Dokken continues, undaunted, into the fire
By Naughty Mickie email@example.com
Photos by Keith Durflinger firstname.lastname@example.org
I'll admit that this is not the first time I had spoken with Don Dokken. He is still the same driven man pursuing the elusive dream for many-- keeping his band working and he has been successful. What made this talk different was that it was just Don and me, and I learned what makes this "rockstar" human. Dokken is a strong man, but he is not without his "soft" side, one filled with humor and passion.
Dokken started out as the band, The Boyz, with lead singer Don Dokken,
guitarist George Lynch and drummer Mick Brown. By 1983, the group emerged as
Dokken and released "Breaking the Chains." The album didn't grab much
attention in the United States, but the band became popular in Europe.
In 1984, Jeff Pilson came aboard as Dokken's official bassist. They were signed to Elektra Records and put out "Tooth and Nail." Hits off this effort topped charts around the world and the album eventually sold over one million copies in the United States. But by 1988, the Dokken broke up, leaving Don to pursue a solo career and Lynch to form Lynch Mob. The group reunited in 1992 and signed with Columbia Records in 1995 to release "Dysfunctional." In 1998, Lynch left Dokken again and was replaced by Reb Beach (Winger).
Dokken met 2000 with the release of "Live From The Sun," a concert album from their performance at The Sun Theatre in Anaheim, California. Beach and Pilson have now moved on and been replaced by guitarist John Norum (Europe) and bassist Barry Sparks (Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen, Uli Jon Roth and Vinnie Moore). Also on deck is a new studio album, "Long Way Home," on CMC International Records, a division of the Sanctuary Records Group.
I decided to start our interview at the beginning of the band, from Don's point of view.
"Like most of the bands from L.A., I just played in the club scene, had fun," Dokken says. "It's all about having fun, just playing the bars, meeting girls and all that. I wasn't that serious about it when I started, I was just jamming with musicians and then somebody wanted me to play their birthday party, then I did a beer bust and that's how it started.
"I didn't start music in a band thing until after college," continues Dokken. "I was just always playing with musicians, we just jammed. We'd get together on weekends and jam, just get it out of our systems. And we put together a few shows and we wrote some originals and the next thing I know we were playing with Van Halen when they were first starting out.''
Dokken grew up in a musical household and started playing guitar at age 12, "My father is a jazz musician and he still plays. He plays big band music like Glen Miller. My mom's father is a musician; she plays piano, my brother sings and plays guitar.''
He also attended college, majoring in child psychology.
"I didn't plan on going into music," Dokken tells me. "The chances of making it are a million to one. I wasn't real interested, but I gave it a shot and here I am.''
He also had his share of interesting jobs prior to his success in music.
"I worked in a gas station on cars doing tune ups and I worked in a body shop, a place called One Day Body Shop, pulling dents out of cars," Dokken says. "And I worked for several years as a cook at place in Manhattan Beach called the Kettle, graveyard shift.''
"Are you a good cook?" I have to ask, as I enjoy cooking myself.
"Yeah, I am,'' he replies sounding surprised.
"What do you like to make?"
"I like pastas, Italian foods, different types of sauce,'' says Dokken.
"Do you cook a lot?" I go on, hoping for a dinner invitation.
"Not a lot of it, I only cook for myself." Dokken softens, "You know when you're single you don't have a girlfriend, somebody to cook for. I can't seem to stay in relationships because my whole life is absorbed by Dokken.''
Our conversation turns to a discussion of trust issues in relationships when you're a musician and especially when you're on the road. Then I ask Dokken if he feels that the music scene has changed.
"Yes, that whole sex groupie thing is over with. As a matter of fact, I hope it's over with, you could die from it. It's all changed, now music's changed, music is very dark," Dokken shakes his head. "POD, System of a Down, Slipknot, it's just dark; about suburban youth, anger and all that stuff, a bad childhood, it's very negative.''
"Do you see anything positive in the music scene?" I query.
"No I don't." Dokken pauses, "Well, yeah, there's the boy bands, there's the Backstreet Boys and N'Sync and Britney Spears, they're more like the entertainment types of groups-- just have fun. Up music, no down, it's just always up. And you've got icons like Aerosmith. But I'm sorry, if I go listen to new bands, I walk out of the concert and I'm drained. But you go see Aerosmith or you go to Bon Jovi and you walk out of the concert charged. People leave Dokken concerts going, 'Man, that was cool,' but with some of these new bands, they walk out like, 'Man, I'm so drained out.' This angry, moshing, I don't get it. Some of these new bands make Metallica look a pop band.''
Dokken doesn't give the Internet much merit either.
"I use it for artwork, that's all I care about. I'm not an Internet person," Dokken states. "I have laptops and I've bought computers and I've done video and Dokken video on computers, but you can get anything you want as far as education. It's like if you want to learn something about any place, any country, you can. It's like an instant library. But as far as things like Metal Sludge, which I think it absolutely useless, it's just garbage. It's just garbage in, garbage out, I have no use for it. It's a waste of the Internet.''
"There are some good music and band sites too," I offer.
"Yeah, there are, for a fan," admits Dokken. "But I don't go to those sites. Now you can get access to anything you want in two seconds you can listen to a million bands worldwide. That's a great trivia thing, in 1985, 800 albums a year were coming out and in 1996, 1995, ten years later, 8,000 albums a year are coming out. So if you have 800 coming out a year in the '80s and 8,000 coming out in the '90s, about 16,000 are coming out now in the 21st century, the competition, the music flood is just overwhelming. Everybody's trying to make it because you don't have to be really good anymore. You don't have to be a prolific musician, you don't have to sing on key, it's just all about attitude and a story, it's all about anger.''
"So you feel that musicianship is lacking?" I ask.
"Oh yeah. Obviously. When's the last time you heard a guitar solo in a song?'' Dokken points out. "It's because they can't do it. Where are all the harmonies? They can't do it. They don't. They all act old-fashioned rebellion, but what they really mean is we don't do harmonies because we don't know how. They don't have the technical prowess to do it and not everybody's a singer.''
"So what do you credit your band's longevity to?"
"I'm not really sure." Dokken thinks, then replies, "Just tenacity, I just keep pushing forward. I want to make music now because it's fun, it's exciting, it's stressful, it's painful, it's hurtful. But at the end of the day, when I hear the cool song and I like it, I go, 'Wow, I wrote that? That's a cool song.' When the performance, the music and the arrangement makes me feel good, that makes it all worth it.''
Dokken writes for himself, which must be very fortunate, I comment.
"It's hard when you have to be on the road and sit in a bus in the freezing cold from Houston, you feel like it's a real job. So there's a downside." Dokken explains, "You get 22 hours of pain for two hours of glory. It's not all fun. If we were playing California, great, but we're playing Chicago and Maine and Virginia and it's about 22 degrees, eight hours down a bumpy road, it's rough, you know.''
Dokken draws inspiration for his music from a variety of sources.
"Something will happen in my life and it inspires a good lyric or I'll see something happen to somebody," says Dokken. "There's this song on the album called 'Little Girl' and it's about a girl we kind of watched just go deeper, deeper, deeper into drugs and she committed suicide. So that was inspiring for a song.
"Then I've seen my friends get into relationships and they're totally miserable and unhappy and I say to them, 'Why don't you get out of the relationship?' And they're like, 'Well... ' 'Maybe you don't need to be in a relationship right now, you should be alone.' You've got to learn to love yourself first. Their attitude is kind of like it's better to be in a bad relationship, than no relationship. And that brought me to write the song, 'Everybody needs someone.' It's kind of a sarcastic rock song about, with sarcastic lyrics like, 'Lyin' in your bed, wondering about what you said, everybody needs someone.' So we ask ourselves sometimes when you see a person, 'Why would you want to be with this person rather than you?', when you feel you're a good person and they end up going for a total loser. You're like, 'Why?' Everybody needs someone. It's like open your eyes and look around, it's all there; all the lyrics are there, it's all there.''
Dokken doesn't always write his lyrics first.
"Sometimes I just write a cool guitar riff," Dokken says. "If the riff is heavy, it makes me write a certain direction. If it's a beautiful acoustic song, it makes me write a ballad. The sound directs where the words are going to go.''
It's obvious that Dokken devotes much of his time to his craft, but he also has other pursuits.
"I drive my Harley. I have an Evo - Evolution - a chopped Evolution," Dokken says.
I tell him about my love for motorcycles and he tells me about his Triumph Bonneville which he turned into a chopper. Dokken claims that in doing so, he ruined it. He doesn't have the Triumph anymore.
"I like to ride my bike, I like to read and I like to go to the Self-Realization Center. It's like a temple; there was a yogi that died a long time ago, Pramahanse Yogananda. I go there and find some place to meditate, there's trees and waterfalls. There's a place where you go up and the brothers are there and you take meditation classes. It's really nice, you just meditate and find inner peace." Dokken pauses and then confides in me, "Being single sucks. I haven't dated in over a year, it's really depressing.''
It's not for a lack of women, it's finding the right one. Dokken and I talk about how hard it is to find someone who likes you for who you really are, not what you have or what you do for a living or, worse still, what you can do for them.
Dokken has been writing and is looking toward more recordings.
"I want to do a solo album. I've been putting it off, but I really want to do an acoustic album. I need to do it," he says.
True to form, Dokken, a mixture of strong and soft, has some intriguing last words.
"I hope the world doesn't kill itself.''
Hmmmm... I wonder if that means I shouldn't be checking my voice mail for that dinner invite any time soon....
For more information on Dokken, visit www.dokken.net and www.sanctuaryrecordsgroup.com
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