Ralph Otteson was born into a musical family. His father played in post-WWII big bands and 50’s cool jazz ensembles as a trumpet, flugal horn and bass trumpet player. Although brass horns were his dad’s main instruments, he would often sound out chords and study harmonies on the family spinet piano. Ralph’s father passed away while he was still young. Ralph’s uncle was Professor of Music at NDSU and his cousins are session players. His younger brother followed their father’s love of brass instruments as a trombonist. His older sister learned to sing and play the acoustic guitar and write songs. His other sister was involved in the music business end of things and worked for radio, television and recording studios. All of these family members influenced Ralph’s involvement of music in some way or another. Ralph moved to piano because his father’s small spinet was in the living room and although his mother could not afford lessons, at 17 he taught himself to play. He sold his car to buy a used Fender Rhodes Stage-73. Later adding a Moog Prodigy monophonic lead synth (a poor man’s Minimoog) and learning about subtractive synthesis. String machines were next and a multi-keyboard setup became the norm.
Ralph wrote music and played cover tunes in bands with friends as a senior in high school and loved the progressive sound of the 70’s. He loved the music of ELP, Yes, Kansas, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Toto. These keyboard players were all formally classically trained and since Ralph had been self-taught late in life, his limited technical ability forced him to simplify this type of music out of necessity. It is apparent in the music he writes which has a more basic rock sound than the virtuoso technically lavished keyboard writing you are used to hearing in Progressive rock. Maybe that can be a good thing!
While studying Graphic Arts at a junior college, Ralph gave his life to Jesus Christ, started going to church and studying the Bible. His growing Christian faith began to change his life and Christ became the focus for his music, as well. He played piano for worship at the church he attended, but his passion for writing songs and love of prog music was still very much a part of him. With other friends from church, he was back writing and performing Christian rock songs in 1983 with the Bay Area based band One-Eighty.
One-Eighty started primarily as a music ministry for prisons, juvenile hall and other correctional facilities. Along with playing at churches, Ralph left college and took work in the roofing and construction trades to support himself while the band played concerts and wrote more music. He began recording demos of the band on a small 4-track tape machine. By 1985 his setup was an OB-8X analog, DX7, Juno60 and Yamaha CS analog synth, and yes, he still used the Moog and string machine, as the lead singer also played keys.
It caught the attention of Maranatha Records, and in 1986, the band released a 4-song EP entitled “One-Eighty.” It was produced by Kenneth Nash and One-Eighty. Ralph knew God had put in him the desire to be a multi-keyboard player and to also continue learning and working in the recording environment. Using session drummers, the band went into the Oakland studio again in 1988 and released another 10-song LP. He added an S-50 sampler and D-50 digital synth to his sonic palette. A few of the songs from the band’s new 1989 album “Turning Point” were being played on college and local commercial radio stations across the nation. One-Eighty opened concerts for 80’s and 90’s Christian rock bands such as “Allies” and touring and playing the nightclub circuits in support of the latest release. In 1990, Ralph went back to junior college and finished another degree in electronics. Recording was his passion so he purchased an 8-track tape machine and recording console to produce the band’s 1991 demos for the next studio album release. Finally, when the latest drummer left the band and after 10 years, the band decided to call it quits, so demos never made it to a finished release.
Ralph’s musical pursuits took a back seat to work in the field of electronics engineering to support his growing family. He ended up selling most of the keyboards and other gear to raise money for a house, but his love of music remained. Ralph and his wife, Kathy, relocated to the Central Valley of California to raise their family and he eventually found other local musicians, one of which was David Dickerson. David and Ralph formed a band called Iron Clay Poets that played in local churches and other venues. By then, Ralph had moved to multi-track ADAT machines to record the fourth album with Iron Clay Poets. That project ended up needing the assistance of Bruce Gaetke to help mix it down on computer. Two of the members from Iron Clay Poets left the band and so the album was recorded mixed and mastered, but never released, much to the regret of Ralph and David. Ralph started doing session work for other artists projects and later, Bruce expressed he wanted to play the music and so the three of them decided to write an album together. During that time, Ralph went back to school and finished another degree in the Recording Arts. He changed from tape-based to hard disk recording and upgraded his studio. He worked with Bruce at their respective home studios and David worked at his home studio. The first song “Life Fantastic” was released as part of a compilation CD called “CPR3” with other Christian prog artists and was produced by Randy George of Ajalon and of the Neal Morse band.
Ralph creates a sound of symphonic old-school prog with analog synth leads, lush pads, rock piano and growling B3 organ tones. His symphonic prog influenced sound and use of odd time signatures still has a melodic approach and commercial appeal to it. The fifth studio album displays those musical elements in the debut album for Time Horizon. Time Horizon completed the album “Living Water” with the hopes that proceeds can help provide clean water for the rural poor around the world. Ralph is looking forward to the challenge of playing out the new album and upgrading his studio again for writing of more projects. He loves being a father to his now high school kids and husband to his wife of 22 years. Ralph’s son, David, is following in the family tradition, playing drums in a Christian hard-core metal band and his daughter is studying guitar and piano for worship music. Ralph strives to be available to be used by God, wherever He leads.
Name: Ralph Otteson
Chabot College: Graphic Arts studies, A.A. Electronics and Computer Technology
Los Medanos College: 2 year certificate achievement in Recording Arts
Favorite Color: Blue
Favorite Book: The Bible
Favorite Fictional Book: The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
Favorite Movies: Star Wars, Alien, The Matrix, Young Frankenstein
Favorite Food: Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese
Favorite Quote: “God reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists.” ~ Albert Einstein