Hal Blaine Strikes Again! Legendary Wrecking Crew drummer receives star on Palm Springs Walk of the Stars

Photo by Lucius Gallo. “The Wrecking Crew!” filmmaker Denny Tedesco (son of guitarist Tommy Tedesco), drummer Clem Burke (of Blondie fame), Hal’s nephew Michael Kravitz, and fellow Wrecking Crew keyboard legend Don Randi.

by Linda A. Rapka

Legendary Wrecking Crew drummer and Local 47 Life Member Hal Blaine posthumously received his star on the Walk of the Stars Palm Springs at a convivial ceremony on February 6, the day after what would have been his 94th birthday.

Hal’s nephew Michael Kravitz accepted the honor on behalf of the family, and shared memories of his famed uncle. Additional speakers at the ceremony, produced by the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, included Wrecking Crew keyboardist Don Randi, “The Wrecking Crew!” documentary filmmaker Denny Tedesco (son of famed guitarist Tommy Tedesco), drummer Clem Burke of Blondie fame, and Palm Springs mayor Grace Elena Garner, who also declared February 6 “Hal Blaine Day.”

Photo by Lucius Gallo. Palm Springs Mayor Grace Elena Garner reads the proclamation naming February 6 “Hal Blaine Day.”

A Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Blaine started his career as a prolific drummer and session musician in the late 1940s. Widely regarded as the most recorded studio drummer in history, as a core member of the Wrecking Crew he performed on more than 35,000 sessions and 6,000 singles with the likes of the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, the Ronettes, Simon & Garfunkel, Nancy Sinatra, Jan & Dean, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Frank Zappa, Tina Turner, the Mamas and the Papas, Righteous Brothers, Sonny & Cher, and so many more. His drumming is featured on 150 U.S. top 10 hits, 40 of which went to number one. Hal died on March 11, 2019, at age 90.

“Hal didn’t want a memorial… but this isn’t a memorial,” said Denny Tedesco. “This is a celebration of Hal’s life.” When his father, the illustrious studio guitarist Tommy Tedesco, was diagnosed with cancer, Denny set out to tell his father’s story, and in 2008 completed his documentary “The Wrecking Crew!” During the making of the film (officially released in 2015 after securing all the music rights), he and Hal became good friends, and as a result Denny became quite familiar with Hal’s unique brand of humor.

“With Hal you could be walking down the street and see a manhole cover, he would tell a joke about the manhole cover,” Denny said. “There was nothing he could not find a joke to relate to. He’d tell the same stale jokes, but there was always a new audience.” He regaled the crowd with a few of Hal’s most-repeated zingers:

“What is the hardest part of being a studio musician on the job? Finding a parking space.”

“What do you call a drummer in a suit? A plaintiff.”

“Did you hear about the drummer that finished high school? Me neither.”

“How many conductors does it take to screw in a light bulb? No one knows, no one ever looks at them.”

“What’s the definition of perfect pitch? When you throw a banjo in the garbage and it hits an accordion.”

Don Randi, who worked alongside Hal for many years, shared a tidbit about working in the studios with Hal. “He had one very, very special secret: He’d hear something that was conducive to the song that was being sung in that key, and out would come the drum key – and he’d start tuning the drums to make it work with the soundtrack. Most drummers never did that. They came in to play, they were great drummers, but they didn’t take that little extra time to tune the drums.”

Don also told a story about when he and Hal were on tour in the Midwest with the Sinatra family in 1968. At that time in Minnesota, there was a “blue law” in effect restricting alcohol sales, which meant that all of the nicer sit-down restaurants and bars closed down, and hotel room service stopped, very early in the evenings. Both famished after a long day, Don suggested to Hal that they go out for a cheap burger somewhere — but Hal had something grander in mind.

“Hal says, ‘Call the kitchen, call up and say you’re calling for Frank Sinatra.’ So, I dial room service and I say I’m calling for Mr. Sinatra,” Don said. “When room service arrives, he turns the shower on really loud, goes in the bathroom, and I hear Hal singing, ‘Come fly with me, fly me through the stars…’ while the steaks are delivered.” When they were through, Hal intentionally left their empty trays of plates and glasses in the hallway outside their door to be sure that the other musicians caught an awed glimpse on the way back to their rooms after their fast-food dinners.

“I’m very happy, and honored, and proud to accept this star on behalf of my uncle,” Michael Kravitz said. Michael told the story of how when he was in 9th grade, Hal gave him his first drum set, a red sparkle Ludwig. There was just one catch: Hal gave it to him one piece at a time, so that he wouldn’t rush his learning. Michael also shared that it was his mother – Hal’s sister, Marsha – who bought Hal his first drum set in the late 1930s, for $52. “She paid it off $1 a week for a year,” Michael said. “I’d say that was a really good investment for the world of music.”

Denny Tedesco delivered the following words with a sentiment shared by all: “Hal will always be missed, and he will never be forgotten.”

Photo by Linda A. Rapka

Special thanks to Russ Wapensky, Lucius Gallo, Judy Chilnick, and AFM Local 47.

>> Related Story: Read Overture’s 2016 interview with Denny Tedesco

After-Party With Don Randi and Friends

Photo by Linda A. Rapka

After the ceremony, Don Randi held an after-party and concert down the street at Oscar’s restaurant. Performers included Don on keys, Clem Burke on drums, John DePatie guitar, Jerry Watts on bass and bass ukulele, and Bobby Furgo on violin. Don’s children Leah Randi and Justin Randi delivered guest vocals, along with Cara Lee and Marty Ross.

Joining in the festivities, ’60s icon Nancy Sinatra – whose work with the Wrecking Crew included the unforgettable duets “Somethin’ Stupid” with her father Frank Sinatra and “Some Velvet Morning” with Lee Hazelwood, – delighted the crowd by performing an impromptu rendition of her biggest hit, “These Boots are Made for Walkin’.”

Photo by Lucius Gallo

Photo by Linda A. Rapka