DECEMBER 24th 2013
JAKE E. LEE EXCLUSIVE
By Ruben Mosqueda
Guitarist Jake E. Lee burst onto the rock/metal world when he secured the guitar slot in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. Up to that point Lee had been a part of an early incarnations of Ratt and Rough Cutt; Lee went on to record two albums with Osbourne “Bark at the Moon’ and ‘The Ultimate Sin.’ He was unceremoniously dismissed by Osbourne’s band via telegram by Ozzy’s manager--Sharon Osbourne. Lee pressed forward and together with former Black Sabbath singer the late Ray Gillen, former Black Sabbath drummer Eric Singer and Greg Chaisson on bass; they formed Badlands. Badlands released three records their critically acclaimed debut ‘Badlands,’ ‘Voodoo Highway,’ and ‘Dusk’ respectively. When Badlands disbanded Lee went into a self-imposed seclusion. There were a couple of ripples with stints with Mandy Lion in Wicked Alliance and then The Bourgeois Pigs which was formed by guitarist Michael Guy (formerly of House of Lords) and singer Richard Black (formerly of Shark Island).
Throughout the years there had been many rumors about Jake. The most common was that Jake was hooked on drugs and that he was on a downward spiral which he could not rebound from. Lee adamantly denies this. He states that he simply didn’t ‘feel’ like playing. Fast forward to 2012 when Jake was encouraged by friends bassist Ronnie Mancuso and producer Kevin Churko began to ‘work’ on Jake to get back to making music. Along the way Lee felt inspired and began work on what would become music for his new band Red Dragon Cartel. The band was signed to Frontiers Records and are on the verge of issuing their self-titled debut. The band consists of Lee, bassist Ronnie Mancuso, drummer Jonas Fairley and singer Darren Smith.
Unless you’ve been residing under a rock for the past month you‘re aware that Jake and Red Dragon Cartel played their debut show at L.A.’s Whisky A-Go-Go and it turned ‘disastrous’ for Darren Smith which in turn reflected negatively on Red Dragon Cartel. “There’s no point in dwelling on that (show). It was what it was. The good thing is that we’ll never do a show that bad again. We’ve gotten that out of the way!” says an enthusiastic Lee from the site of Red Dragon Cartel’s next gig in Las Vegas. MetalTitans had an opportunity to chat with Jake on the eve of Red Dragon Cartel’s sophomore performance.
MetalTitans: The first Red Dragon Cartel show reminds me of a football team that has prepared for the game, they come out and they get out scored. Not what they envisioned in the preparation leading up to the game.
Jake E. Lee: That’s a good analogy. Then the head coach is going to get criticized...well for everything! (laughs) People are like ‘what was he thinking?!’ That’s a good analogy. I like that.
MetalTitans: In the footage that I have seen from the Whisky---you look to be having fun. That sets the tone for future shows leading to the release of the album.
Jake E. Lee: Despite the difficulties we had the night of the first show we’re still having fun. It’s been a long time since I played in that big of a crowd. While Darren might have not won over a lot of fans that night everytime I looked out into the audience and locked eye with someone they look at me and scream “I love you Jake!” I was still having a great time.
MetalTitans: How’d the name come about? What’s the story behind that? Sounds inspired by the mafia?
Jake E. Lee: (laughs) Let me think of a good story. I think it was Kevin Churko’s idea he came into the studio. He said something like “I always liked cartel. Jake’s half japanese? How about Dragon Cartel?” From there on it was Dragon Cartel then somebody said ‘Black Dragon Cartel.’ There’s so many ‘black’ named bands there’s a million on them. We went through the whole color range looking for the right one and the cool thing is if we decided to do a blues record we could be the Blues Dragon Cartel or if we decide to do a Black Sabbath tribute we can be the Black Dragon Cartel or if we do EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival) we could be the Rainbow Dragon Cartel! (laughs)
MetalTitans: The Red Dragon Cartel album definitely needs several listens and it grows on you with each listen.I like the sequencing you put your best foot forward with “Deceived,” “Shout it Out,” and “Feeder.” I don’t know if that was initially the thought but “Deceived” to me is the track that would appeal instantly to the ‘Jake era Ozzy Osbourne.’ I like the furious Jake E. Lee trademark riff that opens the track.
Jake E. Lee: Yeah, that (“Deceived”) was the last some we wrote for the record but it’s also very “Bark at the Moon” sounding. I remember I was in the studio and I heard “Bark at the Moon.” I hadn’t heard it in a long time it has a very distinct riff to it. I hadn’t written a song like that since. I wanted to write a song that was reminiscent of “Bark at the Moon.”
The feedback that I’ve heard from people that have the album is that there are songs that grab you right away; “Deceived,” “Feeder,” and maybe “Shout it Out.” There are songs that start growing on you that you might have glossed over at first listen. I am happy that the record is like that--people will listen to it multiple times and think ‘Oh, I really listen to that song and now I really like it.’ It’s one of those kind of records I think.
MetalTitans: There’s a lot of variety on this record. LIke you stated “Deceived” has the trademark Jake E. Lee riff where you plagiarized yourself, “Shout it Out,” has a killer chorus and is a more contemporary rock track, I love “Big Mouth” another modern rock track featuring Maria Brink of In This Moment. I also enjoy “Slave” it starts off one way then explodes into the huge almost neo-classical riff.
Jake E. Lee: It’s interesting that you mention that one. It starts off in a way that you think that it’s going to be a ‘metal’ song then it veers into this almost rock-a-billy vibe but it all works well together.
MetalTitans: I think at this point most of the readers have checked out or are aware of “Feeder” which was released earlier. The track features (Robin) Zander on vocals. There’s a track titled “Wasted” which features former Iron Maiden singer Paul DiAnno---that’s really an incredible track. How did you get DiAnno to sing on that?
Jake E. Lee: That’s interesting. If you can believe this I haven’t even met him! (laughs) We were trying to select singers to sing on some tracks and we couldn’t think of anyone. I did think of Steven Tyler as my first choice but he’s not going to do it! (laughs) Listen even if he knows I am he’s not doing it---he’s a pretty busy guy. So we’re trying to figure out who we could get to sing it. Brent Fitz (drummer) walked into the studio and just stood there casually listening to the track and said “Paul DiAnno.” I thought that was weird because I hadn’t even heard his name in what seemed to be like 25 years. I looked at him with this outstanished look and said “Where in the world did you come up with that name?” Again in a casual manner said “I was listening to some early (Iron) Maiden on my way over here.” (laughs)
I love Iron Maiden, but the early stuff with Iron Maiden is more punk and violent sounding to me. I love those records the best. It was a great choice I think and it was totally because of (Brent) Fitz. We put word on the internet that we were looking to find him. We eventually found him and we asked him if he would be interested in singing on the record. He asked for us to send him the tracks. So we did and he liked it. He sang on it and sent it back. I think he sounds great on that. I never met the guy but I hope to at some point to thank him for doing this personally.
MetalTitans: What’s the story behind you getting Robin Zander to sing on “Feeder?”
Jake E. Lee: That was the first song that Ronnie (Mancuso) and I finished. We were listening to the song Ron was singing the melody. I had to add that Ron he’s a shitty singer! (laughs) He really is a terrible singer! (laughs) It’s hard to listen to him sing! So we listened to it and it was obvious that we had to get a singer right away. I said “I don’t know how we’d do it but I think Robin Zander would sound amazing on this song.” Ron said “I know Tom Peterson, he’s a friend of mine. Why don’t I call him up?” I was all for that. So we sent Robin the track and he loved it. He sang on it in Florida where he was at the time. Ron got the vocal tracks and mixed them here in the studio and called me to come down to the studio to listen to it. When I got to the studio and listened to Robin Zander, Tom Peterson, and Jeremy Spencer from Five Finger Death Punch playing together on one track that I had written like a week before-- I knew I missed it. It made me feel alive and excited that was a pivotal moment for me.
Up to that point it was very noncommittal on my part. Ron and (producer) Kevin Churko asked if I’d be interested in working on something. At that point I really wasn’t. I was really content; I had a good run with Ozzy (Osbourne) and Badlands. I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. At this point it had been so many years since I had done anything that I thought “Who is going to give a shit?!” I was content with where I was in my life and I was noncommittal. They asked me to come in a write a song and see how it went. We wrote that song then we got Zander on the track and when I heard that I said “Yes count me in.”
MetalTitans: Surely during the time that you were in early retirement from music you must have had knowledge of people’s interest in want to know about your whereabouts? It wasn’t that uncommon to read on message boards threads with the heading ‘Where’s Jake E. Lee?’
Jake E. Lee: I would occasionally Google my name to look for the latest rumors about me because it was very amusing. (laughs) I read all kinds of stuff. I was a cripple, I remember that I was now walking around with a cane. I was homeless and I was sleeping at my friend’s guitar shop because I had nowhere to go! (laughs) It was funny. It really cracked me up. It was great to be able to do that.
MetalTitans: You have launched Red Dragon Cartel you have a couple shows under your belts and you have a show tomorrow in your hometown Las Vegas. I saw some dates rolling out for next year that run through the spring. I saw you’re playing Japan too.
Jake E. Lee: Yeah, I’m looking forward to playing but just today I received a bunch of notices on upcoming dates and it looks like they’re trying to kill me! (laughs) There’s like 4-5 shows in row where they are hundreds of miles apart. It’s like performing, loading up and head to the next gig to do sound check. I actually need to talk to my booking agent to see what going on. I don’t know what I could have done to piss him off?! (laughs)
MetalTitans: Getting back to the “Big Mouth” track with Maria (Brink) on it that was no doubt as a direct result of the connection with Kevin Churko and you having played on the last In This Moment record. That a modern sounding track. It’s got a lot of electronic beat to it that’s on the verge of industrial rock.
Jake E. Lee: Yeah, I played a solo on their record. You’re right that probably is the most modern sounding song but it’s actually the oldest song. That’s from the mid-90s when I got into computers and that particular tracks is about 17 years old. The actual guitar tracks that open that song were taken from my computer. Those tracks that you hear on that song are 17-18 years old but at the same time they sound like something new.
MetalTitans: Sounds 2013 to me.
Jake E. Lee: I was ahead of my time! (laughs)
MetalTitans: The record is very eclectic “War Machine” is a straight up metal track with a Sabbath influenced riff. Then you have a blues track like “Redeem Me” which features vocals from Sass Jordan. How did you get her to sing on the track?
Jake E. Lee: Yeah she was touring with her band S.U.N. and they had a gig in Las Vegas. They did their sound check and they went out to get something to eat; there’s a restaurant next to the studio. They are all friends with--there’s his name again Brent Fitz. So they invited him down to the restaurant they are eating and Sass had never heard of Badlands before. Brian (Tichy) is a huge Badlands fan and was constantly playing Badlands on the tour bus. Sass eventually said “Who the hell is this?! They are great!” Brian says “It’s Badlands. This is from like 20 years ago! Where have you been?!” (laughs) So this came up during dinner and Fitz says “I don’t know if you know this but Jake’s next door recording his new record?” So he brought her over and she told how she’d become a Badlands fan within the pat two weeks. It just seemed natural to ask her to sing on one of the songs so we played her “Redeem Me” and she said “Give me that. I’ll sing the shit out of that!” (laughs) And she did!
MetalTitans: You picked an interesting way of closing the record with “Exquisite Tenderness” which is a nice piano piece. I was thinking at some point a guitar would kick in but it didn’t and it didn’t have to.
Jake E. Lee: Yeah, I have to give Ron credit for that. I started on piano at the age of 6 and I didn’t start playing guitar until the age of 12. I wrote that piece 40 plus years ago. It was the first song that I ever wrote. I wrote it on piano and I didn’t know what to do with it---it’s a nice piece but I could never use it in Ozzy, Badlands or any kind of a rock record for that matter. I just never knew what to do with it. Anyway, like I said there’s a restaurant next to the studio and we went in late one night to get some drinks. There’s a piano there and I thoight wow I haven’t seen one of these in a long time. I played that and Ron asked “What was that?” I said “It’s this thing I wrote several years ago but it will probably never be recorded because I just don’t know what to do with it.” Ron said “OH, I know what we’re going to do with that. We’re going to close out the record with that.” I was “Seriously? We’re ending the REd Dragon Cartel record with this?!” He said “Yes, trust me.” We recorded and we put it on there and that is a very interesting ways to end a rock record.
MetalTitans: Before I cut you loose I have to ask about a couple things that came after Badlands. You were part of a band with Richard Black of Shark Island weren’t you?
Jake E. Lee: Oh, yes The Bourgeois Pigs. That was Michael Guy’s band we were friends and he said he had this project. He also had Matt Sorum on drums and Tony Franklin on bass both who are great players. He was writing songs and he wanted me to come down and give them a listen. I liked what I heard and he asked if I wanted to play on them and I said “Sure I’ll give it a shot.” We started recording and Richard Black was on vocals and some of those track I thought were pretty good. Michael writes computer software--that’s how he makes his money at that particular point he was very involved in that. So while he felt the music was good and felt that there was potential with the band he went back to working on software because he needed to make money. That’s why that ended.
MetalTitans: Prior to The Bourgeois Pigs there was a band Wicked Alliance with Mandy Lion who we first heard singing in the band World War III with Vinny Appice and JImmy Bain from Dio. I know you did some recording with that band as well.
Jake E. Lee: That was right after Badlands. I was trying to figure out who I was going to try to sing in the band because Ray Gillen was the most phenomenal singer I had ever worked with at that point. It was going to be a hard act to follow. It was then my task to find a guy that really wasn’t a singer or that was so far off that track that he wouldn’t or couldn’t be compared to Ray Gillen. Mandy was definitely like that so we tried for a little while to get something going...I was looking forward to making it a little more of a industrial, heavy metal, funk band and try to explore a different avenue. Many kept pointing it back towards metal which I just wasn’t particularly interested in doing at the time. That’s why we ended our relationship.<br/>
MetalTitans: You’re playing on a late night TV show and you get an opportunity to play three songs from your catalog what would they be?
Jake E. Lee: I’d touch on the Ozzy era and I’d do “Killer of Giants,” that the song that I’m most proud of in my time with Ozzy. I’d want to touch on some Badlands and I’d do “Sun Red Sun” off the 3rd album that we demoed. Ray sang the hell out of that song and it’s one of my favorite performances of his. I’d have to do something from Red Dragon Cartel….that’s a hard one. I’d probably go with “Feeder” because that’s the song that got me back into the game.