For nearly twenty years, everybody in rock 'n' roll wondered where Jake E. Lee was.
That's mainly because his impact never dwindled. Every time the seminal group Badlands or Ozzy's "Bark at the Moon" came up in discussion, the question undoubtedly popped up as well. However, like an animal waiting for the perfect moment to pounce, Jake never stopped writing music. The right time happened in late 2011, when the shredder kept serendipitously crossing paths with longtime friend, notable session guitarist, and Beggars & Thieves bassist Ronnie Mancuso. Lee would eat at Mancuso's Las Vegas restaurant occasionally, and one day, Mancuso posed a different question.
"I asked Jake to appear in a music video Beggars & Thieves as doing called 'We Come Undone'," he remembers. "I was shocked he agreed. When it premiered, there was this outpouring of love for him. Everybody wanted new music. That's when the idea of playing together was born."
Mancuso also shares Hideout studios with producer Kevin Churko [Five Finger Death Punch, Ozzy Osbourne], and the proverbial wheels began turning. Mancuso proposed that the two start a "project" produced by them and executive produced by Churko. Luckily, Lee had hundreds of riffs and ideas already recorded. The duo immediately went to work constructing the framework of the album. "I didn't miss the music business, but I never stopped writing," affirms Jake. "When Ron and I started writing, the songs were turning out pretty cool. It wasn't just a throwback thing. It was about starting fresh." Around the same time, Mancuso created a Facebook page titled "Jake E. Lee Needs a Lead Singer and Drummer". After one post, they received thousands of entries. Two Canadian musicians, singer D.J. Smith and drummer Jonas Fairley, instantly stood out. "They're very unique," says Mancuso. "Both of them added their stamp to the record. As we kept going, it became more and more of a band."
They chose the name Red Dragon Cartel as a nod to Lee's Japanese heritage and the "gang" mentality of a unit who would die for each other. These four musicians also cultivated a focused, fresh, and fiery hard rock sound that embraced the lead guitarist's classic style, while emitting a new kind of spark on their self-titled debut for Frontiers Records. "It's not like we stopped listening to music for the past two decades," chuckles Mancuso. "Those modern influences certainly pop up. At the same time, there are some inimitable elements to Jake's playing. You know it's him. Kevin and his son Kane were very meticulous in helping us harness that. It's modern without trying to be modern". "It's not like anything I've done, but it's not that far removed either," adds Jake. "It's Red Dragon Cartel."
The first single "Feeder" tears through the 21st century with a flurry of guitar fireworks, Tom Peterson's 12-string bass, pummeling percussion from Five Finger Death Punch skinsman Jeremy Spencer, and vocals courtesy of Cheap Trick's Robin Zander. "That was a template for the whole album," Mancuso goes on. "Lyrically, it's about people who suck the blood out of you. Whether it's in a relationship or business, it's about those people who take the positive energy out of you". "'Feeder' started with a synth bass line with some synth chords," says Jake. "It was the first idea Ron liked so we started right in on it."
Meanwhile, on "Big Mouth", In This Moment singer Maria Brink delivers an impressive vocal spot, complimented by dualing solos from Lee and her band mate Chris Howorth. Mancuso says, "I found this progression Jake wrote that I really liked. It was interesting and intriguing. Jake's pedal started disintegrating during the solo, and we recorded that. It's different than anything I've ever heard, and Maria brought something very special to it."
The same could be said for the hard-hitting "Deceived" as well as the entrancing album closer, "Exquisite Tenderness", which is the first song that Lee ever composed as a child. "I started playing piano when I was six," he says. "Even when I picked up guitar, I still spent an hour at the piano a day because my mom made me. I would always tinker around, and this was the first song I ever wrote on my own. I never knew what to do with it. It was never a band song. I played it at the studio one day, and Ron thought it would be cool to put it on the record. I was game for that!"
Also on the record, luminaries such as Rex Brown [ex-Pantera, Kill Devil Hill], Paul Di'Anno [ex-Iron Maiden], and Scott Reeder [ex-Kyuss] make guest appearances, expanding the impact even more. It all solidifies this record as a true event for metal and hard rock fans everywhere. "This is a complete album," concludes Mancuso. "I want people to come away with a whole album they can enjoy from start-to-finish without shutting it off. I hope they're still doing that ten years from now like the classic albums we all grew up on and everybody would dream of from a group of guys like this."
"It feels like a rebirth," Jake leaves off. "I forgot how cool it was to play in front of a crowd. It made me happy just to play for so long. I was never one of those guys who wanted to stand in front of a bunch of people and have them stare at me. However, being on stage a couple of times now, I honestly remember how amazing it is. Red Dragon Cartel gives me that opportunity again, and I'm going to enjoy it."