By Andrew Catania
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – an assuming museum located on the shores of Lake Erie that makes the strongest of men weaken with a burning desire to belong. Legends are made and honored amongst the museum’s four walls, forever etched as the choice of guidance for the generations of musicians to come.
From all the great artists who made it to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, our eyes wander purposely to find one name that lingers in our hearts – Jake E. Lee. The American guitarist who signed with Shrapnel Records and is recognized for playing with Ozzy Osbourne for the four years leading up to 1987 is a name that resonates admiration amongst seasoned guitarists and amateur fans alike.
Inspired by his elder sister’s guitar, Jake E. Lee gave up the classical piano lessons he had been taking since the age of six only to pick up the guitar at 13. Inspired by Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath and Led Zepplin in his teens – he transformed his classical music knowledge to become a self-taught rock guitarist, highlighting his natural acumen for the instrument.
His talent grew multi-bounds, leading to incidents where Lee had been asked to downplay his skill. In 1980, Lee joined a hard rock band called Mickey Ratt in San Diego that went on to become the popular glam metal band Ratt in Los Angeles under his care. Once he realized that the peak of Ratt’s success had been achieved, he left to join Rough Cutt but was whisked away by Rough Cutt’s producer Ronnie James Dio who invited him to join his new solo band Dio – Ronnie James Dio’s latest venture after leaving Black Sabbath. Lee’s stint at Dio’s band remained short-lived because Ronnie Dio continued to wish for Lee to play “simple block chords that wouldn’t trample on his vocals.”
The turn of events that took place next defined Lee’s discovery to the path of success. Around the same time as Lee’s departure from Dio, the world-renowned bassist Dana Strum recommended Jake E. Lee as a replacement for the recently deceased Randy Rhoads to Ozzy Osbourne. Torn between Dokken’s George Lynch and Jake E. Lee, Ozzy finally decided on Jake E. Lee despite having initially chosen George Lynch based on Lee’s creativity in technique.
Lee continued to stick by Osbourne, through Osbourne’s substance abuse problems as well as his post-recovery tours up until Lee was unfairly fired by Osbourne’s wife Sharon Osbourne – without any hint at the impending exit.
Shocked but undefeated, Jake E. Lee went on to form his own blues-inspired hard rock band Badlands with vocalist Ray Gillen in 1988. Following the short-term success and end of Badlands, Jake E.Lee continued to make waves in the musical industry. Apart from wishing to keeping a low-key profile between the 1990’s -2000’s, he still appeared on musical tributes to Queen, AC/DC, Rush, Metallica, and others.
There are very few who can boast to have the depth of experience Jake E. Lee has – the man who has been chosen to be their primary one choice by great producers and musicians. His dedication to the art of playing the guitar above the desire to be commercially successful has often buried his genuine contribution to rock and roll. If there is one name our wandering eyes search for on The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – it’s that of Jake E. Lee.