from the world's big
Country music deserves better cultural ambassadors.
When Donald Trump took the first international trip of his presidency to Saudi Arabia in May 2017, another US icon also travelled along as part of the celebration of the alliance between these two countries: the country-music star Toby Keith.
Many of the world's favorite records weren't really recorded by the artist on the label.
- Hal Blaine, the behind-the-scenes heartbeat of over 40 #1 hits, has died at 90.
- Many records by 1960s and 1970s artists were secretly recorded by session musicians and singers.
- These unheralded performers were some of the most talented artists ever.
Technology and the secret stars<p>Until Les Paul's introduction of <a href="http://www.les-paul.com/timeline/sound-on-sound/" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">overdubbing</a> in 1948, recording was a pretty straight-ahead process: Talented musicians and vocalists were captured performing live by a handful of mics in a great-sounding studio room, and a lot of magic was captured. Warts and all. (Singer Joan Baez once described the period as a time when the final performance, or "take," was simply the one where no dog ran through the room barking.)</p><p>Les Paul changed all that. With overdubbing, a recording was made on one machine, and that recording was copied to a second machine while someone played or sang along. The resulting sound was the first performance with the second layered on top, both sounding as if they occurred at the same time. This process could be repeated lots of times, as in the hit recording made by Paul and his wife, "How High the Moon." With each successive overdub, though, each copy of a copy of a copy would degrade in clarity way down there at the bottom of the stack of performances.</p><iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/VCEmAgak9V8" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>
One of the 4-track recorders on which The Beatles' *Sgt. Pepper* was recorded. Image source Josephinus P. Riley
Secret bands<p>Blaine played with a group of Los Angeles studio musicians known later on as the "<a href="https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-session-musicians-who-dominated-nineteen-sixties-pop" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">Wrecking Crew</a>." They weren't a band, per se, but rather just a collection very talented players who were often booked to play on the same sessions. The number of records they played on is staggering. Some of them later became stars in their own right, among them Glen Campbell and Leon Russell. Fans had little idea that hits by The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Monkees and many, many others were in fact the music of the Wrecking Crew. Blaine also went on the road and recorded with artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra and John Denver. The son of guitarist Tommy Tedesco put together a loving <a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1185418/" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">film history</a> of the Wrecking Crew.</p><iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/SX5BCgmr7tg" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Hal Blaine<p>Blaine — born Harold Belsky — is said to have played on 40 #1 hits, enough for his own personal Top 40, though the list typically presented is actually missing some big songs, so it's really more than that. Spotify recently put together a <a href="http://playlists.net/hal-blaine-song-list" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">Blaine playlist</a> to mark his passing. The drummer's autobiography is <a href="https://amzn.to/2O7wjeU" target="_blank"><em>Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew</em></a>.</p><p>Part of what made Blaine so exceptional are the many standout drum licks he came up with, among them the "boom-buh-boom, CRACK, boom-buh-boom, CRACK," intro for the Ronettes "<a href="https://youtu.be/B8wjMwgAwzQ" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">Be My Baby</a>," the drum hook of Tijuana Brass' "<a href="https://youtu.be/NC38-qqiVgg" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">Taste of Honey</a>," and many more.</p><p>He's also responsible for the absolutely thunderous drum wallops in the choruses of Simon and Garfunkels' "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3LFML_pxlY" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">The Boxer</a>." In <em>The Big Beat</em>, a now-out-of-print book of interviews conducted by Bruce Springsteen's drummer Max Weinberg, Blaine recalled recording them in front of an open elevator shaft to get that sound:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I set up two huge tom-toms and put on a headset so I could hear when the music got to the 'lie-la-lie' part, where I hit the drums as hard as I could. There was this massive explosion in the room, which is what you hear on the record. It was amazing, but the thing I remember most about the session is when the elevator door opened just as I came down on the drums, and this elderly security guard looks out and he hears this pow! It nearly scared him to death. He jumped back into the elevator, closed the door, and took off. We never saw him again and I think about his face every time I hear 'The Boxer.'"</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTI3OTk2Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzQ4NjI2OH0.mtRtt7YTwFYqrNihIw_mWCiMW-vYjtVEy7vqFBVNkA0/img.jpg?width=980" id="efb44" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="90042aa2ee9949f7efd04d63259339fc" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Blaine in 2008