JAKE E. LEE – “I Would Like My Name On The Songwriting Credits For Bark At The Moon”
November 23, 2018, 6 months ago
He’s always been a bit of a mystery man. In and out of Ozzy to anonymity after two classic albums, Bark At The Moon and The Ultimate Sin, Jake E. Lee soon was back from nowhere commandeering the even better good ship Badlands, issuing masterpieces in that band’s self-titled debut and ’91 follow-up Voodoo Highway, before disappearing—very reclusively—again.
A few projects occurred along the way, but then a band situation called Red Dragon Cartel was conjured, 2014 bringing a self-titled, and now a second album, enigmatically called Patina. The first record was a bit more safely metal than the present spread, the new collection fueling and feeding the mystery around Jake with its Zeppelin-esque progressiveness. Fact is, Patina is a sophisticated and daringly creative hard rock trip, along the lines of Saigon Kick meets Badlands meets Aerosmith in the ‘90s and 2000s.
Joining Jake for the journey are drummer Phil Varone (Saigon Kick, Skid Row), Harem Scarem drummer-turned-lead vocalist Darren Smith, plus bassist but so much more Anthony Esposito, who is in fact the groovy producer and gatherer of the exotic sounds that make up this intelligent and non-obvious record.
“I think it’s more honest, a record closer to what I do,” reflects Jake, asked to contrast Patina with the debut, which, as good as it was, kicked off a couple years of tour drama, with members of the band falling out and getting replaced, taking us to what is hopefully a more stable situation with album two and its planned aftermath. “I liked the first record. It’s a good record, but it was a little more out of my hands. Kevin Churko was producing and we did it his way, which was me coming up with a guitar part, or actually taking guitar parts off of my computer from all the stuff that I’d been writing the previous ten years, and then putting it into a studio computer. And then having a drummer come in and play real drums over it, and then another bass player come in. It was done bit by bit, which I’d never done before, really. And it was interesting, but just not the way I do things. So this record is much more honest as far as what came out of the studio. I think it sounds more organic and cohesive because of that. It was written with the band in the room. I think it’s… anybody who actually likes me, I think it’s more in tune with what they would think I would put out as a record.”
“Most of the songs on there aren’t immediately accessible,” continues Lee, an assertion I’d have to disagree with—novel of construct, brave of production value, obstinate against convention, but no, the songs are actually quite accessible! “You know, you have a ‘Havana,’ but also ‘Speed Bag,’ which I think is pretty much what it is when you first listen to it. But the other songs are those kinds of songs that you listen to, and the more you listen to them, the more you appreciate the nuances and how it is, as a whole, a little bit different. And my hope is that people will give it that chance. If you just sit down and play it and judge it on the first listen… you know, I don’t think it’s that kind of album. And so I just hope people give it a chance because I think it’s a really good record. I think it stands up with the best stuff I’ve done. But you just have to let it sink in.”
One unifying factor is that it’s pretty mid-tempo, all the better to hear the gorgeous and varied guitar playing and production packed into every surprising track.
“And you know,” agrees Jake, “I’ve always been more of a mid-tempo kind of a writer, so I don’t really come up with the fast songs that often. But I think, you know, especially now that I’m 62 years old, yeah, those days might be over.”
Asked to name a track that exemplifies the heady creative atmosphere of the record, Lee is quick to cite the ninth song of the record’s ten, “My Beautiful Mess.” And why?
“Because it’s such an odd riff musically, and almost kind of an ugly riff. And then the chords I play for the verse sections are weird chords. In fact we wrote it musically, but there were no vocals on it. We had no melodies for it. And I finished it in the studio and most of the vocal melodies and lyrics, Anthony wrote during the day while I was recording at night. And Darren came out singing; he was singing and then they both came up to me and said, ‘Okay, this song is just too weird. Neither one of us have any ideas on what to sing on it.’ So I ended up writing the melody for it. And if you listen to it, it’s a weird melody. I didn’t know if anybody would like it or not. Apparently a couple of people think it’s their favourite song on the record, which makes me happy because that means they enjoy my weirdness.”
We might not have had the weirdness of Red Dragon Cartel if things had gone differently. At one point, around what has so far turned out to be Ozzy Osbourne’s last album, Scream from back in 2010, it looked like Jake might have found himself bounced back into the band.
Asked why we didn’t see him on Scream, Jake explains, “Well, I’d gotten a call from Sharon, and being Sharon, she actually managed to find me. She tracked my phone number because I swear there were maybe a handful of people that had my phone number. Somehow she called me at home and she told me that Ozzy was having problems with Zakk and they were looking to replace him and if I’d be interested in doing some festivals and quite possibly the next record. And I said, yeah. I mean, I haven’t done anything like that in a long time. I’m interested, but I can’t let sleeping dogs lie. I said if we’re going to go forward, I want to fix the one problem I’ve had since the very beginning. I said I would like my name on the songwriting credits for Bark At The Moon.”
Just that song or the whole record?
“No, the album. Yeah, I wrote everything except for ‘So Tired.’ I didn’t have anything to do with that song. I always hated that song because I didn’t write it; it’s just, I dunno, I didn’t think it was very good. But yeah, I just want my name on the credits. I don’t want any retroactive payment. I don’t want any future payment. I don’t want to make a penny off of it. I just… it would just be nice to have my name on this stuff that I wrote. And I said if we can get past that, I’ll sign an agreement where I don’t ever make a penny on any of it. I just want my name on it. I said if we can get past that, then we can talk further about whether or not I can do this or not. And she said she’d call me back the next day and she didn’t. So I took that as a no.”
Yet oddly, Jake is generously credited across his second and last Ozzy record, The Ultimate Sin. Why the change of attitude there? “Because I refused to do anything until I had a contract in front of me. I wasn’t smart enough to do that the first time around. The first time around, I trusted them. They said that yeah, I would get songwriting credits and get publishing and everything that was coming to me and I believed them. So the first one, I had to sign it, and after that I learned my lesson for The Ultimate Sin and I said, okay, I want to see a contract first.”
And so… “In the ‘80s I was a shiny new thing and now I’m a rusty old bolt,” cracks Jake, shedding a bit of meaning on the title of one of the records he ended up making instead of Scream, namely Patina. “We did the album at Anthony’s studio, which is a ranch similar to where we did Bark At The Moon. It was on a ranch in the middle of the countryside, in a place called Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. He has an old house and the studio is in an old barn and he’s very much the handyman. If he’s not working on the music, he’s working on rebuilding his kitchen or finding a fireplace that he didn’t know was in the house because it was all boarded-up anyway. So he watches all those shows. And I remember one day, he came back to the studio and says, ‘Patina, patina, patina, patina. I’m so sick of that word. That’s all they ever use on these shows. I mean, it’s patina this and patina that.’ And he looks at me and I’m like, ‘You’re going to hate me,’ is what I said. ‘I think I know what the name of the album is.’ ‘Just fucking tell me.’ ‘It’s Patina.’ It’s so apropos. And he was pissed; he was pissed about it. The next day he said, ‘I thought about it and you’re right. It’s perfect.’ Yeah. It’s something that’s old that has gained a beauty that can’t be produced without aging—and I think that sums me up.”