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Lyle Ritz
Lyle Ritz
(String Bass)

(He took violin lessons as a child, fooled around with the tuba in high school and ended up playing in an Army band during the Korean War where he met a number of great jazz players including Lenny Neihaus, who encouraged him to take up the string bass. Which he did. After leaving the Army, he went to USC to become an industrial designer, but music was clearly in his blood.

As he recently said, "Making a record is the most wonderful thing I could think of to do." And he has been on countless wonderful records, including Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass' classic, "A Taste Of Honey." Lyle modestly claims that his success had more to do with being in the right place at the right time than his talent, but it was his talent that placed him in the studio with Brian Wilson.)


Lyle: "What made Brian's sessions different was the family kind of atmosphere. At first, as I recall, Brian didn't have any preparation. He didn't write anything down; he would dictate notes to us on the piano. That's when I learned to bring blank manuscript paper to Brian's sessions, so I could write out the parts. Before I brought in my own paper, I used the backside of studio recording plots to scratch out the sketches of his arrangements. There were also times in the booth that I would sketch it out on a piece of paper for him. Later on, he would bring in handwritten pieces of music.

"Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye or Ray Pohlman and I were together so often, we knew how each of us played. Carol, of course, was so good. No problem to play with. I always felt that I was in over my head; these were such great players. I couldn't believe that I was being paid to play with these wonderful musicians. At almost every one of Brian's sessions, I would walk in and be awestruck at this incredible cast of characters in his band.

"One of the reasons the sessions were so great was that we had the luxury of time, which we didn't have on other people's dates. We weren't pressured. In those days, with the budgets of most people, a 3-hour session was pretty much it , and you had to get four tunes done. Not with Brian. Oftentimes, we would spend the whole night on a sixteen bar phrase and get it to exactly where he would like it, and that was tough. Because we didn't really know what he wanted to change or what we were doing wrong. We all knew that what he was doing was important and that It was gonna be a really good record, so we did it.

"But even though when we were playing with Brian he had trouble communicating what he wanted, we had no leeway. We were cut no slack as far as the part we were to play. It was, 'This is what I want.' Nothing more or less.

"I think the most amazing thing I ever saw him do was writing the section of a song in two keys. That's when the music was getting deeper. One night, we were at Gold Star, I think it was on 'Wouldn't It Be Nice.' And I was playing a bass line in the key of D. But the rest of the band was in another key. I knew that was wrong. So during a break, I looked at everybody else's music to see if it was a mistake. Because you can't do that.

"But he pulled it off. It was a melodic bass line. It was tough for him and me, because he knew what he wanted but he couldn't really express it. But he knew when it was exactly right. So trying to get those sections to work was tedious, hard work. But it was great fun when it came together and the tune 'smoothed out.' By then, we all knew from experience that Brian was up to something great, even though only he had an idea of the end product.

"I recall ten 'Good Vibrations' sessions, nine that I worked on and one that I couldn't make it to. I remember how long it took, and how desperately he wanted it to be good. It took a lot out of him and all of us. One time, we worked on eight bars for an entire session; I was playing one note throughout and to this day, I don't know what he objected to, what he didn't like. But he was probably getting eaten up inside. Still, through all of that, he was always courteous and respectful to the musicians.

"I gathered from just watching him work, and being close to him in the studio that I felt that this guy may be a genius, because of how it came out. But I wouldn't have known that unless I heard the end product. Then, when I realized what was going on in his mind, I knew how frustrating it must have been not to be able to communicate all the subtle nuances he wanted.

"The overall impression I have is of a genius at work. In his own way. Hampered by his inability to communicate. That's why I sat in the booth and tried to get him to dictate the notes to me and give it to the rest of the band. I was good at that, and I wanted to help him. What do I remember about him? He was kind, gracious, respectful. Brilliant at what he pulled off. I don't know how he kept it all in his head, but he would remember it all.

"What I remember from Pet Sounds was that during that time, his craft was more honed. He brought in music and parts that were written. And he was more intense. More focused. Seemed like he wasn't as loose; there was more urgency associated with it. It wasn't 'time is money.' It was 'There's this music I gotta express.' 'Come on guys. We're gonna get it. ' But always with respect.

"I almost never did this, but when Pet Sounds came out, I bought it, and the next time I played one of Brian's sessions, I got him to sign it. I haven't played it in years, but I do have Brian's 'thank you' and signature. I didn't know it was gonna be critically-acclaimed three decades later; if you had told that to me thirty years ago, I wouldn't have believed it. But it was, to be sure, really neat and different.

"It's wonderful to have been part of a record like that. I wish I had been more appreciative at the time. But we were real busy, doing lots of records, and I know some of us, including me, didn't really think we were making history. Working with Brian, I knew he was making great music, but I didn't realize it was gonna be that important. The music Brian created makes me feel real good and proud that I was there. Brian is one of my favorites. I have great respect for him. Such a brilliant man, and it was such a privilege working with him."

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