Drummer Hal Blaine, played on hits of Sinatra, Elvis, dies
By ANDREW DALTON and HILLEL ITALIE
Tuesday, March 12
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hal Blaine, the Hall of Fame session drummer and virtual one-man soundtrack of the 1960s and ’70s who played on the songs of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and the Beach Boys and laid down one of music’s most memorable opening riffs on the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” died Monday.
Blaine died of natural causes at his home in Palm Desert, California, his son-in-law, Andy Johnson, told The Associated Press. He was 90.
On hearing of his death, the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson called him “the greatest drummer ever.”
The winner of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award last year, Blaine’s name was known by few outside the music industry, even in his prime. But just about anyone with a turntable, radio or TV heard his drumming on songs that included Presley’s “Return to Sender,” the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were,” the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” dozens of hits produced by Phil Spector and the theme songs to “Batman,” ”The Partridge Family” and other shows.
“Hal Blaine was such a great musician and friend that I can’t put it into words,” Wilson said in a tweet that included an old photo of him and Blaine sitting at the piano. “Hal taught me a lot, and he had so much to do with our success — he was the greatest drummer ever.”
As a member of the Los Angeles-based “The Wrecking Crew,” studio musicians who also included keyboard player Leon Russell, bassist Carol Kaye and guitarist Tommy Tedesco, Blaine forged a hard-earned virtuosity and versatility that enabled him to adapt quickly to a wide range of popular music. According to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, he played on 40 No. 1 hits, 150 top 10 songs. Blaine also played on eight songs that won Grammys for record of the year, including Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
He may be the only drummer to back Presley, Sinatra and John Lennon.
“Godspeed Old Friend,” Sinatra’s daughter Nancy Sinatra said alongside an Instagram picture she posted of Blaine backing her up as she sang.
Some accounts have Blaine playing on 35,000 songs, but he believed that around 6,000 was more accurate, still making him a strong contender for the most recorded drummer in history. In 2000, he was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame.
Out of so many notable sessions, his signature moment was the attention-grabbing “on the four” solo — Bum-ba-bum-BOOM — that launched the classic “Be My Baby,” a hit for the Ronettes in 1963 that helped define Spector’s overpowering “Wall of Sound” productions. The song remained a radio staple for decades and got new life in the ’70s when it was used to open Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” and again in the ’80s when it was featured in “Dirty Dancing.”
Few drum parts have been so widely imitated, from Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” to The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey.”
In a 2005 interview with Modern Drummer magazine, Blaine said that he wasn’t quite sure how he came up with the solo. To the best of his memory, he accidentally missed a beat while the song was being recorded and improvised by only playing the beat on the fourth note.
“And I continued to do that,” he recalled. “Phil might have said, ‘Do that again.’ Somebody loved it, in any event. It’s just one of those things that sometimes happens.”
Blaine nicknamed himself and his peers “The Wrecking Crew,” because they were seen by their more buttoned-down elders as destructive to the industry — an assertion that Kaye and others disputed. Many members of The Wrecking Crew worked nonstop for 20 years, sometimes as many as eight sessions a day, a pace that led to several marriages and divorces for Blaine.
As more bands played on their own records and electronic drums arose, business dropped off in the 1980s even as younger musicians such as Max Weinberg of the E Street Band cited his influence.
His memoir, “Hal Blaine & The Wrecking Crew,” came out in 1990, and he continued to appear at symposiums and workshops into his 80s. Blaine also was seen in the 2008 documentary “The Wrecking Crew” and was played by Johnny Sneed in the Wilson biopic “Love & Mercy.”
Many younger drummers counted him as a friend and mentor.
“Hal was funny, sweet, and genuine,” Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, drummer for the “Weird Al” Yankovic Band, said in email to The Associated Press. “He made you feel like you were the most important person in the room. His inspiration and influence to drummers everywhere is immeasurable. Hal was a treasure.”
Blaine, the son of Jewish immigrants, was born Harold Simon Belsky in Holyoke, Massachusetts. By age 8, he was already drumming, using a pair of dowels he removed from a seat in the living room. He was a professional by age 20 and within a few years switched from jazz to rock after being approached during a gig at the Garden Of Allah hotel in Hollywood.
“This guy came in,” Blaine told Modern Drummer, “and said, ‘Hey kid, I’ve been watching you for a couple of days. You want to make some bucks? I got a singer (Tommy Sands) over here and he’s going to be signed by Capitol Records, but he needs a drummer.”
The use of session musicians became a scandal in the late 1960s when it was discovered that the Monkees, the million-selling TV foursome, did not play on their songs. Blaine, who, of course, drummed for the Monkees, knew that many top groups depended on him and his peers. He even became friendly with some of the players he sat in for, including Wilson’s brother Dennis Wilson.
“He was thrilled that I was making their records because while I was making Beach Boy records, he was out surfing or riding his motorcycle,” Blaine told Modern Drummer.
“The drummer with The Knack, Bruce Gary, was once asked who his favorite drummer was. And he said he was never so disappointed in his life to find out that a dozen of his favorite drummers were me.”
Italie reported from New York.
AP source: Justice Dept. probing development of Boeing jets
By HOPE YEN and TOM KRISHER
Tuesday, March 19
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. prosecutors are looking into the development of Boeing’s 737 Max jets, a person briefed on the matter revealed Monday, the same day French aviation investigators concluded there were “clear similarities” in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Max 8 last week and a Lion Air jet in October.
The Justice Department probe will examine the way Boeing was regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the inquiry is not public.
A federal grand jury in Washington sent a subpoena to someone involved in the plane’s development seeking emails, messages and other communications, the person told The Associated Press.
The Transportation Department’s inspector general is also looking into the FAA’s approval of the Boeing 737 Max, a U.S. official told AP. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The Wall Street Journal reported on the probe Sunday said the inspector general was looking into the plane’s anti-stall system. It quotes unidentified people familiar with both cases.
The anti-stall system may have been involved in the Oct. 29 crash of a Lion Air jet off of Indonesia that killed 189 people. It’s also under scrutiny in the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet that killed 157.
The Transportation Department’s FAA regulates Chicago-based Boeing and is responsible for certifying that planes can fly safely.
The grand jury issued its subpoena on March 11, one day after the Ethopian Airlines crash, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press.
Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the inspector general said Monday they could neither confirm nor deny the existence of any inquiries. The FAA would not comment.
“Boeing does not respond to or comment on questions concerning legal matters, whether internal, litigation, or governmental inquiries,” Boeing spokesman Charles Bickers said in an email.
The company late Monday issued an open letter from its CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, addressed to airlines, passengers and the aviation community. Muilenburg did not refer to the reports of the Justice Department probe, but stressed his company is taking actions to ensure its 737 Max jets are safe.
Those include an upcoming release of a software update and related pilot training for the 737 Max to “address concerns” that arose in the aftermath of October’s Lion Air crash, Muilenburg said. The planes’ new flight-control software is suspected of playing a role in the crashes.
The French civil aviation investigation bureau BEA said Monday that black box data from the Ethiopian Airlines flight showed the links with the Lion Air crash and will be used for further study.
Ethiopian authorities asked BEA for help in extracting and interpreting the crashed plane’s black boxes because Ethiopia does not have the necessary expertise and technology.
The Ethiopian Accident Investigation Bureau intends to release a preliminary report within 30 days.
The United States and many other countries have grounded the Max 8s and larger Max 9s as Boeing faces the challenge of proving the jets are safe to fly amid suspicions that faulty sensors and software contributed to the two crashes in less than five months.
Both planes flew with erratic altitude changes that could indicate the pilots struggled to control the aircraft. Shortly after their takeoffs, both crews tried to return to the airports but crashed.
Boeing has said it has “full confidence” in the planes’ safety. Engineers are making changes to the system designed to prevent an aerodynamic stall if sensors detect that the jet’s nose is pointed too high and its speed is too slow.
Investigators looking into the Indonesian crash are examining whether the software automatically pushed the plane’s nose down repeatedly, and whether the Lion Air pilots knew how to solve that problem. Ethiopian Airlines says its pilots received special training on the software.
Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and a spokesman for their union, said Boeing held a discussion with airlines last Thursday but did not invite pilots at American or Southwest, the two U.S. carriers that use the same version of the Max that crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Tajer said airline officials told the unions that Boeing intends to offer pilots about a 15-minute iPad course to train them on the new flight-control software on Max jets that is suspected of playing a role in the crashes. He called that amount of training unacceptable.
“Our sense is it’s a rush to comply — ‘let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,’” Tajer said. “I’m in a rush to protect my passengers.”
A spokesman for the pilots’ union at Southwest Airlines also said Boeing representatives told that union they expected the upgrade to be ready the end of January.
The spokesman, Mike Trevino, said Boeing never followed up to explain why that deadline passed without an upgrade. Boeing was expected to submit a proposed fix to the FAA in early January.
Krisher reported from Detroit. Associated Press writers David Koenig in Dallas and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.
Here’s how airplane crash investigations work, according to an aviation safety expert
March 19, 2019
Author: Daniel Kwasi Adjekum, Assistant Professor of Aviation, University of North Dakota
Disclosure statement: Daniel Kwasi Adjekum is affiliated with Flight Safety Foundation, Aircraft Owners Pilots Association (AOPA), Board of Certified Safety Professionals, Ghana Air Force, Ministry of Aviation Ghana, University Aviation Association (UAA), and Association of Ghanaian Professional Pilots. I am also the consultant for AeroProSafe Consult, a private aviation safety consultancy in Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S.
The fatal crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 has resulted in the worldwide grounding of Boeing 737 Max aircraft. Investigators are probing the crash and another like it that occurred less than five months earlier in Indonesia.
As an experienced airline pilot, aircraft accident investigator and professor of aviation, I know that such major crash investigations are an enormous effort often involving many countries’ governments and input from dozens of industry partners. The inquiries can take months of painstaking work. They often yield important insights that improve flight safety for everyone long into the future. Here’s how an investigation generally goes.
A massive collaboration
The accident investigation process is laid out by the standards and recommended practices in an international agreement called Annex 13 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation. That document outlines the process of gathering and analyzing information and drawing conclusions – including determining the causes of a crash and making safety recommendations.
The government of the country where the crash occurred takes the lead in the investigation. Also involved are investigators from the countries where the aircraft is registered, where the airline’s headquarters is, where the aircraft designer is based and where the aircraft was assembled. Countries where the engines or other major aircraft components were designed and assembled and those with citizens killed or seriously injured in the crash may also take part in the investigations.
The Ethiopian Airlines crash is under investigation by Ethiopian authorities, with the assistance of members of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. Other countries – including Kenya, France, Canada, China, Italy and the U.K., which all lost several citizens in the crash – may ask to be part of the process.
Ethiopian investigators can seek technical advice not only from participating countries’ representatives, such as the NTSB, but also from the companies that made the plane and its engines – in this case, Boeing and CFM international, respectively.
From emergency to inquiry
At the beginning of the inquiry, the investigator-in-charge, usually an investigator from the lead country’s aviation safety board, coordinates with local first responders to determine what hazards may be present at the crash site, and ensures safe access for investigators to visit the wreckage. Dangerous debris could include hazardous cargo, flammable or toxic materials and gases, sharp or heavy objects and pressurized equipment. Human remains or blood from injured victims may also pose dangers of disease, meaning investigators must protect themselves against viruses, bacteria or parasites.
The investigators on the scene take photos and videos of the wreckage and collect as much physical evidence as they can. They also conduct interviews with eyewitnesses and draw charts showing the debris field and any indications of how the aircraft hit the ground, such as the angle of impact, the distribution of debris and other details.
If parts of aircraft can be salvaged, they can be moved to a secure facility such as a hangar for wreckage reassembling. This can assist in determining missing or damaged components, and gaining a fuller idea of what happened.
Investigators also collect all the documents related the plane, its crew and its recent flights for forensic analysis.
An early priority is locating the crucial evidence in what are often called the plane’s “black boxes.” There are two kinds. The flight data recorders keep track of flight parameters such altitude, heading, instrument readings, power settings and flight control inputs. The cockpit voice recorders store all communications with the aircraft, including from air traffic controllers, and record any conversations among cockpit occupants and other audible cockpit sounds for the two hours leading up to the crash. All that information lets analysts reconstruct, and even create video simulations of, the last moments of the plane’s flight.
If either of those devices is damaged, authorities may ask the aircraft’s manufacturer to verify the salvaged data. Ethiopian investigators have asked for foreign help to analyze the black-box data. They originally asked Germany’s Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation, but that agency said it didn’t have the technical know-how either. France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety, one of the most experienced crash investigation agencies in the world, is handling them instead.
In the early stages of an investigation, there are a lot of people working on different aspects of the inquiry all at once. As the preliminary lead accident investigator for the Ghanaian MI-17 helicopter crash in Adukrom, Ghana, in January 2007, I had to coordinate the securing of the crash site and do field interviews of witnesses while charting the debris and recovering the “black box” for further analysis.
Technical groups assemble
Other teams look at technical aspects that might have contributed in any way to the crash. They look at air traffic control activity and instructions, weather, human performance issues like crew experience and training, maintenance records, emergency response, safety equipment, aircraft performance and subsystems.
They may disassemble the crashed plane’s engines or other components and use flight simulators to attempt to experience what the pilots were dealing with. Analysts even study the metals used to make components to see how they should perform – to later compare that information with what actually happened during the crash.
A team also interviews any survivors, rescue personnel and subject-matter experts. Forensic teams and medical examiners will analyze victims’ remains to identify them for family members and to examine the injuries they suffered, and test for any drugs, alcohol or even carbon monoxide in their bodies that might have impaired their judgment or performance.
In some cases, especially high-profile crashes, investigators will hold public hearings, at which they gather more evidence and make public some of what they have found. This helps assure the public that the process is open and transparent, and is not covering up the responsibility of any guilty party.
Findings and conclusions
After they rigorously analyze all the data, devise, test and evaluate different hypotheses for what could have happened, the investigative team must determine causes and contributing factors. The goal is to identify anything – acts someone did (or didn’t) do, properties of a materials, gusts of wind, and so on – that had any role in the crash.
The report should include both immediate causes – such as active failures of pilots or maintenance crew – and underlying reasons, like insufficient training or pressure to rush through a task.
Within 30 days after the crash, the investigation team must release a preliminary report to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the U.N.-related global agency overseeing commercial air travel. A final report is normally expected to follow before a year has passed. In cases where a final report can’t be issued on that timeline, the team should release an interim report on each anniversary of the event, detailing the progress so far.
At any point during the investigation, investigators can recommend any preventative action that it has identified as necessary to improve flight safety. In the wake of the Lion Air crash, Boeing was reportedly working on a fix to a software system, but it didn’t get released before the Ethiopian Airlines crash.
The final report, including all the safety recommendations, is released by the country that conducted the investigation to the public and is aimed at improving aviation safety and not to apportion blame.
Automated control system caused Ethiopia crash, flight data suggests
March 15, 2019
Author: Timothy Takahashi, Professor of Practice for Aerospace Engineering, Arizona State University
Disclosure statement: Timothy Takahashi received funding from Dragonfly LLC to model aircraft takeoff performance. He is an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and member of the Society of Aircraft Performance & Operations Engineers (SAPOE).
Partners: Arizona State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Emerging evidence from the recent crash in Ethiopia suggests that malfunctioning automatic control systems overwhelmed the crew and doomed the flight. Based on my analysis, it appears that the Ethiopian Airlines crew followed the standard procedures found in the Boeing 737 pilots operating handbook and flight crew operations manual.
A typical flight starts with manual control of the plane. The pilot and co-pilot will personally steer the aircraft onto the taxiway, configure the flaps for takeoff, actively control the aircraft as it accelerates down the runway, and smoothly pull back on the control yoke to lift the plane off the ground and into flight. The flight’s altitude and speed data, transmitted from the plane in real time and made available to the public by FlightRadar24.com, shows that happened normally as Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 left the runway.
Everything appears to have gone as usual on the initial climb away from the takeoff, too. Normally, the pilot will retract the landing gear and maintain a relatively steady speed as the aircraft climbs. The plane might accelerate slightly until it’s going fast enough that the flaps – extended to increase lift at lower speeds – can be safely retracted, letting the wings themselves generate the necessary lift. This process usually takes place in the first minute after takeoff. Once the aircraft has climbed to 1,000 feet above the ground, the pilot will engage the autopilot system.
That’s the point at which the computer takes over – and where, my analysis of the data suggests, things went wrong for Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. A modern autopilot system gives the computer command of the engine throttles, rudder, elevators and ailerons – basically full control over the aircraft.
Simulating the expected flight
Using modeling tools developed by my research team, I recreated a hypothetical flight profile to simulate the Ethiopian Airlines 737 departure based on the handbook procedure for an identical plane carrying a similar amount of weight. The simulation timing, key speeds and altitudes all follow my best estimate of the procedure that a trained pilot would be expected to follow.
Comparing this data to the actual flight data, I was able to see where the ideal predicted performance differs from the actual motions of the lost flight. My simulation closely matches the actual speeds of the aircraft on its takeoff roll, and recreates its first few miles of airborne flight. The pilot let the aircraft accelerate gently during initial climb, which isn’t specifically called for or prohibited in the official manual.
The flight paths between a typical flight and the actual course sharply diverge only after the aircraft reached an altitude of 1,000 feet above the runway.
Immediately after flap retraction, the pilot should have engaged the autopilot, leaving the computer to command a climb at constant airspeed. Instead, the ill-fated flight began to dive and accelerate, losing altitude and gaining speed until it struck the ground a few miles away from the airport.
There are several possible reasons a plane could crash like this. One is that an engine could malfunction. But the telemetry data doesn’t indicate the loss of acceleration that an engine failure would cause. Another reason could be that some part of the fuselage, wings or tail broke or collapsed. The data doesn’t show the sort of change in speed or climb rate that would result from such a loss of stability.
The crash does not appear to be due to pilot error, either. I’ve studied pilot overreactions during developing emergencies, and see no evidence of that before the initial dive; the pilots seem to fly an otherwise typical takeoff. If there was some other mechanical failure, the pilots didn’t report it to the control tower. There is no indication that they overreacted or overcompensated to some emergency: The radar track shows no evidence of a condition called “wallowing,” characterized by periodic fluctuations in speed and altitude, nor any accidental stall, where airspeed drops sharply before the plane loses altitude.
Therefore, it appears that the various automatic control systems conspired to prevent the pilots from asserting direct control over the ailerons, elevators and rudder that keep the aircraft aloft and on course.
How long on the ground?
More than 300 Boeing 737 Max aircraft have been flying since 2017, with thousands of safe takeoffs and landings. That suggests the problem for Ethiopian Airlines – and possibly the 2018 Lion Air crash too – is one of the difficult sort of engineering troubles that happen intermittently, or even seemingly randomly, in very complex systems.
Boeing has already said it will update the aircraft’s software. Any fixes will have to be checked not only to ensure that they handle whatever the exact problem is that’s identified by crash investigators, but also to make sure they don’t cause other unexpected errors. That will take its own amount of time. In the meantime, all the Boeing 737 Max aircraft in the world are on the ground, waiting.