I have just seen a great documentary. It is being shown around the United States in art theaters. It has been simultaneously released on Amazon. I had to pay $6.99 to watch it on Amazon, and it was the best $6.99 I have spent in a long time. The documentary is titled, The Wrecking Crew.
I’m going to start with a question: who is Hal Blaine?
You can cheat. You can look it up on Wikipedia. There is a well-deserved article on Wikipedia. The question is: Do you know why it is well-deserved?
Let me ask another question.
What if you could do exactly what you wanted to do in life, make a lot of money doing it, and affect the lives of a hundred million people, but with this restraint: Almost nobody would ever know who you are?
That’s what Hal Blaine did. He was not alone.
He was the drummer of The Wrecking Crew. That was the name he gave to a revolving group of about 20 studio musicians in the 1960’s. These 20 people, give or take a few, shaped the rock ‘n roll world of the 1960’s. After 1963, they were rivaled by the British invasion, but they launched the second phase of rock ‘n roll, after the day the music died in 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper crashed.
During this phase of rock ‘n roll, Southern California was where the action was. A group of musicians, who played behind the major groups of the 1960’s, work almost full-time. In the case of Blaine, he worked way too much. He became a millionaire, back when $1 million was a lot of money. And then, in a series of divorces, it all dribbled away.
Here is a partial list of groups that had a #1 record, and Blaine was the drummer on all of them — a total of 20.
The Beach Boys
The Mommas and the Poppas
Frank and Nancy Sinatra
Simon & Garfunkel
Sonny & Cher
The 5th Dimension
Jan and Dean
Here is a list of the more famous performers he drummed for. You will find this hard to believe. He played on 170 gold records. He recorded 35,000 pieces of music, song by song.
The others in the Wrecking crew were in the same league artistically. Only one of them ever made it out of the shadows and into the national spotlight: Glen Campbell. Leon Russell also made it as a solo artist, but not the way Campbell did.
Before the documentary, I had not realized that these people were part of a tightly knit group, in all meanings of the phrase. I knew about Blaine, because I was always somebody who read liner notes. I learned to do this in my first high school job. I sold records. I wanted to see who the musicians were on the albums. But in many cases, none of the Wrecking Crew’s names were listed. The albums’ producers did not want the general public to know that the star performers, especially groups, were not providing their own music. This became something of a sensation when the Monkees’ first two albums were revealed as not having been played by the Monkees.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)