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Other segments from the episode on May 9, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 9, 2001: Interview with Bill Russell, Interview with Hal Blaine.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

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Interview: Hal Blaine discusses his career as a session drummer
in rock 'n' roll music

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

When record producer Phil Spector needed a drummer, he often called my guest,
Hal Blaine. Those Spector hits are just part of the reason Blaine is in the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He's also played on hits by Lesley Gore, The
Beach Boys, Bobby Vee, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Roy Orbison, Johnny Rivers,
Sonny & Cher, The Byrds, The Association, the Mamas and the Papas, Petula
Clark, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Supremes, Bobby Darin, Nancy Sinatra
and Frank Sinatra. Blaine is featured on thousands of records and over 40
number-one hits. In 1963 alone, he played on "Then He Kissed Me," "Da Do Ron
Ron," "Another Saturday Night," "Surf City," "Surfer Girl," "Surfin' U.S.A.,"
and this record, which has one of rock 'n' roll's most famous opening drum

(Soundbite from "Be My Baby")

THE RONETTES: (Singing) The night we met I knew I needed you so. And if I
had the chance I'd never let you go. So won't you say you love me. I'll make
you so proud of me. We'll make 'em turn their heads every place we go. So
won't you please...

Be my, be my baby.

Be my little baby.

My one and only baby.

Say you'll be my darling.

Be my, be my baby.

Be my baby now.

My one and only baby.

Wo-ho-ho-ho. I'll make you happy, baby...

GROSS: Hal Blaine, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. HAL BLAINE (Drummer): Thank you very much.

GROSS: Now is the opening on "Be My Baby," was that drum line your idea?

Mr. BLAINE: You know, that's a very difficult question to answer, because
Jack Nitzsche was a pretty prolific writer, but he wrote very, very thin in
those days. You know, this was the beginnings of rock 'n' roll. Somehow,
with my experience, I keep thinking that I was an awfully good faker, and it
could be that the lick went boom, boo-boom, boom, boo-boom with a back beat:
boom (snaps fingers), boo-boom (snaps fingers), boom (snaps fingers), boo-boom
(snaps fingers), and at one point while we were rolling, I may have missed the
second beat. So we went boom, boo-boom (snaps fingers), boom, boo-boom (snaps
fingers). And it stuck. It became a hook and, of course, one of the most
famous hooks in rock 'n' roll.

That also happened to me--just to get off the beaten track, it also happened
to me with the Tijuana Brass when we did "A Taste of Honey." The song
da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, and everybody comes in da-da, ba-da-da-da. Well,
unfortunately, nobody was coming in together. It was like a train wreck. So
at one point me and my comedic mind, they went ba-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, and
I looked at the band and I started slugging with my bass drum,
boom-boom-boom-boom, diddly-diddly-diddly-diddly. Everybody came in. And
once again, that became a major hook for that song. It happened to be my
first record of the year.

GROSS: Why don't we hear that part you're talking about.

(Soundbite from "A Taste of Honey")

GROSS: Hal Blaine, what are some of the other records that had the most
memorable beats that you played?

Mr. BLAINE: Well, I remember doing a record with Tommy Roe. The record was
called "Dizzy." That was another one where I played kind of a hook drum
sound: boom, dink, a-dig-a-dig-a-dig-a-dig-a-ding, dink,
a-dig-a-dig-a-dig-a-dig-a, over and over. I found that by doing--I learned
very quickly in the early days of rock 'n' roll that there were certain hooks
that people wanted to go with--guitar players or bass players--and I found
that I could do that with drums and it worked beautifully by every four bars
or every eight bars, repeating a particular lick. One of the great records
that I did with Sam Cooke, "Another Saturday Night" it was called, and that
was another one with that same drum lick every eight or 16 bars, whenever it
was: dig-a-dig-dig-dig-dig-dig-dig. And, you know, all these drum licks kind
of became the standard for rock 'n' roll. You know, all of the drummers that
I've spoken with through the years have told me that they grew up listening to
the records that I played on and that's how they learned. And I grew up
listening to Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and that's how I learned.

GROSS: In fact, I bet you've been to countless restaurants where people have
been playing your rhythms on the table.

Mr. BLAINE: That has happened I guess in the past, you know. Sometimes I've
actually--you know, it's funny you mention that. I've actually turned around
to someone and said, `Do me a favor and let me play the drums,' in a nice way.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BLAINE: Or I would explain to them--they were trying to play their
fingers along with whatever the music was playing coming out of the speakers
in the restaurant. That actually has happened, which is kind of funny that
you would hit on that.

GROSS: My guest is Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, drummer Hal Blaine. We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Hal Blaine, one of rock 'n' roll's most celebrated session
drummers. He's played on many Phil Spector sessions, as well as recordings by
The Beach Boys, Lesley Gore, Roy Orbison, Johnny Rivers, The Byrds, the Mamas
and the Papas, The Supremes and Bobby Darin.

Now you did a lot of records with Phil Spector, including "Be My Baby."

Mr. BLAINE: Yes.

GROSS: What are some of the things he had you do that other session heads
didn't? What was different about working with Phil Spector?

Mr. BLAINE: Well, first of all, every Phil Spector session was a party.
Everyone on the session, all the guys and girls, were the first-call people.
If you would, the A gang. Everyone wanted to work with Phil Spector, because
they knew that some kind of a hit record--I mean, it was the talk of the town.
Phil Spector was the guy that everyone wanted to see how he worked. He had a
big sign on the door that said `Closed Session,' and yet anyone who stuck
their head in he'd grab them and he's shove them in the studio and he'd say,
`Hal, give them a tambourine or a shaker or some claves, some noise makers.
Let them play something.'

GROSS: The musicians who you used to play with on rock 'n' roll sessions were
known as The Wrecking Crew. Why were they called The Wrecking Crew?

Mr. BLAINE: In the late '50s, we started playing rock 'n' roll and a lot of
people said it was a dirty word. They didn't want to hear that kind of music.
They thought the musicians were just rank amateurs. They had no idea that we
were all well-learned and studied musicians with degrees and so forth playing
music. And the old-timers, the guys that we kind of replaced, used to say,
`These kids are gonna wreck the business.' And I just automatically started
calling us The Wrecking Crew, and then I became a contractor very early on,
and doing the hiring for the sessions that I was playing on, and I just
started--you know, people would call me and they'd say, `Get your crew
together,' and I'd say, `OK, The Wrecking Crew. Here we go.' And I'd make
calls. Eventually I had a secretary who made all my calls and so forth. So
The Wrecking Crew stuck.

GROSS: Would you get, like, sheet music? What kind of--how clear was it to
you what they wanted you to play, or how much improvising did you do?

Mr. BLAINE: The music that was handed us physically were usually chord
sheets. Chord charts are just--they're just road maps, starting, you know, at
the top and going through to the end with certain stops in between. It's just
like any other road map. The things with--generally we were hired for our
expertise as such. We could do anything we wanted to do, and if any of it was
offensive in any way, we would be told, `Don't play this or don't play that'
or, you know, `I like this lick or I don't like that lick.'

GROSS: Did Spector hum for you or clap for you the kind of things that he
wanted, the sound that he wanted?

Mr. BLAINE: Not for drums. Phil used to use me like a race horse. He would
have me sitting there while rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed. He would keep me
from rehearsing, and I would be chomping at the bit `I want to play,' and
finally he would point to me. He used to be in the booth and he'd run back
and forth. They had a huge window and he'd run back and forth like he was
conducting a symphony and he'd look at the strings and use certain, you know,
symphonic movements, the way a conductor would do, and he knew--certain times
he would look at me and he would say, `Now.' And I knew he was saying, `Now,'
which meant `Go for it.'

And I guess I used to go nuts sometimes on those drums, because if you listen
to some of the fade endings on just about all those records, we used to go
into double times and all kinds of things that were unheard of on records.
And everybody would go wacko. And then there was a time when Phil threatened
to put out a record or an album of all the fades that we did. And the fades,
for those who don't know what a fade is, it just means when you hear a record
playing and it gets to the end and it gets softer and softer and soon it's
gone. That's called a fade.

With Phil, it went on forever, and finally when everyone had had enough, and I
always kind of had the feeling, I knew when it was, I would go into my
quarter-note triplets against whatever was being played ...(unintelligible).

GROSS: Clap a quarter-note triplet for us.

Mr. BLAINE: Well, in other words (clapping) ba-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da,
da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da, duddle-da-da-da. It's over. And I'd go (clapping)
da-da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da-da-da,
da-da-da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da.
So everyone knew, `Here it is. This is it.' And Phil would never stop the
machine until I played those quarter-note triplets. So they're on the end of
every record.

GROSS: Now you were the drummer on a lot of The Beach Boys' records.

Mr. BLAINE: Just about all.

GROSS: But I think it was Dennis who was actually...

Mr. BLAINE: Yes.

GROSS: ...the drummer with the band. I imagine at the time nobody knew that
he wasn't the drummer on the records.

Mr. BLAINE: A lot of people did not know in the early days that Dennis did
not play on those things. Sometimes Dennis would come in and overdub with
tambourine or something. But Dennis happened to be a friend of mine and we
each had our yachts very close to each other. We were both motorcyclists.
But Brian used to come into the Spector sessions. He wanted to see what so
many people wanted to see. They wanted to know what this--what we used to
refer to as sprinkling the fairy dust on the tape that made it a hit record
that Phil Spector seemed--everything he touched were hits. And obviously
after about the second or third record that we did with Phil, you couldn't get
in the studio with everybody wanted to know who was this Phil Spector, what
was he doing.

GROSS: So you met Brian Wilson at Phil Spector sessions 'cause Brian Wilson
wanted to see what Phil Spector was up to?

Mr. BLAINE: Right. Brian used to come in and see us. We were introduced at
the time. I think at the time Brian might have mentioned the fact that, `Boy,
I'd like to have you play for me sometime,' and I said, `Sure. You know, I
play for everybody.' It was not a problem. I was also working with these
other kids called Jan and Dean, major rock stars in those days, and, in fact,
The Beach Boys used to come in and sing on Jan and Dean's records sometimes,
and Jan and Dean would go over and sing on The Beach Boys' records sometimes.
A lot of people didn't know that.

GROSS: So did Dennis feel bad that instead of him it was you on the records?

Mr. BLAINE: No, no. I tell you, I've told this story before, Dennis loved
the fact that while I was in the studio in the afternoon making $35, $40 for
the afternoon, Dennis that night was making 35 or 40,000 on stage. I mean,
they were making a lot of money. And he was thrilled that he could just be on
his boat. He didn't have to be in the studio. He didn't have to rehearse,
rehearse, rehearse.

GROSS: Well, let me rephrase the question: Did you feel resentful then, that
he was making all this money on stage and you were making next to nothing in
the studio?

Mr. BLAINE: Not at all, because I knew what it was leading to, because my
phone started ringing off the hook from Phil Spector dates and Beach Boys

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BLAINE: All of a sudden I was getting calls for Elvis Presley and Johnny
Rivers and The Fifth Dimension came along and Mamas and the Papas. I mean,
everybody came out of the woodwork.

GROSS: Is there a Beach Boys track that you particularly like your drumming
on that we can play?

Mr. BLAINE: Well, you know, I'd have to think about that a little bit. There
are certain songs that make you cry, songs like "God Only Knows," one of the
beautiful songs. "Good Vibrations," of course, was another sort of a trilogy
of--Brian put that song together. Sometimes we would do, you know, five
minutes on a session and he'd say, `Thank you,' and sometimes we would work
for days putting that song together. He just used to use little bits and
pieces of this, that and the other. I remember that on one of the sessions,
and I think it was a part of the "Good Vibrations," Brian wanted something
different, a different sound with drums or percussion. We used to drink a lot
of orange juice and they came in little small bottles out of a vending
machine, and I took three of those bottles, taped them together, cut the tops
off to various sizes, almost like the tubes on a vibraphone, and there were
three different sounds, and I used a mallet that would be used on a vibraphone
and I got this knocking sound (makes knocking sound), three different knocking
sounds. And I used it on that section where we were playing ba-da-da,
boo-do-do, ba-da-da. Well, I was playing (makes knocking sound), ba-da-da,
(makes knocking sound) ba-da-da, different tones.

GROSS: Why don't we hear that part of "Good Vibrations." This is Hal Blaine.

(Soundbite from "Good Vibrations")

THE BEACH BOYS: (Singing) I, I love the colorful clothes she wears and the
way the sunlight plays upon her hair. I hear the sound of the gentle whir on
the wind that lifts her perfume through the air. I'm picking up good
vibrations. She's giving me the excitations.

Ooh, bop-bop, good vibrations, bop-bop, excitation.

I'm picking up good vibrations. She's giving me the excitations.

Good, good, good, good vibrations.

Bop-bop, good vibrations, bop-bop, excitation.

I'm picking up good vibrations. She's giving me the excitations.

Good, good, good, good vibrations.

Bop-bop, good vibrations, bop-bop, excitation.

I'm picking up good vibrations. She's giving me the excitations.

Close my eyes, she's somehow closer now...

GROSS: That's Hal Blaine on drums and percussion. Now, Hal Blaine, we've
been talking about your rock 'n' roll sessions. You also worked with Sinatra.
Did you have to get a different kind of beat when you were working with
Sinatra? As a jazz singer, Sinatra was more behind the beat. Rock 'n' roll
tends to be very on the beat.

Mr. BLAINE: Well, one of our secrets to rock 'n' roll was learning to lay
back, and we used to--in other words, if you were looking at a scale on a
ruler, every time your back beat came on, one, two, three, four--every time
we'd hit two and four, it would be just, just a hair behind that actual two
and four. That was how I got the great feeling going all the time with Joe
Osborn, the great bass player, and Larry Knechtel. You know, we were known as
the three killers who used to come in and make these, like, "Bridge Over
Troubled Water," records like that, that were just so incredible. All Grammy

GROSS: My guest is Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, drummer Hal Blaine. We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

THE BEACH BOYS: (Singing) Now how can I say it? And how can I come on when I
know I'm guilty. Hang on to your ego. Hang on, but I know that you're gonna
lose the fight. Ba-doo-be-doo-be-doo.

GROSS: My guest is Hal Blaine, one of rock 'n' roll's most celebrated session
drummers. When we left off, we were talking about recording with Frank

Mr. BLAINE: You mentioned "Be My Baby." Boom-boo-boom, bang, boom-boo-boom,
bang. When I did the record "Strangers in the Night" with Frank, which was
record of the year, and his only gold single, believe it or not, that went
right to number one, I was playing the same beat, quietly, (singing) strangers
in the night, boom, ba-ba-ba-ba-ba, boom, ba-ba-ba-ba-ba, boom.

(Soundbite from "Strangers in the Night")

Mr. FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Strangers in the night, exchanging glances,
wondering in the night what were the chances we'd be sharing love before the
night was through. Something in your eyes...

GROSS: What was the rehearsal like with Sinatra, and what was the recording
session like?

Mr. BLAINE: Well, generally when you got a Sinatra call, it was a six-hour
call. Now the standard is a three-hour session. With Frank Sinatra, we would
have a six-hour double session call. Three hours, an hour break, and then
three hours of recording. Now the reason for that was that Frank--not Frank,
but in this case Jimmy Bowen, who was producing, we would go in for the first
three hours and rehearse whatever the song or songs were to make sure that we
absolutely had it down pat. The engineers would go through all the lines to
make sure that there were no glitches, no squeaks, no white noise, no red
noise. They would go through all the chairs that the strings, especially,
were sitting on, make sure that there were no squeaks, make sure that everyone
had the lights on their music stands, no music stand rattles. I mean, it goes
on and on and on.

Because when Frank Sinatra walked in to record, he walked in, he walked around
to two, three of us, four of his, said, `Hi. How you doing? Let's make a
record.' And bang, he was in the vocal booth and we were making a record. No
fooling around, no mistakes, no nothing. Rarely did he ask to do a second
take. Frank always knew what he was doing. He had rehearsed himself. He
knew the songs and, you know, it was unbelievable.

GROSS: Say somebody else required a second take because they made a mistake,
would he get annoyed?

Mr. BLAINE: You know, we were not--we never said anything because by the time
we were working with Frank, they could do a lot of things electronically. If
a guy had a glitch, you know, in the string section, they could somehow key
him out, overdub him and fix it up. Frank was the kind of guy that once he
walked out of the vocal booth, he'd say, `Thank you all.' He was gone with
his entourage. That was it. Only once--I think it was only once that Frank
Sinatra, I heard him say, `Jimmy, I really would like to do one more take,
please, if you don't mind.' And, of course, we would do one more take.
Instead of the full three hours, he would work for 15 minutes and then it was
over with.

GROSS: You've been on about 8,000 different songs that have been recorded.
Do you actually remember what you were on or do you have to, like, consult a
list to figure out if you were on something or not?

Mr. BLAINE: Well, it depends. Obviously I had all those records of the year,
the Grammy winner of the year, and I don't have to think about those records.
I know those records backwards. When it comes to certain songs, there are
certain songs out there that I didn't even realize--I mean, when I was working
with people like Dusty Springfield, I couldn't even tell you the song or
songs. It was just a blur of so many songs and so many sessions. I just--I
don't know. It's very difficult to explain, Terry. I just played what I felt
and they let me play. You know, once you kind of make a name for yourself,
then when producers would come in they would say, `Oh, Hal, just do your
thing, you know. Don't worry about it. Just whatever you feel.' They felt
that I would always do the right thing.

GROSS: Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Hal Blaine.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "These Boots Are Made For Walking")

Ms. NANCY SINATRA: (Singing) You keep saying you've got something for me,
something you call love, but confess you've been a-messing where you shouldn't
have been a-messing, and now someone else is getting all your best. These
boots are made for walking and that's just what they'll do. One of these days
these boots are gonna walk all over you. Yeah.

You keep lying when you ought to be truthing. And you keep losing when you
ought to not bet. You keep saming when you ought to be a-changing. Now
what's right is right, but you ain't been right yet. These boots are made for
walking and that's just what they'll do. One of these days these boots are
gonna walk all over you.

You keep playing where you shouldn't be playing. And you keep thinking that
you'll never get burned. Ha! I just found me a brand-new box of matches,
yeah, and what he knows you ain't had time to learn. These boots are made for
walking and that's just what they'll do. One of these days these boots are
gonna walk all over you. Are you ready, boots? Start walking.
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