Tour de Forced

It was my first rock concert.
Ozzy Osbourne had canceled one date and then rescheduled, so my anticipation was reaching a second climax. I entered the heavily trodden worshipping grounds of the now demolished Hollywood Sportatorium, knee-high to a swarm of security guards armed with flashlights and harsh glares. I stood on the edge of my cracked chair and leaned forward to see if the guitarist was going to play his proper respects to the late Randy Rhoads.

Jake E. Lee plugged his Fender ax into a wall of amps and addressed his captive audience, impressing one and all with his aggressive yet methodical and technically affluent approach. Respects played and paid.

Since those days with the Oz, Lee has struck another Rhoads chord. While performing as one of many top guitarists asked to appear at the Randy Rhoads Benefit last year in Los Angeles, Lee met and decided to join forces with former WW3 singer Mandy Lion. "We were both interested in putting together a band, so we decided to do a three-song demo over the summer. The demo isA " Lee pauses, searching for the word -- "heavy. Mandy is a raspy singer, like if he's got razors in his throat. It's really different from anything I've done before. I've been listening to a lot of techno and rap, and if you could lift the guitar out of it, the bass and drum tracks I put down have that kind of feel."

As Lee and company arrive to perform in South Florida this Saturday, most people are either recovering from shopper exhaustion or out hunting post-Christmas bargains. But this is the worst time for a band to be shopping -- if they're shopping for a label deal. With record companies hyping greatest hits and other collections, Lee and Lion are keeping their distance until after the holidays, concentrating for now on a U.S. tour under the tentative moniker the Lee/Lion Project, with drummer Ray Luzier and bassist Jimmy Bain (Rainbow, Dio) as rhythm section."We're trying to keep this thing snowballing," says Lee. "We've written another dozen songs and the next logical step was to take it on the road."

Lee's road warrior days have included a month with Dio and a year as a member of the Ratt pack (before they got signed). He nabbed the Ozzy gig, turning his Ratt friends on to his roommate at the time, guitarist Warren DeMartini, as a farewell favor.

Lee's roadwork also includes a challenge he took on when he was with Badlands, a band that broke up more than a year ago. "We didn't like the management, and since they owned a fourth of Titanium Records, which has since folded, the bottom just fell through for us. We put out another Badlands CD, which they didn't promote, made a cheap video, and were basically told we weren't getting money to tour," Lee explains. "So to prove a point, we rented two cars and toured on our own. We drove from one gig straight to the next, sleeping in the cars half of the time. We managed to keep it up for three months, but we were almost dead and broke when we were done."

It's obvious that Lee isn't in this biz for big cash payoffs, and he'll be the first to tell you that he'd rather stand behind his guitar and his music than in any spotlight soaking up the rays of fame.

"If somebody isn't supportive of my music, it doesn't mean I'm going to change my approach," he says firmly. "I don't come up with music and ask myself if it will sound like something playable on the radio. What one person says will never work will catch on the next day. Just look at White Zombie or Faith No More. My whole thing is that I do the music for myself and if I like it, then it's good enough."

The Lee/Lion Project performs at 8:00 p.m. Saturday at Button South, 100 Ansin Blvd, Hallandale, 454-4880. Tickets cost $13 and $15.

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Christina Henriques