Friday, December 20, 2013

Jake E. Lee - "It's better than I thought it would be. It's just really, really cool." - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"I hadn't felt that alive - and I didn't realize it, for 15 years. Because like I said, I was content, but when I heard the song with Robin Zander, I was just so excited to be alive - it was a pivotal moment in my life, and that's when I knew. 'Count me in - let's do this thing, let's do something - that's when it happened."

Jake E. Lee is kind of like the Garbo of rock 'n' roll. On top of the world one minute, then gone with little more than a trace for the next fifteen years. But, unlike Garbo, Jake came back - how long will he stay? Well, that remains to be seen, but in the meantime it's damned good to have him back treading the boards and playing as well as ever. His new band is Red Dragon Cartel, and after a rough start, they look like they'll be just fine.

I can only imagine what Lee was feeling like after being dragged across the coals of the fiery and impersonal Internet after the band's lead singer, Darren James Smith, got a bad case of the nerves before the band's first show and a few cocktails became something of a drunken brawl. But, hey, it's rock 'n' roll, and Smith showed his mettle by being humble and putting on a helluva show a few nights later in San Diego. One things for sure, it can only get better from here, and I'm of the opinion that this band has a very cool future.

I caught up with Jake two days after the San Diego show, and in spite of being in promo/press tour hell, he was in good spirits and we had a bunch of laughs about it all.

Jake E. Lee: "I'm great - you're my 47th interview, but other than that! It's cool, it's gotta be done, a necessary evil, I suppose."

I asked if he was having as much fun as it looked like on Sunday evening at the Brick By Brick club in San Diego:

Jake E. Lee: "I did have a much better time on that second show, haha! Because now, everybody knows about that first one. Yeah, yeah - the good part is that we'll never be scrutinized and under the magnifying glass as much as at that first show again, and there's no way we'll ever be that bad again. 
"Darren told me later he was really nervous, which I never even considered. I probably should have given him some words of encouragement beforehand, but he's a singer! Singers are usually cocky!"
I offered that most singers aren't following in the footsteps of Ozzy Osbourne and Ray Gillen - even if it was years ago:

Jake E. Lee: "Yeah, that's true." 

But, he fucking blew the first show, that was pretty clear, but he came back and had a great show in San Diego:

Jake E. Lee: "Yeah, he did, and he helped to redeem himself. 
"Because I caught a lot of shit about the first show, too. All those comments, 'What was Jake thinking?'"
I mentioned that the comments were, par for the course of the Internet, very harsh and nasty. I may have used the word vituperative:
Jake E. Lee: "Well, that's because it's not face to face, and they don't have to worry about getting their ass kicked! 
"But yeah, I got a lot of, 'What was Jake thinking' - obviously, I wasn't thinking that! It's not like he showed up to the audition and he was drunk and didn't know the words, and did that. 
"C'mon, I've been around this for a long time, there's a reason I picked him as our lead singer. It may not have shown through on the first gig, but it'll be obvious, and it was obvious at that second show - that's why I picked him."

I guessed that by summer the band will be out kicking ass on the Festival circuit and it will all be forgotten:

Jake E. Lee: "Yeah - I hope so, because it was brutal! Just brutal comments on that first show. 
"We did our worst show ever. Now, we don't have to worry about that! We took care of that right off the bat!"

I have to give Jake great credit for standing by his guy, and facing things head on - he laughed about what could only really be laughed about, and moved on - grace under fire. I moved forward, asking how Ron Mancuso got the ball rolling for Red Dragon Cartel:

Jake E. Lee: "Well, I was in retirement, basically, and maybe not happy, but content. 
"Because I had a great run - I was with Ozzy, I had Badlands, I made music I was proud of, got to play with a lot of great people, and I figured my time was up, so I was cool with doing anything anymore. But when I moved to Vegas, I didn't really have that many friends, or know that many people - I just wanted to get out of LA, and get a change of scenery. 
"One of the few friends I did have was Pete Reveen from Salty Dog, and he knew Ron. He said, 'Hey, Ron wants to hook up with you again, because I hadn't seen Ron in twenty years. So, I went down, and me and Ron reconnected - he said, 'By the way, I'm doing a video for Beggars & Thieves in a couple of days and I'm having people do some cameos, would you do one?'" 
"So - I checked the TV schedule to make sure there weren't any important shows on that night! There weren't, so I said, 'Sure, why not? I'll come down and do a cameo,' no big deal. 
"They did the video, and they put it out, and then Ron called, and he said, 'Hey, have you checked out the video?'" 
"I said, ' He said, 'Well, it's on YouTube,' so I said, 'Yeah, maybe I'll check it out. 
"And he said, 'No - check it out. And read the comments.' I was like, 'Huh? Yeah, whatever.' 
"So - I went and I checked out the video, and I started reading the comments, and there were so many about my little appearance in that video. 'Oh my God, he's still alive.' 'Oh, he didn't get fat and bald!' 'Look, he can still stand on two feet and hold a guitar!' 
"There was a lot of people saying, 'Oh, does this mean something?' and it didn't, y'know? 
"It was a casual thing, but there was a lot of people, a lot of support, like, 'Jake's coming back, he's doing something again!' - and that was never the intent, but there were so many comments. So, I read all these heartwarming comments."

I asked what happened next:

Jake E. Lee: "A couple of days later, Ron called, and said, 'Can you come down? Me and Kevin Churko want to talk to you. 
"Ron has a studio, and it's right next to Kevin's and obviously having worked with Ozzy, Kevin knew who I was, so I came down and Kevin and Ron sat down, and said, 'Look - apparently, there's a lot of interest, a lot of love for you out there, do you want to do something?' 
"And I was like, 'Eh....not really. I mean, I'm not really doing anything, but no - I don't have any strong desire to like come back out and do something.' 
"They said, 'Well, let's just take it really easy - why don't you just come down to the studio, bring some ideas with you, and you and Ron....' Because Ron actually helped write Rock 'n' Roll Rebel for Bark At The Moon. So we already had that relationship. 'Why don't you come down, you and Ron write some songs together, and see if you get some chemistry going, and take it from there? No commitment, just see if it feels good to you.' 
"So, that's what I did. I went down to the studio and I'd show him some ideas, because I had been writing music the whole time - the 15 year absence was more of a 'done with the business' thing. You know, I didn't need all that shit - but music is still in me. 
"Especially with computers, and all that - it gave me a fresh approach where you could write it all yourself, which was kind of hard to do before that without a home studio. You could do it with a computer, so I continued to write throughout that 15 year period, and I had a lot of ideas. I had complete songs even. 
"I brought them to Ron, and we started working on them - the first song we finished was Feeder, and still the point was like, 'Are we doing anything?' 'We're writing songs let's see what happens - I'm not making any promises, or anything.' 
"And they were cool about that - we did Feeder, Ron sang the vocal melody on it, and Ron's a horrible singer! So we're listening to it, and I said, 'You know what? Robin Zander would be great on this song, I wonder if there's any way we could get Robin Zander to sing on it?' 
"Ron knows (Cheap Trick bassist) Tom Petersson, so he said, 'I'll call Tom and see if Robin would do anything like that.' And Robin got a copy of the song and he said, 'Oh, I'd love to do that.' He recorded it in Florida, and sent the tracks back to us here in Vegas. Ron put Zander's vocals into the song that we had finished, and he said, 'Hey - why don't you come down and listen to this?' 
"So, I came down, and it was a pivotal moment. 
"I hadn't done anything in a long time, hadn't worked with other musician in a long time. And to hear a song we had written, and hear Robin Zander on vocals, and Jeremy from Five Finger Death Punch on drums, Tom Petersson on bass - listening to the song.... 
"I hadn't felt that alive - and I didn't realize it, for 15 years. Because like I said, I was content, but when I heard the song with Robin Zander, I was just so excited to be alive - it was a pivotal moment in my life, and that's when I knew. 'Count me in - let's do this thing, let's do something - that's when it happened."

Now that there was a project, it was time to find a band - Lee and Mancuso turned to the Internet, asking for applicants, which led to the selection of Darren James Smith on vocals and Jonas Fairley on drums. I asked what it was like to have hundreds of applicants for the role of lead singer:

Jake E. Lee: "Yeah, we had a lot! You know how it is with the Internet, people sending in videos of their dogs singing. 
"Ron went through most of them, because there were so many applicants - that, I was surprised about. So, I had Ron go through them, and he narrowed it down to like 20-25, and one of the first one's he showed me was Darren's. And before that, he had asked me, 'What are we looking for?' I told him that I didn't have any pre-conceived notions of what we're looking for, I'll just know it when I see it. 
"As soon as he played me Darren's, I said, 'That - we're looking for something like that.' Ron said, 'Well, we've still got another 20, or so to go,' and I said, 'Oh, I'll watch them all, but right now that's what we're looking for, and that's what we'll compare everybody else to.' 
"We went through all the other videos, and there were some really, really good singers, definitely, that would have had a shot except they had to go up against Darren. We compared them all, and Darren just always won out. So, in the end, one of the first guys I saw ended up being the singer."

Darren James Smith makes his presence known immediately on Red Dragon Cartel's opening cut, Deceived. It's also the cut on the album that most closely resembles Jake's signature riffing on Bark At The Moon. I asked Jake if this was an old chestnut he had kept around:

Jake E. Lee: "No! Actually, it's the opposite - of course, I know what you're saying, but it was the last track we wrote for the record. 
"I was coming to the studio and listening to the radio, and Bark At The Moon came on - I'm listening to it, and it had been a while since I had heard it. I was like, 'Wow! That was a really significant song, it has a very particular guitar pattern. I'm listening and thinking, I never wrote anything else like that, and that the first song most people heard from me was Bark At The Moon
"It's weird that I never wrote another song in that vein with Ozzy. Thirty years on, I'm like, 'Eh, it would be really cool to write another song like that, at least using that particular guitar pattern. 
"We went into the studio, and I said, 'Bark At The Moon. I want to do something along those lines, because it's been thirty years now, and I think it would be really cool.' 
"So, we came up with some new chords and a new way to do it, so yeah, it does reference Bark At The Moon, but it was the newest song we wrote."

I asked if Darren had contributed to the writing, or if it was done before he had landed the gig as lead singer:

Jake E. Lee: "Darren was the last guy in - we got Jonas first and by the time we finally got Darren, most of it was written.  
"In fact, Jonas came down from Canada when we auditioned Darren, and we already had most of the songs written. We were actually still working on Deceived and War Machine. But, Darren could only stay a day, or two because of something to do with visas, or whatever. Jonas has more time with us - he stayed a little longer and he contributed to those songs. 
"So he was the only one except for me and Ron that contributed to the writing, at least tom the band - we also had Kane Churko helping with the writing. 
"So, Darren wasn't able to contribute to this record, but if there is another record - and I'm not saying that ominously, obviously the record company expects there to be another record - but it all depends on how I feel at the end of all of this. Maybe there will be, maybe there won't. 
"Yeah, walking away was a lot easier than you'd think. It just involves sitting in front on the couch and watching TV."

Jake E. Lee is a unique guitarist - his style is idiosyncratic, and not at all static - it's easy to understand how it might be tough for a singer to write alongside. In fact, though not many know it, Lee was briefly the guitarist in the formative version of Dio, and Ronnie found the business not to his liking, preferring bigger block chords to sing over:

Jake E. Lee: "Hmmmm.....well, that might be true - and Vivian is a great player, but he did songs I jammed on with Ronnie and Vinnie, with Ronnie playing bass. One in particular was Holy Diver, and my parts, I remember my parts to this day, were more intricate than what Vivian ended up playing, and I think Ronnie was looking for that, just a simple rhythm and that's kind of hard for me to do."

Looking back at LA in the mid-80s with players like Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, George Lynch, Warren DiMartini, and Lee, I wondered if there was something in the water - there hasn't been a group of players that great to come from one scene since:

Jake E. Lee: "Yeah, that is funny - I mean it's weird. Because there was Van Halen in '78, then Randy in '79/80. LA, as far as California, LA was the only place to be. Warren and I grew up in San Diego, and I moved to LA first, because you were never going to get anywhere in San Diego. 
"I needed to move up to LA, but first I had the same thought, like, 'Shit, Eddie Van Halen came out, shit, Randy Rhoads came out, are they all fucking great up there? What's the deal? 
"So, I asked a friend who lived up in LA to name me the top 5 guitar players in town. I wanted to check out their bands before I moved up there - I remember George was one, Carlo Cavaso, another guy from a band called Seagull, so anyway, I went and saw all these guitar players, and said, 'Yeah, they're good, but I'm not going to say that they're better than me. I'm moving up! 
"Yeah, I don't know what the deal was, it was like Southern California in a short period of time produced a lot of really great guitar players."

We were running out of time, and Jake had to get on to interview #48, so I wrapped things up by asking if he had heard about the Randy Rhoads Remembered show that Brian Tichy was organizing for January 25th at The Observatory in Santa Ana:


Jake E. Lee: "Yeah! Actually, I just got an e-mail from Tichy about it! 
"I'm not sure about our touring schedule right now, but I did e-mail him back, and said, 'Hey, don't count me out - let me see what's going on,' so I might get to participate in that! 
"I did one before, way back, probably in '88, or something. I played in that one with Glenn Hughes, Dimebag - that was where I met Dimebag, and it was a fun time! So yeah, there is a possibility that I'll do something in that, as long as our touring schedule permits. Tichy - I've never heard him play drums, and I hear he's an amazing drummer - I've only seen him play guitar in S.U.N. with Sass (Jordan), and he's a really good guitar player! He's just one of those multi-talented motherfuckers, hahaha!"

And, so it was, that Jake is having fun, staying humble, and currently cool with being back in the thick of it:

Jake E. Lee: "Yeah, it's actually very cool doing it - it's better than I thought it would be. It's just really, really cool."

Thanks to Jake E. Lee, Red Dragon Cartel, Kevin Chiaramonte at PFA, Dustin Hardman, and Peter Noble at Noble PR.

Pre-order Red Dragon Cartel Here!

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