Described by Gold Star Recording Studio co-owner Stan Ross as "the most well-known unknown in the business," producer, arranger, and composer Don Ralke was a fixture of the Hollywood recording studio for over four decades, overseeing a sprawling body of work extending from pop hits to golden-throat celebrity records to his own cult classic exotica LPs. Born July 13, 1920 in Battle Creek, MI, Ralke earned his Masters degree in music from the University of Southern California; according to his biography at the SpaceAgePop website, he also studied under famed expressionist composer Arnold Schoenberg. Ralke spent the bulk of his early recording career as a staffer with the budget label Crown, which specialized in knock-offs of current chart trends. His contributions to the company's output are nevertheless coveted by collectors, boasting a uniform quality and oddball charm in direct opposition to Crown's signature cut-rate approach. Following the well-received Jazz Heat, recorded in collaboration with reedist Buddy Collette, Ralke issued Bongo Madness, the first in a series of percussion-themed efforts that eventually brought him to the attention of Warner Bros., which signed him for two 1960 releases: But You've Never Heard Gershwin with Bongos and the jungle exotica landmark The Savage and the Sensuous.
During his Warner tenure, Ralke also teamed with composer Warren Barker on the jazz-inspired score for the television series 77 Sunset Strip, later the subject of a best-selling soundtrack LP, and also produced and arranged series co-star Edd "Kookie" Byrnes' novelty pop hit "Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb." Ralke is notorious for his involvement in a series of other so-called "golden throat" records performed by television and film stars seeking to cross over to pop music success; his credits include Lorne Greene's On the Ponderosa, William Shatner's camp classic The Transformed Man, and, most infamously, The Many Moods of Murry Wilson, headlined by the abusive father/manager of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. Ralke also helmed a number of pop smashes, highlighted by Jewel Akens' "The Birds and the Bees," and during the late '60s teamed with engineer Brad Miller for a series of easy listening LPs credited to the Mystic Moods Orchestra. During the '70s Ralke focused on television, working for producer Garry Marshall on the blockbuster sitcoms Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, and wrapped his Hollywood career by scoring the 1987 exploitation comedy Takin' It All Off. Ralke died January 26, 2000 in Santa Rosa, California. ~ Jason Ankeny