George Lynch and Jeff Pilson are out, drummer Mick Brown is still in, and Don Dokken is firmly in charge of one of the biggest bands to ever come out of the ‘80s pop-metal scene. Joined by guitarist Jon Levin and bassist Sean McNabb, the singer – and guitarist, having recently picked the instrument back up – has the good ship Dokken pointed in the right direction, with a new album in Broken Bones that might just be the best record the band’s made since Under Lock and Key, or even Tooth and Nail. (read Powerline‘s review of the album here)
Mysterious and reflective at times, Broken Bones is immersed in stylish, yet impactful sound, and the intoxicating melodies – always present in everything Dokken’s ever done – are disarming, even as Levin launches into the kind of heavy, thermonuclear riffing and dynamic, agile solos that Lynch would be proud to call his own. It is still Dokken after all, with Brown’s brawling drums and McNabb’s flexible bass forming a pliable, supportive backbone. Though far removed from the heady days of platinum records and sold-out arenas (click here for our latest photo gallery of Dokken on tour), Dokken isn’t dead yet, and Broken Bones seems to have breathed new life into the band, with Don, singing more soulfully than he has in a long time, penning some of the most provocative, soul-searching lyrics of his career – see the apocalyptic imagery and utter futility in the raging, anti-war lead single “Empire” for proof of his convictions.
Never afraid to speak his mind, Don Dokken unloads about a variety of subjects in this recent interview, conducted close to the release date for Broken Bones, which comes out Sept. 25 on Frontiers Records. Downloading, the making of Broken Bones, his own difficult recovery from vocal surgery, his thorny relationship with Lynch and the family tragedy that spurred his interest in charitable causes – all of it is fair game for a singer who is determined not to go down without a fight.
While the new record definitely has elements of the signature Dokken sound, it seems smokier, even exotic at times. Call me crazy, but it sounds Zeppelin-esque, especially on “Victim of the Crime.” Do you agree?
DD: Look at “Waterfall,” that weird drum beat … I’ve never done anything like that, or have a timing change in the middle of a solo – I’ve never done that in my career. But yeah, Jon and I wrote the record, and I just finally said, “I know what everybody wants, and they want the same thing we did last year or a few years ago, which sounded very ‘80s like.” And I just said, “Jon, I can’t keep painting the same picture.” I mean, what’s the point? I hate it when people say, “I wish this record was like Tooth and Nail.” Ok, then go buy Tooth and Nail.
Was it tough for you to do that last record, knowing that Jon wanted you to go back to that old Dokken sound?
DD: Anytime somebody wants me to go back to anything, I say, “I’m not really down with that.” But, we did it. It was fine, but when they told me to do the same thing [this time], I said, “I refuse.” I mean, I was really being a dick about it. I didn’t want anybody near the music. I didn’t want the record company to hear one iota of the music until it was done. I’m not going to have some guy sitting in an office tell me what he likes or doesn’t like. I don’t think [French impressionist painter Claude] Monet, when he sat out in the garden painting in France, had some guy standing over his shoulder saying, “I think that needs some more blue or a little more yellow. Now it’s got too much light in there.” It doesn’t work that way, man. I think a song is a painting, you know. I don’t think that it’s right. I understand where our bread is buttered and Dokken fans and all that, but you know, we’ve done all that. I said what I had to say as far as that. I want to stretch my wings out a little bit, that’s the only way I can put it. I wasn’t trying to make a throwback record. I just wanted to put some ‘60s kind of harmonies on there. I love Cream and those Zeppelin kind of grooves … I just like that. I can’t help it. I’m getting old, man.
We all are …
DD: I’m still the singer, so it’s going to sound like Dokken, so what’s the problem? I didn’t write differently to be different. It’s just what was coming out of my head.
You produced the new record, which is something you also did with XYZ. Is it easier producing your own band, as opposed to another group?
DD: No, it’s much harder. I produced Great White’s first record, and I found them in a garage. So, I discovered that band – Great White and XYZ. And it’s easier when you’re on the outside because you can just say, “Hey, try that,” or “Try this.” And if it doesn’t work, “Try this.” But when you go to actually play it or sing it and listen back, you go, “Uh, I don’t know.” I mean, honestly, this record, we were getting ready to go to Florida to mix it, and the last day the album was completely finished, and I told my engineer, “Um, three of the songs, I’m not happy with the lyrics.” He said, “You’re kidding.” I said, “No, I can do better than that.” And at 4 o’clock in the morning I was changing shit. And it turned out better, you know. If you have a problem with that stuff, after so much time goes by, I have to make changes and no one will say that it’s better. So, I had to get away from it, and I was glad we were touring that weekend, so that I could get out and get away from the record for those two days and come back to it fresh. I had that luxury this time, you know. After a while, I just wanted to be done with it.
It seems like you’re feeling that you’re free of the expectations people have of you and free of the Dokken sound of old. Do you feel that way?
DD: I mean, Jon did some solos that were kind of Michael Schenker-ish at times, and I told Jon, “You can’t live in the shadow of George Lynch, and I can’t live in the shadow of the millions of records that I sold 30 years ago.” I can’t do it anymore. I can’t live in this box. I’ve said what I had to say and I want to move on to some new and interesting music. And I said, “We’re taking a chance.” And if people say, “Oh, it doesn’t sound like Dokken,” so be it. I took my chance, and there are some classic-sounding Dokken songs on there. Obviously, I must have done something right, because I haven’t had many bad reviews yet.
I think it’s a great Dokken album in that there’s a great variety on it. I don’t know if it’s because some of the atmospheres are different. I was also thinking that Levin seems to have such a great feel for grooves, and that’s especially prevalent on “Best of Me” and “Blind.” Did that have an effect on this record?
DD: Well, I’ve been coaching him for a long time to let him find his own way. He’s not just trying to emulate George. And then I kind of tried to educate him, because he was in high school when Dokken came out, and Dokken was one of his favorite bands. But I gave him a CD and I go, “Listen to Led Zeppelin II. Just put this in your car and listen to it. Now, listen to Houses of the Holy. Check that out. Listen to ‘Kashmir’ …” You know, “Listen to this, listen to that, check out some of these songs,” just trying to ingrain a broader spectrum of writing. And I told him, I said, “Jon, there is not one Dokken CD in my car.” “That’s weird,” he said. Well, I don’t need to listen to it. If I listen to it, I’ll start plagiarizing myself. It infects you, you know.
So, we just started listening to a lot of stuff from way back, ‘60s and ‘70s, just thousands [of songs], and as a producer, I slip in different stacks of harmonies and different arrangements, different time signatures. I just wanted an album where I wanted all the songs to kind of stand alone. And I think I accomplished that, but if I didn’t, I at least tried. I gave it my best shot. I like an album to be [good from] top to bottom, and not have it be like, “Well, that’s a good song,” and then the next song you’re starting to fast forward, and then, “Oh, this song is pretty good, but I don’t like the chorus – fast forward.” I hate that. I do it, I’m guilty of it. I hate it when you hear a killer song on the radio, and you buy the CD, and there are like two good songs and the rest is a bunch of filler. That really annoys me. I can think of a lot of bands that are doing that these days.
It doesn’t seem to be an album-oriented world anymore.
DD: No, I understand. The world has changed. There are no more platinum or gold records on your walls, because people can’t sell those amounts of records anymore because as soon as a record comes out, it’s on file-sharing. I understand that. It still doesn’t mean you should write crappy shit. At the end of the day, when I’m dead and gone, at least I can leave a legacy, a body of music that people will love.
With this one, you’ve done that. I really like “Empire,” the lead track and the first single. It’s got those familiar searing guitars Dokken fans are used to, and some not so optimistic lyrics. Explain the inspiration behind that song and how the music for it was conceived.
DD: Well, you know, we wrote like fast, burning kind of riffs, but we were at the house here, the guesthouse on my property in the country, and it has a studio. And I have this flat screen on the wall, and every day, I’d take a break, watch some TV for a while, and it was just the Syrian government is slaughtering their own people, and Pakistan was bailed out, and we got rid of Muammar Gaddafi, but they hate our guts and they’re murdering our own soldiers, and I just got so pissed. That was why I came up with the line, “What do you have in the end? You’re burning empires.” So, you’re going to destroy your own country and your own people, so that way in the end, what do you got? You got nothing. You’ve got nothing left. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s mind-boggling. So it inspired me to write it.
I don’t write political songs usually, but “Empire” is just about, “You guys have lost your minds, you know?” They’re killing everybody. In the year 2012, you’d think we’d be a little more spiritually enlightened by now. Sadly, it seems like we’re going backwards, and all we do is keep coming up with new ways of killing each other. And this morning, they killed the U.S. ambassador [Chris Stevens]. They just blew him up. And the point of that was? It frustrates me. I guess when I was younger, we got famous, you get caught up in the limousines and the girls and you’re staying in four-star hotels, you’ve got a private jet … it’s narcissistic. To be famous, there’s some narcissism in there and ego and you don’t really concern yourself with all that crap going on. You’re just wrapped in your own little rock star world. But when I got older and you have children, you start realizing there’s some crazy shit going on out there.
You’ve definitely touched on some different lyrical subject matter on this record that you haven’t addressed in the past – “Blind” being that way as well.
DD: “Blind,” too. Yeah. Like I wrote that first line in “Empire”: “I sit above and watch below as we burn this city down” – it’s actually a metaphor of somebody standing on a hill watching their town annihilated, and for what? And the line that says, “A child only sees the gun as the trigger of disease.” Well, it is. Children are innocent, but it just frustrates me, so I had to write about it and get it out of my system – “Blind” and all that stuff. It just seems that it’s getting worse, and it just frustrates me. I could just ignore it all and go, “I’m just going to sit up here at my estate in Beverly Hills and it’s not my problem.” But I can’t do that. I feel morally responsible to at least voice my opinion and my outrage and frustration to people, and what’s a better vehicle than to do it through music.
Did you want the music to reflect that as well?
DD: No. I mean, it’s weird. Sometimes I write … the way I write, I just write stories. And I have a tape recorder. Everyone has always told me that, “Your stuff is always on that tape recorder,” and they call it the “Book of Don.” And I’ve got literally hours and hours and hours of me just babbling into a tape recorder. Like, I’ll get up in the middle of the night to go pee – and I hate that when you’re half asleep – and I always get inspired about 3 o’clock in the morning. I asked my doctor about that once. I said I usually get inspired when I’m half asleep, and he goes, “That’s what’s called a pure stream of consciousness.” You’re not thinking about your kids or the car loans, and your relationships or your bills. You’re just kind of in a pure stream of consciousness, like in a meditative state, and that’s when the ideas come.” Wherever they come from in the universe, God or whatever you want to call it, your mind is wide open to receive the information.
The problem is you start to think, “Oh, that’s a killer riff.” I hear this guitar riff in my head and I think, “That’ll be awesome. I’ll remember that in the morning.” And you’re like, “How did that go again?” I hate that, and Jon does that, too. So, for this album, I said to Jon, “Okay, now Jon, we’re going to both buy little tape recorders, we’ll put them next to our beds, and if you have an idea, just blurt it out. I don’t care if it’s just a little riff …” So, Jon had his guitar in his bedroom and this little amplifier, and he’d plug it in at 3 o’clock in the morning and wake his chick up, and he’ll turn the tape recorder on and say, “I’ve just got to bang out this quick little riff.” The next day, he’ll call me on the phone and say, “Hey, check this out.” And sometimes I’ll say, “Eh, that’s all right.” But for a couple of songs he wrote like that, I said, “Hey, that’s a really killer riff, except I wrote that 30 years ago – that song ‘Sleepless Nights’ on Tooth and Nail.” I have to say, “Jon, stop listening to those Dokken records. They’re brainwashing you.”
Sometimes you get something down that late at night and you wake up the next morning wondering, “What the hell is that?”
DD: Yeah, I went to bed thinking, “That’s brilliant.” And then I wake up and listen and I go, “Ugh, what was I thinking.” It’s a long process. We wrote 30 songs for this record, and we just narrowed it down to the 12 best. It’s a real hard call to figure it out, because the record company says we have to take one song off for a bonus track in Japan, and my opinion of bonus tracks is that they’re always the leftover songs that aren’t any good. And they call it a bonus, and I said, “I don’t want a shitty bonus [track]. I’m happy with all the songs. So how do we take a good song and take it off the record? I’m not happy about this.” And we ended up taking a song called “Can’t Touch This Love,” and it’s really a classic … kind of like “Just Got Lucky” meets “The Hunter.” It’s pretty cool, but we had to take it off the record. And it’s a shame. People can buy it if they want the Japanese DVD – we did a “making of” film while making this record. So that’s a bonus track, and you have to put a bonus track in Japan because the records over there cost $8 more than in America.
Did you ever have a song like that on any of the older albums from Dokken that you had to leave off?
DD: Yeah, it was “Dancin’ the Irish Song” and there was something else. I put two bonus tracks on Japanese albums a couple of years ago on one of my records. I can’t remember what it was. It might have been Erase the Slate. There are a couple of killer songs that we had to take off and use them for bonus tracks, and that was a bummer, because they’re never going to hear these tracks here because they’re never going to buy the import. But you have to do it, because records are still too expensive, $15, $17 in America and a record costs $25 over there. So, to encourage the fans not to buy the American version and save $8, you’ve got to give them bonus tracks. It’s just business, you know.
You had vocal surgery in 2010. Your voice seems to have come through it remarkably well. What kind of rehabilitation did you have to do and how would you compare it now to what it was in the ‘80s?
DD: Well, you know, I’ll never be able to sing as high as I could back then. I mean, I could name a dozen singers who can’t sing like they did back then. It’s like a car. You put 100,000 or 200,000 miles on it, it doesn’t run like it did when it was brand new. I’ve done 7,000 to 8,000 shows in my career, but yeah, I tore my vocal cord in Germany. It was my fault. You know, most bands are two days on, one day off or three days on, two days off. We ended up doing 27 shows in 34 days I think, and I started having this funny taste in my mouth, like iron. And I realized it was blood. And I went, “Oh, shit.”
You know, I was in Germany and I went to the hospital, and the doctor went to an EMT guy, and he looked at my throat and he said, “You tore your vocal cord.” And I still had 10 shows to go, and he said, “Stop.” And I didn’t. I kept going, and that was it. And I thought, “Okay, I’ll just heal. I’ll just stay here.” But it just got worse and worse and worse and worse, and I had the surgery, and I thought, “Okay, three months from now, I’ll be good.” And I started playing again, and I was singing like crap. And people on the Internet were going, “Boy, Don can’t sing anymore,” or “He’s lost it,” and well, I can’t deny it. So, I was really struggling to try to hit any of the notes, and people see it on the Internet, on YouTube, and “Ish … he ain’t what he used to be.” It’s depressing. It’s like saying, “Here’s a guitar. It’s out of tune. Now go play.” So I just told the band, “We have to stop.”
On this record, which we started writing last September, I didn’t sing a note the first six months. I mean, I had to go back to my old vocal teacher, warm-ups … I had to put three humidifiers in all the rooms of my house to keep the house humid all the time – warm up for an hour, do scales, keep my mouth shut, quit smoking … blah, blah, blah. You know, don’t talk a lot. I’ve got more at stake, so I’ve been doing press for four days straight, six hours a day and I’m horse from doing it. And sometimes, we get together and I go to sing a song, and I say, “You know, guys, I can hit the note, but my voice will have a little too much buzz in it.” And some days, Jon will go, “Wow. Your voice sounds like it did on Tooth and Nail. Your voice is nice and clean and clear.” And I go, “That’s the way I like it.” But it is hit and miss – sometimes you have good days, and I’ve had bad days where I couldn’t figure out why [my voice] was doing what it was doing and it wasn’t good. The insanity of the thing is after I spent tens of thousands of dollars on my voice, it turned out to be hit or miss because I was snoring. I was overly tired, because we were working 14-hour days, flying to gigs, getting two to three hours of sleep and going to Europe. We flew 16 hours to Bulgaria, and we did the M3 Fest where we had two hours of sleep. We sucked at that show, but when you’re really tired, you snore. And when you snore, it’s like … haven’t you gone to a club and you’re trying to talk to somebody over a loud band, and you wake up the next day and your voice is all raspy?
DD: And you wake up and you’re hoarse, and you try and talk loud for conversation. Well, that’s what snoring is. So I had to go get sleep studies done, with the cameras on me watching me sleep, and as it turned out, I was snoring with sleep apnea and that was trashing the cords, too. So, that bites. But, I don’t snore anymore.
I didn’t realize that was something that could damage your vocal cords. Did you at all think back to when you sang rehearsals with the Scorpions for Blackout while Klaus Meine recovered from his vocal surgery?
DD: Yeah, it’s like I went through the same thing. And you know, when I sang on that, I was young. I mean, I was in my 20s and my voice was fresh and golden, and I hadn’t toured. I was a nobody, you know? And I had a virgin voice, basically. It had low miles. And the surgery Klaus had, he had like two or three surgeries in his career. Tom Keifer, he didn’t sing for three years.
Could you ever imagine taking that long off?
DD: Yeah, when we could play again, I was shocked. We played with Cinderella a year ago, and I said to Tom, “You sound exactly like you did in the ‘80s. What did you do?” He said, “Oh, man. I had to have surgeries, I couldn’t talk, I had to re-train my voice and sing differently” – he went through a whole thing for like seven years. And now he sounds awesome, better than ever. There are always people that are blessed – the Glenn Hughes’s of the world, the Bruce Dickinsons, the Ronnie James Dios. Those guys are blessed. They just open their mouths and it comes out and it sounds awesome. But, I don’t think I was blessed with that. I have my tonsils still. Most people don’t have their tonsils. I have my tonsils, I still have my adenoids, I have some bad sinuses, and the doctor said, “You’ve got everything a singer shouldn’t have. Your tonsils can get infected, you’re flying, you’re dehydrated, your sinuses are dripping, and your vocal cords get inflamed.” He goes, “You’re just getting hit every way – every direction, you’re getting hit and it disturbs your voice, and we just have to knock out the problems one at a time.” It took a long time.
What did you learn from working with Tom Werman and Roy Thomas Baker on Tooth and Nail and Neil Kernon on Under Lock and Key and Back for the Attack that you’ve incorporated into your own production work?
DD: Um, I was like a real “Dennis the Menace.” When I was working with Michael Wagener [producer for Dokken’s Breaking the Chains, Skid Row’s first album and Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tears, he also mixed Metallica’s Master of Puppets], I’d ask, “Why are you using that mic? Why are you putting the mic there? Why are you doing that? Why are you putting the overheads over there?” And [Geoff] Workman, God rest his soul, he was a great engineer. He just passed away . With all these great guys, I just picked their brains. I’d go, “Why are you doing that? Why are you doing this? Why are you putting the mics there? Why are you using that mic?” I just learned over 30 years, and I owned my own recording studio for 10 years. I mean, besides other things, I produced the Dysfunctional album and recorded it in my studio and just did everything – recorded everything and put the mics on myself, and like I say, just years of experience to learn why, because I had all these great people telling me why … you know, “How come you can’t put this microphone on the kick drum?” And Michael would say, “Because this microphone has a lower register, and it picks up the kick drum better and it’s a tighter sound.” And I’d say, “Oh, okay. How come you’re using this?” And Michael would tell me, “Most people will put a mic on top of the snare drum.”
Michael always put one on top and the bottom to get the track, but the problem with two microphones that close together is they go out of phase and it sounds weird. And he showed me how to fix that by putting one out of phase, and putting the snare back in phase. It’s just decades and decades of all these tricks I learned. I think this album has a killer guitar sound, killer drum sound, great bass – it’s just a punchy record, you know. I wanted it punchy. I wanted it powerful. I wanted it loud.
How did having Bob St. John [Extreme, Duran Duran, Collective Soul] and Wyn Davis [Black Sabbath, Dio, Whitesnake] do the mixing and Maor Appelbaum [Halford, Yngwie Malmsteen, Sepultura] as the engineer affect Broken Bones. How did the three of them affect the final product?
DD: Well, Wyn and I have been best friends for like 30 years, through the Dokken stuff and then my solo record, Up from the Ashes, which I love – it just came out at the wrong time. And my recording studio was literally a thousand yards from his recording studio. So we were always going back and forth from my studio to his, and then we started the record and we started working together, but then I was taking such a long time with the record. I kept pushing him back – like, “Okay, next month we’ll finish it,” and then, “No, I’m going out on tour. Okay, next month.” And then Wyn got booked.
He goes, “I’m booked solid, I can’t do this record.” So, I said, “Well, I guess I’ll do it myself.” And I was like, “Oh, shit. Now I’m really going to put pressure on myself.” So I ended up doing the record by myself, recording everything that was left at my house. And then we went to Bob St. John because Jon is good friends with the guys from Extreme, and he’d done Extreme, and Jon knew him. So he said, “Yeah. Meet me in Florida.” So I decided to go down to Florida to meet with him, and I decided to be the producer, and then with St. John, I wanted to get something new. I’m always using the same people over and over and over again, so I listened to Maor Applebaum’s records, and he seemed to know what the hell he was doing as far as making records loud. He does a lot of the heavy bands, or heavier, like Sepultura and bands like that. And I thought, “Well, with these songs, we’re not thrash metal or a speed-metal band. Our music is melodic hard rock, but I want the aggression from the mastering that he gets from these kinds of heavier bands. I thought it would be a good combination to get Applebaum to do the mastering, just as he approaches these bands like Sepultura.
Why did it not work out with George and Jeff for a return to the classic Dokken lineup?
DD: Well, do you want the lie or do you want the truth? We’ll there’s about 20 versions from George – ‘I’m just an asshole, I want all the money and I’m hard to deal with.’ Well, that’s just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I mean, Mick will tell you that … and Jeff. We got together. We were going to do it last year, and we were excited to do it, and it was going to be great, and we thought it would put the exclamation point on our career. We had an offer to make an extreme amount of money to do it, so that was nice. And the truth is we got back together and Mick flew down, we all met, and Jeff said, “I want to do this, but I’m committed to Foreigner for two years.” And I said, “Two years? That’s the last of that.”
I couldn’t sit around waiting for two years, so that’s the truth. I know George posted all this shit that I held it up and I wanted too much money, and he didn’t want to be a hired gun and all that. I don’t know why George does all that stuff. There’s something wrong with that guy between the ears. He’s always been a little weird. Someone asked me when we started not getting along, and I said, “It wasn’t toward the middle. We didn’t get along from the day he joined the band.” He’s two different people, man. I mean, we played a couple of shows with him this summer, and he’s always nice to me, saying, “How are you doing, Don?” I said, “You know what George? You’re always, ‘Hi, hi. How are you doing?’ And then the very next day you talk shit about me on the Internet. What the f**k is that all about? Why do you keep this up?” And if you say something, he’ll lie. Just tell the truth. Practice what you preach. The truth will set you free. He’s just a different personality. I don’t hate. I don’t worry about it. And I gave up trying to defend myself on the Internet a long time ago. You get a guy, he goes to the show and then he blogs, “I saw Dokken and they sucked.” I just say to people like that, “Well, that’s your opinion, and don’t skimp on the avocado. If you think you can do better, here’s the microphone. Knock yourself out.”
The “Monsters of Rock Tour” in 1988 is such an epochal moment in heavy metal history. What was the most memorable moment for you?
DD: There were a lot of memories. It was the highlight of our careers. It was a tragedy, too, because we didn’t get to do another album, and we were going to go on a world tour, because we’d gotten to that level. We could have taken on the whole world … We couldn’t get to the stage without a helicopter bringing all the musicians in, and I remember the first day I thought I was going to throw up because we’re in this helicopter, and I see helicopters flying over the field and you see a hundred thousand people, and I was just going, “Oh, my God. This is the dream I’ve had my whole life.” I was so scared, you know. Even though we’d toured most the year, we were going up against Metallica, Scorpions, Aerosmith … man, we’d better step up to the plate. That was a lot of pressure on us, but it was a highlight just flying over that and seeing all those people and seeing my name up there on a 50-foot banner, it was pretty exciting.
Did it feel competitive, like everybody was trying to outdo one another?
DD: No, I didn’t feel any competition. It was really interesting, that tour. I thought there were going to be orgies going on backstage, like it had always been. I thought, “Well, a hundred thousand people, how many girls are going to be backstage? 300, you know?” But the truth was, by the time we got to it, I had kids, everybody had kids, everybody was married … Eddie had Valerie Bertinelli. And everybody had their wives. Backstage, it was really pretty chill, just barbequing, you had the catering, and you’d be barbequing steak one day and there were just kids and family around. There was no groupie stuff going on; it was really just chill backstage, just really low-key. It wasn’t what I expected, just a blowout going on every day. I mean, there were still drugs flying around pretty heavy on that tour. The road crews were under a lot of pressure, because they had to set up this massive amount of equipment, and I know we had 10, 15 semi-trucks – a pretty big operation. And I saw a lot of road crews who would be there one day and gone the next because they had just burned out on drugs and drinking and stuff. They’d let the pressure get to them.
Were there things about that tour that you enjoyed and other aspects of it that you didn’t?
DD: Well, the worst part of it was going on after Metallica. I mean, we had the same manager [Cliff Burnstein] and even though we were making more money than them, and we were supposedly more famous, I kept saying, “Can you put them on after us, because they are kicking our ass.” I mean, they were. It’s pretty hard to go onstage and sing “In My Dreams” after they’d just closed with Kill ‘em All.
That is tough.
DD: It’s a different energy level. I learned a lot from Metallica, man, because I think we were getting complacent. We toured with Aerosmith that year, and all these other bands, like Judas Priest. I mean, we were on the road for 18 months, and we were really tired at the end. But, we were getting kudos, and we were doing really well, and then, all of a sudden … Metallica just had this attitude like, “Every show is our last show.” They just went out there, and they would slay it. People would rush the stage, and I think we were caught up in the rock star thing, where we said, “We’re Dokken, we’re cool, don’t worry about it.” And I kept saying to the boys, “We’ve got to step up our game a little bit, because we’re getting our butts kicked.” That was my opinion. And that was when we were finished.
Do you have any memorabilia from that era that’s special to you?
DD: I gave all my stage clothes and everything away in the last 15 years to charity. The only thing I have left that’s worth something is the sequined, velvet, long trench coat I wore in “Dream Warriors.” I had that custom made jacket with all these sparkly things on it that I wore for “Dream Warriors.” And I still have it. I tried to put it on about a month ago, and it doesn’t fit. I must have been a little skinnier. I tried to get my arms through it and I ripped it. I was about 30 pounds lighter, you know. So, I’ve still got that and I don’t know what to do with it. The Hard Rock [Café] wanted it. They wanted to do a Freddy Krueger/Dokken thing at the Hard Rock, but I thought maybe it’d be better to give it to a Cancer auction or something like that so the money can go to cancer research. I like doing that. The last show of this tour is a cancer fundraiser, and then I’m going to Washington D.C. in November to do concert in Washington that’s being put together called “Fallen Blue” [Nov. 10 at the Recher Theatre in Towson, Maryland] for officers that have been killed in the line of duty. I like doing those things to pay it forward. When anybody asks me to go to Fort Bragg or to go do a concert to play for the troops or to play for Iraq [War] veterans who’ve just gotten back I like to do it. We don’t get paid. It’s not about the money. It’s about paying it forward.
And you’re a big contributor to the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital.
DD: Yeah, I mean, you what happened, how I got involved in that was unfortunately through a tragedy in my own family. My brother had a beautiful daughter, Michelle, and I loved her dearly. We used to take care of her a lot. She went to school right across the street from my house, and she’d hang out with her uncle Don. And she contracted cancer at 8 and passed away. And so, when I was going to the hospital to see her, and we were all there hoping she’d make it, I started seeing all these kids, you know. And I just thought they needed some cheering up. So that’s when I started donating my money and time. I spent Christmas Eve there. I spent Thanksgiving. I’d eaten cafeteria food at the hospital, no thanks to them, because I didn’t think the food was very good. So I would go to and buy turkeys and a bunch of dressing, pies – and I just put it in the back of a truck and hauled all this food down to the hospital, this awesome gourmet food for the kids and they got a kick out of it. And I gave them all Dokken stuff.
They must have loved it.
DD: Yeah, we had wheelchair races, and the nurses hated me. They’d say, “You can’t be doing that. These kids have got cystic fibrosis, and it could kill them.” I’d say, “Look, they’re dying already.” I mean, they were terminal, so what do you mean? I mean, Jesus, let’s have some fun. It’s a tough thing. It’s depressing. I would take a couple of my rock-star buddies along, down to the hospital, and they lasted about a half an hour, because it’s very hard. You’ve got to a have a … it’s hard. It’s sad. To be around 40 kids and you know they’re all terminal, it’s hard. And sometimes you’d go next year, and a couple of them would still be there, and I’d be like, “Awesome! You’re still here.”
Back in the early ‘80s, you approached George and Jeff about being in the band. Why was it so important to you to get those two onboard?
DD: Well, actually, you know, Juan was the original bass player. Juan and I toured Germany in 1979 together as a three-piece. Juan Croucier [known more for being in Ratt] was the bass player, and if you look back on Breaking the Chains, Juan was on there, because that was before Jeff’s time. But, we had the same problems. Juan is a really mellow, nice guy, and he didn’t get along with George either. My skin was thicker, but Juan was like, “God, man. This guy is always complaining. He’s always just fighting with everything we want to do and get going. He’s just fighting us all the way.” And George quit the band, I think, probably three or four times the first year and a half. He was quitting like every other month, or at least every two months. I mean, Warren DeMartini replaced him for a while, and I wanted to keep Warren, and then Juan was playing with Warren, and Ratt was starting to get popular. And then when the LP came out, Juan just said, “I can’t play with George.”
And unfortunately, when he left, like two days later, we had an offer to do the Blue Oyster Cult tour, our first arena tour. We had no bass player. So I called Mike Barney, and he said, “There’s this guy, Jeff Pilson. He’s a singer and bass player.” And he was playing in some little bar with this chick singer, and he was just playing bass, doing like “Little Red Corvette.” And I went down and auditioned him, and that was it. I was desperate to get a bass player, and that’s how Jeff got in the band. Jeff got lucky. He was literally playing in a bar called the Shot of Gold for like 20 people, playing like Prince and we were going on tour in literally … we were making the video in like five days and touring in two weeks. I mean, we needed a bass player like right now. And we just grabbed him. He was in the right place at the right time. I didn’t know the guy.
What was the biggest difference between Breaking the Chains and Tooth and Nail? Did you sense that Dokken had taken a big leap forward?
DD: Well, we had to. Breaking the Chains came out. “Breaking the Chains” was one of the most requested songs in the country and nobody bought the record. The record stiffed. They call it a “passive hit” – like, “Yeah, I love that song. Buy the record? No.” Loved the song, didn’t buy the record. So the record company wanted to drop us, and I said, “Well, I guess it’s over.” The album only sold a hundred thousand copies, which these days would be a success. Back then, it was a dismal failure. And we basically – my managers and me – begged the label to give us one more chance. And that’s why I came up with the title Tooth and Nail. I said, “Boys, this is it. Tooth and nail. If we don’t bring it on this next album …”
When I met George to join Dokken, he was driving the Gallo Wines truck, driving Gallo Wine to liquor stores. And that’s the truth. He was driving, and he got kicked out of his house, he was living in the back of his car, and he was making a living driving Gallo Wine to liquor stores. So they had nothing going on. I had a record deal and no band. Went to Germany, got my record deal, and I always liked Mick. I thought he was an awesome drummer, I liked seeing him play in The Boyz, and Mick kept saying, “Why don’t you get George in the band?” And I said, “Well, I’m the guitar player, really. I’m the guitar player and the singer.” The manager said, “We think you should put the guitar down and front the band,” because when you’re playing guitar, you’re kind of stuck on the mic. And they wanted me to move off the mic. So, I thought, “Okay, George is a great guitar player. We’ll try it.” Unfortunately, it started out on the wrong foot and never got back on the right foot.
It’s amazing you made it as long as you did.
DD: Well, my manager said to me … he was the most famous manager in the country; he was with Metallica, Tesla, Queensryche – you name it. Cliff Burnstein is the like the guru of all managers. I remember him saying to me – and actually, the first band he ever signed, an American band, was us. Def Leppard and that was it. His partner was handling them in England, and Cliff’s first band to pick up was us before all those bands. I was with him the night he went to The Troubadour to see Metallica [in 1984], to pick them up [for Elektra Records and Q-Prime Management]. But, he said to me, “Don, you guys are famous despite yourselves.”
With the state of the music industry, what are your hopes for Dokken going forward?
DD: Well, you know, we’re in that strange situation – like everybody is – where you don’t make your living off selling records anymore. You make your living off touring, because nobody sells records anymore. Metallica is not selling 10 million records like they used to, or a hundred million, like the Black Album. Those days are gone because the Internet came along and changed everything. Napster changed the world. I was really proud of Lars [Ulrich] that he actually went to Congress and fought to get this thing stopped. People had this attitude like, “Well, what do you care? You’re making millions of dollars. What’s the big deal if a person downloads music for free?” Well, if you make a painting and spend 11 months on it, you pay for your brushes and you pay for it with your sweat and blood, and you go sell it to pay the bills, and the art gallery sells it to somebody sitting outside the art gallery and made 500 copies of it and posters of the painting, you’d be pissed. It’s your art. It’s your art!
This attitude of kids going, “Well, I’m not going to spend 10 bucks, even though it’s a bad copy and it sounds like shit, I’ll just download it for nothing” … Lars fought to stop that, and I respect him for it. And so now, it’s just touring. You have to tour. And somebody said, “Why are you making a new record?” It’s because it’s my love, it’s my passion. I don’t think painters or artists paint to make a living. If they make a living it’s a bonus, but they do it because they love to paint. If you can make money at it, that’s great. I never got into this business to get rich or to live in mansions. That wasn’t the point. I was a musician. My mom was a musician, my father was a musician, my brother’s a musician, my daughter is 25 and a classically trained pianist – it just runs in our blood, you know. It’s our family.