these guys?
HB: When we first went in to work with Brian . . . And Brian was a sweetheart, and, of course, his father, was unfortunately an asshole. In the beginning it was very infantile. I had already begun working with the Lettermen, the Hi-Lo’s, the Four Freshmen, you know, these people who sang so beautifully. And to me, we didn’t hear guys that sang that falsetto like Brian would be singing. If Brian wanted to record a song, and we would hear Brian singing way up here, we’d just look at each other and say, what the hell is this? We had no idea that what we were doing (laughs) would thirty years later become unbelievable! Of course, through the years, I was Brian’s drummer and went through the whole thing with him. The drugs, the divorce, and everything the poor guy went through. And then all of a sudden he finally started to come out of it, thank goodness.
SE: So I guess you had to deal with Murray, huh?
HB: Well, for a little while, then we was thrown out.
SE: Was he a pain in the ass to the other musicians also?
HB: Not necessarily to us. He didn’t have a lot to say to us. He respected what we were doing, but he didn’t like what Brian was doing. He didn’t want things to be done the way Brian did things. Murray had one record that he wrote one time that Lawrence Welk recorded. and That’s the way Murray thought everyone should be recording – the way Lawrence Welk recorded. And that’s the way he thought everyone should be recording, the way Lawrence Welk recorded. I never got to tell Murray, but I did albums with Lawrence Welk, and it wasn’t like what Murray was talking about at all. Lawrence wanted to be part of the whole rock ’n’ roll thing, too. You’ve got to remember that all of this music was brand new, and Murray was used to the ’30’s, the ’40’s, and all of a sudden, twenty or thirty years later he still wants to do music that way, and it just wasn’t done that way anymore! But Brian couldn’t convince him of that, and they were always fighting. We would just sit there while they argued.
HB: And finally, Brian got rid of his Dad. And that’s it.
SE: I’ve got that long tape of recording in the studio with the guys and he sounded drunk.
HB: He was always drunk. I could always smell liquor on his breath. A lot of people said he really didn’t drink. Well, it never happened that way when I was there. Then, when he was thrown out (so to speak), he went out and hired another group and we started doing records with this group, The Sunrays. They had, I don’t know, part of a hit record or two, but they did records just like Brian! I mean, Murray was producing the way that Brian would be producing. It was so silly.
SE: Did you think that Dennis was a pretty competent drummer?
HB: Dennis was a fine drummer. He was the perfect “Beach Boy” drummer on stage, shaking his head… He came along as one the first kids shaking his head, real long hair, beatin’ the shit out of drums . . . He broke more drum heads and more sticks . . . it was amazing!
SE: He was an animal.
HB: Yeah! People used to say to me, “Doesn’t it bother him that you’re making the records?” No, he loved it, because he was out doing what he was doing. He was always on a forty-five degree angle, always in a cast somewhere, always going off a motorcycle, car crashes, it was just amazing, it was almost a death wish, I don’t know, He had his boat very close to mine, and the day that that happened, we saw the cops, but we didn’t know what it was. When you’re on your boat, you’re always monitoring Channel 9 or 13, the Emergency Channel, and all of a sudden we hear this call go out for Harbor Patrol and Medics for a man overboard. You rarely hear that in the marina. You learn never to dive off of your boat in the marina; only divers go down, wearing the proper breathing apparatus. You’re not supposed to go diving in the marina [because of all of the “shit” that gets dumped in the water], but I guess [Dennis] dove off his boat and when he came back up, he hit one of the floats, and it knocked him unconscious. There were all these people up there waiting for him, but he didn’t come back up. So, then, they finally started to realize that something was wrong, and began looking around and when they didn’t see him, they started screaming for Harbor Patrol on a 911-type call. And all we hear is “man overboard.” That was it! Then it went like wildfire, “Dennis Wilson, one of the Beach Boys drowned!” Jesus, God help me! I couldn’t believe it!
SE: But you hung out with Dennis a bit?
HB: Yeah, whenever he was with me, he was very straight, very nice. He admired me obviously. I tell people that when Dennis did his solo album, he hired me. That’s proof in the pudding that he certainly wasn’t upset that I was doing Beach Boy records.
SE: What was your observation of Dennis while doing “Pacific Ocean Blue”?
HB: Very together. He was very, very sophisticated, and played piano very well. He was doing his thing. He was writing music.
SE: What was your relationship with the rest of the group? Did you have to interact with them at all?
HB: I had worked a lot with Bruce Jonston, because Bruce is a great pianist, and, of course, a great songwriter. Before Bruce ever got involved with the Beach Boys, he was a sideman like the rest of us. And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he was part of the Beach Boys, which was great for him. Carl was just a very nice kid, always came in quietly and played with us, well not always but generally, I rarely saw Mike Love, or Al Jardine. I mean we would see them once in a while, but we never really heard them singing together. Now once in a while, they would come in and sing for Brian. You know, “let’s see if this key is right,” and we did a track and they would sing to it.And Brian would be telling them, “Let’s do this, etc.” They were always arguing. I don’t think that anyone cared a lot for Mike Love.
SE: (laughs) You know, everyone who I’ve spoken with, who has interacted with them, has said the same thing.
HB: Right, well, there you are. I remember being called by some law office in Century City, and having to go up there. And I sat there with about eight or nine lawyers at this big conference table. They did a deposition on me, just asking me questions about who wrote the songs. I tried to tell them a million times that as far as I knew, it was Brian. Brian wrote the arrangements I don’t know about lyrics, he worked with the different lyricists. I told them quite honestly, that I could have been a part of Brian’s songs, too, because anyone who was around and would say, “Hey Brian, why don’t you use the word ‘the’ instead of ‘this,’” or whatever, and all of a sudden, they were part writer. Disc Jockeys, people like that. Brian was such a follower, I mean he was like a puppy. You know, He wanted to be everybody’s friend, obviously. He used to come to my house . . . he loved the piano that I had. and he would just sit and play. My little girl, Michelle, she was just a baby, and she would sit on his knee and he’d bounce her up and down. He was just so together, and it was so sad to see this whole thing happen the way it happened. And I told these people that I never saw Mike Love actually sitting and co-writing with Brian, I didn’t know anything about that. I really don’t know. And you know lawyers get paid by the hour, but the person being deposed doesn’t get paid by the hour, and they [the lawyers] just talk and talk and talk and talk.
SE: That must have been around the time that Mike Love sued Brian for half of the settlement that Brian got over “Sea of Tunes.”
HB: You know, I had heard rumors. I really didn’t know the whole story. I guess later I had seen Mike Love on interviews and stuff, sitting at his home, and doing his yoga bullshit . . .
HB: I don’t know. He just never ever felt like a Beach Boy to me, the way everybody else did.
SE: Jan and Dean were more of a Beach Boy.
HB: Right, and I don’t know if it ever bothered Mike, but Jan and Dean, they always used to come in and sing on Brian’s records, and Brian would go in and sing on theirs.
SE: You played on that Smile Session, also?
SE: What was the session like?
HB: You know I wish I could think back that far (laughs). The only thing I can say is that Brian was always the goose that laid the golden eggs. Everyone got wealthy off of him. Everyone worked off of Brian, and the camaraderie was just incredible.
SE: Have you ever heard that tape of Buddy Rich going off on his band?
HB: Buddy was a friend of mine. He was one of the toughest guys in the world! An ex-Marine, he would not stand for fuckin’ up! That’s all there was to it if you wanted to be on his band. But, one of my greatest compliments was when Buddy hired me to do his daughter Kathy’s album and one of the guy’s, Milt Holland, one of the percussionists. He kind of grew up with Buddy and they were very tight, and Milt asked Buddy, “How come you’re not playing on your kid’s album?” And Buddy replied, “I wanted the best!” Milt came to me and said “You know, Buddy will probably never tell you this, but he just said this to me, so I think you should know.” And then Through the years (laughs), Buddy used to tell this story . . . I got it from many people . . . Buddy used to tell this story that was screwing some broad in Australia one afternoon, and in the middle of screwing her, she looked up and said, “Do you know Hal Blaine?” (laughs) He said he almost shit! People have laughed over that for years, and years. Buddy was obviously a legend, an icon. He just had these masterful hands. He was unbelievable.
SE: And he claimed that he never practiced.
HB: Well, no. Once you start playing, you don‘t practice. People asked me for years, “When do you practice?” I don’t practice!
HB: I never did, I never have, I mean, I practiced when I was studying music, I practiced before I started working, but once I started working, I didn’t need anymore practice, as far as I was concerned. But I was never a soloist, That’s one of the things that I’ve prided myself on, that I’m an accompanist. And I work to accompany a song, or a singer. I mentioned Neil Diamond. Well Neil was a guy that rarely ever had lyrics finished because I always want to hear a song and what it’s about. He was one of these guys that wrote these wonderful songs, and he was out of the Brill Building . . .
HB: By the way, the Brill Building was not the building.
HB: No. I was in New York recently, with all these attorneys, and they were right next to the Brill Building. I said, “Ah, that’s the famous Brill Building! That’s wild! That’s where all that music came from!” And they said, “No, it wasn’t there, but that’s the building that got the fame. It was the little building next door.” I said “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” But, they weren’t kidding. It was a different [street] number, like two digits off or something.
SE: My God!
HB: Yeah, but some of the guys started to move into the Brill Building. But when it came to Irving Berlin and all these guys, it was just in this little building.
SE: Wow! That’s like saying that the Bible didn’t start in Jerusalem, but in Cleveland!
SE: So, Glen Campbell was a fellow Wrecking Crew member?
HB: The thing about Glen, where we all nailed Glen, I don’t think he signed with Capitol yet. Glen was a sideman like all of us. and I remember we were doing a Dean Martin session, because I’ve got a lot of pictures of Glen, because I’m a shutterbug. So, during the session, I remember Glen saying “Get a picture of me, I’m gonna run over there by Dean,” and he ran over and just kind of stood there looking away, and I took a picture. Well that night, on the way home, I don’t know, like two o’clock in the morning or something, I’m listening to a country station, which I rarely listened to. but I was flipping around on my radio, and suddenly I recognize Glen’s voice: “Yeah, I jes finished a session with my buddy Dean Martin. Oh yeah, we play golf all the time . . .” So, the next day when I saw Glen in the studio, I said, “Hey Glen, how’s your buddy Dean Martin? You playin golf today?” He says, “You heard that? Where’d you hear that?” (laughs) I really caught his ass. Glen has just been a super nice guy. He got off all the drugs and all that shit, found the Lord, and couldn’t be happier.
SE: Drugs and booze never played a part in the Wrecking Crew did it?
HB: Never did. None of us played with any of that shit. Just didn’t do it. We couldn’t do it. First of all, we were too Goddamn busy! And I really think that most of the guys realized that if you start screwing around with drugs, you’re gonna be outta here! Everyone loved the fact that we were, you know, a group of nightclub, so to speak, musicians, making a hundred to a hundred and a quarter a week, then all of a sudden you’re making fifteen hundred a day, two thousand a day, You don’t want to jeopardize that. It’s like falling into a vat of chocolate! I mean, you know, it was Fantastic!
SE: It seems that with that work schedule, you all had reason enough to do some kind of drug. I mean, you needed something to keep you up, to help you sleep, to get you back up again . . .
HB: That’s true, yeah.
SE: Plus, you’re right in the thick of the “Hollywood Scene.”
HB: The only vice we all had was that we were all smokers. Everybody fuckin’ smoked like chimneys. I remember Joe Osborne on his music stand at the end of a session. I don’t know how many butts were lined up on top of one another where the music stand is leaning? You know, at an angle?
HB: He’d put the butt down and play, put the butt down and play. And all the way up to the side of the music stand and down the other side were butts. Some of them were smoked, and some of them just burned out. Really amazing. But Everybody smoked.
SE: Nowadays, they won’t even allow a cigarette in the studio.
HB: That’s right.
SE: They’re afraid of screwing up the board.
HB: That’s right, and the smoke will screw up things. Electronics and so forth.
SE: Did you ever do a session that you really didn’t have a good time doing?
HB: You know? (sigh) I can’t remember ever doing a session like that, I really can’t. One of the things I try to teach the guys is that if you smile, you stay around a while, if you pout, you out! And the guys, they really took heed to that. Because in the very early… In the beginnings, a lot of those guys, great jazz players, and they would come in and take a look at the music, you know maybe it was just a chord sheet and they would say “Ah, same old shit!” Now, as soon as a producer hears you say that, he doesn’t want you around, man! And these guys would forget that the microphones are on, so, It didn’t take too long for me to really train these guys . . . we don’t say those kinds of things. When there’s a five minute break ten minute break, and you go to the bathroom, come back and show some interest in the song you just played. And if you hear a little mistake, a little glitch, a little screw up by you, tell them! Don’t let them hear it three days later when they’re mixing. So it didn’t take long and that whole Wrecking Crew, man, we were such a great group of musicians! We just worked, we all had families. we all were buying homes, and all the toys that go with them, until all the fucking divorces started setting in. Unbelievable!
SE: I recently spoke with Brian and I asked him if he ever thought of re- uniting the Wrecking Crew for a record. He said that he thought it was a good idea.
HB: Well not too long ago, that we did this song, “Everything I Need,” with his two daughters, and he called me to contract, saying to “get the guys together.” This was about two and a half, three years ago? we did this beautiful record with Wendy and Carnie, and Brian playing piano. We just had an incredible day recording. Then three or four days later he called me. I got all the strings together and we did the string overdub. I said, “Brian, I have a hunch that this could be record of the year! And I hope it is because I’d love to have nine, instead of eight.” And we laughed about that, and Wendy and Carnie, they were just sweethearts you know, they showed a lot of love for me. Then I get a call from this guy who’s producing him now, it was just a work call at A & M for Brian Wilson. I thought, ok, whatever, so I go in and here’s Brian, Wendy, Carnie, and their producer. They said, “We’re gonna play that song you that you guys just did, ‘Everything I Need’.” I said,oh, man, I loved that song! And they played it. and it was gorgeous, really gorgeous. I said, “Jesus, I love that song!” And I sincerely meant that. The producer told me that he’d like for me to do some more drum fills and I said, “Really!” he said “well do you feel like you want to, or could?” and I said, if it was me [doing the drum fills] I wouldn’t touch the record -I think it could go on the air just like that tomorrow and be a major hit. The girls said “you know? we feel the same way, it’s absolutely beautiful” I told them that their vocals were all gorgeous, but I’m talking about the general picture of the track, and the strings, and everybody had done such a beautiful job . . . So [the producer] says “We thought that was the way you did records with Brian. You’d come in a week or two later and do some more stuff . . .” I told him that I’d be happy to do that for you, but that I didn’t think it needed anything else, but, whatever you want. “Yeah,just play, and let’s do some fills” All of a sudden it became a fucking drum solo, so I told them, “Look, I’ll do whatever you want.” And I did it, you know of course, that was the end of it. And then Brian sent me the record three months later and I couldn’t believe it was the same song or the same record. It was terrible.
HB: It was a piece of shit! This guy, whoever he was, the producer, Maybe Brian would talk about some of the wood block sounds and some of the sounds I used to do, the whole thing was covered with percussion. It went click, boom, bang, clack, boom, bing . . . I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!
SE: Nowadays they tend to put the drummer up front and everything else is buried behind them.
HB: That’s something else, but this song was so fuckin’ gorgeous. You’d think that Barbara Streisand would be singing it.
SE: Sometimes less is more.
HB: Absolutely! That’s exactly what I preach!
SE: Do you recall some of the Monkee’s sessions that you played on?
HB: The main one I do recall was “The Wichita Train Whistle” thing. I don’t know if you’re aware of that . . .
SE: Oh yes, the Mike Nesmith instrumental album.
HB: Right. Mike said something to me about how “we have to spend $50,000 before the end of the year.” Now that was a lot of money in those days. Of course, it still is today. And he said, “ I wanted to get one of the biggest bands, get five trumpets, get twenty saxophones . . . “ He was going crazy, and I said, “Now, wait a minute, man, I don’t know what you want to put on tape.” “Well, we’ve gotta spend this money,” he said. Well we went into RCA with this huge orchestra and we did these songs that he called, “The Wichita Train Whistle Sings.” And I’ll never forget how at the end of the three or four days when the session, Mike stood up and said, “Well, I’d like to thank everybody. You did a great job. Thanks very much.” Tommy Tedesco took his guitar – we were in RCA’s studio A, the big studio, you could hardly see the ceiling – and threw his fender up in the air and it came down and smashed into a million pieces. Today, his wife has that fender guitar in a big frame. It’s pretty amazing.
SE: What was his reason for doing that?
HB: Well, that was just the end of it (laughs). He just played his ass off. He played so hard. It was just wonderful, wonderful . . . everyone was getting double scale. They were just throwing money away.
SE: You played on all of the Carpenter records?
HB: Just about. probably about ninety-nine percent.
SE: Karen Carpenter always came off on TV like she knew what she was doing behind the drums . . .
HB: Karen was a very fine drummer. And she lip-synched great. Because most of the stuff that they did on television were the records, it was me and Joe, she just lip-synched all that stuff and people naturally thought that she was drumming.
SE: But she was pretty good? You heard her play?
HB: She was very good, yeah.
SE: Were you ever there for any of the vocal tracking sessions?
HB: Rarely. I mean she would be singing, live with us so that we knew the song, or heard it. She was a sweetheart. But that’s a whole other book. The Carpenters had one or two songs out, nothing happened, so A&M was going to drop them. Joe Osborne was always their bass player, Joe Osborne had brought them to me at one time. In fact, we were in a Neil Diamond session and Joe said, “You should produce these kids, they’re great!” So I went outside, looked at these kids; they were two little chubby kids wearing Western fringe. “Richard plays the organ, and Karen plays the drums.” And you know what goes through your head – Hmm, girl drummer, just what I have to fuck with! But first of all, I said to Joe, “When do we have time to produce anybody?” We just really didn’t have time! We barely had enough time to take a pee! Anyway, A & M was gonna drop them. So their producer at A&M was Jack Daugherty, a real nice guy. He was a trumpet player who also had a big band. Jack decided to get me in there to play drums instead of Karen, and see what we could do. So, we went in, and the first record, whatever it was, just went through the sky! It was an immediate gold, platinum . . . So, naturally, that started a major string of hits. You know, a funny thing that happens with groups, and I don’t mean anything bad against Karen or Richard because I loved them both, but, once groups get five, six, or seven hits under their belts, you know, in a matter of a year or two, maybe three, and they’re on the road making all kinds of money, they decide that “we don’t need other musicians, we’ll make their own records” And that’s always the beginning of the end! As soon as they start making their own records, goodbye! It’s over. I don’t know why that is, but that’s what happens. And that’s what happened with them. And, of course, it’s unfortunate that Karen dies with her problem; Well then Richard opens up the Carpenters Center at Cal State Long Beach. They’ve built a gorgeous theatre (maybe a fifty million-dollar theatre) It’s absolutely gorgeous! And they have all kinds of Broadway shows in there and everything. Beautiful! At the opening night, one of those thousand dollar per seat events, all the notables were there, and they had these screens set up running pictures of Karen playing and the first guy they introduce is Herb Alpert. He’s the one who signed them. Herb got up, said a few words, then turned around and said, “ I’d like to introduce, if I may, my drummer from the Tijuana brass Hal Blaine. Hal, take a bow.” I get up, and I get a big hand, then Lalo Shifrin , who did “Mission Impossible,” came out with a big drum solo in the middle of it . . . “Hey I want to introduce one the first drummers in the world, blah, blah, blah, Hal Blaine.” And all of this went down . . . It was wild! Sitting in front of me was Peggy Lee, and all these wonderful people, so I’m waiting for Richard to say something, but, of course, he never did. You know, he was trying to keep the mystique about the fact that Karen did not play on the records. It was one of those nights, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. All those videos of Karen playing drums while we were playing the music. It was an incredible night. Three or four months later, Richard decides to do his own concert, so we go in and do this concert. There was a big orchestra, it was great, a wonderful night. Richard never did introduce anybody, and about the third time I went [to the Carpenters Center] – by the way, in the beginning it was called the Richard and Karen Carpenter Center because he put in the first three million dollars or something – Anyway, about a year and a half ago, I got a call from Richard’s manager. “We’re doing a season opener at the Center and Richard would love for you to work with him,” so I said, sure you know, I went in and I played. And, for the first time, Richard Said, “ I want you all to meet so and so .” It was very nice. He finally copped out that I was the drummer on all of the Carpenter’s records.
HB: After all these years. The wild part about it was – I want to tell you this story – the first time I ever walked in there, their mother and father were sitting there. Karen’s mom and dad, were very square type people. They were all from New Haven Connecticut, and , you know me, if I’m, working on a session and I feel or hear something, you know, I’d say it. So, we started playing – I think it was “We’ve only just begun,” and Karen was singing (high pitched) “We’ve only just begun, to live . . .” – and at one point I said, “You know, Richard, it’s awfully high, why is she singing it so high?” “That’s where we rehearsed it, it’s gonna be fine, that’s where she sings.” I told him well it’s none of my business but you know, midrange is so much more mellow and beautiful, and that’s why the arrangers always write trumpets, saxophones, trombones, brass, strings, mid range . . . All the while, her parents are sitting right there arguing about it . . . “Leave them alone! Why is he playing drums, I’ve seen a lot of drummers and Karen is as good as any of them!” You know, you can’t argue with these people, you can’t say anything. And now I’m fucking embarrassed. So, finally, d Jack Daugherty say’s, “Let’s take it down a few steps. Let’s see what . . .” And all of a sudden here was Karen Carpenter, the way we know Karen Carpenter, beautiful! I never got credit for that. The reason I mention that is because it wasn’t too long after that that there was a television show where at one point, Richard says, “You know, Karen, You’re singing this song much too high. Let’s bring it down a bit.”(laughs)
HB: So then Karen comes up to me and she says, “Sweetheart, would you have a set of drums like yours made for me?” And I say, “Sure, these people would be happy to do that. It’s gonna be expensive, but why are you sitting behind the drums?” – by now they’d have about five or six hit records – “Why aren’t you just in front of the band singing?” The mother is screaming, “She’s the drummer! . . . She’s not . . . Richard is the star!” I mean, I personally feel they pushed her in the grave, you know?
HB: And I said,”Well I’m sorry, It’s just my feeling, something about a girl sitting behind the drums doesn’t look natural! I don’t care how good she is, it doesn’t look natural. And she sings so beautifully. She should be out in front with a nice gown…” So, (laughs) during this television show, Richard says, “You know, Karen, I think you should come out from behind the drums, I don’t think you should be behind the drums . . .”
HB: I never got any recognition for that, and that’s fine. But, finally, a year or so ago, [Richard] did introduce me. And Richard is a fine, fine arranger, but his fucking time in the beginning is the worst I’ve ever heard.
HB: He sat at the piano and started the intro to “Close to You,” plink, plink, ka, dink, dinka, dink, dink (faster), ka, dinka, dink, kadink, dink . . . I said, “Hold it Rich, wait ho, hoo, hoo, wait!”
HB: “What? What?” We’ve gotta figure out what the tempo is. “Well, that’s the tempo.” Well you know, which tempo? We went through that thing. And then every time we tried it, it was the same thing, he was rushing so badly. and Jack of course, the producer, understood, and I said “look, why don’t we hook up a click track”. “oh no, we don’t wanna use a click track it becomes very robotic.. .” I tried to explain that a click track is just a guide. Sometimes, you might feel you’re falling behind, sometimes you fell you’re getting a little ahead. It’s just a guide, you don’t- sit- there- and- play- on- the- beat. So we finally talked him into trying it. Daugherty was saying, “Please, let’s try it.” Shit, after that, they wanted to do every record with a click track.
SE: (laughs) I wanted to ask you about some of the drummers that came out of the British invasion like Ringo. What did you think of his playing?
HB: Ringo did his job with The Beatles. His job was to be Ringo. Ringo hired me to do his vocal album. He was a good guy. Just like Charlie Watts. Charlie sits there and just plays that boom, bap, boom, bap, boom, bap. Ringo sits there and goes boom, bap, boom, bap, nothing fancy in what they do. Not that they’re not capable of doing fancy stuff. Charlie’s a great big band drummer.
SE: I found it interesting that The Beatles used to record ten second snippets and splice them into a song later, and with no click track. Ringo’s meter never fluctuated.
HB: Sure. They played a very straight time thing. Ringo was an accomplished drummer. He played with all kinds of bands, so they knew what time was about.
SE: You also worked on some Elvis soundtracks?
HB: Elvis the Pelvis! I was traveling and working with Patti Page, who’s just a sweetheart! Just an absolute darling. She was married to a guy who was a choreographer at Paramount Pictures. His name was Charles o’Kearn. Real nice guy. One time, when we were off the road, he said to me, “I’ve got a special job coming up . . .” Meanwhile, I had been working in the studios, and with big time people. Charles knew this, and he knew my track record and that he could count on me to work with him on this next project. I agreed to work with him, as long as I would have enough notice. He gave me a couple of dates when I was supposed to report to Paramount Pictures to a certain conference room. I had already been working at Paramount Pictures as an actor, and these people knew me as an actor. When I walked in a musician, they said “We can’t use you as a musician, we need musicians, not actors.” It took some convincing (laughs) to prove that I was really a musician. Anyway, this whole secret project was Elvis Presley. Elvis walked in to this room and it was like a Sinatra thing, I guess you might say, everybody was on fire. Nobody knew what the hell was going on. This was a secret, hello-meeting, get together . . . It turned out that Elvis did not like strangers around him. When he was working with people he wanted people that he knew, or people that knew that person. And I guess that Buddy Harman and DJ Fontana had convinced the people at Paramount that I would be a good guy to work with Elvis. I think the movie was “Girls, Girls, Girls”, and anyway, that’s how I got the call, once again it was like who you knew. And Charlie O’ Kearn got me in on that, and I did the music and they wanted Hawaiian stuff. The contractor at Paramount Pictures said “bring everything that you own that looks Hawaiian.” So I went to a drum shop and I rented every fuckin’ drum, percussion thing that looked anything like… I don’t care if it was from Turkey, or Taiwan it became Hawaiian! As a matter of fact I kind of became technical advisor for Hawaiian movies.(Laughs) Which is a whole other farce.
HB: But that’s when I met Elvis, and Elvis knew about my work and he was extremely nice, he really was a gentleman. He had all of those guys with him that were countrified guys, but good guy’s. But of course… and I’ve told this story many times, that no matter what, if Elvis said “I’m a lil’ bit thirsty” Fifteen guy’s would bust their ass to get to him with the coca-cola. Fall over chairs, music stands, anything to hand him the coke. So the first couple of years working with Elvis I’d gotten to know these guy’s real well. Joe Esposito who later came with us with John Denver, Lance Lagalt was a guy that I accidentally hired, he passed himself off as a bass player and I had no idea, I brought the guy in, and he and Elvis were Karate experts and they just fell in love instantly you know, cause Elvis used to do that shit, he’d walk across the room and without anyone knowing it he would turn on one of the guy’s, HI-YA! You know, throw a punch at em’, or kick em’ in the nuts, or knock them down or something. And these guy’s loved it! So naturally they were all studying Karate. Anyway, we always had a wonderful, wonderful time working with Elvis, good bread! Never worked so hard that it killed you. What used to killed me was that you would see a couple of new songwriters… now Ben Weissman wrote a lot of those songs, a helluva nice guy! But sometimes you’d see new songwriters and Elvis would be rehearsing their song, and you’d see these two people maybe a man and a woman, and they would just be smiling from ear to ear…their just so fuckin happy. They’re gonna make millions..(laughs)..and then all of a sudden Elvis would say “Ah don’t think ah like this song!” And that’s the end of it!
HB: And you’d see these two people melt down to the floor, you know?
HB: I guess all those stories were true..I guess. Colonel Tom would…and that’s another thing, see I go back with Colonel Tom because Colonel Tom was managing Tommy Sands. And I was with Tommy Sands and we would be having dinner all the time with Colonel Tom so I was a person that they knew they could depend upon, you know, to come in and work with Elvis. Anyway, worked with Elvis, did movies with Elvis, was on camera with him, and it was really fun. And he was a great guy. I never had any problem ever with him or any of the guys, but I did use some psychology on them. One time when I got a call from MGM where they were doing an Elvis movie…so this guy Micky at MGM says, “We need ya for the weekend of so and so…” I looked in my book, I said, “Well, I’ll tell ya, I’ll be free every day except that week”…cause these calls were like two in the afternoon til midnight. I said, “I’m free every day except Friday. I’ve got a date Friday night and I have to do that date. It’s been booked for some time.” “Well, can’t you get out of it?” “No I can’t get out of it man, you know, I wouldn’t do that to you. I wouldn’t do that to Elvis. I wouldn’t do it to anybody. Once I’m booked I’m booked!” So he said, “Well, we’ll have to get someone else.” I said okay because always had lots of drummers…. Bennie Madison. They had a whole bunch of guys.
So then the phone rings a couple of hours later …”Well, Elvis really wants you and we’re gonna work it out. What’s the deal?” I said, “Well, I’ve gotta leave Friday from Culver City by 4:30 in the afternoon… because there will be heavy traffic…to get me up to Hollywood for this date. It’s an 8pm date, but I need time to take a pee and eat something.” So they say, ” Okay. No problem. You’ll get out of here!” Well we worked a week..on Friday night we’re approaching 4pm and I see we’ve still got a little pile of music to do. At that point I knew I was in trouble and if I walk out of here the shit’s gonna hit the fan because the other guys didn’t reada whole lot of music when it came to arrangements. Anyway, so I put the old psychology to work. I went to Red West who was one of the big guys with Elvis and the whole gang and I said, “I know that Elvis Presley is the star of this whole thing, but I know that you run this fucking outfit. “You’re goddamn right to run it!”
HB: When I got hired for this week, they told me that I could leave here at 4:30..no later than 4:30. I said, “I’m scared. There’s still a little music.” “Well goddamnit, when you’re supposed to leave, you leave! You leave it to me and don’t worry about it!” (laughs) And then I want to Joe Esposito.. same thing, ” You’re goddamned right Hal, I run this fuckin outfit!” Then I went to Lance, every one of em. About five I went to…and I said, “I realize that Elvis is the star of this, but I know you run this son of a bitch!!” “You’re damn right!” So I left and about a week later I get a call from Jimmy Bowen who I worked for all the time. And Jimmy said, ” What’s this about you walking out on an Elvis Presley date?” I said, (laughs) “Where did you hear that?” He said, “Well, I had dinner with Colonel Tom the other night and he told me that you walked out on a fuckin session because you refused to cancel a session you had with me.” And I said, “That’s right!. I don’t cancel people out. I don’t do that to people.” He said, ” Goddamnit. Don’t ever do that to Elvis again!” I said,” Look Jimmy, I don’t give a shit if it’s Elvis or Frank Sinatra. If I’m booked, I’m booked! What am I gonna do?” So he said, “From now on any time you work for me you’re gettin double scale, that’s it! Just mark double scale!” And I did…I made alot of money off Jimmy Bowen…out of the goodness of his heart. He didn’t have to do that. Then we do the ’68 comeback special with Elvis..big fuckin NBC special! And I gotta tell ya man, I listen to that every once in a while, and I played my ass off on that thing! You don’t see me…a couple of time you almost see me…but boy, you hear me on that special. At the time we finished it I was working Vegas with Nancy where I was flying in the morning back to Hollywood doin the Andy Williams..or whoever the fuck it was. I was working half the day and then I’d be back on the airplane by five o’clock and get back to Caesars’ by 6:30, take a fast shower and a shit, got the tuxedo with the bow tie and the blue jacket, and be back on stage with Nancy for the seven o’clock dinner show. And then we’d do a late show at eleven. It was a tough, tough grind. I was making a fortune. She was paying an absolute fortune! I mean a king’s ransom! Well then, I came off stage one night and you know, you’re coming off these bright lights and you walk into black and somebody grabs me from behind and picks me up…and it was Elvis. And it was really nice you know. Happy to see him. But he said, “I’m openin up at the Hilton an’ you gon’ be with me!” I said, “Elvis, I can’t be with you man. It’s impossible.” Anyway, from there it went on and on where Colonel Tom was calling me saying, “Well, goddamnit Elvis loves you and he wants you to be in his band..” And I tried to tell Colonel Tom, I said,” Colonel Tom, it’s not a matter of money or love or anything else, but I’m working. I’m booked all the time. I cannot commute! And I know when Elvis calls a rehearsal at 3 in the morning you’re liable to rehearse for three hours..” So he says, “So what is Nancy paying you?” Now remember this was 1968. I said, “I’m getting $2500 a week, 10,000 for the month, there’s a car at my disposal. My wife had just died so I had a nanny for the kids at the hotel and there’s a driver. I said I’m commuting practically every day. He said, “You’re getting $2500 a week?” I said, “Colonel Tom what the hell are ya talking about?” He said, “There ain’t a goddamn drummer in the world that’s worth over $100 a day!” I said, “If you’re telling me to go fuck myself, okay. I’ve known you too long and I understand. But..” I said, “There’s no way”…and it would’ve been great to work for Elvis, The guys that did go with him they had a great time. But it was a tough gig for them man…They worked hard and they were always rehearsing. Elvis was getting bigger and heavier and doin’ what he was doin’….He was being Elvis. In fact, after he died, I was then with John Denver who was paying me five grand a week. I mean, here’s a guy who was paying me twenty thousand a month! And one of the sweetest people in the world, one of the nicest people anyway, as fate would have it. We hired Joe Esposito who was kind of road managing because John needed a road manager. Then we hired Burton and a couple of guys off the band. And that was the last four years I was with Denver.
SE: Have there been producers that you enjoyed working with more than others?
HB: Well, yeah. I loved working with guys like Bones Howe. He was a drummer. I worked with Dick Glasser who died recently…fine producer. Joe Sarasino…we were doing “No Matter What Shape You’re Stomach’s In.” We were doing The Ventures…all of these people he was producing.
SE: You did The Ventures?
HB: Yeah, we were doing that on the QT. They were almost always in Japan and we were doin Ventures records that Joe Sarasino produced. “Hawaii Five O”…just a whole mess of em!
SE: Ah. The later Ventures.
HB: I’ve got pictures of me working with Mel, their drummer, who died a couple of years ago. Anyway, there’s so many producers out there…I mean, I’d have to think about…Roy Hallee, who was kind of producing Simon and Garfunkel. They were so good! God, they were wonderful.
SE: What’s the story about you doing “The Boxer” with them?
HB: That has become a legendary story. Whatever studio we were in, Roy Halee would walk around clapping his hands looking for kind of an echo effect. And we were at Columbia in New York on the sixth floor I believe it was, and from the studio you kind of walked out and down and it went around almost like a ramp to the elevator. And he found a spot right in front of the elevator that had a tremendous echo and he loved it! This was a Sunday and we were doing “The Boxer” and they had me set up… I set up two giant tom-tom’s right in front of the elevator where Ray had found the great echo. And of course there was a line coming out for my headset, so I was obviously the only one who could hear the music…(singing) lie la lie POW! lie la lie la lie la lie lie la lie POW! And at one point my hands came down to hit that smack and the elevator door opened and there was an elderly gentleman in a security guard uniform,. And I guess he thought that he just got shot! it was like a shotgun, POW! His eyes were wide open, and scared shitless! And the doors closed and I never saw him again.
HB: So that’s the story. That actually happened to me.
SE: I’m surprised that you made it through the track without cracking up.
HB: The other guy’s didn’t even know what was going on, and they never did hear… his opening the elevator door and my hitting were completely in sync. I don’t think you could’ve heard the elevator ring or anything else, it just opened as I went “POW!” And this old man… he didn’t even know that anyone was in the building so it of course scared the hell out of him. And I told the guys later, I think Paul apologized to the head of security or something. But the thing I was afraid of was that the guy might have been armed!
SE: Oh yeah.
HB: I started thinking about that later, he might’ve pulled a gun out, it scared him so fuckin bad. But anyway, that’s the way shit happens.
SE: There’s another legend about how Brian Wilson came to your house and gave you all of his gold records after his dad sold his music?
HB: I don’t know if that coincided with his father selling the publishing but he did come to the house one day and he had these five giant R.I.A.A gold albums from Capitol records to Brian Wilson and he said “Hal, you should really have these.” I said, Brian you’re crazy! they’re made out to you, these are your trophies! That’s very sweet of you… I had a lot of gold records in my little office from all kinds of people. And he said “no, these should be on your wall.” and on, and on… I said, no, please Brian, please take them back home, they belong in your house! So eventually he said “okay”. And at one point I went to the bathroom or something, and I came back and my maid came in and she gave us some cookies or whatever, and we sat there bullshitin’, and soon Brian made a call home and said “okay, I’m leaving” or something, and he walked out holding gold records. And I thought it was all of them, I didn’t know. Then a couple of hours later the maid came in and said “Mr. Blaine, your friend he left something” and there were three beautiful albums. Unfortunately those albums along with all of my gold records and awards had to be sold due to my divorce.
SE: You’re kidding?!
HB: Nope. as a matter of fact about three years ago… there’s a wild thing that happened, a friend of mine, she and her husband are rep’s for west coast Rhythm Tech. They invited me to a birthday party, they said “this really nice guy, he’s a real big fan of yours and his name is John Schwartz and they call him Bermuda Schwartz, he’s Weird Al Yankovic’s drummer, a real nice guy, a big fan, and it’s his birthday” So I said sure, you know, I had nothin to do. And it was very nice, I met John and his wife Leslie, and we really had a good time. So, I was leaving, I said, I’ve gotta go, so John grabbed me and said “wait a minute, you can’t leave without a present” I said, what are you talking about? it’s your birthday it’s not my… He hands me this package, everybody’s standing around and I opened it up, and it was a John Denver gold album that he had found somewhere, one of those that I had to sell. Now I have it right here on my wall.
SE: You had to get rid of them all?
HB: Every one of them was sold except my giant one, I had one from John Denver, a great big one with ten albums in it.
SE: Are there any projects in the works right now?
HB: Well, I’m getting ready to start mixing an album that we did….. We did a live album a couple of years ago for a Japanese company but they only wanted two sides. But I recorded the whole evening, and I gave them the two sides, which they absolutely love. There’s an album out called Legends of the Drums. I know that Earl Palmer did a couple of sides, Bernard Perdie did as couple of sides, and a bunch of different drummers did two sides each for this company. Anyway, the whole evening was recorded, and there was a part of the wrecking crew. We did it at the Baked Potato and it came out great. So just this week I called the engineer from Stupid on Wheels or something like that, and I want to get in and put another album out of the rest of the songs. I hired a bunch of my friends to come in and just play you know and just shake tambourines and all kinds of shit. It was really fun. We took this great picture right out front of the Baked Potato. They were doing the Subway in Hollywood and here was this great big earthmover. And I said, lets take a picture of this thing and we all got in this thing. I was sitting at the steering wheel and there was the wrecking crew. It was great. It was great.
SE: And this album isn’t out in America?
HB: There’s two of them as far as I know. They’re in Japan. But anyway, I’m
gonna put this album out and I’m just gonna call it “Party of Seven” or whatever, by the Wrecking Crew- recorded live at the Baked Potato. We just had a ball!
SE: Have you thought about doing a beats record for DJ’s to sample from?
HB: Well, there’s all kinds of samples out there. I remember Shelley Manne called me one day saying that he saw an ad in a magazine that said, we have Shelley Manne and Hal Blaine sampled. His lawyer took care of it and they squashed that real quick. But it’s not against the law I mean. You know people do it all the time. Someone just recently told me that there was a guy at RCA, they’re talking about doing a CD version of my “Deuces, T’s, Roadsters, and Drums.” That was an album I did on RCA with a great picture on the front of me sitting at the drums surrounded by hot rods. And that was an album with Glen Campbell, Leon, and that whole gang, and they asked, “did RCA call you about this?” I said no, they don’t have to call me. They can do anything they want, if they spent ten grand on it (in those days was a lot of money) if they spent ten grand on it. And they only sold seven thousand dollars worth of records if maybe not even that much. I probably still owe them five grand.
HB: You know, on advance, that type of thing. So I said, they don’t have to call me. I don’t have to sign anything, and I said, even if they sell a bunch of them… Now RCA might be different but the rest of them are all thieves out there. You never see anything. You never get anything.
SE: Probably until you call them, yeah.
HB: Even when you call them, MCA owns everything. Even when I call and talk to them they say, “Well, you know, you’ve got a royalty of thirty four dollars coming but we don’t write checks for under a hundred dollars.” Something like that. So I said, so meanwhile for the whole year that thirty-four dollars, you’re gaining interest on that, that I could be getting, you know? “Well I’m sorry, that’s the way it is.” So you’ve gotta go hire a lawyer and spend ten thousand dollars to get five hundred dollars.
SE: That’s why everybody’s doing their own manufacturing and shipping. Soon, they won’t need the big labels anymore.
HB: Oh of course! The way the business is today, that’s why Capital is closed. Now all they do is re-package. RCA, repackage. Columbia, repackage. This new record, you know, my daughter will handle it. She handles my web site. I want no part of any of that shit. But I’ll do an album and she can sell it.
SE: I printed your discography from the web. It’s about ten pages long but it still looks a little incomplete.
HB: There’s just over eight thousand singles.
HB: I know! It’s crazy.
SE: You mentioned that you worked with Keely Smith. Did you play on her early solo albums?
HB: I did on her reprise stuff yeah. But I also worked with Sam Butera and the guys. I did some of that stuff with them early on. Their original drummer Jimmy Vincent was a friend of mine.
SE: Is Jimmy still with us?
HB: You know? I think he is, but I’m not positive.
SE: I recently saw him on a Louis Prima documentary. But a lot of the interview footage was kind of old.
HB: Well I think I saw Jimmy on there being interviewed. He looked rather heavy. He used to be a skinny little guy like all of us. But at one point, Louis had fired his band, and the band was Jimmy Vincent and Rolly Dee and those guys and they went out and became the “Goofers.” And I wanna tell ya, they were one of the biggest things to ever hit Vegas. And Jimmy Vincent used to do this number (Laughs) where they’d be on stage, and it would be dark and you’d here the drums start pounding and the spotlight would hit him, and it was a gorilla.
SE: (Laughs) Kind of a la Ernie Kovacs.
HB: Well sort of yeah. But this was Jimmy Vincent wearing a big gorilla thing over his head and he’d just beat the shit out of the drums and he would do funny bits on stage. This was one of their famous bits. And at the end of the thing, they’d play a big ending and Jimmy would stand up and take a bow and everybody’s screaming. And he’d reach up (laughs) and he’d pull this big head dress thing off and underneath he was wearing another one and he looked like a ninety year old man, bald headed… It was hysterical! Just hysterical! And the Goofers for a long time were one of the hottest acts in Vegas.
SE: And this is when Louis fired the band?
HB: This was after Louis got rid of the band, when he married Keely. Seems he didn’t want the band around.
SE: But he brought them back eventually?
HB: After they got divorced (laughs). Anyway, they were great guys and when I first met them, I was in one of those funny hot bands working Vegas. Same kind of shit lounges. We did pantomime and all that kind of shit. I had married a gal from New Orleans and I had met the guys in Vegas and we became friendly, you know. Fellow Drummer, and Rolly Dee. He was a good bass player, upright bass which looked good while he was playing. Then eventually here I was, I became sort of a big studio drummer and then they came into town and I don’t remember what the circumstances were with Sam and the Witness’. And of course I know all their shit backwards, everybody did.
SE: Have you had a chance to go over some of the TV and movie soundtracks you did?
HB: You know? (Laughs) It would take about two weeks… Okay, I have in front of me a list. There’s, let’s see… seven pages top to bottom.
HB: There’s Elvis’ “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Blue Hawaii,” the movie “In Like Flynt, “Payton Place,” “Batman,” “Beach Balnket Bingo,” “Hell’s Angels,” “Monterey Pop Festival,” “The TAMI Show”….
SE: The Monterey Pop Festival?
HB: I had the house band. We played for everybody. Let’s see, “Burt Bachrach Special,” “Petula Clark Special,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “Movin’ With Nancy Sinatra,” “Hanna- Barbara Cartoons,” “The Graduate,” “The Happening,” “Roustabout,” “Elvis 68 Special,” “Mannix,” “ It Takes A Thief,” “The Monkees,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Ride The Wild Surf,” “Psych Out,” “Speedway,” “Outa Sight,” “The Matt Helm Films.” Too many to list. “Live A Little Love A Little,” “The Partridge Family, “The Sterile Cuckoo,” “Myra Breckinridge.” I’m just sort of jumping over some of these… “The Mod Squad,” I did an on- camera thing, “Simon and Garfunkle Special,” “Muscle Beach Party,” “Fun In Acapulco,” “Love Story,” “Valley Of The Dolls,” “Dirty Dingus McGee,” “Carpenter’s Special,” “This is your Life.” I don’t remember who the fuck it was….
HB: “Bless The Beasts And The Children,” “Bobby Sherman Show,” “Walking
Tall,” “Sigmund And The Sea monster,” “The Blob,” “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” “The Nutty Professor,” on camera in that one. “Bloody Mama,” they’re showing that one a lot lately. “The Raquel Welch Special.”
HB: “American Pop,” “Any Which Way You Can,” “Every Which Way But Loose,” “Barefoot In The Park,” “Break Out,” “Cannonball Run.” Well anyway, this is only the fourth page. I mean, it goes on and on and on here. “Mork And Mindy,” “The Ropers,” “The Ringo Starr Special.”
SE: Oh, the Ognir Rrats thing?
HB: I have no idea.
HB: “Laverne and Shirley,” “The Barry Manilow Special.” Steve, as I said it just goes on and on and on. “George Jones and Friends,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Knots Landing,” “Streets Of Fire,” “John Denver Special.” Too many to list. “Bernadette Peters Special,” “S.W.A.T,” “The Bionic Woman.” It just goes fucking on and on. “The Barry Manilow/ Nelson Riddle Special,” “Back To The Future,” “Dirty Dancing.” I forget when we finished this but it says here, “at this writing there have been many many more film scores that have used the old records as a part of their soundtracks. There’s too many too list.”
SE: What do you think about the fact that in the last fifteen years that most soundtracks consist of mostly old records rather than original scores?
HB: I love it!
HB: Yeah, because we get paid.
HB: That’s one of the greatest things about the union. It really does help, especially when you’re retired and there’s no more work and your fucking ex-wife got it all.
SE: What about the “odd couple,” TV. or movie?
HB: I don’t think I did that.
SE: I think that was Neal Hefti.
HB: Might have been Neal, yeah. I did Batman originally with Neal.
SE: The drums on the TV. version of the Batman theme sound huge!
HB: I was shooting my gun and hitting the big gong. I just had an idea, “Let’s get some gunshot’s goin.” So Emil Richards went into his bag of tricks and he pulled out a little starter pistol and it went ‘pop.’ It did nothing. So I reached into my briefcase and pulled out my thirty-eight, filled it full of blanks, and kept firing it at this great big gong. That was great, and they loved it.
SE: And that was used in some of the background music?
HB: I think we were doing Batman album at the Big Studio at RCA as I recall. There were a lot of musicians.
SE: Am I correct in assuming that you also played on Glen Campbell’s records?
HB: I played on a bunch of em, yeah. I didn’t do all of his major hits, I did “Galveston.” But I was Jimmy Webb’s drummer with “Macarthur Park” and all that stuff. But the thing is when Glen got his contract and started doing his stuff, most of us by then were busier than hell. It was impossible to do stuff unless you wanted to get us at three in the morning which was not possible. But there were a lot of dates that we’d do late at night with Glen. Then we did a lot of stuff that he did with Anne Murray He did a bunch of records with her.
SE: You also worked on the John Lennon “Rock and Roll” album. Was that through Phil Spector.
HB: Through Phil Spector, yeah.
SE: So you played on all of the tracks that Spector produced?
HB: Right. We worked on an album out there.
SE: What was that experience like?
HB: It was great! Lennon was a real gentleman… early in the evening!
HB: And then he became a monster after all the booze and finally Phil had to just cut him off. He said “no more nothing!” “You can’t start drinking until we finish the session.” But I had some nice talks with John. The Beatles knew who I was. I had worked with George, Ringo and so forth. I was not a complete stranger and I usually got in there early enough to double-check my set because I was playing double drums with Jim Keltner. And John was usually there tuning up. And we just had some really nice talks about the old days and the Beach Boys and all that kind of shit. But he was very nice. He came down and hung out on my boat. We had a nice morning together. Took a little ride then we had brunch. He was then estranged from Yoko. He wasn’t a real happy camper.
SE: Didn’t you play on a Ray Charles album also?
SE: Which one was that?
HB: Well I wish I could tell ya.
HB: Ray was a complete gentleman.
SE: Was this during his later “ABC” records?
HB: I’m not sure. It was done at Ray’s studio. Ray did all his own engineering. He sat at the board and got it all down the way he wanted it. He did it!
HB: He’d say “shut it off!” and someone would hit the off button and he’d go in there and listen to it. He did all his own mixing. Ray was a nice man. I took some pictures of him that I recently loaned to MTV. They use a lot of my photographs. I remember that when I went in… I was a shutterbug. I was taking pictures all the time when I could. I was never obnoxious about it. And at one point we were on a break and Ray was doing some work at the piano, so I got my camera and took some pictures of him. His manager at the time.. shit I don’t know if I knew his name then. He’s manager was kind of a well known disc jockey before he got with Ray and he became Ray’s manager. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he started yelling over the talkback, “Hey drummer! Don’t be taking them pictures of Ray!” I said, “Oh I’m terribly sorry, I meant no offence”, you know. Ray said, “Hal, take all the pictures you want man! Shut up in there!” So I did (laughs). I took a few more. Nine or ten pictures, but as I say, I was not obnoxious about it and get up in somebody’s face.
SE: Was there ever any competition, or whatever you want to call it. Between you guys (the Wrecking Crew) and Motown musicians?
HB: No, not at all.
SE: Because that was also another strong crew of musicians.
HB: Well the thing was… I’ve mentioned the fact Berry Gordy… oh, in the last few years he’s admitted that we did the first Motown records out here.
SE: I never knew that!
HB: Well, most people don’t.
SE: Which songs?
HB: Well, we don’t really know because we did these untitled songs and then Hal Davis, the guy that worked for Motown, he would take all the tapes back first class on the same airplane. Then they would run all of these groups through and whoever was the best you know…. Because we’re pretty sure that we did “Baby Love” and a whole bunch of the really early stuff and of course they never said that we did. But in the last few years Gerry Gordy admitted that we did the first stuff out here in L.A.
SE: Wow, that’s something I’ve never read or know about!
HB: Well, as I said, most people really don’t know. But we did not do all of them.
SE: Where did the name the Wrecking Crew originate from anyway?
HB: The Wrecking Crew was just a gag name that I came up with because the old guys used to say that we were going to wreck the business.
SE: Do you feel that the studio guy’s today equal the studio guy’s 30 or 40 years ago?
HB: Well, it depends on the guys. A lot of the guys here moved to Nashville. There’s a whole bunch of guys that are great studio players down there. I don’t know if they get to play the variety that we played. We could go from a classical date to a nine piece Rock n Roll scream n hollering date.
SE: Most guys from today were brought up on Kiss and Saturday Night Fever.
SE: But guys from the 60’s… like you said, could play Dixieland, or Jazz, or Be-bop, or Rock, or whatever. Just really well rounded.
HB: Sure, I don’t know this to be a fact, but it seems that the kids today, they’re into Motley Crue and just play as loud, and as hard, and as fast… and put the cymbals up as high as you can stand up to reach them. You know, it’s all show. And when I do clinics and I tell the kids that if you want to do that kind of thing, just tune into VH1 every night and watch that show “Where Are They Now?” because they’re all fuckin junkies that wound up with no money, no families, no nothing! But then you’ve got Jim Keltner who’s really doing it in LA. The guy that I was with all the time in the studios, was Earl Palmer, Earl and I were doing everything! If they couldn’t get me, they got Earl. If they couldn’t get Earl they got me. That type of thing. And we were doing everybody! And as I said, I would leave from Henry Mancini doing “Love Story, to (laughs) God.. some outrageous, Loud Rock, or maybe Dixieland with the mamas and papas. The point I’m trying to make before I get too far off track is that most of us got into the studios because we were doing demos and we were learning how to play in the studios. We were getting techniques and after a year and a half, two years of basic training, then you’re ready to step into the so called Big Time. Because you know what you’re doing. Because you have the experience. Today I don’t know that the kids have the experience. They’ve been rehearsing in a garage for a year and they’ve got a band together and they’ve been recording in this garage good, bad, or indifferent. But it’s only one particular style…. Now I’m sure that there are lots of drummers out there who are studying and learning about various things. When I went to school in Chicago, there were five hundred drummers and in the first hour you were studying Rumba, second hour Tango, third hour Dixieland, you know. It went like that. They were really listening to everything. Today I don’t know if kids do that. A lot of these kids have great chops and they can play rudiments all day long. I don’t know that they can play with the band. So that’s kind of a tough one. Who knows where it’s going? I don’t know.
SE: Yeah. There’s a lot of crap out there.
HB: The thing is that some of that so called ‘crap’ is crap to us but I’m sure a lot of our stuff in the beginning, the older folks said the same thing. “What kind of craziness is that?” You know, they were talking about Rock n Roll in those days… it was just Blues, you know. We were just playing backbeats! It’s hysterical.
SE: Well sir, it has been an honor to speak to you. Thank you so much for a great interview.
HB: Sure Steve, anytime. My pleasure.
Check out Hal’s website at www.halblaine.com