Jake E. Lee
Submitted by HeadDino on Wed, 05/28/2008 - 21:56
Watch Jake E. Lee in Action at the bottom of this page!
Famous / Infamous for
Famous For: Replacing Randy Rhoads in Ozzy Osbourne's band. When Jake burst into prominence in 1983, he was the epitome of the cocky, metal guitar hero. And for that era, no one looked the part more, had bigger hair, or played the role better. Sure, Bernie Torme and Brad Gillis had filled in briefly after Rhoads' death, but Jake held the gig from 83-87. Jake is also famous for his amazing stage presence, and landing the Dio gig before Viv Campbell, but leaving it due to creative differences with Ronnie James Dio.
Infamous For: Wasted potential. His inactivity and reclusiveness have earned him the nickname Flakey Lee in some circles. Jake has become the Punxsutawney Phil of tribute albums. He pops his head out of his hole, plays on a track, then he sees his shadow and disappears for another year — or three. Jake is one of the guys who brought all those Japanese bandannas and crap to metal. And Jake's onetime roommate, Warren DeMartini, must have raided his closet!
Obvious: Personally, I hear a lot of Randy Rhoads' rhythmic ideas in the Ozzy material, but they're also in the Badlands material. Check out the rhythm part under the lead break in Dreams in the Dark. I also hear a lot of Jimmy Page-like licks and ideas in the Badlands material. I find these influences more obvious than those Jake has mentioned below.
Not-so-obvious: Jake lists his influences as Tommy Bolin (his highschool band was called Teaser), Uli Jon Roth, Ritchie Blackmore, Edward Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, and Jeff Beck.
Jake was a true extrovert performer who demanded your attention. He had the best stage presence and most exhilarating stage moves of any of the players of his era. Women wanted him. Guys wanted to be him. Jake danced and gyrated all over the stage. Yet if you were waiting for him to screw up or miss a note, you could forget about it. The details and nuances of playing never suffered in the performance. His combination of control and consistency were uncanny. It was as if the Ozzy gig was too easy for him. If you didn't get to experience Jake first-hand back in the 80s, track down a copy of the old Bark at the Moon live concert video. It's all captured on film.
Attitude. Jake had the Dino attitude in spades. The defining I wanna tear your head off with my guitar attitude that came through in his songs and guitar style. Jake rarely lays back. Even in Badlands he's pretty much in-your-face most of the time.
Chops and taste. Jake has chops to burn and was one of the hottest players of the 80s, yet he's also an all-around great player and was always conscious of playing for the song.
Reclusiveness. Does anyone know where Jake E. Lee is? His fans don't know. The people who run his website don't know. Rumors have run rampant for years and have included everything from that he's a drug addict living out of a hotel, to that he's married to some rich woman and is a kept man. Regardless, it's beyond a bad joke now. For all of his talent, Jake's lack of productivity has become the defining theme of his career and legacy. He might want to consider changing his name back to Jakey Lou Williams.
Songwriting. Suffice it to say he wasn't Randy Rhoads or even Zakk Wylde in the songwriting department with Ozzy. For discussion, let's focus on Badlands because it was Jake's primary writing vehicle, and because he was free to write what he wanted. Badlands featured a fantastic guitarist, a fantastic singer, and a great rhythm section, but for some reason, the songwriting was never quite equal to the sum of the parts. I know some people love Badlands, and that's fine. But something about them just doesn't connect with me. I never enjoyed Badlands as much as I thought I should have, given the talent of Lee and Gillen.
Each album has couple of real good songs, but the bulk of the material is less engaging at the song-level. Put on a Badlands album, and you'll probably notice the songs all kind of sound the same. They all have a similar tempo, and a similar feel. And after a while, enough is enough. Sometimes everything works well, as on High Wire and Dreams in the Dark. But often the arrangements are overly complicated for the heavy blues-rock genre. Consequently, the song hooks — not to mention any sense of groove — gets lost in the shuffle. Check out Love Don't Mean a Thing for an example of a song that weaves all over the road like a drunk driver. This isn't prog. Where's it going? Stay in the lane, Jake, so we can enjoy the ride.
Tone. Described in detail below. Tone is subjective, of course, but Jake's tone was usually too wet or too dry for my tastes.
Jake E. Lee is associated with superstrat-style guitars of many makes, including Charvel, Jackson, and ESP. The most distinguishing features of these guitars are the lack of tremolo bar, and a unique pickup configuration. Jake's strats contain humbuckers in the bridge position, and single coils in the middle and neck positions. The single coils are angled opposite from the normal Fender Strat pickup layout to produce more bite on the low E and A strings. His main guitar during the Ozzy and Badlands days was a 1974-75 Fender Strat, painted by a roommate who worked at Charvel (and who also affixed the Charvel decal on the headstock). Towards the end of Badlands Jake used the ESP (Jake E. Lee model) almost exclusively, because he thought it sounded better. He liked the Gibson scale length neck and the jumbo to regular fret combination. He didn't like the ESP pickups though, and used/uses a Seymour Duncan JB for the bridge, and DiMarzio SDS-1's for the middle and neck positions. Another one of Jake's favorite guitars is a 1961 white Gibson SG-TV containing one P-90. He claims it's too fragile for the road, but it was used in the Lightning Strikes and Shot In The Dark videos, and to record on first Badlands album.
Jake is a Marshall man and has used a variety of (EL34) models over the years. According to jakeelee.com, Jake used a 1977 100 watt head (stock) on Bark at the Moon, and JCM800 2203s live with Ozzy. Other studio choices included an edgy sounding, late 60s 50 watt for rhythms and a mid 60s 100watt used for leads, that was full and fat sounding. A 69 or 70 Marshall metal face 100 watt for the grungier sounds on Voodoo Highway and a 68 marshall 100 watt plexi for the smoother sounds on Voodoo Highway. A mid 80s 1959SLP reissue 100w in orange tolex he used live on tour with Badlands. The matching orange 4x12 cabs were fitted with EV speakers.
To get his sound, Jake always played extremely loud in the studio, and in the same room with the cabs to get sustain. Also key to Jake's 80s and 90s tone was that he used a Boss OD-1 to cut bass frequencies. Jake said: "I run into a Boss Overdrive but the drive is always on 0 because I don't use it for the distortion. I use it for the bass cut — it tightens up the bottom end. I like my EV speakers because they're nice and clean when I play soft, but they get woofy when I turn it up. So whenever I play loud I hit the Boss and it cuts out some of the real low end and tightens it up. The overdrive is backed off to about 7 o'clock and the gain (level) is full on when I play live; in the studio, it varied between 12 o'clock and 8 o'clock, depending on how much distortion I wanted". He quit using the Boss OD-1 towards the end of Badlands. For leads, he also used an old boost pedal made by Pete Cornish.
Post Badlands, Jake used Peavey 5150 heads and 4x12 speaker cabinets on tour with Wicked Alliance, but they were lost or stolen shortly after. He's used a Tech21 Sansamp PSA-1 pre amp and an Avalon VT737SP pre amp/tube compressor for recording and on some tribute projects.
In general, Jake's tone is a study in extreme contrasts. With Ozzy, his tone was drenched in Flanger and delay. In a 1991 Guitar World interview Jake claimed: "(the producers) never gave me time (to get a tone I liked) — and once we all arrived at something, they said: do all the songs with this tone." His tone on Bark at the Moon is so effect-soaked that it's almost sonic mush. Then on the self-titled Badlands debut, Jake's tone was drier than a 90 year-old hooker. It was a bit moister on Voodoo Highway and Dusk, but not much. Dryness aside, Jake's tone in Badlands was very raw in character, but pretty thick and brown — never over trebly. Heavy strings probably helped. Jake uses: 010, 014, 018, 028, 040, 052 or a 056 if the E is dropped. As stated above tone is subjective, but to my ears, Jake's Badlands tone would have sounded better with more room ambience and/or reverb and delay. He probably achieved the best balance between wet and dry on The Ultimate Sin. Unfortunately it's a pretty weak album otherwise.
One of the young guns who came out of the LA guitar scene in the early 80s, Jake's closest contemporaries would be American players such as George Lynch, Warren DeMartini, and his Japanese alter-ego Akira Takasaki. Jake studied piano as a child, so he has some formal musical training.
Jake's guitar style — or at least what he chose to show of it — changed pretty radically over time. With Ozzy, Jake had to strike a balance between the Rhoads-inspired Neo-Classical trappings that the gig demanded, and some bluesier bits that were more natural to him. On the Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman material, Jake stuck very close to Randy's original solos, adding only a few of his own subtle interpretations. He often played the Rhoads material with more confidence and consistency than you'll hear on live recordings featuring Randy himself.
The riffs and songs Jake wrote for Ozzy — understandably— tried to capitalize on the same type of minor sounding muted, pedaled 16th note riffs (ala I Don't Know and Crazy Train) that had been so successful for Randy and Ozzy. Bark at the Moon and Waiting For Darkness are two of the better examples. Conversely, one of Lee's best riffs, Rock n' Roll Rebel, actually predated his time with Ozzy. As such, it sounds less derivative than the rest of Bark at the Moon.
Jake used a ton of flash tricks with Ozzy. Particular Lee trademarks included: Four-finger hammer-ons (Secret Loser), overhand slide/fake echo and violin bow/pick scratching (Never Know Why). On Thank God for the Bomb, he used behind the nut bends, and simulated radio sounds by fretting notes with his thumb on fretboard and hitting harmonics higher up with his finger tips (see photo above). He used hammer-on octaves (Killer of Giants) and hammer-on chords (Lightning Strikes).
But despite playing the Rhoads/Sabbath material with Ozzy, when Jake ventured out his next band, Badlands, he went for an entirely different sound. Of Badlands, Jake said at the time: "People are gonna expect an Ozzy-Black Sabbath sound, but it's not what they're going to get. It's very American — hard rock with a blues root to it — but not your standard blues. We like to put little twists and bends in there. In a way, it's ethnic, using American rootsy music — funky in a dirty, gritty kind of way." Jake called the Badlands style: "Delta Thrash, Appalachian Boogie, Swamp Rock/Voodoo Blues. Jake claims that in the same way Creedence was distinctively American. So, too, is Badlands — but with a harder edge." I would agree with those statements. Others hear a lot of Zeppelin influence in Badlands. Regardless, Lee's style clearly shifted from Ozzy-style metal to a simpler, bluesier, riff-based, heavy rock. He ditched his spandex pants and all of the 80s flash metal tricks and focused on lead work that favored feel and substance over flash, yet was equally impressive by any standards.
Jake is a very rhythmic guitarist in general. Distinctive characteristics of his rhythm style include lots of triad forms — particularly parallel 5ths — played on the D, G and B strings as on Bark at the Moon. Another Lee trademark is playing a Root 5 power chord (for example, a C5 at the third fret: C-G-C) and then adding a another 5th (in this case G) on the low E (i.e. G-C-G-C). This simple variation changes the tonal character of the chord dramatically because the root is no longer the first note heard when the chord is strummed. Instead, you get the 5th voiced lower than the root, and on beefier string where we typically expect to hear the root. This chord voicing sounds very dark and angry.
In Badlands, Jake played a lot of clean arpeggiated passages — often on acoustic — to create dynamic variations. They could appear in any part of a song. For example, the intro on (Devil's Stomp), the verses in (Seasons), or as a bridge in (Ball and Chain). It is in these passages that Jake's melodic side comes through the strongest. Jade's Song is a good example.
As a lead player, Jake employs plenty of hammer-ons, pull-offs, and sped-up Jimmy Page-style pentatonic licks on things like Rumblin' Train and Dancing on the Edge. He'll sometimes play scale pattern with open string pull-offs ala Blackmore and Gary Moore. He does some tremolo picking. He did some two-handed tapping when with Ozzy. Jake can alternate pick as well as any of the 80s metal heroes when he needs to, but he also uses plenty of legato and plays his pentatonic licks in the traditional manner. Scalewise, Jake really prefers the Pentatonics, but also uses Aeolian, some Lydian, and some Diminished by way of Randy Rhoads.
Jake's solos are composed. He says: "One of the ways I come up with a solo is to just listen to the bare rhythm track over & over (it can be in the background while you're doing something else) until I start hearing different melodies, figures, etc . . . in my head. Then I try to implement those onto the guitar."
Lee's solos frequently begin with some wild, attention-grabbing stuff, then build to speedy crescendos. Yet to my ears, Jake's lead playing isn't as sexy as one might expect (or like) it to be — given his blues background and his sexy stage persona. There are a couple of exceptions such as Bark at the Moon, but in general, Jake's solos tend to be flashy and interesting, rather than tasty or sexy. And because Jake isn't an overly melodic player — he doesn't really create or explore melodic themes — his solos aren't as memorable as Rhoads' or even Zakk Wylde's.
Of interest: Center of Eternity contained one of Jake's favorite solos. He loved playing the opening run so much, he used it again Hard Driver. Similarly, there's a bit of that fabulous Bark at the Moon outro lick in Dancing on the Edge.
Jake's a good slide player and good examples his slide work are on Streets Cry Freedom, Whisky Dust, and Show Me the Way.
Jake's uses finger vibrato exclusively. He's always viewed the whammy as a crutch and his guitars aren't equipped with them. Jake once said: "A lot of people use the (tremolo) bar when their brain or their heart quits thinking about the music." Despite this, Jake's vibrato isn't particularly distinctive or noteworthy. It's always pretty quick. Narrow to medium width most of the time — seldom wide. And while Jake doesn't use the bar, he sometimes simulates dive bombs by de-tuning his low E string at the machine head. For more subtle dives, he would bend the neck ala Michael Schenker.
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