Best known as one of the original electric and acoustic bass players for the legendary Los Angeles studio group, the Wrecking Crew.
Lyle J. Ritz, age 87, a resident of Portland, Oregon, died peacefully on March 3rd, 2017. He was best known as one of the original electric and acoustic bass players for the legendary Los Angeles studio group of the 1960s and ’70s, the Wrecking Crew. He was also known for his groundbreaking recordings and passion for a much smaller instrument, the ukulele.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio on January 10th, 1930, Lyle Ritz was the only son of Alex and Emnalou Ritz. Eventually, the Ritz family relocated to Bridgeville, Pennsylvania where Lyle attended high school in nearby Mt. Lebanon. Following World War II, they moved to Porterville, California. In the fall of 1950, Lyle entered college at the University of Southern California to study music. He also studied the violin, tuba, and cornet.
During Christmas break of 1951, Lyle was involved in a serious car accident and spent the next several months in the hospital. While recovering, he lost his student draft deferment. Lyle was drafted into service for the Korean conflict and reported for duty at Fort Ord, California on September 2nd, 1952. His talents on the tuba, however, kept him on the mainland as a member of the 6th Infantry Division Band.
Following his honorable discharge in 1954, Lyle enrolled in the Pasadena ArtCenter College of Design. He would study during the day and play music in the nightclubs and jazz dives at night. In 1957 he recorded How About Uke?, a jazz ukulele album for Verve Records. Playing a tenor ukulele, Lyle tackled standards like “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Lulu’s Back In Town” in a style more reminiscent of modern jazz than backyard luau. Though the record was not a success on the mainland, that album and its follow-up, 50th State Jazz, found their way to Hawaii and (unbeknownst to Lyle at the time) created a stir, becoming cult classics, and influencing a new generation of players.
Lyle eventually became known for a much larger instrument—the string bass. As a member of the Wrecking Crew in the ’60s and ’70s, he contributed to some 5,000 recording sessions, including “Good Vibrations,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “I Got You Babe” and “A Taste Of Honey.” It wasn’t until he was asked to provide the backing ukulele track to the song “Tonight You Belong To Me,” featured in the Steve Martin movie The Jerk, that he picked up his uke again.
In 1985 Lyle received a phone call from Hawaiian ukulele teacher, Roy Sakuma. Sakuma was searching for the guy who made those ukulele albums in the late 1950s. As a result, Lyle, his wife, Geri, and young daughter, Emily, moved to Hawaii in April 1988. Lyle focused on the ukulele for the next decade; arranging songbooks, recording and performing. During this period, the ukulele saw a resurgence of interest both on the islands and the mainland.
In August of 2003, Lyle and Geri moved to Portland, Oregon where Lyle continued to record. In 2007, Lyle Ritz was inducted into the Musician’s Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee for his studio bass work and also inducted into the Ukulele Hall of Fame. In 2004, Verve reissued How About Uke? on CD.
Lyle had a lifelong love of trains and vintage cars and for many years he owned the car featured in the last scene of the movie, Casablanca. He was also a pilot and was known to fly fellow musicians to Catalina Island for lunch while on break from the recording studio.
Lyle is survived by his wife of 40 years, Geri Ritz, his daughter, Emily Ritz and adoptive son, Thomas Ritz. Thomas Ritz has two daughters, Lauren and Jenna Ritz.