the sounds of saltzman

I just saw The Wrecking Crew documentary for the second time, and it’s a shame that wider distribution is being stalled by licensing fees, because it’s simply filled with fascinating anecdotes and information and no one who cares about classic pop should be denied the opportunity to see it. But because those session players all worked together on so many hit records, and were utilized by such esteemed producers as Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, they’ve become pretty famous, even the ones who didn’t become ultra-famous later on like Leon Russell and Glen Campbell. Carol Kaye, Tommy Tedesco, Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel…they may not be household names, but the kind of ironic thing is that I’d bet more people can name a few members of The Wrecking Crew than could name a single member of The Association, or Gary Lewis and The Playboys except for Gary Lewis. Being unknown has given them a retroactive notoriety, as big Pet Sounds and Smile boxes give them all the credit they were denied when the albums came out (or, in the case of Smile, didn’t), and the truth is, if my life depended on it I couldn’t tell you who The Marketts or The T-Bones were “supposed” to be (that is, who represented the brands on television appearances or in photographs). In any case, the movie is terrific, and when you hear about how the intros to “Wichita Lineman” and “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” were concocted in the studio, if you’re a certain type of pop obsessive, it’ll give you chills.

Which got me thinking: I know about these guys (and gal). Hal Blaine wrote a book, and there’s a newer one out, and there’s this movie, and books on Spector and The Beach Boys, so I’m fairly educated on who played the licks on Johnny Rivers and Mamas and Papas records and who Jimmy Webb used, and all the rest of Los Angeles studio lore, but I know comparatively little about who played on all those pop records that were made in my hometown, on all the Red Bird sessions, and Dion records, and even who Leiber and Stoller used with The Drifters and The Coasters at Atlantic. How can this be? I listen to The 4 Seasons all the time. Bob Crewe’s productions were so BIG, they had such drive and momentum and drama, and I don’t know who those players are. There’s an alternate take of ‘Dawn (Go Away)” where the drums kick the thing off and just roll through the whole shebang with so much power. Is that Buddy Saltzman? Honestly, I was only slightly aware that there was a drummer named Buddy Saltzman until I just Googled “drummer on 4 Seasons records” and an article came up — a really good one — from Mix magazine about the recording of “Rag Doll,” and how it was cut on the fly at Allegro Sound at 1650 Broadway.

Here’s what the article ( says:

What they also had were a bunch of rented percussion instruments lying around, left over from the previous week’s sessions, and not slated to be picked up until Monday. Gaudio and Crewe chose an African hair drum that happened to be there, and Saltzman, who was set up in the middle of the room with the rest of the band, played it along with a rack tom to create the opening bars of the song and the rhythm tattoo that carried the choruses. An open tambourine was also placed on the snare drum, which enhanced the fourth beat of the chorus measures, creating a sharp smash, which was in contrast with the tom/hair drum combination’s lower tones.

OK, this is sort of a foreign language to me, I admit, “rack tom,” “rhythm tattoo,” but the point is, the sound on “Rag Doll” is something that is embedded in my brain. I remember the first time I heard it, on Dan Ingram’s show on WABC radio on a little transistor radio, and it leapt out of that tiny radio from those first beats that Saltzman sort of stole from Hal Blaine’s opening of “Be My Baby,” and it was no surprise that, if my memory is anything like correct, the song went to number one on the WABC chart in one week, an unprecedented leap from nowhere. Until this afternoon, the name “Buddy Saltzman” was nowhere in my memory or knowledge of the record, and that’s a shame, and now I have to find a 4 Seasons sessionography online (there has to be one, right?) and find out who else played on all those singles: “Working My Way Back To You,” which was like NYC meets Motown, and “Opus 17 (Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me),” and the rolling drums on “Ronnie” and the guitar on “Let’s Hang On.” Who was the bass player on “Beggin’”? How did Crewe get that big metallic sound on “Girl Come Running”? I am going to spend some time on this, like I don’t have anything else to do. And then there are those other records to investigate, like the ones Goffin and King did with The Cookies, and on and on…

10 responses to “the sounds of saltzman

  1. Well-done Mitch. Sounds like The Wrecking Crew is one to watch, though I’ll have to wait and hope for Netflix, eventually.

  2. It’s so good. The screening was fun. Fingers crossed for them raising the $$ to get it out.

  3. I’m depending on you Mitch. Please find out the names behind all of those classic sounds and beats and intros and leads and baselines. Your mentions of just the few have them all running indelible through my brain, or…more correctly…through my nyc-boro soul. I really needed that music when it was new each day on the radio. Those players were my Healing Crew.

  4. I think one of the recent Ace reissues (either of composers or of Laurie Records) has some info about this. I need to go through them. There certainly is an interesting story here (and of why the East Coast isn’t mentioned as much) (because the companies owned studios, because the musicians were older and also played non rock, etc.). Was someone like Chuck Rainey who played bass on Atlantic recordings (including all of the Rascals records) restricted from playing on non-Atlantic records? Also, did the NYC groups play on their records more than the LA groups? For example, did Joe Massi really play bass on the Seasons records (while the Wrecking Crew played for the Byrds, etc.)?

    Meanwhile, did the US pressings of these singles contain the “featuring the sound of Frankie Valli” line?

  5. Considering the pre-Wrecking Crew (late ’50s-early-’60s) dominance of East Coast pop, I’d think the NYC players would be more celebrated, but compared to LA and Detroit, they’re relatively unsung. I know that Panama Francis played drums on some Dion stuff, and there are some familiar Atlantic names, but all those sessions at Bell, and A&R, and even Columbia studios…Not to mention Philadelphia. Who was the Cameo-Parkway sax player that influenced the E Street sound?

    This website ( is amazing on 4 Seasons stuff, but even their discography doesn’t name the musicians, e.g.,
    FRANKIE VALLI; Backing on 490 & 491 by THE ANGELS ( BERNADETTE CARROL, PEGGY SANTAGLIA, DENISE FERRI).; Arranged & conducted by: HERB BERNSTEIN; Produced by: BOB CREWE.

    I do think the U.S. singles had the “‘sound’ of Frankie Valli” credit. Yep: just Google-imaged “Rag Doll.” It’s there.

  6. It’s too bad that Buddy Saltzman never got the fame that his West Coast conterpart, Hal Blaine, received.
    But from what I’ve read about Buddy, he preferred to be the working man’s drummer, dragging his kit around from studio to studio in thoses cold harsh New York winters.
    He just wanted to provide for his family….what more can you say?

  7. buddysaltzman is the unsung drummer hero!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • I agree 100%! Buddy Saltzman is the unsung drummer hero! I’ve been playing drums all my life and just found out who he was a few days ago. Thank god for the internet otherwise I still wouldn’t know who he was. Check out Buddy’s drumming on the Cowsills the rain the park and other things. It’s pure musical genius!

    • Thats my Dad!! He played on most of the Four Seasons recordings. Frankie Valli loved him.

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