An Interview with Lee Ritenour
Tributes and More Tributes
by Mark Ruffin
It would be easy to assume that Lee Ritenour came up with the idea of his “A Twist of Marley” tribute album as a sequel to his highly successful “A Twist of Jobim,” from 1997. That Jobim tribute band didn’t tour, but Ritenour is touring with his “Twist of Marley,” band, featuring Gerald Albright, Patti Austin, Jonathan Butler and Phil Perry all of this month..
Actually the guitarist first planned a tribute album to Bob Marley & the Wailers nearly ten years ago. Somehow that project turned into a Wes Montgomery tribute album titled, “Wes Bound.”
“Wes Bound,” was the seed for this record,” Ritenour remembered. “At that time, in ’92, I was seriously thinking about doing a tribute to Bob Marley. I started to work on it, but I couldn’t quite put the picture together, and the gear changed, and I ended up doing “Wes Bound.””
That Montgomery tribute album featured five tunes written by the late great guitarist, four by Ritenour, and the seemingly out of place, “Waiting In Vain,” by Bob Marley and featuring vocalist Maxi Priest.
“That was the one song I couldn’t resist holding over, and it took this long for the rest of the album to come to fruition. The man upstairs, Mr. Bob, wouldn’t let it go, he wanted this album done.”
In fact, Ritenour insists that on many occasions, he felt an otherworldly presence pushing him to complete the Marley tribute. He also repeatedly compared the experience to producing a film where it may take years for the right script to come together with the right stars and director.
“I’d work on “A Twist of Marley,” then work on business and other projects, then come back to it, and then go do something else,” Ritenour said Not long after the “Wes Bound,” record, Ritenour, along with the publisher of Jazziz Magazine, decided to start a record company called i.e. music, which delayed the Marley project again. The company put most of their eggs into another all-star tribute project, “A Twist of Jobim,” in honor of Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos-Jobim.
“Marley’s music kept grabbing me, but I could never get the complete picture on how I could crossover his stuff until after I did “A Twist of Jobim,” ” Ritenour remembered. “With Jobim’s music I began to feel more comfortable taking another composers music and playing with it and evolving it for the style I represent.”
He was progressing on the album when he was delayed as the record world shook in 1999 and Universal Records bought Polygram. Being in partnership with the latter, after dumping the former, i.e. music was sold but still survives.
After the legal maneuverings were over, he felt the force of Bob Marley.
“I felt some kind of wave with this album, ” Ritenour related “It had legs, a force of its own, and once it got flowing it was so natural. Every artist on the record happened to be in L.A. when I thought about asking him or her to record.
“Once it started to click, it just clicked so easily, I kept laughing. I remember saying I think Mr. Marley wants some jazz and r&b on his songs.”
Ritenour began most of the work using real samples of Marley tracks, separating certain instruments and blending them with his. He eventually took all the samples off and replaced them with live musicians, with one exception. The horns, guitar and organ that open the first song, the anthem “Exodus,” are lifted from Marley and the Wailers original version.
Among the guests on the album are Albright, Perry, Michael Brecker, Will Downing , Jonathan Butler, Patti Austin and many others.
“I didn’t want to do a straight up and down pop or r&b record of his material, because that’s not who I am or who I represent, ” Ritenour commented. “At the same time, there was no way I could chase the Wailers, and there was no point in trying to do that.”