Jake E. Lee: A Shot in the Dark!

By Jeb Wright

Jake E. Lee first came to prominence as the “permanent” replacement for fallen guitar hero Randy Rhoads in Ozzy Osbourne’s band.  Jake was a member for a few years and made his mark on the genre of Heavy Metal.  It was his searing riffs the made songs like “Rock & Roll Rebel” and “Bark at the Moon” classics.  What he didn’t get was any credit for writing the music, which was a typical complaint in the Osbourne camp at that time.  Eventually, he left and started his own band, Badlands, who, after a promising start, fell victim to the changing musical landscape.  Jake E. Lee simply unplugged his guitar, walked off stage and disappeared.

Now, after a few decades, Jake is back with the band Jake E. Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel.  The band has made headlines for their disastrous opening gig in Los Angeles due to the erratic behavior and subpar performance of the bands singer, Darren Smith.  The Internet was abuzz making fun of the singer.  Jake, who has faced adversity before, got through it.  A second gig was more triumphant, and now the interest is back where it should be: on the music.  The first songs Lee has publically released in a long time. 

The album will be released on Frontiers records on January 24, 2014.  The music promises to be hard rocking, the album features many guest vocalists, including Paul Di’Anno, Robin Zander, Sass Jordan and more.  In the interview that follows, Jake talks openly about the disastrous first gig, the making of the album and how he has finally learned to give a fuck about his audience…sort of, anyway. 

Jeb:  We are getting closer to the album release date.  This is some hard rocking stuff.   This is your comeback.  Are you getting apprehensive?

Jake: About seventeen years ago, or so, I was in line in the middle of the night at Jack in the Box—this has nothing to do with anything, but I will tell you anyway.  I got robbed at gunpoint and then as I was leaving I got shot at.  I am only saying this…he shot like six or seven shots and I was in an SUV…he never hit anything but I could see the flash in the rear view mirror and I could hear the sounds.  I wasn’t apprehensive then, that is my point.  I am one of those guys who doesn’t get apprehensive or nervous.  That is a longwinded answer to ‘if I am apprehensive’…no, I am not. 

Jeb: Do you realize how fucking lucky you are?  Not talking about not being shot, as that is obvious.  I am talking about having nerves of steel.  I would have shit myself. 

Jake: Well, yeah, but it doesn’t make me more disciplined or anything.  It has nothing to do with that.  It just doesn’t happen.  It is not something I have worked on to be that way.  You are either born with that or you are not. It doesn’t make me better than you, Jeb. 

Jeb:  It does come in handy during gunfights and comebacks.  And, I have to say, it comes in handy when the first gig goes down badly!

Jake: I wasn’t nervous at the first gig at all and I’m glad I wasn’t, because I would have been even more nervous after that one. 

Jeb: Your singer, Darren Smith was nervous. 

Jake: [laughter] Yeah, he was, he was.  He was brutalized on the Internet.  Nobody is beating him up more than he is himself. 

Jeb: You remained calm.  You had to deal with this issue.  Did he look to you for advice after the gig?

Jake: I handled it, I think, as a good band leader would.  I told him, “Hey, it is what it is.  Everybody fucks up.  I’ve had some bad shows.  The good news is that we will never have a first show that was as under the magnifying glass so much as that one was.  There is no way we are going to have a worse show, so it’s only going to get better from here on out.” 

Jeb: I heard the second show he performed well.  I am usually not the nerd who cruises YouTube and looks for videos, but after that first show, I did.  And I did look at clips from the second show. 

Jake: There is no way we are not going to get better.  We got the bands worse show out of the way.  Now we don’t have to worry about having a worse show anymore because he already had it with the first one [laughter]. 

Jeb: What did you say after the second show?

Jake:  After the second show I said, “You did awesome.  You were the best guy up there tonight.  This is why you’re the singer in this band.”  He was fucking happy after the second show because he didn’t repeat himself.  There was a lot of shit on the Net about him.  A lot of people were blaming me and going, “What in the hell are you thinking?”  That is such a stupid thing for people to say, I mean, yeah, that is what I was thinking and that is what I thought I was going to get as a singer. Like that would be true.   No, I mean, I’ve been around a while.  He got the job because he is a great singer and he is a good front man.  It is going to be great, but it just didn’t happen to be great the first gig. 

Jeb: When this blows over and you make it, then it will be a great story to look back on.  And if it doesn’t work, you can just blame him [laughter].

Jake: America loves redemption [laughter].

Jeb:  It is not like you have not picked up a guitar in a quarter of a century, but you have not done it like you are doing it now.  How does it feel to be back?

Jake: I still feel that I need to get my chops back up and they are getting there.  It does feel good.  It is just the fact that there is so much love out there.  It is really nice.  I’ve always done it for selfish reasons…go ahead and interrupt me now…

Jeb:  I will.  What do you mean?  Explain that in depth.

Jake: It has always been selfish.  My reason for playing has always been because I like that feeling.  I like playing rock and roll music.  The audience has always been secondary.  If they hate me then fuck you, I don’t care…I’m not doing it for you.  That is not the case this time out.  Even on that first show I was not that way.  I will admit that it makes it that much better for me.  I really can’t believe that there are people that give a shit after all of this time.  People are so supportive.  I will look out in the audience while I am playing and they get so excited and they say, “We love you.”  That really makes it that much more wonderful, it really does.  I don’t think I particularly deserve it, and I am surprised it’s there, but it really makes it really cool.  

Jeb: Why did you wait so long? 

Jake: When I bowed out it was the mid-Nineties...People only have a shelf life of so long before they are no longer considered cool.  I think my shelf life was running out.  By then, I was that Hair Metal guy.  It wasn’t cool to be Jake E. Lee and I was not getting any offers that I even felt like considering.  Badlands had just broken up and I put my heart and soul into that band; it broke my heart when that band broke up.  It was a good time to bow out.  After that, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t need a spotlight on me. To me, it is a pain in the ass.  I don’t need to be on stage with a bunch of people looking at me, as that is not my motivation.  If I am anywhere else, I don’t want to be the center of attention.  I didn’t mean that  I didn’t miss it.  I would run into a lot of my brothers from the ‘80s and they would say, “Don’t you miss it? I mean the crowd and all of that stuff.”   I would be like, “No, that is the part of it that I don’t particularly miss.”  I did miss playing with other musicians.  During that whole time, I did still keep writing because that is just who I am.  Music is my big passion, so I would keep writing.  With a computer, you didn’t need anybody else.  I could just write and get a looping program and write some drums and I could do it all myself.  I was satisfying myself by writing music.  I didn’t care if anybody else heard it.  I would write it and then listen to it and go, “Oh yeah, I really like that.”  I was satisfying myself, which is the main reason I do music.  I like being satisfied by myself.  God, now, the way I just described that…it seems like masturbation [laughter].  Now I feel weird! 

Jeb: I know what you mean.

Jake:  Good!  My main need, musically, was being satisfied and I didn’t need to be on a stage.  What I missed was being with other musicians where I could bounce ideas off or that would contribute to my ideas.  I really missed that. 

Jeb:  Did your interest to come back get piqued when you did that video with Beggars & Thieves?

Jake: That is what started the whole ball rolling.  I was content.  I had a good eight years with Ozzy and then Badlands…I was happy, well maybe not happy.  I was content with that being my legacy.  I had a good eight years.  I’m not selfish as I don’t need any more and I don’t need the spotlight.  I was good going to my deathbed with that having been my accomplishment.  When I caught up with Ron [Mancuso] again, after a bunch of years, when I moved to Vegas…I didn’t know that many people.  He asked me if I wanted to make that video with his band.  He asked me if I wanted to do a cameo and I said, “Sure, why not.”  I had nothing else to do that night so we did it.  After he put it out he called me up after a couple of days and said, “Dude, you’re not going to believe how many people are excited that you’re in this video.” I said, “You’re kind of right.  I am not.”  He told me to go to the YouTube page and to start reading the comments.  I did and it was kind of weird.  Because of all of that…Ron’s studio is right next to Kevin Churko’s studio.  Kevin had worked with Ozzy and he knew who I was.  Ron and Kevin started talking and Kevin told him that he had always wanted to work with Jake.  They came up with a little plan and they approached me and he said, “How would you like to record an album?”  Even at that point I was like, “I don’t know…”  I had done all of that and I really didn’t need it.  I had commitment issues.  They said, “Look, just come to the studio at night…you and Ron can just play around.  You’ve got ideas.”  I was like, “Yeah, I’ve got a whole lot of ideas and stuff on my computer that I have been writing for fifteen years.”  He said, “Bring that.  You and Ron can listen to it and maybe you will start writing some songs and you can just see how it feels.”  It was all very casual and it was like, “Just dip your toe in the pool and maybe, eventually, you will put your whole foot it.”  That is how they got me.  They told me that I could quit anytime.  I decided to give it a shot.  It is not like I was doing anything else.  Otherwise I would be on the couch watching TV and playing with my cats or something.  That is how it started.  It was working out pretty well.  I have known Ron since the ‘80s. 

We started writing songs and Kevin’s son, Kane, offered to help with some of the songwriting.  He has written songs with Five Finger Death Punch and other bands.  The first one we finished was “Feeder” and it was sounding good.  It was me and Ron and Jeremy Spencer from Five Finger Death Punch playing drums.  We had a vocal melody and we were listening to it and I said, “You know what, this song Robin Zander would just kill.”  I just said that as a fan and I didn’t mean anything by it.  Ron said, “I know Tom Petersson and I can call Tom and see if Robin would be interested.”  Robin heard that track and said, “I’d love to do it.” His vocals were recorded in Florida because that’s where he lives, so I didn’t hear them as he was doing them.  Once the track made it back to Vegas and Ron had mixed it he called me up and said, “Check it out.”  I went to the studio and he played it.  Hearing that song that we wrote…the idea of the song was ten years old.  Hearing a ten year old idea that we turned into a finished song with Robin Zander singing on it and Tom Petersson playing on the bass and Jeremy on drums…I am listening to it and…I don’t want to come off as a big softie but, man, I hadn’t felt that alive since Badlands.  It had been twenty years.  I had forgotten that feeling.  I was listening to it and I was like, “Mother fucker!  God damnit!  I love this shit.  I missed this shit!”  After hearing Robin’s track on that song I turned to Ron and I said, “I’m in.  I am all in.”  I pulled my toe out of the pool and I dove in. 

Jeb:  You are known as a Metal guitar player but you have a wide range of influences and musical tastes.  I mean, this was Robin Zander of Cheap fucking Trick.  Early Cheap Trick is a foundation to my musical life.

Jake: I loved Cheap Trick, especially the first album, which was not that popular.  When I was in cover bands we used to cover “Hot Love.”  That is a fucking rock song.  It has “Mandocello” on there, which is one of the most beautiful ballads ever written, as far as I am concerned. 

Jeb: Zander is like a hero to me.  Have you met him in person?

Jake: I finally got to meet him when they came through town and they were opening for Aerosmith.  I met him and I was like, “Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for agreeing to sing on that song. I can’t believe you would do that.”  The funny thing was that he goes, “Nobody ever asks me to do that.  I was excited that somebody wanted me to sing on their song.”  He is one of the most iconic rock singers of all time and the fact that he is not asked, left and right, by other artists to do that is weird. 

Jeb: Paul Di’Anno is also singing on the album. 

Jake: Yes, he is.   To me, the first Iron Maiden album was it.  They were more punky then and they were more “Fuck you!”   We were in the studio and we were trying to decide who should sing on that song and Brent Fitz, who is the drummer in Slash’s band, and played a couple of songs on the record, listened to it and we were wracking our brains on who would sound good on that.  Brent goes, “How about Paul Di’Anno?”  I said, “Paul Di’Anno?  I haven’t heard that name in like thirty years.  Where did that come from?”  He said, “I was just listening to some early Maiden today.”  I thought that could be awesome.  He recorded in England and I’ve never met the guy. 

Jeb:  How did you balance mixing the classic Jake E. Lee guitar style with a new band that you have now in 2013?  I know it is Jake E. Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel but this is still very much a band effort.

Jake: The only reason that it is Jake E. Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel is because there will be some interest in it then.  If it is just Red Dragon Cartel and I just decide to call myself Jake Kilbeggen as guitar player then we are one of a thousand bands releasing something that week and no one is going to take an interest in that.  We would have to start from the bottom.  The good thing is that I can put my name on it and all of a sudden we do have some audience and there is some interest.  It is a band. 

The last thing I would want to do is to live off of what I did in the ‘80s.  A lot of bands are still living off of what they did in the ‘80s and they are basically just doing the same thing over and over.  God bless them, everybody needs to pay their rent.  To me, music is my passion and I will never whore that out.  The last thing that I wanted to do was to be one of those. Yes, I was big in the ‘80s and I can still do all of the things that I used to do then but I can also do this.  To just sound just like I did in the ‘80s would just bore the shit out of me.  There was no intent to make it different, but there was also no intent on trying to recreate the past. 

Jeb:  If you try to make it all modern people will say you are trying to distance yourself from who you are, but if you go retro they will say you are incapable of being current. 

Jake:  Especially with the Internet you can’t win.  A lot of them are pussies sitting behind a fucking computer screen and they can talk shit without getting hurt and a lot of them do it because of that.  If you come up and talk that shit to somebody face to face, then there is a good possibility that you’re going to get your ass kicked.  With the Internet, there is no possibility that you will get your ass kicked so there are a lot of big mouthed people that, no matter what you do, will find a way to badmouth it.   I don’t do this too much, but I decided that when the “Feeder” lyric video came out I went and read some of the comments.  One of them was saying, “Jake went Nu Metal.”  It’s not fucking Nu Metal.  It does not sound like it came out of the ‘80s either.  There will be people like that.  The next one was, “How can you be in Badlands, which was such a natural and organic band and then do this?”  You know what, “Fuck you.  You know what?  I did Badlands.  You like Badlands?  Fucking listen to Badlands, I don’t care that you don’t like what I’m doing now.  I don’t care.”  The record was not made for you, going back to my selfish reasons…man; I am starting to sound like an ass [laughter].  I didn’t make the record to make a bunch of people happy.  I made the record to make me happy.   When I first heard Zander sing “Feeder” then damn it, I liked that feeling.  If somebody else gets that same feeling listening to it than that is a bonus, but it was never my objective.

I’ve gotten shit my entire career.  When I joined Ozzy I got shit from fans going, “Randy rules…you suck.”  “Okay, I am never going to please you…Fuck you…goodbye.”  When Badlands came out I got shit.  Guitar players were like, “What the fuck’s this?  I don’t want to hear blues.  Why aren’t you playing like you did with Ozzy?”  I got that kind of shit and I was like, “Because I played that with Ozzy.  If you like that then fucking go listen to it.  I am doing something else.”  I’ve gotten that shit my entire career and I am not going to try to please anyone other than me.  Hopefully, there are some people that like the same stuff that I like. 

Jeb: The first dates are out and the band is going on the road soon. 

Jake:  We did the Whisky and then we are going to go to San Diego and then finish this big weeklong tour in Vegas.  It is really just a reason to get the band together and to get them to play together for more than a song or two.  We’ve got dates lined up towards the end of March.  We end up in Florida so we can do the Monsters of Rock Cruise.  We’ve got some dates. 

Jeb:  You’ve played bars to arenas to nothing.  Is there an expectation?  Will you be disappointed if this does just the ‘club level’? 

Jake: Kevin Churco, just last week, while we were rehearsing talked about this with me.  It came up because of my refusal to do certain songs.  Kevin said, “’Shot in the Dark’ is a huge song and you need to play it.”  My management is going, “You need to play ‘Shot in the Dark.’”  I am like, “I’m not fucking playing ‘Shot in the Dark.’”  They are like, “But the crowd will love it.”  I said, “That is not why I play.”  They are like, “You’re just committing suicide if you are not going to play the songs people want to hear.”  I would not say I am committing suicide but I am not fucking playing “Shot in the Dark.”  Kevin said, “Bottom line…here is your band and here is your possible career.  If you do the songs that people want you to play and you do things the way your management wants you to do it then you are playing arenas next year.  If you don’t, the worst possible scenario is that you’re playing here in Vegas at the club Vamped once a week and that’s all you’re doing, but you’re doing what you want to do.  Just look at me and tell me which one you would you want to do.”  I didn’t even need to think about it.  I said, “Vamped.  Period.”  It’s funny and a lot of people just don’t believe it, but there is no question in my mind.  I don’t have to think about it for a second.  I would rather play in front of twenty people digging what I’m playing, with me loving what I’m playing, than to have to play an arena with shit that I don’t want to play.  To go on stage and go, “Shit, I have to play this fucking song.  I can’t wait until it’s over.”  I will never do that to music because music is my God.  Music is my God and I will not ever do that and I never want to feel like crap that I have to whore it out for the next five minutes.  I want to be excited at all times at what I am going to play. 

Jeb:  I am glad you don’t hate “Bark at the Moon.” 

Jake: [laughter] Yeah.  That one is still fun to play, even after thirty years.

Jeb:  Do you ever get tired and sick of people who compare Randy with Jake or Zakk or Jake.  Or do you get flattered that goes on?

Jake: I know, it still goes on….I have not seen that many That Metal Show episodes with Eddie Trunk but when I happened to flip it on they were debating who is better, Zakk or Jake.  I was like, “Oh shit, I should turn this.”  I knew I should have turned it off but I had to see and everybody said Zakk.  They were actually very specific about it because they said, “Who was better IN OZZY, Zakk or Jake?”  One guy tried to make the argument about my overall career and the shit I did in Badlands and he was told, “NO, JUST OZZY!”  Overall, everybody said Zakk.  I was like, “Come on, everybody?’ [laughter].

Jeb: I know you got fucked out of your writing credits on Bark at the Moon and how things were rough at times in that band, but what an opportunity it was for a young guitar player to come in and join Ozzy’s band after Randy’s death. 

Jake: Randy was a huge part of Ozzy having any kind of a career after he got fired from Sabbath.  Everybody thought Ozzy was done.  I saw the last Black Sabbath tour and they sucked.  He was one of the main reasons that they sucked.  They fired him and everybody thought he was washed up.  He comes back and releases Blizzard of Ozz with that guitar player and those songs…are you fucking kidding me?  Man, those songs were amazing.  Randy was a huge reason why Ozzy had a career. 

Once Randy was gone and Ozzy had to get somebody else, I really do think…I don’t want to sound like an egomaniac, but I really do think I was the perfect choice.  If Ozzy had gotten Zakk right after Randy it would have been like he was just looking for another Randy, right down to their look.  I didn’t look like Randy and I didn’t really play like Randy, but I was still pretty fucking good.  There could not have been another Randy after Randy; I don’t think that would have worked.  I think Ozzy and Sharon made the right choice when they chose me, I really do.  Because of that you can have your Zakk.   I will say that Zakk was perfect for Ozzy.  He’s a great player, but I don’t think it would have worked right after Randy.  So, to all of you Zakk fans, you’re welcome that I made it possible for him to be in the band.  I really don’t think it would have worked right after Randy. 

Jeb:  When Bark first came out I bought it.  I was a HUGE Randy fan and I was nervous.  You’re playing was damn good though.  It is almost like I didn’t want to like it but I did anyway. 

Jake: I can understand that. 

Jeb: Last one:  I was talking to Bob Daisley and he said before I let you go I had to ask you about the time that Ozzy shaved Bobby Thomson’s eyebrows.  What’s the story?

Jake: Bobby Thomson…yeah.  I know the story but I don’t know if it is that good of a story, really.  Bobby Thomson was one of the techs and he was like Ozzy’s favorite son, in a way.  He was always there for Ozzy.  We did the Bark at the Moon record and one night they got really drunk and Ozzy thought it would be really funny to shave his eyebrows.  It ended up that Bobby didn’t like it at all.  First he was looking for Ozzy to kick his ass but Ozzy was gone and then he quit.  He said, “Fuck you guys and fuck you guys for not stopping him.”  I wasn’t even there.  Bob was there.  I was recording at the time and I heard about it later and I was like, “Holy shit, that’s not cool.  It’s kind of funny…but it’s not cool. “  After that happened I did say, “By the way, if that ever happens to me…then I will wait till Ozzy comes back and I will kick his fucking ass, just so you know, that’s what is going to happen, no fucking doubt.  And then I’ll quit.  My eyebrows were safe. 

Jeb:  Last one, tell me about the band.  Tell me what people will expect when they come see Jake E. Lee’s Red Dragon Caretel. 

Jake: This is a great fucking rock band.  The first show didn’t go all that well and there are a bunch of reasons for that and it basically boils down to being my fault.  At its core, this band is just a fucking great band and I feel really excited and alive and I think we are going to be able to translate what goes on in rehearsal on stage.  If there is any doubt, because of those reviews on the first show, whether or not we are going to be good, let me tell you we are going to kick ass.  I would not say that unless it was true.   Well, I suppose anybody would say that, but I wouldn’t say that.  I would just leave it in the air and say, “Come see us” and leave it at that.  But I am saying to come see us as we can kick ass and we will be kicking ass.  If you have any doubts about coming to a show, no, don’t have any doubts.  If you’re pissed at Darren then come up and talk to me and I will say, “I don’t fucking care!”