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Lee Ritenour

Lee Ritenour Broadens His Airplay Horizons

What would you call a highly acclaimed guitarist who quits doing lucrative session work to concentrate on his own music? If said musician happens to be Lee Ritenour, you’d say the move was very smart.

Ritenour has carved a niche for himself as one of the most highly acclaimed jazz guitarists in the country. His session work throughout the ‘70s reads like a Who’s Who of music royalty. The list includes Barbara Streisand, Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Diana Ross and the Pointer Sisters to name but a few. His guitar work can be found on hundreds of recordings, if not thousands.

Nicknamed Captain Fingers because of his manual dexterity with the guitar, Ritenour released his first album in 1975. As the 1980s began, the Los Angeles native began to add stronger elements of pop to his sound, beginning with Rit in 1981. One of tracks from this recording, "Is It You" featuring vocals from Eric Tagg, became a hit on both the pop and R&B charts.

“Eric’s vocals added a great deal to my music,” explained the guitarist. “When you add vocals to a piece of music, you add a lot of commercial viability. A lot of people who couldn’t get into my instrumental compositions really picked up on this song because of the vocal component.”

“Radio in the U.S. is so closed these days. I was touring the country, stopping in at radio stations to promote Rit, and I heard the same thing from a lot of program directors. They were glad that they finally had something of mine they could play. It turned out that a lot of them had enjoyed my music for a long time, but they couldn’t get it on the air.”

Ritenour continued with the pop-oriented music on his next album, Rit 2. Only problem was his record company, Elektra, had other ideas. They delayed the release of his new album in order to rerelease a 1979 recording of an album the guitarist had recorded strictly for the Japanese market.

"I have a separate recording contract,” he said, “with a company in Japan. in fact, I have recorded five albums in Japan. Rio was recorded in 1979, and I play acoustic guitar only on the album. I had an agreement with Elektra, my parent company in the States, that these albums would be available in this country only as imports. But, they liked the music so much they went ahead and released it on their Elektra Musician label.

"It fooled a lot of people apparently, into thinking it was my next album, but they listened to it and most of them were pleasantly surprised. It was a very nice album, quite a bit different from Rit, and I enjoyed it a lot. It sold very well too, and that was a pleasant surprise."

The delayed album was finally released in December 1982 and it included the same musicians who made his previous effort a hit. 

"I'm very proud of the new record," replied Lee. "I was very involved with both the songwriting and production. I wrote or co-wrote every song on the album. One of the tracks on the album, by the way, was recorded by Olivia Newton-John and will be on her upcoming greatest hits album."

Ritenour has also done some interesting new work as of late. There is a note of pride in his voice as he recounts his work on a recent soundtrack that was released.

"When they were doing the love scenes from An Officer and a Gentleman,” offered Ritenour, “they were using some of my music as 'temp' music, music to give the orchestrator an idea what sort of mood to set for the scene. Then they came to me and asked if I could incorporate and expand some of the themes already written and compose music for the love scenes. I did, and it turned out real well."

In the near future, Ritenour hopes to do some more film work. Already, Paramount Pictures is searching for a full feature film for the musician to score, and there are plans to record a live album in 1983.

Fresh off a tour from Asia, Captain Fingers will be taking his act on the road in this country soon.