ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 16, 1992
By Steve Newton
Few guitarists have had to deal with the kind of expectations put on Jake E. Lee when he took over Randy Rhoads’ guitar spot in the Ozzy Osbourne band. Rhoads’ tragic death in a 1982 plane crash stunned the rock world and didn’t make things easy for his replacement—or for interim live guitarist Brad Gillis. But Lee—whose current group, Badlands, plays 86 Street next Thursday (April 23)—managed to handle the pressure.
“There were a lot of people out there who were for Randy Rhoads,” recalls Lee, “and they would hang banners with his name on them and stuff. But at the same time there were people who were willing to give me a chance. And the same with Ozzy. He’d often say, ‘You’re Jake, you’re not Randy. I don’t expect you to be Randy.’ But then the other half the time he’d be drunk, and he would.”
Lee was a member of the Osbourne clan from ’84 to ’87, recording the albums Bark at the Moon and The Ultimate Sin before Ozzy cleaned house and asked him to leave—along with the rest of his band. In the summer of ’88 Lee formed Badlands with vocalist Ray Gillen, who had been Black Sabbath’s vocalist on the Eternal Idol album. So far the band has released two heavily blues-based hard-rock releases, including the recent Voodoo Highway.
Lee didn’t start off as a guitarist, though. He played piano from the ages of six to 15, and taught classical music. In his own words, he was a “classical snob” who frowned on rock ’n’ roll.
“I just didn’t see the appeal in listening to something that was basic and simple and usually lyrically stupid,” he says. “Prokofiev and Bartok was actually what I liked most. But then I heard Jimi, and he changed my mind on all that.”
After discovering Hendrix, Lee went through a period of exploring different musical styles, working in a country band, a funk group, and a jazz/fusion outfit before his interest in hard-rock was revitalized by another American guitar innovator.
“In the ’70s, I remember hard rock got pretty boring and predictable, and that’s when I started playing fusion. I wasn’t real happy with that either, after a while. Then Van Halen came out and gave it a big shot in the butt, and that’s what made me want to start playing hard rock again.”
With major influences such as Hendrix and Van Halen, it’s not surprising that Lee likes to crank up the volume. Those with tender eardrums should keep in mind that Lee was kicked out of his first band because he played too loud.
“I still do, according to everybody I play with. I remember Ozzy’s soundman was always tryin’ to get me to turn down, but Ozzy said I didn’t have to, so I never did.”