Lee Ritenour Interview
He's a musician's musician. One of the truly talented and gifted artists in the music world today. He's Lee Ritenour. Lee first made a name for himself in the 70's by appearing on records made by Paul Anka, Glen Campbell, Cher, Johnny Mathis, Judy Collins, and Barbara Streisand. In 1977 and 1978 he was voted Best Studio Guitarist by Guitar Player Magazine.
As the 70"s came to a close, and the 80's began, Lee Ritenour was not only in the charts, but at the top of the charts. Lee's latest release is titled "Festival" (GRP Records Inc.)
Q - Lee, you kind of disappeared for a while didn't you? In the early 80's when you were on Elektra Asylum Records I recall hearing a lot about you, then nothing. What happened between you and Elektra Asylum?
A - Well, I'm not sure what period you're talking about 'cause as far as I know I've never disappeared. (Laughs). It just depends on what kind of music you're talking about following. After I had that hit with "Is It You"?, all the administration changed over at Electra and the entire Co. changed hands. So, me and Patricia Rushen, Grover Washington, all the people that were sort of in their jazz oriented bag-- Bob Krasnow just didn't have any like for that kind of music. So, we just got lost under his shuffle. And, that was enough of that.
Q - What can a smaller label like GRP offer you?
A - Obviously, a lot of personal attention. If you wanted to make hit records, via Michael Jackson or something like that, you're at the wrong record Co. If you want to make the music I do, and have the freedom to do anything you want and know that basically you have the ability to sell a smaller area, but very aggressively within that arena, then, it's a fantastic Co.
Q - Your success is strictly based on your musical ability. How do you feel about musicians who can't play as well as you can, but achieve success through some kind of gimmick? Does that bother you?
A - No. Not really. It all comes around. You don't last in the music business 30-40 years on a gimmick. So every one of those musicians that has a gimmick, usually a highly skilled professional like myself sees it right off the bat. And you go, that’s gonna last maybe 2-3 years at best. Sometimes it lasts a little longer, sometimes a little less. And then, you never hear from those people again. Sometimes you even find out they got out of music altogether. If you want to be a musician all your life, you can't last on a gimmick. Usually the lowest common denominator in this country is the thing that gets shoved down people's throats and there's a certain class of people that look for that thing that is beyond the average. They look for something better. That population is a minority in any part of the world. When people come up to me and say, "Boy, we really love your music," you know where it’s coming from. It's not some 13 year old girl that comes up to you and says she loves you because you're cute.
Q - Do you keep up with the other guitarists that are out there?
A - Oh sure. I follow everybody.
Q - What do you think of Joe Satriani?
A - Very interesting. I've listened to his record. In fact, I think he came to my concert at the Montreaux Jazz Festival, this last summer, in July, but he couldn't get backstage. His whole band was there. The music is very primitive. As far as what he plays, it's kind of limiting. The sort of expression he gets out of Rock 'n Roll guitar is kind of the cumulation of all the current crop of guitar players. So, I'd say if you want to go hear the current state of the art of Rock 'n Roll guitar playing, you'd probably go listen to him.
Q - If you were born any other place than L.A., do you think you would've had a harder time breakin' into the business?
A - Oh, it's possible, yeah. I think it's easier to be born in a city like New York or a city like L.A. than to be born someplace else, and then have to move to the big city and deal with all those problems. It's one more obstacle, obviously that can make you tougher. I was fortunate that I grew up with a lot of kids that ended up being professionals later. The best teachers were out here, and obviously the best technical equipment. So, I took advantage of all that stuff. It helped me a lot. Los Angeles is a hard city to deal with, 'cause it's so big and so spread out. Musicians don't know where to go. It really isn't a city. It's a bunch of suburbs.
Q - Did you like studio work?
A - Very much so. That's what I was trained to do in the beginning. I never thought I'd have an artist’s career. Studio work was something I held in very high esteem, ever since I was a teenager. So, I started doing demos when I was in my teens, working on a couple of record dates. As I got into my 20's, I broke into a few more, and it just began to snowball, and it worked out. It became limiting after awhile because I realized I wanted to have a style of my own. I didn't want to play everybody else's style. Studio guitar playing, studio anything, is somebody who can play every kind of style, every kind of music. When you reach the top of the studio work, there's no where to go, except to buy a boat, and kick back. I wanted to keep growing, so I had to move away from the studio work to do that.
Q - A few years back "Rolling Stone" reported that the best studio musicians were killing themselves through over work, and drugs. To keep up with the pace some musicians would turn to cocaine. I won't ask about the drugs, but is it true that if you're a studio musician, and you get a call from a well-known producer, you're almost obligated to accept the work, for fear the phone will never ring again?
A - Those were only the guys that were paranoid, that had that attitude. The "A" cream of the crop, the better ones, the ones that were always confident about what they brought to a record, and where their place was, as far as their ability, and also we're not slaves to studio work, never got into that trap. The drug thing was no better, no worse than any other person or musician on the planet. Usually, people get into drugs because of personal problems, and not because of some stupid pressure of being a studio musician. If that were the case, then all the heart surgeons of the world would be stoned on cocaine, while they're operating. That's a lot more pressure than being a studio player.
Q- You love Brazil and say "The Brazilians really unlocked a lot of feeling inside me." What kind of feelings are you talking about?
A - The people from North America and that includes me, don't tend to open up as much as the Latin American people, and specifically the Brazilians. Their love of music and life and feelings are more wrapped up than it is with Americans. You know, we're more closed down as a society. We're more European. The Brazilians have a sort of European upbringing 'cause they have a lot of European influence in their culture and yet they have this Latin American Spanish kind of heritage that gives them a lot of warmth, as far as feelings -hugging, kissing, expressing themselves. This kind of thing. And it comes out in their music, in their people, in every aspect of their life. I've been attracted to just that whole embodiment, just to kind of live life a little more like that.
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