Legendary bassist, ukulele star Ritz dies
Lyle Ritz never sought attention, and he always deflected praise for his place in music history.
But as family and friends remember Ritz, who lived in Portland the past several years, it's apparent the music business has lost one of its greats.
Ritz died March 3 at age 87.
He was a member of the famous The Wrecking Crew, a collection of session musicians who played on some of the best recordings and with some of the biggest names. A bass player, Ritz played on "Taste of Honey" by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass, "The Beat Goes On" by Sonny and Cher, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" by The Righteous Brothers and "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys. Ritz also played with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis, The Monkees, Herb Ohta, Linda Ronstadt, Glen Campbell and Ike & Tina Turner.
Also credited with introducing jazz ukulele to the Hawaiian Islands, and making two albums, Ritz blazed his own trail in the music business.
As Sinatra famously sang "My Way," Ritz "lived life on his own terms," says his son, Thomas Ritz.
"It wasn't a statement. He would never ring his own bell, wouldn't sing his own praises," Ritz says, of his father's life. "He kept a very low profile."
Early on Ritz played with Stan Kenton. Mostly he supported others; the likes of Phil Spector would call Ritz first for bass play.
"What he considered his shining achievement was playing with Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass and 'Taste of Honey,'" says his wife, Geri. "He was always proud of that."
For "Taste of Honey," as the story goes, Alpert approached Ritz with an idea for a bass line and Ritz produced a bass line in about 15 minutes "that's revered and known for all time," Ritz's son says. "If you listen to the song, he's just thumping the bass."
Geri Ritz says her husband also took pride in his work with the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson on the album "Pet Sounds," and work with Sonny and Cher. Ritz and several musicians played with The Wrecking Crew for years, including Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, Leon Russell and Glen Campbell; Russell and Campbell went on to great success as individual artists.
The Wrecking Crew earned its name because in the 1960s Los Angeles recording circle the players were considered to be better than the rest and that they would "wreck" the business. Ritz played on about 5,000 songs.
Danny Tedesco, Tommy's son, made a documentary movie about The Wrecking Crew in 2008. For more: wreckingcrewfilm.com.
"He really enjoyed camaraderie with the musicians," Thomas Ritz says. "They had a real fraternity."
He adds: "Just by his attitude he made everyone better. As a team player, he made everyone better. (The Wrecking Crew) were all so good, set the bar so high, everybody had to step up and be better. For the most part, they all left their ego at the door."
Ritz also played in bands for movie and TV scores for Sonny and Cher, Glen Campbell, "Playboy After Dark," "Name That Tune," "The Rockford Files" and "Kojak."
After working in Los Angeles, Ritz moved to Hawaii, where be befriended ukulele teacher/player Roy Sakuma and made trips to Japan. He moved to Portland in 2003.
The elder Ritz played with Rebecca Kilgore and helped with festivals through Reed College with Marianne Brogan and the Portland Ukulele Association.
Ritz was inducted into the Ukulele Hall of Fame and Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. He also was an instrument-rated private pilot.
Ritz is survived by his wife, two children and two grandchildren.
"He had a good life and he had a lot of fun," Geri says. "He was a nice guy and humble."
Thomas Ritz, who lives in Los Angeles, was technically his stepson, but it was always a father-son relationship to them.
"I don't know if I have the capacity to show the love and compassion that he showed me," he says. "The love and caring he showed me was real. He was really a special man. It was all about kindness and humility."