Remembering Hal Blaine: Listen to the drummer’s six consecutive Grammy winners

Hal Blaine photographed at his home in Palm Desert in 2003.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Pop Music Critic

There are all kinds of numbers you can use to describe the success of Hal Blaine, the wildly prolific session drummer who died Monday at age 90.

According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 2000, Blaine played on 40 No. 1 singles. In 2015, Terry Gross estimated in an NPR story that Blaine — a founding member of L.A.’s so-called Wrecking Crew of studio musicians — had appeared on approximately 8,000 records.

And Blaine himself told The Times in 2000 that over his career he’d collected no fewer than 263 gold or platinum plaques — and “made literally a couple of million bucks.”

But the most impressive of Blaine’s many numbers might be … six.


That’s how many times Blaine’s playing helped a song win record of the year at the Grammy Awards between 1966 and 1971 — a remarkable stretch that illustrates just how in demand the drummer was by pop’s elite in those days.

To listen to the songs now, especially in the order in which they were released, is to appreciate not just Blaine’s omnipresence but his stylistic range.

In “A Taste of Honey,” by trumpeter Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, he’s nimble and swinging.

In Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” he’s slower and heavier, remaking his iconic intro to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” to suit Sinatra’s dramatic croon.

The 5th Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away” has a crisp groove that erupts near the end with spirited fills.

Blaine gave a surprising touch of funk to Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.”

“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” the 5th Dimension’s adaptation of two songs from the musical “Hair” (whose composer, Galt MacDermot, died last year), throbs with pop-psychedelic fervor.

Yet just months after “Aquarius,” Blaine did some of his most restrained work when he re-teamed with Simon & Garfunkel for the duo’s signature ballad, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Twitter: @mikaelwood