The year was 1985 and I was standing in my bedroom in my parent’s house, sporting a pretty sweet mullet; my hairbrush doing double duty as a microphone. Dokken’s second album “Tooth and Nail” was blasting from my speakers as I was doing my best Don Dokken imitation. Fast forward to 2012 and I’m about to sit down and talk to that same Don Dokken about his upcoming acoustic shows and Dokken’s plans for 2013. What a surreal moment!
I caught up with Don on a rainy afternoon and we had a long, insightful telephone conversation. We discussed everything from his dog, to Jon Levin’s bag of ribs to any chance of a Don Dokken country album.
Johnny/RR: Hey Don, how’s it going man?
Don: Hey Johnny, its going great! It’s raining like crazy here in California and I’m sitting here with my dog Cody, who’s chilling next to me and life is good man.
Johnny/RR: I see, so you’re a dog person?
Don: Yeah, I love my dog. Cody’s half poodle and part lab, part Wheaten. I had to take him walking earlier and I have these boots to put on him when it rains. He’s all white and of course he found a mud puddle while I was walking him. He didn’t just walk in it, he rolled in it (laughs), so I had to come home and give him a bath.
Johnny/RR: You have to love that! That’s funny because people probably just think about Don Dokken as this rocker and not as this guy putting boots on his doggy. That’s not necessarily the most metal image that comes to mind (laughs).
Don: I know, right! Animals are the best. I read a long time ago that people who have pets live longer than those who don’t. I live alone, so he’s the best to have around. I can tell him all my secrets and I don’t have to worry about them getting out, plus he doesn’t talk back. I have service tags for him too, so I can take him with me everywhere; planes, hotels and stuff. Oh yeah, he’s also definitely a chick magnet (laughs)!
Johnny/RR: Speaking of public images, I want to talk about this side of Don Dokken that we don’t get to hear about too often. I want to talk about the generous and giving side of you which includes your upcoming acoustic shows that you are doing this month.
Don: I’m doing six acoustic shows this month and it’s for charity, it’s going to the Children’s Hospital. This one hits close to home for me because of a family tragedy back in the 90s. My brother lost his eight year old daughter to cancer. The holidays are usually slow times for me, as far as shows go, so I started going to the hospital to see the kids. I would buy turkeys for the families and bring CD players for the kids. Man, they would get so excited when I would come in and just play guitar for them. You really have to pay it forward.
Johnny/RR: Yeah, it seems like it’s the people with the fattest bank rolls who are usually the first to ask for someone to help donate in a time of need.
Don: You’re right man and it’s really sad. You have these billionaires or people like the Koch brothers who gave Romney $400 million for his campaign and look what it got them – absolutely nothing. Just think how much good that money could have done if they would have given $1,000,000 to 400 different charities; just think of what that could have accomplished. There are just so many government cut backs on funding that places like the Children’s Hospital really do need all the help they can get.
Johnny/RR: Absolutely. Let’s change gears and talk about the newest Dokken album Broken Bones, that came out in September. Man, that’s a really great album and you tap into that trademark Dokken sound while managing to put a modern twist to it as well. You seem to be in a great zone creatively with your guitarist Jon Levin. When you add in Barry Sparks on bass and Mick Brown on drums, it is a cummulative mix of rock perfection.
Don: Thanks man, we’re really proud of it. You do an album and you hope for the best. The reviews have been pretty positive for it. The label was breathing down our necks telling us that it needs to sound like Tooth and Nail. I told them if they wanted Tooth and Nail that they needed to go buy it. I mean, do you think someone stood over Picasso telling him to add more white to his next painting or do another one but this time have her nose turned in the opposite direction? So, Jon and I worked really hard and I feel like we made something pretty special.
Check out the video for “Empire” off the newest Dokken album, Broken Bones:
Johnny/RR: So why did you announce that it’s the last Dokken album if you guys seem to have tapped into something really special artistically?
Don: It’s the last Dokken album, but it’s definitely not the end of Dokken. I just want to pursue some other things; some other projects. Michael Schenker put out some incredible acoustic stuff over the last year called “Thank You 1, 2, 3 and 4.” I heard them and thought they were incredible and I wish I could write lyrics for this amazing music. We talked about it and he told me to pick ten songs from the three albums and write some lyrics. I played what I had written for Michael and he loved it. The next thing I knew, he’s on Eddie Trunk’s show mentioning it. We’ve completed two songs and the record companies are showing interest in signing us. We’ve already got an offer to do an acoustic tour in Japan.
Johnny/RR: Wow that sounds pretty amazing! So, is this collaboration going to see the light of day anytime soon?
Don: Yeah, we’re shooting for a summer 2013 release. We’ll see what happens.
Johnny/RR: Speaking of pursuing other projects, one of the fan questions that was submitted to be asked during our interview was to know if you would ever consider doing a country album like some other rockers have been attempting?
Don: There would be a zero chance of that happening. First off, country just isn’t my thing; I’m not a fan of it. Garth Brooks totally changed country years ago when he came in took the twang out and mixed rock in with it. If I tried to do a country album, it would sound fake and that’s just not me. I can’t jump in and do what’s popular and what everyone else is doing. I’ve never followed trends and I won’t. In the 90s, we were told we were out of fashion, but we didn’t start wearing plaid or try to sound like grunge.
Johnny/RR: Speaking of which, back during your run in the 1980s, you guys were part of the metal scene, but you didn’t seem to fit what it seemed like everyone else was doing. I mean, there were elements of that era there, but you guys were different. Do you think that may be in part why you didn’t get to that next level like Motley Crue or Poison?
Don: We were at that next level. We were doing stadium tours and selling them out and we did the Monsters of Rock tour. We were different because we weren’t touring with bands like Warrant or Poison back then. We were touring with bands like Judas Priest, AC/DC and Van Halen. We came out in 1982 before the whole glam thing really blew up big. A big part of our problem was that we imploded.
Johnny/RR: Yeah, time to address the elephant in the room. Can we talk about the topic of George Lynch?
Don: Well, it was more than just George. There were lots of drugs and alcohol being abused too. We would be in the studio and George would just refuse to do things; he just always wanted things his way. I started this band, but George always wanted control. He did everything he could to destroy the band’s success. That’s why he ended up leaving, but he came back years later and we tried it again. He really wanted to change our sound. Just look at Shallow Life. It’s the worst selling Dokken album out of all that we have recorded. That album was more of a Lynch/ (Jeff) Pilson album with Don singing on it. If you notice, it’s the only Dokken album that doesn’t have our logo on it. I refused to put it on there. That album sold 50,000 copies while the one before it, Dysfunctional, sold 400,000. It was also crucified by the critics. It seems like when we get together, the same old problems start to happen all over again.
Johnny/RR: So, is it safe to say that we, the fans, are not going to get a full Dokken reunion?
Don: It’s not going to happen. We went on Eddie Trunk and we were hoping it could happen, but it just all fell apart. Jeff was committed to Foreigner for the next two years and then George started running his mouth. I just wish we could all get along. George is his own worst enemy. I have a ton of respect for him and I think he’s a genius guitar player and he wrote some amazing music for me to put lyrics to, but it’s just not going to happen.
Johnny/RR: Ok, back to the present and the new Dokken album. The response has been very positive to it, so are you guys going to go out on the road to promote it?
Don: Yeah, that’s the plan, but we have hit a road block. Jon (Levin), our guitarist, has just had a major surgery on his arm. He was having some issues with his hand being cold and going numb and he went to the doctor and found out he had some nerve damage going on. They did a major surgery on him to correct the problem and he’s pretty cut up. I mean, they had to cut into his rotator cuff and they even had to cut into his ribs.
Johnny/RR: Oh my god, are you serious? That sounds crazy!
Don: Yeah, it was pretty serious. They had to get to the nerves being pressed down on. The weird thing about the surgery is that they found out he was born with two extra ribs. They actually gave them to him in a bag after the surgery. He showed them to me (laughs).
Johnny/RR: He’s lucky the doctor didn’t keep them and try to sell them on eBay (laughs). What a weird souvenir to have from your surgery.
Don: Yeah, that was kind of weird. Jon’s doing o.k., but he has a long road ahead of him. It’s going to take a few months to recover. We do have some shows on the books for February-April of next year in South America. We’re doing some dates in Europe this summer as well as Rocklahoma here in the States. We’re in talks to do an arena tour next year as well with two other bands, but all the details haven’t been finalized.
Johnny/RR: Don, you’ve been doing this for over 30 years. Did you ever think way back at the beginning that you would still be making music and doing press this far down the road?
Don: Oh, no way, not at all. In the early days, I was really insecure. I thought after we released Breaking the Chains in Europe that I would probably end up going back to doing body work on cars. I thought I was going to have my fifteen minutes of fame like Andy Warhol mentioned and that would be it. Breaking The Chains was such a passive hit. It seemed as if everybody loved it, but nobody bought it. The video was all over MTV and we were doing an arena tour with Blue Oyster Cult and the label wanted to drop us. We had one more shot and I told the guys that we had to go all tooth and nail on that one or it was over for us. That’s why we named the second album Tooth and Nail. We recorded it and Mick and George went back to driving trucks and then it blew up big for us. Back then, I thought every record would be our last record (laughs).
Johnny/RR: Things are so much different in the industry now than when you recorded those albums back in the 80s. What are your thoughts on it?
Don: Our new album sold 3000 copies in its first week, but it had over 60,000 illegal downloads. Lars (Ulrich) was right fifteen years ago when he went to Congress. It’s very discouraging as an artist to create new music when it gets stolen. There are so many people who don’t have a problem with it and I just don’t get it. It’s no different than going to an art show and there’s someone out front of the gallery selling copies of the paintings for sale on the inside for $2. It’s stealing and it’s wrong. Plus it’s all compressed and it sounds like crap.
Johnny/RR: Yeah, I guess I’m still a bit old school myself. I don’t care for MP3s; I want the package and the liner notes. I miss the days of vinyl and the smell of it and the cracks and pops when you listen to it. There was a real element to that and you don’t get it with MP3s.
Don: I miss that too. You would get an album and go home and listen to it and study the liner notes. I wanted to read about who played on it and I wanted to read the lyrics. That was when we had those great old music magazines like Creem and Circus and Hit Parader. You know, I have a Twitter account, but I’ve never put anything on it. I get asked all the time why I don’t and I guess it’s because I’m a private person. I mean, I guess I could tweet “it’s 3 a.m. and I just took a poop” (laughs), but I’m not like that. I’m not a Kardashian and I don’t put everything out there for all to see.
Johnny/RR: Reality TV…do we even want to address that topic? Wait, I think I do in a way. What are your thoughts on shows like American Idol and The Voice where instant stars are born?
Don: I think those people are doomed to fail. You have to get out there on the road and pay your dues. I mean, just look at Ozzy’s daughter, Kelly. She put a record out in England and it went to number one. I think her tour lasted six weeks and then it bombed. You have to develop thick skin over time to be able to survive in this industry.
Johnny/RR: I tell you Don, you have definitely seen a lot and been through a lot in your thirty plus years of doing this. If you put pen to paper and wrote your autobiography, what would you call it?
Don: You know, Jon and I have talked about this before because the offers been on the table for about four years now. It would be a lot of work and I am sure that I would piss a lot of people off if I did because I would tell it like it is. I would have to call it Famous by Accident. You know, everything was against us and everything was in excess. I’m surprised that someone didn’t die back then.
Johnny/RR: One last question and I will wrap this up Don because I know you have more press to do. My Editor wanted to ask if you would be game to a RockRevolt™Magazine sponsored Jello wrestling match between George and yourself?
Don: Absolutely! I would love to, but I don’t think George would. It’s funny because all that we went through and all the disagreements and arguments, we never got into a physical fight. He’s a lean, muscular guy, but he doesn’t want to tango with me. I have a second degree black belt that took me ten years to get. I’ll just leave it at that.
Johnny/RR: I think we will end on that note (laughs). Don, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Let Jon know that RockRevolt™Magazine wishes him a speedy recovery and we can’t wait to see you guys out on the road in 2013. Best of luck with those acoustic shows and thank again for paying it forward!
~ Johnny Price, Journalist – RockRevolt™Magazine
Photographs courtesy Dokken PR/Websites – all images left intact