By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
“I’m hyperventilating as I sit next to the reason I’m alive. That’s right, mother is coming on tour with me to the U.K. Here we come!!” Tyson Ritter exclaimed to the world on Twitter as the All American Rejects embarked on the Blink-182 20th Anniversary Tour.
Equally excited was Ritter’s mom, Tracey Rains, as she ventured on her first trip abroad last summer.
“Tyson had been to London 20 or more times, but it was my first time to go,” the Stillwater resident said.
The All American Rejects invited Ritter’s mother to join the group from Oklahoma. Rains jumped at the chance — and as a Stillwater Public Schools’ employee for 19 years, she had the summer off.
Tweeting as the “dreamer that dreams for those without the means,” Ritter wrote when they arrived in England: “Hello London — I need two egg McMuffins and a store that sells American flag T-shirts. Let’s party.”
And a party it was, Rains said.
At Hyde Park, she and her son were at Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee where Sir Paul McCartney closed the show.
“Pinch me,” Ritter tweeted to the world with his mom echoing her son’s thoughts — “it was just so surreal. I never had so much fun.”
Since her son had been to England so many times, he served as her own personal tour guide. They went shopping at the Topshop and stayed at the Dorchester in London.
“We would stay up all night and talk,” she said.
The band rocked their concerts and Rains found out just how hard they work every day. After two days and 32,000 people later, they loaded the entire tour bus on a boat to cross the Irish Sea for more concerts in Dublin.
“They had the best crowds everywhere,” Rains said.
But being on the road as a rock star is never ending.
“It’s very fast paced. They are on and off the bus, sleep on the bus, go over to the venue in the afternoon, sound check, do interviews — they do so much before the show even goes on,” Rains said.
She said what most people misunderstand is they think rock ‘n roll is all about drugs and alcohol. Yet being on the road, “I realized how hard my son works and sometimes all through the night — but he always had his nights and days mixed up when he was a baby.”
Born Tyson Jay Ritter on April 24, 1984, his mother said she had no indication she was raising a rock star.
“I thought maybe an actor — the class clown,” Rains said of her son who came home from the first grade and assured his mom that his teacher really liked him a lot since she had moved his desk right next to hers on the very first day of class. He always liked to be the center of attention as the family’s middle child with an older brother, Zach, a dentist, and a younger sister, Bailey, who is at the end of adolescence and wondering about a world of opportunities. They all graduated from Stillwater High School as did Rains, a Pioneer in the class of 1981.
“We made Ty promise to come back and walk with his graduating class, too,” Rains said. “He was always in talent shows usually the emcee though. He played sports and was in the student council, too, and took some violin at the school when he was younger.”
Ritter was an AC/DC fan and gravitated towards rock music. After attending a birthday party where Nick Wheeler played in a band, Ritter aspired to be part of Wheeler’s crew. Ritter learned that Wheeler was looking for a new guitar player so he boldly told him that he could play the guitar — but in truth, he had only learned to read music playing in a school orchestra class. Ritter’s parents got him a guitar for Christmas and he stayed inside the entire holiday break to learn to play well enough to join up with Wheeler’s group. MTV was popular so Ritter would jump on the table in his pajamas and pretend to be a rock star. With Wheeler’s passion for 1980’s rock like Def Leppard and Bon Jovi, the two meshed well together, cowriting songs with various other friends playing with them. The group had other members such as Jesse Tabish who has gone on to success with another band, Other Lives. Nick Wheeler’s dad, Terry Wheeler, and Ritter’s grandfather, Tony Lyons, knew each other in the Kiwanis Club so the families didn’t mind them spending so much time together. The band would practice in a garage where Ritter’s dad worked because the acoustics were good in the automotive stalls. To get experience, the group would play anywhere — at birthday parties, in the parking lot of Costumes, Balloons & Stuff dressed in Halloween costumes, behind Colonial Florist on the Strip — wherever they could get a gig, they took it as a chance to hone their skills.
“Those kids worked hard — playing at any place they could,” Rains said.
She said her son seemed to have a gift as he picked up playing a piece after hearing it a couple of times. But, Rains still fretted “you just want them to get an education. A lot of people sing really good. A lot of people don’t get discovered — and they’re all gifted. You worry and want your kids to go college — do better than what you’ve done.”
Rains said the family worked hard to make a living and with grandparents, great-grandparents and cousins close by, the entire village helped raise her kids.
“Oklahomans work hard,” she said. “When you work for what you got, you appreciate it more.”
Ritter did some jobs at Dearinger’s Printing, along with changing flats and picking up golf balls at a local course. She did worry that sometimes “Ty wasn’t working because he insisted he had to practice — he was very determined.”
The band made demos and sent them to everyone they could find in the music industry in hopes of being discovered. A bored 16-year-old receptionist working at Doghouse Records for the summer in New York started to listen to some demos she fished out of the trash — and was startled to hear Ritter’s and Wheeler’s work. She loved it so much, she persuaded the label owner — who was also her uncle — to call the two on the “rejected” discs.
When Mike Kennerty and Chris Gaylor were added to the band, the group officially became the All American Rejects. In the beginning, it all didn’t seem real to Rains as “Ty was just gone after signing with the record label but I was getting gas one day and ‘Swing, Swing’ started to play and it dawned on me — my kid is on the radio.” The hit single was part of the All American Rejects debut album in 2003.
She also realized the intensity of their fame when the band played at the Diamond Ballroom and there was a line out the door and down the street to purchase All American Rejects merchandise.
“I hadn’t seen Ty for six months, but the girls were beating a path to him making his little sister cry, THAT’S MY BUBBA,” Rains said. “Girls were all over him — and wow, all the kids knew the words to the songs and were singing along.”
Their second album, “Move Along” in 2005 produced three hit singles, “It Ends Tonight,” “Dirty Little Secret,” and “Move Along.” Hits have followed on their third and fourth albums, selling more than 10 million worldwide. But his mom’s all time favorite is “The Last Song” which the band played on the last night she was on the tour.
“Ty mentioned on stage that I was on the tour with the band and the crowd starting yelling “mum, mum, mum!” Rains said. “I finally had to go out on stage with Ty — the crowd was so loud — but it’s my favorite song.”
Written about a year gone and “dream’s beginning as the time rolls on,” “The Last Song” is often requested at proms and graduations inquiring “can you hear me smiling when I sing this song, for you and only you?”
After a standing ovation, it was the end of his mother’s adventures with the band, and Ritter tweeted, “Just dropped off ‘mums’ as everyone was calling her by the last day of (the) tour. Gonna miss her. What a gal.”
Rains cherished the one-on-one time on the trip of a lifetime with her son. When he comes home, he house-hops to see everybody so there’s not much quality time. She said it was probably the first time in the past ten years of his whirlwind career that she has spent so much time alone with him — and she enjoyed seeing what life was like on the road for a rock star. Her son will soon begin another new journey in his life with his engagement to actress Elana Satine.
The band continues to tour promoting their “Kids in the Street” album with Ritter embracing his mom through cyberspace tweeting a Mother’s Day message in John Lennon’s words:
“Love is a promise,
Love is a souvenir,
once given never forgotten
never let it disappear . . .
love ya mom.”