Johnny Guerin

Perhaps the most famous drum break in television history came on the opening credits for the television series Hawaii Five-O. Johnny Guerin was the drummer on that session and his performance has been replayed over and over for years thanks to syndication. Appropriately, Guerin was born in Hawaii and raised in San Diego. He was self taught on the drums. Guerin learned by playing along with Court Basie recordings. In the late 1960’s he became a successful session drummer and worked with such notable artists as Frank Sinatra, George Harrison, Frank Zappa and Ella Fitzgerald. From mid-1972 to early 1973 he was the drummer for The Byrds and he also played in Joni Mitchell’s back-up band LA Express on tour during the mid- to late-1970s. He had a brief relationship with Mitchell and she later wrote the song Hejira about leaving him. Guerin had a diverse approach to the drums and was a leading exponent of the jazz-rock style. He was extremely prolific, and played in many different genres, including for film and television. In later years, Guerin worked with Oscar Peterson and Ray Charles. He also worked on the soundtrack to the 1988 film Bird by Clint Eastwood. Guerin died of heart failure on January 5, 2004 leaving behind a long legacy of music. No piece of work is more recognizable than his epic opening for Hawaii Five-O. (The theme song was covered by the Ventures, who took the song all the way to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968.)

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