Interviews

Interview: JAKE E LEE of Red Dragon Cartel

Jake E LeeJake E Lee was the flash kid that Ozzy picked up during his successful Bark at the Moon and Ultimate Sin career period. He then went on to Badlands, recording three albums before pursuing a range of musical projects and then, nothing. He became a virtual musical recluse until he reemerged with Red Dragon Cartel in 2014. Recently, the band have brought out their second release, Patina. I have been actively pursuing an interview with Jake since I met him personally in London back in 2014 – back then my scheduled interview was canceled. However, being afforded a second chance, I was delighted to finally be able to have a chat with the man himself. A quite different character and one that had changed his attitude to giving press interviews. “I got fed up being asked the same questions again and again”. Suffice to say our chat went extremely well with Jake E Lee actually taking time in the end to praise my “original” questions.


ANTIHERO: I would like to start by taking you right back. What were you like at school, was music something that you were always naturally good at?

Jake E Lee: At school? Well, I started playing piano in kindergarten when I was six because I don’t know. I guess I felt the calling, I wanted to play music, so I started taking piano lessons when I was six. Although I will say that I was a snob about it.  Cause the lessons entailed playing classical pieces. And I was actually pretty good at it. My instructor would enter me into statewide competitions. And I thought that I was the shit. And my dad listened to a lot of jazz, so growing up I was mostly listening to classical music and jazz, but I had a younger sister who liked listening to … Well, I don’t know if I’d call it Rock… Pop, she listened to the radio and I’d walk by her room every once in a while, and she was really into The Monkees and shit like that, right.

And I’d listen to it and because she was my little sister, I’d tell her how horrible her taste in music was and how stupid she should feel. But when I was 12, I walked by her room one day and I heard the beginning of Purple Haze.

by Jimi Hendrix, and that mesmerized me. I stood in her doorway, listening to the whole thing. And I said, “Holy shit. What was that?” And she goes, “That’s Jimi Hendrix.” And I said, “Jimi Hendrix? Okay, okay, now I have a whole new direction.” And that changed everything. It’s funny, if I hadn’t walked by my sister’s room while she was listening to the radio and hear Jimi Hendrix, I don’t know where I would be today, but that changed my life.

ANTIHERO: Fast forwarding and over the years you played with other artists. What would you say would be the most valuable lesson you learned during your time with Ozzy, Badlands, and even Red Dragon Cartel?

Jake E Lee: Interesting, a valuable lesson. Well, unfortunately, I believe the most valuable lesson that I learned was to get things in writing. And always have a lawyer looking after you. Because of the whole thing with Ozzy. I don’t have credits for Bark At The Moon, and I know I sound like I’m whining about it because it seems like it comes up a lot. I’m not, I’m not. If I was going to whine about it, I would have sued Ozzy a long time ago.

It is what it is, but I would say that was, more than anything, the most important thing I’ve learned. And for me it’s about the music, it’s not about the money, but if there’s going to be money made then you want to make sure it goes to the right people. So, I would have to say, yeah, that’s the most valuable lesson I learned.

ANTIHERO:  On a more positive note then, who would you say would be the most inspiring musician that you’ve ever worked with?

Jake E Lee: Well yeah, I’ll give it to you, you come up with some interesting questions that I haven’t been asked.

ANTIHERO: Thanks for the compliment.

Jake E Lee: hmm, the most the inspiring musician that I have worked … I probably have to say Bob Daisley.

ANTIHERO: What would be your reason for picking him in particular?

Jake E Lee: When we were doing the Bark At The Moon record, I came up with most of the music, I came up with the riff and …  Bob and I worked well together.

Red Dragon CartelANTIHERO: The second Red Dragon Cartel is less one-dimensional rock than the band’s first release.

Jake E Lee: Yes, I tried to put in a variety of influences in there. So jazzy or, here instead of the usual rock solo, or what if we added some Latin percussion here, and for me, that’s exciting. There’s so much music in the world that I find beautiful and for me, it’s just so much more interesting to try to bring in certain elements of other styles, even if it’s like Indian music has a really complex, well even just their notes selection may have … I don’t know exactly, but it’s something like, instead of the 12 notes that we use in western music, Indian music has, I don’t know, 24 or something like that. They just have all these other notes that you can select from and different rhythms, Indian rhythm is really complex and I’ve actually used that in certain spots and pieces on this record, really simplified ones, but still it’s just … Yeah for me, music is just so exciting and beautiful and it’s everywhere and I love drawing from different sources of music and trying to implement it under the umbrella of what the Jake E Lee sound is.

ANTIHERO: What about then touring plans? Do you have any plans to incorporate more dates in UK and Europe this time?

Jake E Lee: Yeah, we are trying to. As of right now there we do have an American tour in place basically during the month of March and then we’re going to Japan in mid-April and we’re thinking rather than come back to America after Japan, we want to go to Europe. We’re trying to make that happen now, it’s … the last tour that we did in Europe was kind of a mess and I think promoters are hesitant to book me, we’re trying to work around that, we’re trying to get some stuff going and I do hope to be able to do that because Europe is just so  diverse and it’s so much fun to wake up in a different country and explore the different cultures that it is a priority, I’ll say that much and we’re gonna work it out, but as of yet there’s nothing for sure.

ANTIHERO: Okay, just a couple more then we finish, the music industry has changed quite dramatically since you started off. Is it better or worse being a professional musician in 2018 compared to when you first started?

Jake E Lee: Well, for me it’s worse. It’s different and, and it’s hard to say whether overall it’s better or worse, for me and you know, obviously it’s worse but that also would have something to do with my age you know, I’m 61, I’m not going to be as relevant to a teenager as I was back in the 80s and it is a very different world, even just record sales, it’s just not … I mean in the eighties, my friend you know, when Rat Motley Crue Ozzy, to be a success, you had to at least do double platinum. Platinum was good, you know, a million sales is good, but two is better and that was what you strive for, now it’s nothing like that, it’s all streaming and it’s a different avenue and you know, I didn’t know what the last Red Dragon Cartel album did exactly, and I probably shouldn’t even say so I won’t but it’s a  like less than a 10th of what it would have done in the 80s and it’s still considered a success.  So it is very different and I don’t really have my head wrapped around it completely, but as long as I can continue to make records and continue to tour, then I’ll consider it a success.

Red Dragon CartelANTIHERO: Bands generally seem to make more from touring these days than the actual sales of an album.

Jake E Lee: Yeah, that is true and I think it’s basically because it’s still sort of the same as it was back then, it’s just now the records aren’t selling as much and it’s not even really … I don’t think the amount you get paid for playing, I think that basically, as far as I know, as far as my situation, the amount you get paid to play somewhere will cover the cost that it takes to tour, it will cover the travel expenses and paying everybody a salary, you make your money pretty much really of a merchandise.

Merchandise is where there’s no loss, there is no question about how many shirts you sold and how much you made off of it, it’s mostly merchandising now and I think it was always a big thing even in the 80s and I didn’t realize, I didn’t realize that when I was in Ozzy and we toured and there are tee shirts and I remember Sharon Osbourne say do you want your own shirt? And I thought, why? It just seems egotistical, why would I give a shit I don’t want, I don’t want to see my face on peoples chest everywhere. It just seems weird, and I’d say no and then find … the last part of the tour that I did with them, it was the last three months that she talked me into, said: “Look, just put your own shirt out there and see what happens.”

And in those last three months, I made $70,000 off the one shirt that had my face on it and that blew me away, I was like “Holy Shit, I had no idea.” So yeah, I was completely ignorant to the fact that merchandising, always thought merchandising was just like publicity for the band, I didn’t realize how much money it makes. And now that is basically the only way bands make money you know, touring and pushing the merchandising. So it’s a different era, you don’t get tour support like you used to, I’m mean record companies will give you a couple hundred thousand to support you for the tour because the tour would then help sell records, but now record sales really isn’t … as far as you know, rock music, record sales aren’t that big a part of the money anymore so it’s strange.

ANTIHERO: It must be really frustrating though as an artist to have put all your time and creativity into making an album, and then really not be rewarded for your efforts.

Jake E Lee: I would. I don’t think it’s so much that way, I’m a simple man, I don’t, you know … the privilege of being able to make a record, you know, because Frontiers gave me money so that I can make the record and I spent every dime of that in the production of this record, whereas in the old days, you know, you get a huge sum and you could spend some on yourself, but now for me, the privilege of being able to make a record, especially one that I’m proud of. I wouldn’t say it’s frustrating, no, I think it’s … as I said before, and I don’t want to overuse it, it’s more of a privilege to be able to make the record and it’s not like it cost me anything out of pocket.

What would be frustrating is people not hearing it and that’s something that I don’t know how to get it out there, people that might be interested in the fact that I have a new record out, there’s obviously your core, your fan base and you can reach them, it’s reaching the other people, you know, for me in particular, because I’m older and I’ll run into people because I live in Las Vegas and if I go out, there’s a lot of people from different parts of the country just in the casinos or wherever, and I’ll get recognized and say, “Oh, Jake E Lee, oh, I loved your stuff, the Badlands, what have you been doing lately?” And I say, “Oh, well I have this band, Red Dragon Cartel,” And they say, “Oh, I have to look it up.” which surprises me, kind of surprises, like if you are a fan how do you not know that I have a record out?

But obviously, especially in my fans from back then are now, I’d say now in their fifties, maybe in their forties at their youngest, they have lives, they’re not going to actually go out and think, wow, I wonder whatever happened to Jake E Lee.  Let’s see if he’s doing anything. It needs to be presented to them and I don’t know how to do that, I wish I did you know, I do all these interviews in the hopes that people that don’t know I’m doing anything, we’ll see it, but even that, it’s a very marginalized audience, it’s not reaching a lot of these people that I have run into that would be interested that I’m doing something but are just not connected in any way to even be aware of that fact. So that I would say is the most frustrating part.

Red Dragon CartelANTIHERO: Just the final one, you have done many interviews but who would you most like to interview if the roles were reversed? Anybody, maybe a personal hero or inspiration to you in your life.

Jake E Lee: Well…I’m going to say Mark, I mean, interesting question, you’ve been providing me with some unique questions here, oh God, who … I don’t know if he was still alive, I would say Johnny Cash just because Johnny Cash is the … I got to meet him once and he was just the coolest dude I’ve ever met but seeing as how he’s not around anymore and I couldn’t do that, who would I want to interview? Maybe Jimmy Page, because I liken myself to him somewhat in that particularly in my later part of my career, but really starting with Badlands, it was more about the music and the songs for me, when I was in Ozzy, the music and the songs obviously we’re still important and was always a major factor in what I was doing but there was also the gun-slinging guitar side to me because I was new and it was the 80’s when the guitar hero was God.

And so there was always a part of me back then that wanted to establish myself as a guitar player and as the years go by it’s diminished considerably as to what … I feel like I accomplish more with the music and the song and the overall vibe of it as opposed to how good was that Guitar Solo, that’s one of the least important things now to me. And Jimmy Page, because when back in the 80s it wasn’t unpopular to kind of critique his playing, because he was a little sloppy and his solos weren’t … some of them were incredible, but some of them were sort of like, did he even bother to, you know, did he even wake up and get out of bed to play that solo?

But the music was always incredible, I mean, and his music, he always placed that on the top of his priorities and it wasn’t until later and it grew on me that that is what is important, that is what is most satisfying and I admire that in him and it would be fun to discuss that with him and tell him that I’m sorry I was ever maybe critical of his playing because I understand the important part, the music, he was always at the top of the heap when it came to that and one of the best songwriters I think of the whole rock generation.

ANTIHERO: Okay Jake, that’s fantastic, thank you very much, hopefully, you’ll get to the UK to play some gigs.

Jake E Lee: Yeah. Get to the UK, have some good beer, some good a whiskey and let me see, what kind of food do I miss from the UK? I Don’t know, is there anything in the UK that I would miss food-wise?

ANTIHERO: Probably not.

Jake E Lee: Because we can always deny that I spent a lot of time there. There must be something, let me think, well, Shepherd’s Pie, shepherd’s pie is always good.

Red Dragon CartelANTIHERO: Yeah. As I said, it’s been an honour. I first saw you back in 1986 with Ozzy, I was at the Donington show and last saw you play a gig in Belfast where I’m originally from.

Jake E Lee: Oh Wow. Yeah, that was a while ago. But Belfast…

ANTIHERO: Way back.

Jake E Lee: Oh, you saw that? Because they had wall with … yeah and armed guards and you had to pass through an inspection gate before you  could get in to the city  because you know, things were kind of hairy back there.

ANTIHERO: Exactly. I do actually remember there were religious protesters outside picketing the Ozzy Gig, I think you did two nights in Belfast. It’s a much-improved country these days.  Thank you, very much and good luck with the new album.

Jake E Lee: Alright, well thank you Mark, and as I said before, thank you for posing some interesting questions for me.

ANTIHERO: Thank you, I always try and mix it up because I appreciate the bands, especially bands that have been around a long time, all of us get, like you said earlier, the same questions asked every single time.

Jake E Lee: Well, I do appreciate it. Thank you.

ANTIHERO: Thank you very much. Cheers. Bye.

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Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time.Photo: Mark Dean with Jeff Kendrick of Devildriver - Photography by Olga Kuzmenko

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