OK - the two topics blended into one are Hal Blaine and the Ringling Brothers Circus.
And you might not know the first, Hal Blaine, but you have pounded your steering wheel along with him a thousand times.
And many of us are pounding their fists in dismay over the impending folding of the Ringling Brothers tent, a piece of Americana about to subsumed by entertainments such as pro wrasslin', monster truck shows, and Disney On Ice.
Hal Blaine was born Harold Simon Belsky almost 88 years ago in Massachusetts. His family moved to Hartford, Connecticut when he was 7, and by the time he was 14 he was playing drums with a marching band in town.
|Blaine playing drums for a Phil Spector record|
He accepted his behind-the-scenes status, happily making $35 for playing drums on a Beach Boys record that Dennis Wilson made $3500 a night for playing in concerts, as he said. The simple fact is that until more accomplished "star" musicians came along, The Wrecking Crew made great music for us.
So what does he have to do with Ringling Bros? Well, on July 6, 1944, at 15, young Hal went to see the circus when it came to Hartford. There are several versions of how he came to be there that afternoon. One story has it that he was one of the locals hired to do some chores in return for a ticket to the show. At any rate, he was there when a fire broke out in the Big Top, and the fire spread rapidly across the canvas tent, because it had been treated with paraffin and gasoline to make it watertight.
When the fire began in the back of the tent, the bandleader saw the smoke and flame and immediately cued his band to play "The Stars And Stripes Forever," which was always the signal to alert circus personnel of an emergency in the tent.
Around 7,000 were under the big top trying to get out of that hell. 167 died, over 700 were injured.
|Hell on earth|
And why was he able to escape the inferno? Because he chose a seat right behind the band, not the best view of the show, but the best way to see the circus drummer at work. And the band was playing right near an exit. That saved Hal's life and led him to make music that still comes out of our radios and iPods and everywhere else.