Jake E. Lee

Mixing it up Guitar-wise With Ozzy

By Steven Rosen


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JAKE E LEE, LIVE, 1984, NEIL ZLOZOWER.Photo Credit: NEIL ZLOZOWER/ATLASICONS.COMVirginia-born Jake E. Lee stands virtually alone in the arena of electric players. The lanky guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne is one of the very few guitar gladiators confronting the beast of heavy metal without the weapon of a vibrato bar.A listen to Bark At The Moon or The Ultimate Sin reveals his unique use of finger vibrato, neck-bending and beyond-bridge tweaking.

He first took up guitar at age 13 when he picked up his sister’s cheap acoustic. The first song he learned was The Guess Who’s “No Time” and in no time he was fronting his own original bands in San Diego, California [his family moved there early on]. He joined Ratt for a brief period – “Stephen Pearcy was mainly why I quit” – toyed with Rough Cutt and then auditioned for Ozzy. He was 45 minutes late for that date, late for his first American appearance with Ozzy in concert, and over an hour late for this interview.

But he was worth waiting for. His responses are to the point, honest, and poignant. Here, then, Jake E. Lee: the man who hates time and tremolos …

‘You had far more input on The Ultimate Sin album than you did with Bark At The Moon. Did you want to become more involved in the writing and recording process or was this just a natural progression of knowing Ozzy better?

It was thrust upon me, more or less. I wanted more input. Every band I’ve ever been in I had almost complete control over. Except for Ratt, which was almost a partnership between me and Stephen [Pearcy, vocalist], but I had control over the music. It was like a Van Halen/Roth thing. Steve had control over the clothing and the show and I had control over the music. So I was used to being in control of the music in a band. And I wanted it that way.

What was your role on Bark At The Moon?

Most of the music was mine: “Rock ‘N’ Roll Rebel,’ “Bark At The Moon,” “Now You See It (Now You Don’t),” “Waiting For Darkness” and “Slow Down” were mine. How easy or difficult was it work with Ozzy in regards to presenting him with material? On Bark At The Moon I approached it really cautiously because I was the new guy and I could be out at any second. So I just played him riffs and if he liked the riff then the whole band would work on it. When I write a riff, I don’t just write a riff – I write a verse and a chorus and everything around it. And Bob Daisley [bassist on BATM] might change a part here or there and Ozzy might change a part and that was it really. I didn’t argue too much if I didn’t like the way something was coming out. I’d go, ‘I don’t really like this’ and they’d go, ‘Well, what do you know?’ And I’d go [in sheepish voice], ‘I don’t know anything, let’s change it.’ The strings on ‘Bark At The Moon’ I hated; ‘So Tired’ I hated. Actually, I didn’t mind that when it was done as a four-piece band but then they schmalatzed it up with all the strings and I hated it. So I’d present some thing and they’d fight, debate, say it sucked or whatever.

Everybody contributed a little bit and it didn’t necessarily come outthe way I imagined it would. On The Ultimate Sin, while Ozzy was in the Betty Ford Clinic, I got a drum machine. One of those mini-studios, a bass from Charvel – a really shitty one – and I more or less wrote entire songs. I didn’t write melodies or lyrics because Ozzy is bound to do a lot of changing if I was to do that.I just write the music.I write the riff and I’ll come up with a chorus, verse, bridge4 and solo section, and I’ll write the drum and bass parts I had in mind. I put about 12 songs like that down on tape and when he got out of the Betty Ford clinic it was, ‘Here ya go, here’s what I’ve got so far.’ And I’d say half of it ended up on the album.

Photo by Neil Zlozower
Photo by Neil Zlozower

Does Ozzy hear what you’re trying to put across musically? Or does he make drastic changes in your riffs and arrangements?

He almost always does something different than what I expect him to. He sang a lot bluesier on this record [The Ultimate Sin] than I thought he was going to.Sometimes I’ll write something weird that I think he’ll like and he’ll say, ‘That’s too weird, are you on acid or something? This isn’t Frank Zappa.’ And I’ll write something simple that I think he might like and he’ll go, ‘That’s pop, what is it?’ So it’s a weird little area – it can’t be too commercial-sounding and it can’t be too weird. I think it can be pretty weird-sounding, but in Ozzy Osbourne you can get away with a lot. But he doesn’t want it getting too weird. Especially on this record, we almost played it safe. We didn’t go out on a limb. We didn’t try to make it commercial but we kept what we thought Ozzy could get away with without raising too many eyebrows. And that’s what a song like ‘Shot In The Dark’ was a surprise because it borders on FM pop. Yeah, we had our doubts about that. I write a lot of songs like that – most of the songs I’ve kept have been really commercial or really weird – and I wasn’t so sure of that when Phil [Soussan, bassist/write of ‘Shot In The Dark’] first presented it. It was getting kind of commercial and Ozzy wasn’t too sure of it either. But [producer] Ron Nevison gunned for that one and it worked out alright.

Ron Nevison is a veteran producer who has worked with everyone from Heart to Bad Company. What was that experience like?

(Takes a moment, grins) I’ll be diplomatic – he was hard to work with. He doesn’t have a very open mind; he hears things his way and he thinks that’s the way it should be done. And I heard things my way and I think that’s the way it should be done. And there wasn’t a whole lot of compromise. It was mostly who felt the strongest about something and argued the longest won out. There were parts on the album where I said, Definitely not, I don’t want it that way, this is the way it has to be.’

And he’d argue, but I’d win if I felt strongly enough about it. And then there were parts where we’d argue and if I didn’t feel that strongly about it, I’d say, ‘Okay, have it your way.’ It wasn’t like trying something in the middle; we were buttin’ heads through the whole record.



Did the problems like in the songs themselves or the sounds you were presenting?

Everything, really. Not so much song structure, really; it was more the production and the sounds. Because he liked the way we had written most of the songs. There were some songs where he halved a verse and had a chorus come in quicker, but it was mainly the production. What type of guitar sound were you going for on these albums? It depends on the song. I got the same guitar sounds more or less through the whole record, which I didn’t want to do. I brought in 16 heads and 12 cabinets loaded with different things: EV’s, Celestions, JBL’s, everything, so I could get a good sound.And so I could get a different sound if I wanted.And I finally got a good basic sound aafter a long time. We cut the stuff that I wanted to use that sound with and when it came to the other songs, I said, ‘Okay, I’d like a different sound here.’ And Ron said, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Because I don’t think it should all sound the same.’ I had just talked to Phil Collen of Def Leppard and he said they try different guitars and different sounds and mix and match. And he [Nevison] said, ‘What? You want to sound like Def Leppard?’ And I said, ‘No, but I don’t want it to sound like one single sound for the whole album.’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s a good sound and I don’t think we should mess with it.’ And we argued about that for quite a bit and I finally said, ‘Fuck it, I want to play guitar.’ I wanted a lot more variety in the guitar tone. That can’t be a healthy environment to work in.

I didn’t go in the studio with the attitude of, ‘Oh, boy, I get to play today, let’s see what we can put down!’ I went in there thinking, ‘ Oh, shit, what are we going to argue about today?’ What is your guitar and amplifier situation with Ozzy? My main guitar is a 1974 [or 1975] Fender Stratocaster which has been Charvelized with Gotoh tuners, brass bridge and Gibson frets. The headstock is carved down and the neck has been shaved [it is now thinner and narrower]. It has a maple neck with rosewood fretboard and the body allows the strings to run entirely through it.

There are two single-coil DiMarzio SDS-1 pickups that have been slanted in the opposite position so the pole pieces for the bass strings are closer to the bridge producing more bite and less mushiness. The bridge pickup is a Seymour Duncan Allan Holdsworth prototype. I use a 1977 Marshall 100-watt head [stock] powering a Marshall 4×12 cabinet with EV speakers. I couple this with a Marshall 50-watt top [circa 1964]. I do use pedals: a Boss CE-3 Chorus; BF-2 Flanger; DM-2 Delay [for rhythm]; (2) DD- 2 Digital Delays [for lead]; a GE-7 Equalizer [7-band]; an SCC-700 computerized pedalboard; and a Variac [set between 90 and 100]. I set the digital units so one is for slow leads and a lot of delay and the other one set normal for leads with just a touch of delay.

How was Nevison different than Max Norman [producer of Bark At The Moon]?

Max doesn’t have as much control over Ozzy’s stuff as he does with other people’s stuff. Because Max more or less got his start with Ozzy and worked on the first couple of records. Max was basically an engineer and because of the sounds he got he became a producer and other bands started using him as a producer. I hear that he’s strict and has a lot of control in the studio, but when he works with Ozzy he’s back to being an engineer. So there was a lot of difference between Max and Ron.

Max made me try harder to get the doubled rhythm tracks [Jake doubles and triple all backing tracks] more in sync with each other than Ron did. Max wanted them almost perfect whereas Ron liked just a little bit of difference. He thought it sounded cool that way. With Max there were times when I thought it was good enough and he’d make me do it again’ with Ron there were times when I didn’t think it was good enough and he’s say it was fine.

It seems a bit funny that you would double triple-track rhythm parts because, at heart, you seem to be such a purist: no whammy bar, no pedals …

A purist? Probably more of a masochist is a better way to put it.I thought bands were cheating because you could tune the guitar down and do all that other sort of stuff that I do so you don’t need a bar. And you could do fake echoes like I do so echoes were cheating. Flanging was covering up something that was boring that you should have made more interesting in the beginning. And that’s the way I felt before joining Ozzy but I still feel like I’m cheating. I know Warren [DeMartini, guitarist for Ratt] has gone back to the same thing that I used to do; he’s only got an equalizer now. I saw that when they were opening for us in England and I said, ‘That’s a nice set-up you’ve got, Warren,’ and he goes, ‘Yeah, I got it from this one guy I used to go sell all the time. He got a real cool sound but he’s pedal-mad now’ [referring to Lee]. He made me feel guilty about it. You have to play a lot cleaner and pay more attention to what you’re ding. If you screw up there’s no echo to cover you and flange to cover up your sloppiness. That’s the way a real guitar player should play. In this era of whammy-crazy players, the fact that you don’t use one singles you out. How did that develop …. or not develop? Oooooh, everybody who uses a bar is going to hate me [laughs] and everybody uses a bar. What Brad Gillis does with a bar is pretty innovative; some of what Eddie has done with a bar is fairly innovative.I don’t think a lot of what he has done with a bar is innovative, but he has brought it back. It had been done before and it is a cool sound but he doesn’t rely on it like some people do. It’s real easy to hit a harmonic at the 5th fret of the G string to start a solo and when you’re done with the solo to hit the E strong and hit the bar. That’s easy. I’m nt saying that Eddie relies on that because obviously he’s a great player. But a lot 9f people do use the bar when their brain or their heart quits thinking about the music.They need to have a filler and that’s why I think a bar is cheating. I think young guys should learn how to play without the bar and then once they’re pretty happening they can start incorporating the bar. That’s what I always planned on doing, but then I’ve never gotten around to it yet.

Did Ozzy ever make mention of the fact that you don’t use a tremolo bar?

Yeah, the first thing he said was, ‘Do you know how to play a guitar with a wang bar on it?’ And I said, ‘Of course, anybody can play a guitar with a want bar but I don’t like it.’And he said, ‘Well, why don’t you think about using one?Because I don’t think you can play some of these songs without one.’ And I said, ‘I can, I’ll show ya’ and after rehearsal he said, ‘Yeah, fine, it sounds like you’ve got one. I don’t care. As long as it sounds good, you don’t need to use one.’

Playing guitar with Ozzy Osbourne is probably the best and worst gig in the world – there’s all the attention but on the other side you may be seen as just a sideman at times.If anything, I think I get more attention than I deserve as a guitar player. If somebody comes up to me and goes, ‘Man, you’re Number One, you’re the best guitar player in the world,’ I start feeling stupid. I go, ‘Nah, there are guys better than me.’ But if somebody comes up and says, ‘You really suck, you’re nothing compared to Randy,’ then I go, ‘Hey, fuck you, I’m good, I’m probably 10 times better than you’ll ever be. No, I never feel obscured at all.”

Steven Rosen


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