Born Donald E. Ralke, 13 July 1920, Battle Creek, Michigan
The first time I encountered the name of Don Ralke was in 1966, when I found an American pressing (on the Arwin label) of "Jennie Lee" by Jan and Arnie, "with Don Ralke's Music". The next year I found a US copy, also on Arwin, of "Cha-Hua-Hua" by the Pets (for those who are not familiar with this # 34 hit from 1958 : this is a great instrumental rocker, with chorus). The label of the B-side, "Cha-Kow-ski", read : "Arr. Don Ralke". Apparently there was a connection between the Arwin label and Don Ralke. Not until much later did I find out that "Don Ralke's Music" (the overdubbed backing on "Jennie Lee") was in fact the famous quartet Plas Johnson / Earl Palmer / Rene Hall / Ernie Freeman, who also formed the nucleus of the Pets. Don Ralke was a prolific arranger, composer, and producer, working for over 25 years in the Hollywood studio system in films, television, and pop recordings. He received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in music at the University of Southern California, graduating with honours. He also studied with famed composer and Hollywood emigre, Arnold Schoenberg. Early in his career, he briefly got stuck - probably unintentionally - in a bongos niche. He collaborated with versatile flute and reed man Buddy Collette on Jazz Heat, Bongo Beat, a sizzling slice of hepcat jazz, one of the rare genuinely original albums on Crown Records. Then Warner Brothers hired him for Gershwin with Bongos and The Sensuous and the Savage, one of the best jungle exotica albums around. Ralke was once described by Stan Ross, founder of the famed Gold Star recording studio, as "the most well-known unknown in the business." He worked with Warren Barker on the music for "77 Sunset Strip" and did the heavy musical lifting when Edd "Kookie" Byrnes, one of the show's stars, became a teen idol and recorded his one hit, "Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb." He performed similar duties for "Hawaiian Eye" star Connie Stevens, who recorded "16 Reasons" (# 3 in 1960). Working with "golden throats" - the term given to celebrities who attempt to be singers - became something of a specialty for Ralke. Or rather, Ralke deserves credit for convincing such non-singers as William Shatner and Lorne Greene (whose # 1 hit "Ringo" was arranged by Ralke) to play it safe and stick to narration over a musical background. He worked on hundreds of pop recordings, including Jewel Akens' "The Birds and the Bees", and formed his own production company in the late 1960s. He collaborated with sound engineer Brad Miller on the hugely successful strings-with-environmental sounds creation, the Mystic Moods Orchestra. Ralke handled most of the arranging chores and contributed numerous original compositions for the first dozen releases by the "group." In the 1970s, he returned to television, working for producer Garry Marshall on the series "Happy Days" and its spin-off, "Laverne and Shirley."
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