Anatomy of THE Groove: “Countdown (Captain Fingers)” by Lee Ritenour

Lee Ritenour is an excellent example of a musician who functioned equally as strong as both a session player and as a soloist. The LA guitar maestro began his session career in in 1968 playing on a Mama’s & The Papa’s section at age 16. His dexterous,often fluttering sound earned him the name Captain Fingers by the early 70’s. He continued to do session work for artists such as George Duke before launching his solo career in 1976. For the next four or five years, he continued with his session work (most popularly for Pink Floyd for their album The Wall) and releasing solo records in the Brazilian flavored jazz-funk vein.

In 1981 Ritenour released his album Rit,which added a strong pop focus and vocals than even before. The song “Is It You?”,with singer Eric Tagg,was actually part of the first rotation of music videos to be aired on the then very new MTV. Of course with other session greats who enjoyed popular acclaim such as Greg Phillinganes,Jeff Porcoro and the late Louis Johnson the album represented a turning point in the turning point from jazz-funk into what would become known as smooth jazz. One of its most defining and distinctive songs to me on the album is “Countdown (Captain Fingers)”.

A round synth riser opens the song. This segues directly into the songs intro-which also acts as its bridge. This finds Ritenour playing a bassy chugging rhythm guitar with flourishes of a higher pitched melodic line along with think slap bass lines. Combined with percussive drumming it has a strong Brazilian flavor. On the choruses,the synths play an ascending melody with a Vocorder-ized vocal chorus as the bassy chugging continues. After a few bars of this chorus/refrain exchange,the album outro’s on a melodically virtuosic duet between Ritenour’s guitar sustains and the synthesizers before it fades out.

Each time I hear “Countdown (Captain Fingers)”,it becomes apparent what an ingenious song this actually is. Its Afro Brazilian rhythmic and melodic flavor is seamlessly connected to the West Coast sophistfunk/jazz-pop vibe of the songs main melodic theme.  Especially fitting is the outro where the music’s general volume lowers and the wooden percussion clavs become the main rhythm element of the song. In terms of almost flawlessly blending Brazilian fusion,jazz funk and West Coast pop elements this jam almost epitomizes the general American musical atmosphere of the early 80’s.

 

 

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