Musician Ralph Tourkow is fondly remembered as a talented musician who had a jovial sense of humor and a schedule of dinner dates.
His family and friends agree that to meet Tourkow was to instantly meet a friend.
“When he came into the room, everyone would smile,” said Deb Sheray, Tourkow’s oldest sister. “He was the happiest guy, and it would spread all over a room. In his 63 years, he never was in a bad mood.”
Tourkow, who was the founder, business manager and bassist of such local bands as The Answer Band, The Remnants and Scratch N Sniff, died Thursday at the age of 63.
He also was a member of the Fort Wayne Summer Symphony for 10 years and performed with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. His service was held Sunday at the Jewish Cemetery on Old Decatur Road.
“He just found everything funny, and he made everything funny,” said older brother Joshua Tourkow. “He was a people person. At the funeral there were around 350 people there and after the funeral, we had at least 150 people at my mother’s house. It’s just amazing.”
Tourkow was influenced by music at an early age; his grandmother was a concert pianist and his mother, Leah Tourkow, was a disc jockey for 63 years and one of the founders of the local public radio station WBNI, fighting to save public radio for Fort Wayne in 1978.
“There was a lot of music in the house – it was primarily jazz,” Leah Tourkow said. “There were all kinds of bands rehearsing in the basement.”
Ralph Tourkow played in jazz and rock bands throughout his teenage years at South Side High School and his years as a sociology student at Indiana University. At the age of 14, Tourkow’s band, The Utopians won a local battle of the bands and spent the summer in 1964 playing at Club Metropole in New York City. Tourkow also was part of a jazz trio, “Three’s a Crowd.”
Mark Roberts was a young guitarist at Bishop Luers High School who knew Tourkow in the early ’70s. He remembers how Tourkow would meet up with the other high school garage band musicians at a store called The Music Manor to hang out and buy equipment on Saturday afternoons. The two were recently reacquainted when Tourkow began playing with Roberts’ brother Kurt in the rock band Scratch N Sniff.
“He was just a fun-loving guy. He always had a smile on his face,” Roberts said. “He was very enthused about his music and he was a talented musician.”
The band’s last performance together was April 29 at Deer Park Irish Pub.
Kurt Roberts, percussionist for Scratch N Sniff, says that Tourkow knew how to work a room and keep an audience engaged.
“Music, family and friends – that’s what Ralph was all about,” Roberts said. “I’ll miss eating dinner with him on Wednesdays at O’Sullivan’s. That was our kind of standing date.”
Tourkow played in a number of local bands since graduating Indiana University, including The Answer Band, with whom he performed for 10 years until the band’s retirement in 2008. In 2009, he founded The Remnants, made up of musicians from other local bands.
Tourkow’s daughter Lauren, a classically trained violinist and vocalist, said her father’s interest in people influenced his music. She remembers at the age of 5 how he would play the bass while she sang on her toy microphone to ABBA and Madonna. As she grew as a musician, the two would listen to new music and figure out how to perform the songs, which was their deepest connection. She says many daughters would have loved to have her “rock-star daddy.”
“I am going to miss all of it,” she said, “It was the whole package. I’m going to miss the comedian, the entertainer, the dad – there’s not one aspect I could miss more over the others. I miss every single bit of him.”