I am a Brian Wilson fan. I think the best of his Beach Boys work, including songs like Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains, are among my all-time favorite pop songs. A big part of the sound of these records are the great L.A. studio musicians who played on them. And Ralph Grasso was one of those guys. Like his friend and fellow guitarist Tommy Tedesco (another one of my heroes and a member of The Wrecking Crew), Ralph was an L.A. studio guitarist when L.A. was the place to be. Ralph played on countless TV shows, movie scores, and recordings from the late 1950s into the 1980s.
After a stint in the U.S. Navy Band, Grasso moved from his native New Jersey to Hollywood at the urging of The New Christy Minstrels’ founder Randy Sparks, whom he met in the Navy Band. The day after he arrived he was directed toward NBC Studios in Burbank where he was signed to play on “The Andy Williams Show,” and from there his career continued to grow as his reputation as a first-rate player spread.
Ralph and famed composer Hugo Montenegro (also a veteran of the Navy Band) collaborated on the score to the Robert Mitchum/MGM classic “Thunder Road.” Other classic scores Ralph orchestrated or performed on include “A Few Dollars More,” “Charro!,” “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” “Hang ‘Em High,” “Lady in Cement,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Matt Helm,” “On A Clear DayYou Can See Forever,” “Paint Your Wagon,” “The Rita Hayworth Story,” “Viva Max,” and many more.
Ralph was musical arranger/conductor/guitarist for Jimmie Rodgers for five years. He also worked with Herb Alpert, Tony Bennett, Ray Brown, Johnny Carson, Natalie Cole, John Denver, Herb Ellis, Ella Fitzgerald, Al Hirt, Barney Kessel, Henry Mancini, Shelly Mann, Elvis Presley, Nelson Riddle, Howard Roberts, Lalo Schifrin, Doc Severinsen, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Sarah Vaughn, Paul Williams, and many more. He has also performed for five U.S. presidents and Queen Elizabeth.
Those of us who grew up on TV could claim Ralph as one of our babysitters. He played weekly on countless shows including “CHiPs,” “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “The Love Boat,” “The Partridge Family,” “The Smothers Brothers Show,” “Three’s Company,” “The Jonathan ‘Winters Show,” and still more TV specials, awards shows, and so forth.
As a solo artist Ralph record for both the Capitol Records and Dot Records labels.
Today Ralph is semi-retired in Arizona, where he continues to teach, conduct clinics and workshops, and perform, including a recent special guest appearance with Randy Sparks and The New Christy Minstrels. “Randy and I go back many years to 1956,” Ralph interjects. “We are both still at it strong.”
Ralph has seen his share of music manuscript over the years, and eagerly talks of his fondness for Finale: “I use Finale to prepare workshop pieces for clinics at high schools and universities. I’ll include arrangements with intentional errors, which the students are to detect and correct. I also prepare short arranging examples which the students can perform during the clinic. I recommend Finale to all who attend: I think it can greatly assist students with their music writing and arranging.”
“I also use Finale to write arrangements for the Velvet Guitars, my jazz guitar group, consisting of five melody guitars in harmony (similar to a sax or trumpet section), a rhythm guitar, and bass. Years ago I did everything by hand. Finale lets me hear the score and make changes, then print parts that are easy to read.”
Ralph especially enjoyed the chord enhancements in Finale 2010: “Finale 2010 allows you to write in chords without having to have notes to tie them to. Hurray!”