40 Years Ago: Jake E. Lee Joins the Ozzy Osbourne Band
Guitarist Jake E. Lee began his career as a member of Mickey Ratt, who became better known as Ratt after a name change in the early '80s. He then moved on to Rough Cutt, a band produced by Ronnie James Dio. Lee's big break came when he was tapped by Ozzy Osbourne to replace the late Randy Rhoads. Lee played on two Osbourne records: Bark at the Moon, released on Nov. 15, 1983, and then 1986's The Ultimate Sin. We look back on that first album with Lee, who went on to a number of other groups in his long career.
When you joined Ozzy’s band during the ‘Speak of the Devil’ tour, what was the state of the band at that point?
Well, there was Tommy Aldridge on drums, Don Costa on bass and Lindsay Bridgewater on keyboards and Ozzy Osbourne on drugs and alcohol, basically. At the time I was in the band, I can at least proudly say I’m pretty sure that was Ozzy Osbourne at his most fucked up. Back then, it didn’t feel like a proud thing to say, but now, it’s kind of like a badge of honor that I was there the whole time. It was interesting.
Having spent some time on the road with Ozzy on that tour, were you able to slip pretty comfortably into the collaborative process once you guys began the process of making what would become the Bark at the Moon album?
Yeah. Well, most of that was really me and Bob Daisley. Because Ozzy would show up and kind of play around with songs. I remember that I had the riff for "Bark at the Moon" and I played that, and he said, “Oh, I love it – we’ll call that one "Bark at the Moon,” because he already had the album title in mind. So he said, “That’s the one that’s going to be ‘Bark at the Moon.’” He’d come in with things like that and then he’d drink, and he’d either pass out or leave, which left just me and Bob. We’d stay in the studio and flesh out the songs. It was fun working with Bob. He wrote all of the lyrics, [and he’s] a great lyricist. So yeah, me and Bob, we had a good working relationship. It was fun doing that record.
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Where did Max Norman fit in?
He was in an interesting position, because he was starting to be well-known because of the Ozzy records. But because he wasn’t [well-known] when Ozzy did those records, for Ozzy he kind of had to be Ozzy’s bitch. If Ozzy said something, he expected Max to do it, period. He didn’t get a lot of input as far as that. Although he had a lot of input with me – because I was brand new at it. I’d never done a record and he was really helpful for me as far as tightening up, doing two takes and lining them up right. He helped me a lot, but he was kind of a little bit of an Ozzy whipping boy for Ozzy and that’s why he didn’t get a chance to mix the record, which I think was a fuck up.
I mean, he should have. He mixed the first two Ozzy records and they’re bitchin’. But then Ozzy figured he could get somebody else better. I think at that point, that’s when he switched from Jet Records to Sony. Sony were the big boys, and they said “Max Norman? Who’s he? Get somebody else!” That’s why Tony Bongiovi ended up mixing the record, even though he wasn’t there for the recording – and that record could have sounded so much better I think, if Max had been allowed to mix it.
Listen to Ozzy Osbourne's 'Bark at the Moon'
That’s a pretty big record for you to be involved with for your first experience in the studio.
Yeah, yeah. There was times that it would sink in on me. I tried to ignore it. You don’t want to sit around thinking, “Oh my God – Randy Rhoads played on records before me. Oh my God. Everybody’s going to be looking at me.” You know, you try to ignore all of that shit, but there were a couple of nights [where it got to me], because we did it on Ridge Farm, which is an actual farm in the middle of Scotland and there’s nothing except cows and farms out there. There’s no distractions, so every once in a while, I’d wander into the tech’s room and smoke a little pot. It was nice because it relaxed me, but then eventually, I would start thinking about it and that’s where I’d go into my “Oh my God, I hope I don’t fuck up” modes. So I tried not to do that too much.
Then you go out on the road and you start touring behind the record. What kind of reaction were you seeing from people as far as a response to what you had done? What was that feedback like?
It was interesting. I got a lot of support, but I also had a lot of “Randy Rhoads rules; you suck.” I mean, I got a lot of that – and [it was] undeserved, I thought. That option is gone, you know? Randy’s gone and it’s not like he’s gone to go play in some other band; he’s just gone. So either you guys want Ozzy to hang up his coat and call it quits, or cut me a little slack. But all the way through Ozzy, there was always a faction of “You suck; Randy rules.” So, it gave me tough skin.
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I would say that there’s no situation that would give you a tougher skin than stepping into that job. Just stepping into that job and then, as you referenced, also having to follow the two records that had been made before the record you were working on.
Yeah and those were iconic records. It was tough. And the fact that before I learned that you should check into a hotel using a made-up name? I think it took me about a month to figure that out. I would be in my room, and the phone would ring and I’d pick it up. There’d be some guy on the other end of it – this happened for about a month – some guy on the other end of it would find out what room I was in and go, “You suck! I should have gotten the gig,” and then start playing guitar over the phone to me! It was funny, but after a while it got annoying. And they would never give me the chance to talk back. It would always be, “You suck; I should have gotten the gig. Check this out,” and either I’d have to listen to them play and wait before I could respond, or I’d just have to hang up. So I never really got to respond to any of them, which pissed me off.
Did you go into that situation of making the record knowing that you weren’t going to get the writing credits?
How did you reconcile that part of things?
On The Ultimate Sin, I did get credit because I got fucked out of the first one. I was promised that I would get [credit]. Because I was young and I was in the middle of Scotland recording, I didn’t have a manager or a lawyer. It was just me. From the beginning, every musician, it’s always hammered into them, “Keep your publishing” and “Keep your writing.” So those were the only conditions that I had was “OK, I’m getting songwriting credit, right?” I was always assured that “Yes, I’m getting publishing – of course you are!”
When I didn’t on the first record, it was upsetting. But I figured OK, what am I going to do? I got fucked; what am I going to quit? We’re about to tour on a record that I finally got to make. There’s no problem for Ozzy to find another guitar player. Am I just going to be that guy that played on that record, didn’t even get credit on the record and then refused to tour because I had a problem with Ozzy? No. I had to go out and tour. It would have been stupid not to. So I was only able to put my foot down at the end of the tour. “Let’s make another record” and I was like, “OK, but this time, you know what? I want the contract first before we start recording. I don’t want to be a dick, but I don’t want to get fucked again either.”
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