Preston James Ritter, mostly known for his being the drummer for The Electric Prunes, died on March 30 of this year (I only just found out about his passing when I read his obit in the current issue of MOJO) at age 65.
Preston was one of my best friends at Reseda High School (I attended Reseda — a great school — for one year, then my family moved to Newbury Park, CA where I attended Thousand Oaks High School). We were both drummers. Even though it was our first year in high school, Preston was already working as a professional musician. He played in a popular cover band, The Dantes.
We walked to school together nearly everyday. Drumming and music were all we talked about. We shared the same drumming philosophies and were both big fans of Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and the Dave Clark Five and Dave’s drumming (which I later discovered was Bobby Graham‘s drumming on those early DC5 records).
Until writing this obit, I never realized we were both at the Buddy Rich Disneyland concerts (I put myself through art school painting watercolor portraits at Disneyland during summers). Preston met and became friends with Buddy (no easy task, especially for a drummer. You had to be damn good). Buddy’s gorgeous daughter was attracted to me back in the 1970s but I was too intimidated by her dad to pursue the relationship (I thought I was a good drummer — I wasn’t — but nowhere near Rich’s league).
Buddy Rich and Preston Ritter, around the time we saw Buddy and his band perform at Disneyland
Even back then, Preston was pretty conservative. He hated long hair. So I was very surprised when I recognized Preston on the cover of the first Electric Prunes LP while rummaging through the record bin at my local supermarket in Newbury Park. There he was — but with long hair! Even today I suspect it might have been a wig in that shot.
The Electric Prunes’ 1st LP. That’s Preston, center (with the Prince Valiant bangs).
Preston played on their first LP, on some of their second LP (Underground) and on both of their big hits, “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” and “Get Me to the World on Time”, before being replaced by the band’s very first drummer, Michael Weakley.
Who’s not happy here? Preston with the Prunes and an unidentified female.
After the Prunes, Preston played with the Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, James Brown and many other music stars. He credits Dobie Gray with giving him his first big musical break. Preston became good friends with Sandy (“Let There Be Drums”) Nelson and jazz great Louis Bellson. Bellson mentored Ritter and amazed Preston when Louis gave Preston a set of Bellson’s own drums.
I lost touch with Preston after moving away from Reseda. Once I saw he was in the Electric Prunes I tried to keep tabs on him. After he left the Prunes I discovered he had joined the Los Angeles Police Department (he played drums in the police band) and L. A. County Sheriff’s Department. From current obits I found out that he had worked his way up to detective. He later became a private investigator and then a non-denominational Christian missionary in Korea.
Recent photo of Preston
It’s frustrating. I had given up on trying to find Preston decades ago. Now I find that with the internet age, I could have easily looked him up and contacted him. I discovered that he, like myself, had become a big blues fan. We would have had a lot to talk about. That chance is now lost forever. Damn.
I’ve still got the memories, though, of my dear friend and great fellow drummer, Preston Ritter. RIP