In the realm of musical versatility, few can surpass guitarist Lee Ritenour. A master at merging fusion, funk, jazz, classical, rock and blues, his passion for diverse genres has yielded a remarkable 45 solo albums. Credited with numerous jazz hits, he is the recipient of an impressive collection of well-deserved music industry honors and awards. Heralded as one of the greatest guitarists of our time, Ritenour is regarded as a pioneer among the music elite.
“When I was growing up, I loved jazz, rock, blues, classical, acoustic — almost every kind of guitar playing you could imagine,” said Ritenour. “That versatility worked out for my career ‘cause I kept changing, sometimes to the frustration of my audience, but I kept moving and changing and staying fresh with different idioms of music. In those 45 albums you’ll see quite a bit of variety. That has kept me fresh and kept me growing.”
A native of Los Angeles, California, Ritenour’s first recording session, in 1968 at age 16, was with The Mamas and the Papas. By the mid 70s, Ritenour became a highly sought after session guitarist. He worked with such luminaries as Aretha Franklin, Simon and Garfunkel, Dizzy Gillespie, Steely Dan, Tony Bennett and Pink Floyd, a list indicative of Ritenour’s musical diversity. In 1975 he made his solo recording debut with “First Course,” the first of dozens of musical masterpieces to follow.
Ritenour’s ability to cross over a variety of musical genres earned him the unexpected distinction of a pair of music videos for his songs “Is It You” and “Mr. Briefcase,” which were aired during the 1981 inaugural broadcast of MTV.
In celebration of 50 years as a guitarist, Ritenour released his “6 String Theory” album in 2010. The album featured appearances by John Scofield, Pat Martino, Mike Stern, George Benson and Slash. “6 String Theory” earned numerous honors, including Guitar Album of the Year (Guitar International Magazine); The Number 1 of the Best 50 Guitar Albums of the Year (Guitarist Magazine); and an Echo Award in Germany for Best International Instrumentalist. In addition, Guitar Player Magazine paid homage to Ritenour with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
In cooperation with Yamaha Corporation, The Berklee College of Music, Concord records, Monster Cable and D’Addario guitar strings, Ritenour launched the “6 String Theory Guitar Competition,” which is now in it’s fourth year. (Artists may register at www.www.stringtheory.com.)
“It’s a way for me to give back to some younger players that are trying to make a mark for themselves,” says Ritenour. “To mentor and give to the generations that are coming up now. It’s just ridiculous the amount of talent that is floating around out there. It’s a great way for them to test where they’re at musically. It’s turned out to be a wonderful thing.”
With his critically acclaimed 2012 album “Rhythm Sessions” (his latest studio endeavor), Ritenour has begun the tedious task of formulating a follow-up.
“I’m just in the ramping up stages of the new album, planning the concept and putting the pieces together,” said Ritenour. “I’m at the bottom of the ground looking at the top of the mountain saying, ‘Oh my God that’s a very high mountain.’ That’s something I feel every time I start an album. By the time I get through conceptualizing and composing and then I get into the studio, the rest of it from there on out is a piece of cake. It’s the initial part that’s challenging. I will be making the record this year. I’m not sure if we’ll put it out this year or the first quarter of next year.”
“The guitar winner in the 6 String Theory Guitar Competition will get to play a track on the record,” Ritenour said. “Last year the rhythm section winners got to play a track on my “Rhythm Sessions” album. So that’s something that’s ongoing for these people. You get on a record where you’re being treated like a total pro with the best studio and the best players around you. Again, it’s a way to measure your own abilities. The only insurance policy a musician has is music education. The better you can be on your instrument — composing, arranging, writing, playing, producing — the more weapons you have and the longer you’re going to last in this business. You’ve got to stay humble.”
A seasoned veteran in the recording studio, Ritenour and his band are finding the rewards of performing live more gratifying than ever.
“My job as a musician is to really move people and make them smile,” says Ritenour. “To transcend wherever they’ve been in their life that day or that week and get to another place where they’re hearing their favorite song. We have a lot of fun on stage. I really like to interact with my band — that’s my whole thing. I like featuring my band and what they do well. So I try to bring the best out in my players and connect with my audience.”
By Rob Nagy
21st Century Media News Service