He put his mark on two of Ozzy Osbourne's most successful albums and released three albums with the heavy bluesy combo Badlands. Two solo albums and a long time of silence. Now he's finally back again - Jake E. Lee.
Getting an interview with Jake is quite rare today. But after hard work, a lot of sweat. and the right contacts, I managed. What could I expect? A loner who doesn't want to speak to people? A burned out chastened rocker, bitter because he's not at the top anymore? Forget it. Jake is a nice guy, pure and simple. Great sense of humor and no air and graces whatsoever. He even wanted a subscription of FUZZ Magazine, even though it's in Swedish "to get a peek into Swedish guitar culture," as he said. He also ended one of his e-mails: "Laytah. da OGE (Old Guitarplayin' Effluvium) aka Jake E Lee". A short presentation of himself, by himself.
9/05 Interview courtesy of Janne Stark/FUZZ Magazine, www.starkmusic.net
Jake was born Jake Lou Williams February 15 1957 in Norfolk, Virginia, and later grown up in San Diego, California. Despite being in a few bands on the verge of breaking through, like Ratt and Rough Cutt, it wasn't until he got the job as guitarist with legend Ozzy Osbourne things started happening. Jake started taking piano lessons when he was six and continued until he was sixteen.
"I knew that music was what I wanted to do, but wasn't sure about piano being the instrument. I tried a number of other instruments, including trumpet and banjo, until one day when I was twelve. I walked by my sister's room and was mesmerized by the song playing on her radio. I'd never heard anything like it. It was Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix and I knew then that guitar was the instrument I'd be focused on. I borrowed my sister's acoustic guitar, and bought one of the Mel Bay Method beginning guitar books and taught myself from there," he says.
After the first encounter with Hendrix, Jake discovered guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore, besides names like Randy Bachman, Mark Farner and Chicago's Terry Cath. A few years later he also discovered John McLaughlin, Tommy Bolin, Robin Trower, Johnny Winter and Uli Jon Roth. In the eighties he was in the band Mikkey Ratt, that later became Ratt.
Rumours have been flying around about some demos he recorded with the band.
"Which demos? I've seen Dr. Rock by Ratt advertised as "featuring Jake E Lee" but, I've never played that song in my life. The only stuff Pearcy would have with my playing on it would be a rehearsal tape we once made in his garage, recorded with a cheap boom box. I can't remember which line-up that was, but I believe Stephen was playing the rhythm guitar," he reveals, and continues. "With Rough Cutt, we recorded two songs with Dio producing. Both of them were songs written before I had joined the band. They were written by Claude, and a bit keyboard heavy, unlike the material we were doing later. In fact, the riff for "Bark at the Moon" was originally a song I wrote in Rough Cutt. I just changed the pedal note eighths to sixteenths for Ozzy."
When Ozzy needed a replacement for the late Randy Rhoads, Jake was discovered by the same guy who found his predecessor, bass player Dana Strum. He sent in a demo but didn't hear anything. Now Ronnie James Dio wanted Jake in his band, but wanted him to keep a low profile, which wasn't really something Jake was into and he turned it down. One day he got a message he was to audition live in front of Ozzy and manager/wife Sharon. He learned how to play I Don't Know and Crazy Train, came an hour too late for the audition, but still got the job as Ozzy's right hand. His stage debut was at the U.S. Festival in 1983 in front of 350 000 people! The years with Ozzy made Jake a highly ranked name as a guitar hero, but there only came two albums out of the collaboration. However both Bark At The Moon and Ultimate Sin reached platinum sales and Jake toured all over the globe with the prince of darkness. Ozzy's career was however dominated by drugs, drugs and more drugs, which resulted in Ozzy firing Jake during one of his tantrums. Despite the two being friends today, this is not something Jake willingly goes into.
With Ozzy as a reference the offers started pouring in. He however decided to start a new band. He met singer Ray Gillen, who had made a shorter session in Black Sabbath, bass player Greg Chaison and drummer Eric Singer. The band was named Badlands and produced rough, heavy but highly soulful southern tinged hard rock. Two albums and a posthumous third album with work demos was what came out of the band.
"Ray and I would initially try out any ideas we had and pick the most promising ones to take into rehearsal with the band. By then we'd have a better idea of what feel or direction we wanted the bass and drums to take. Then we'd just blast them out loud, over and over, trying out different things, and put it down on cassette, which I would take home and listen to. The next day I'd have a notebook of suggestions to bring to rehearsal along with new parts to try, says Jake. On these albums his guitar sound has changed quite radically with a really nice raw edge, tons of Strat-crunch and a true in-your-face sound.
The majority of the guitar was the white Charvel/Fender. There were others, depending on the sound/song, for example Whiskey Dust was recorded using a Jerry Jones with lipstick pickups, and I think on 3 Day Funk I used a '62 SG/TV model with a P90 on it, but mostly I stuck with the Charvel. I had two Marshall 100 watt heads I'd switch between, a '68 Plexi I'd use for a warmer, bluesy kind of sound, and a '69 that had an edgier, more metallic sound. I'd run them through an older steel-handled Marshall four by twelve loaded with ElectroVoice L12 200 watt speakers. For the solos I'd go through a Pete Cornish 25dB Linear Boost set at about 10dB boost. There was an old Uni-Vibe, a couple of older Cry Babys, a Boss DD-3 on Streets Cry Freedom and Ball & Chain, and for some of the cleaner parts I used a Roland JC-120."
In Badlands there was a more relaxed free form style, with Jake's solos feeling more ad lib, that with Ozzy.
"Other than Dusk, I can't think of anytime I've used the actual live guitar track in a final mix. Those were always considered scratch tracks, as they were only recorded for reference while concentrating on getting good sounds and performances from the drums and bass. To maintain good separation, the guitar cab would invariably be stuffed into a small, closet-sized room, which is not good for tone, and later I'd record the final guitars in a larger room, with multiple mics, and a lot more attention given to the right guitar, amp, sound, etc. Now that I'm thinking about it, the slide/echo guitar at the end of Streets Cry Freedom was the original scratch track, and there may have been others, but very few, if any.
Usually I'd record two or three takes of a solo and pick out whichever one I liked best. If there was a section of one take I liked a lot better than the overall favored one, I had no problem with editing it in as long as the continuity and playability wasn't compromised. If the editing entailed much more than that, I'd just record a few more takes until I got it right," he explains. The album Dusk, released long after Ray Gillen had passed away, was a far rougher sounding album.
"We set up all the gear in one large room and recorded it live. Basically we just played the songs as if it were a live set. I spent maybe five minutes at the most to dial in a tone I could live with. We had that one evening to record and mix everything so that it could be sent out to Atlantic Records the next day. It was just supposed to be a demo of the songs we'd been working on for the next record. Atlantic ended up dropping us and we broke up not long after that. Years later I heard a really bad copy of it and found out that there were similar sounding bootlegs being sold. Not being fond of the initial hurried mix anyway, we, Greg, Ray's family, and I, decided to see if there was anyone willing to release a properly mixed version. Thankfully, there was," he says.
Ray died on December 3 1993 of AIDS-related complications. How would you describe him?
"Ray had a way of making you feel like there was no place you'd rather be than right where you were. He was very likeable, charismatic, and impossible to stay mad at. He was the ONLY singer I've worked with that would ask for more guitar in the monitors than even I could stand. I think of him often, and miss him deeply. He was, and I'm sure will remain, the best singer I've ever had the pleasure of working with, and easily among the best there ever was."
Dead end projects
In 1996 Jake released his first solo album, A Fine Pink Mist, a mellower album.
"At that point it was a nice break from being in a band, or having to answer, at least musically, to anyone other than myself. So I wrote and recorded all the guitar, bass and keyboard parts and programmed the drums so that everything was exactly how I wanted. In fact, it was such a relief to not have to deal with any inter-band politics that I got into computers extensively enough to be able to record everything at home. This brought about its own new set of problems and pitfalls. Eventually I began craving some human interaction, someone to bounce things off and maybe suggest a musical idea I'd not normally pursue. Not to mention the temptation to tweak on the mechanics of the recording way too long," he says.
What about band projects then?
"For years, I tried to get the Wicked Alliance thing with Mandy Lion together. When we first started I felt like we were doing something a little different from what everyone else was doing, and if we could have actually put any of it out in a reasonable amount of time it would have been a valid project. But since, for various reasons, it took so long to even start approaching anything resembling completion, I finally shelved it. By then there were a number of bands tapping into a similar industrial/metal sound, and it just seemed a bit redundant. After that, Michael Guy approached me about contributing to his Bourgeois Pigs project, which included Richard Black on vocals. At first he just wanted me to lay down some solos. After a while I really got into it and would bring tracks back home with me and rearrange, edit and write additional parts. I really liked a lot of what was being recorded and eventually joined the band but, but the record company wasn't thrilled with my contributions. They felt I was "modernizing" what they were hoping was going to be a retro-classic rock type of band. It was sounding something similar to what Velvet Revolver is doing now, as opposed to, say, House of Lords. Anyway, Michael had just gotten married, was expecting his first kid and was tired of the headaches. He had a potentially big deal going with some software he had written, so he cut his hair and called it quits as far as the music business. Too bad, I thought he was a good songwriter."
A few months ago it was finally time again for Jake to get a solo album out. Not a year too soon. This time he has released a cover album entitled Retraced. This album is however a bit different and is not all about worn-out classics covered a zillion times before, but some more odd pieces. He has also managed to make the album sound like a unit and not something just pieced together.
How did you come up with what songs to cover?
"Each one was something I enjoyed playing while learning the guitar back in the seventies. And each one brings back a specific memory. For example, the night before I was to play at my sister's sixteenth birthday party (with a drummer and a bass player), I was at a party getting pretty drunk. Somebody was offering to sharpen knives so I gave him a switchblade I used to carry. When he brought it back to me, I grabbed the pack of cigarettes my friend was holding and slashed at it. It cut clean through, and I remarked, "Sure is sharp", to which my friend replied, "I'll say, did you even feel it cut through your finger?" I thought he was kidding but then I noticed the blood. I'd sliced off about a third of the tip of my left index finger. We were so drunk we thought it was hilarious, and I think my friend even picked up the tip and threw it in the dog food dish. The next morning my mom took me to the doctor and he stitched it up. I had to play the party with a slide over my index finger so as not to tear the stitches out. I used an old DanElectro guitar I had since I was banging the slide into the fretboard a lot. It had a neck position lipstick pickup and through my Kasino four by ten combo it got a good Johnny Winter sound, so we played a lot of his stuff at the party. I remember Guess I'll Go Away going over particularly well. Anyway because of the accident, I was forced to play with my other three fingers exclusively for a long time, so in the long run it probably helped me," he says.
Jake continues telling about the recording of Retraced, where he was backed by Tim Bogert and Aynsley Dunbar.
"There weren't any rehearsals. (Mike) Varney had the two of them in the studio recording basics for Leslie West and Michael Schenker. Once they finished with that, I came down and we talked about what tempo, feel, etc I was looking for. They had already learned the originals, along with those for West and Schenker, and Aynsley had even charted them out. Then I plugged direct into a Line 6, so as not to bleed into their tracks, and we just went for it. Aynsley and Tim had already been in the studio for a week straight, and were playing great, so we knocked out the basics in a weekend," he says.
The equipment Jake was using on Retraced was a bit different from his older recordings.
"I used an assortment of loaner guitars, along with the ESP Ultra-Tone I brought to Vegas with me. There was a stock, Mexican-made, Stratocaster w/rosewood fingerboard, a Fender "Nocaster", an early seventies Les Paul Custom, and the guitar I, by far, used the most, a single pickup mid sixties Melodymaker with Seymour Duncan JB jr pick-ups. The amp was a Soldano SLO 100, but two of the power tubes were pulled to bring it down to 50 watts. It was run through a Variac to bring the incoming voltage down a little, and came out a one by twelve Marshall cab, all to keep the volume down since it was recorded in the hallway of Michael Lardy's home. Among the pedals used were a Cat's Eye Mista' Fuzz, a G. S. Wyllie Moonrock, a Shin-ei FuzzWah and a Tycobrahe Pedalflanger," Jake explains.
I've seen discussions on various message boards regarding what pick-ups Jake is using and asked him to straighten the matter out.
"The single coils have always been DiMarzio SDS1's, the only great sounding pickup I think they ever made. The humbucker was at one time a Duncan Holdsworth prototype, but mostly it's been a Duncan Jeff Beck. Presently I'm trying out different pickups. Don't know exactly what I'm looking for, but hopefully I'll know when I hear it. I've always loved the sound of P-90's and Lipsticks, but they can be so noisy it ultimately becomes grating, same as my old Uni-Vibe. I loved the glassy, liquid sound I got from it, but it was so noisy I'd avoid using it. I ended up selling it because of that, even though I've yet to hear anyone else's version of it come close to sounding as good," he says.
Another thing I've noticed is Jake is never using a whammy bar. How come?
"Back in '75 my only guitar was a Gibson SG standard and I wanted to add a Strat, so I worked at a local music store in exchange for any Strat in the store. I thought they all came with wiggle-sticks, but when I went through all the guitars, about 20, to find the one I liked the best, there was one without the bar that sounded way better than any of the others. That's the one that became my favorite. Later it was repainted by my roommate who worked in the Charvel paint shop. Ever since, I've felt that any tremolo (vibrato, really) system on a guitar takes away from the tone, at least the tone I'm looking for."
We at the Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank Janne Stark for letting us reproduce this interview.