9:30:19 Remembering Hal Blaine (1929--2019)

The other day I told a friend about hitchhiking as a poor, car-less student. I told her once I got a ride from a "studio musician," who I later learned was a legend.

hal blaine

It's 1966, a sunny Friday afternoon in late October or early November, and I'm thumbing at a Hollywood Freeway entrance. This old, nondescript car pulls up. The driver offers me a ride. The casually dressed guy asks where I'm headed. I say, "San Bernadino Freeway to Pomona/Claremont exit." He's says, "Good, I'm going that way."

We don't go far before he reaches to his car radio and turns it up a bit. The song's "If I Were A Carpenter" by Bobby Darin, a favorite of mine. Mr. Darin sings with a folkie feeling and the words are punctuated by bongo beats. The guy turns and says, "That's me. I just got off work." He adds, "I'm a drummer, studio musician." All of twenty-one, I'm pretty nonchalant, don't have questions. The round Capitol Records building isn't that far away, so I figure, Studio musician, that's possible.

Although we'll spend half an hour on the freeway, I can't recall much of our talk. The posture, though, is indelible: He leans toward the steering wheel, like a drummer close to his drum set. We talk about why I'm off to Claremont (to see the woman I eventually marry) and such. But at some point, he turns and looks me in the eye and has some cautionary words. Like some older brother, he says, "I've seen too many people give it all up." Then he takes his right hand off the steering wheel and jabs at his left forearm, so there's no ambiguity.

Something in his voice tells me he knows of what he speaks.

But why did he show this presence and care in the moment? The 1960s had temptation everywhere. He must've wanted that small, skinny guy beside him to not blow the chance at making something of himself.

But he also might have been grieving. Since the 1950s, after working at a club in San Bernadino, Hal Blaine and comedian Lenny Bruce were, as he wrote, "two Jewish guys" that hung out together. But on August 3, 1966, a scant three months before our ride together, Lenny Bruce was found dead of a morphine overdose.

In 2011, I emailed Hal Blaine, telling him with session info on the Darin recording I'd figured out he'd given me a ride 45 years earlier. He wrote back, as follows: CHARLIE,, THANK YOU FOR THE KIND WORDS. I CAN ONLY WISH YOU AT LEAST ANOTHER 45 YEARS.. STAY WELL, BE HAPPY AND ALL THE BEST TO YOU AND YOUR BETTER HALF,, SINCERELY,, HAL BLAINE

An uncommonly decent man, for whom the music was love.

Image credit: rockhall.com


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