With Jake E Lee excommunicated from the Osbourne camp no one was sure what he would do next. In 1988, Badlands formed however the connections that made this happen go back to the years that Jake spent with Ozzy.
The original Badlands line up was Ray Gillen on vocals, Eric Singer on drums, Greg Chaisson on bass and of course Jake E Lee on guitar. And we will never be able to see the band that cut the self-titled debut album reunite. Ray Gillen has passed and Eric Singer said in an interview on the Daves on Tour website that his memories of Badlands aren’t good ones.
“I saw a lot of potential with really talented people turn into a sad situation.”
Eric Singer auditioned for Ozzy back in 1985 and he didn’t get the gig. Greg Chaisson also auditioned for Ozzy around the same period and he also didn’t get the gig. Both of them lost out to Randy Castillo and Phil Soussan. The outcome for both Singer and Chaisson was that they got to meet Jake E Lee and have a jam with him. That is the Jake E Lee connection.
Eric Singer also did a stint in Black Sabbath during the Glenn Hughes/Ray Gillen era. That is the Ray Gillen connection. Music is a relationship business and it was these relationships, albeit small ones once upon a time, that ended up getting together to create one hell of a debut album.
In an interview with Kerrang from May 1989, this is what Ray Gillen had to say on the bands beginnings;
“I was particularly keen on the project because I had to pick myself up off the floor after my involvement with the Blue Murder project had gone sour. I was basically asked to leave the band due to outside record company pressure. John Kalodner, one of the top people at Geffen Records, simply said that I couldn’t sing!”
John Sykes’s search for a singer for his post Whitesnake project was legendary and in the end it was John Kalodner who decided it.
By 1989, metal music needed a re-invention. The answer was a new breed of bands with guitar gods as their centrepiece. Enter, Badlands, along with Blue Murder, Mr Big and Lynch Mob.
Wearing their Seventies classic rock influences on their sleeves and very cleverly merging the minor key riff remnants of the mid-Eighties heavy metal sound, Badlands hit the target. Each song was unique. Engineer James A. Ball mentioned in a Guitar World interview from July 1989, that the album was recorded in about ten studios. Each studio brought its own sound to the songs and you can hear it.
This is what Jake E Lee had to say on the band in an interview with Guitar World from July 1989;
Badlands is purer because I didn’t have to filter my ideas through Ozzy. Ozzy encouraged a flashier, trick-oriented style. Badlands is definitely more blues-based. When we got together we started by playing old Cream, Free, Led Zeppelin—the things we all grew up on. When we started writing songs, it carried over. I naturally went back to my pre-Ozzy approach. Our bassist, Greg Chaisson, says he’s relieved. He used to see me in my club days when I was playing in Ratt and Rough Cutt, and said I was his favourite. When he heard “Bark At The Moon”, he was disappointed.
Paul O’Neill was also the producer and was also their manager. He is well-known today with his work with Savatage and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. One thing that Paul O’Neill does not credit for, is his song writing skills. He didn’t have mainstream hits like Desmond Child or Jim Vallance or Max Martin, however he was involved in writing some hard rock and heavy metal classics.
The standout song on the debut is “High Wire” and that song is a Jake E Lee and Ray Gillen composition. It cemented Jake’s reputation. You can’t keep a super star down and what a great way to open the album.
How good is that opening riff?
If anyone has heard the song “Transatlantic Blues” from The Night Flight Orchestra, you will hear this riff re-used. It is a hidden gem and a piece of kick ass hard rock. Adrenaline Mob also covered it last year on “Coverta” and paid tribute to the original in a damn good way.
The beauty of the song is the simplicity. It is a simple A to C, A to D riff, the cornerstone to all classic blues/classic rock songs.
“Winter’s Call” is written by Jake E Lee, Ray Gillen and Alex Gonzalez. It is the most Zeppelinesque song on the album, especially in the verses, combining Middle Eastern drones with Celtic modes. It is also one of the oldest songs on the album, as the song’s roots go back to 1983.
“Streets Cry Freedom” is the next gem and the song is written by Jake E Lee, Ray Gillen and Paul O’Neill. What a great way to close off side one. When vinyl was king, albums got sequenced by having a great opening track and a great closing track.
“Till the day that I die”.
The comparisons to Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie and Bad Company are prevalent in this song. The song’s verses are a typical 12 bars blues. Instead of playing it in the standard way, Jake E Lee shows his guitar smarts by arpeggiating the verses.
Again, the song sounds complex, however it is simple, especially the way it picks up towards the end.
“Seasons” is a gem on the second side. It is another song by the Jake E Lee, Ray Gillen and Paul O’Neill song writing team and man, it reminds me a lot of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”.
This was 1989 and MTV ruled. Bands needed a hit to get recognition. So while “Dreams In The Dark” did the video rounds, as the record label decided it had the most “hit” potential, songs like “Winters Call”, “Seasons” and “Streets Cry Freedom” slipped under the radar. This is Jake E Lee at his best. He soars on these songs, like a free bird. And Ray Gillen made John Kalodner eat his words.
Then there are the stories about how “Hard Driver” reminds me of “Death Alley Driver” from Rainbow. How Jake E Lee used a black Les Paul Custom originally owned by Carlos Santana for “Rumblin’ Train” and how the song was written while Jake E Lee was tuning up his guitar.
The self titled album is brilliant. While other artists went with the one hit single per album and the rest as filler, Badlands delivered an album strong from start to finish. I sort of forgot about these albums and it was Jake’s re-appearance last year that re-awakened all of these memories.