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Lee Ritenour Biography

Home > Music > R > Ritenour, Lee > Biography

Born: 1952/01/11
Birth Place: Los Angeles, California
Years Active: 1975 - present
Genres: Jazz, Jazz Fusion, Progressive Rock

Lee Ritenour (born January 11, 1952) is an American jazz guitarist who has recorded over 42 albums, appeared on over 3000 sessions, and has charted over 30 instrumental and vocal contemporary jazz hits since 1976. Throughout his career, Ritenour has experimented with different styles of music. A true fusionist, he has often incorporated elements of funk, pop, rock, blues, Brazilian and classical music with jazz. In the early 1980s, Ritenour was given his own Ibanez signature model guitar, the LR-10. The LR-10 was produced from 1981 to 1987.

Ritenour's solo career began in 1975 with the recording of his album “First Course.” Released in 1976, the album gave a strong representation of the mid-1970s L.A. jazz/funk sound. Ritenour's strongly crossover-based follow up, “Captain Fingers” followed in 1977. This was followed by two more crossover efforts – “The Captain's Journey” in 1978 and “Feel The Night” in 1979. On these albums, Ritenour primarily used something of a rich, yet rock-oriented distorted guitar sound, coming from his Gibson ES-335 guitar. In other instances on these albums, clean sounds were heard coming from his Gibson L5 and classical acoustic guitars.

In the 1970s, Ritenour would often use effects like wah-wah, phasers, chorus, and flangers on his electric instruments. Also, during the late 1970s, Ritenour can be heard using the 360 Systems guitar synthesizer. He can be heard using the synthesizer on the title track “Captain Fingers,” and can also be heard playing solo with the synthesizer on the song “What Do You Want?” from “The Captain's Journey.” In 1979, Ritenour "was brought in to beef up one of Pink Floyd's “The Wall's” heaviest rock numbers, “Run Like Hell.” He also played uncredited rhythm guitar on "One Of My Turns".

As the 1980s began, Ritenour began to add stronger elements of pop to his music, beginning with “Rit” in 1981. For this, he kept with his distorted sound, now using his Ibanez LR-10 signature model guitar. One of tracks from “Rit,” entitled, “Is It You” featuring vocals from Eric Tagg became a hit reaching #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart and number #27 on the Soul chart. He continued with the pop-oriented music for his next two albums “Rit/2” in 1982 and “Banded Together” in 1984, while releasing a slick, yet more crossover-styled, instrumental album in 1983 called “On The Line.”

In 1985, he recorded his first album for GRP with Dave Grusin, entitled “Harlequin.” It featured Ritenour primarily on his classical acoustic guitar and also featured Brazilian singer/songwriter Ivan Lins. The following year, Ritenour released the album “Earth Run,” which featured him using the then-newly designed SynthAxe guitar. He used nine different guitars on the album, most notably the SynthAxe, his Valley Arts guitar, and his Gibson Chet Atkins acoustic. The album also featured long-time collaborator Phil Perry for the first time, on the track “If I'm Dreaming, Don't Wake Me,” a song also featuring David Foster and Maurice White.

Ritenour continued in a direction strongly featuring other artists in 1987, with “Portrait.” The album itself has something of a strong smooth-jazz sound, and Ritenour can be heard here playing with The Yellowjackets, Djavan and Kenny G. In 1988, his smooth jazz-influenced Brazilian music came to the forefront with “Festival,” another album strongly featuring his work on nylon-string acoustic guitars. The following album, 1989’s “Color Rit,” continued with a similar mood. He did however, change direction completely again with his 1990 straight-ahead jazz album “Stolen Moments.” Sounding similar to Wes Montgomery, Ritenour played alongside long-time collaborator, saxophonist Ernie Watts, pianist Alan Broadbent, bassist John Patitucci (playing only acoustic) and drummer Harvey Mason. Continuing in a Wes Montgomery mood, Ritenour paid tribute to the man himself in 1992, with his album “Wes Bound.” The album featured a number of covers of Montgomery compositions, as well as some seemingly tributary pieces from Ritenour himself.

In 1991 Ritenour, together with keyboard player Bob James, formed the Grammy-nominated contemporary jazz group Fourplay. Ritenour left the hugely successful group in 1998 to continue with his own solo works. He was replaced by Larry Carlton. 2002 saw the release of his album, “Rit's House.”

In February 2004, Ritenour completed a project looking back on his career involving musicians he has worked with throughout his career called “Overtime.” Recorded live in a studio in front of a small audience, it was released in early 2005. Some of the musicians featured include Dave Grusin, Patrice Rushen, Harvey Mason, Alex Acuna, Taylor Dayne, Nathan East, Chris Botti, Anthony Jackson, Melvin Lee Davis, and Ernie Watts, among many others.

His album entitled “Smoke n' Mirrors” was released in late August 2006. His son Wesley made his debut appearance as a drummer on the album at the age of 13. This album also contained Ritenour's version of Bill Withers' 1978 hit, “Lovely Day.”

In June 2010, in order to celebrate his 50 years as a guitarist, Ritenour released the album “6 String Theory.” The album featured famous guitarists such as Steve Lukather, Neal Schon, John Scofield, Slash, Pat Martino, Mike Stern, George Benson and B.B.King, but also younger players such as Andy McKee, Joe Robinson and Guthrie Govan. His next LP, “Rhythm Session,” was issued on Concord Records in 2012.