When the 'classic' line-up of Hard Rock legends Dokken embarked upon a brief tour of Japan in 2016, many devotees of their Under Lock And Key (1985) and Tooth And Nail (1984) heyday found themselves questioning the future of the group. Having not released a new studio effort in nearly seven years (i.e. Broken Bones, 2012), the resulting live effort Return To The East Live 2016 seemingly poised the group for a full-fledged reunion. However, Lynch and Pilson would quickly go their respective ways and the Don Dokken/Jon Levin (ex-Doro, Warlock)-fueled line-up would soon reconvene for a series of highly-successful tours. Fortunately for all parties involved, with the highly-anticipated release of the rarities compilation The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 (2020), the group has at long last returned to remind us of their ever-growing legacies of lyrical and compositional prowess.
Todd: What made now the right time to release The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 as opposed to a new studio effort? Were there any surprises once you'd started working on compiling everything? Anything you weren't expecting?
Don: “With the Coronavirus, the band really couldn't get together and properly rehearse in a studio together, basically. We were supposed to be on tour all summer and that didn't happen either, so we're all sitting around doing nothing. So I decided to clean out my garage because I was bored and while I was cleaning it all out, I found all these old tapes from the '70's. I thought 'Holy shit'. So I put them on a reel, put them on a machine and saw that I had all these old songs. ...Some of them were finished and some of the were only half done. I told the boys if we're not going to tour, I'll just work on this at home, which is why we decided to put it out. ,,,I was surprised how high my voice was (laughs). Several of the songs didn't have any drums on them. It was just a drum machine, just a regular drum machine going boo-pa, boo-boo-pa, boo-pa, and it sounded terrible. I kept the vocals, I kept my guitar parts and I kept the bass. and I had my current drummer redo the drums. A lot of the songs couldn't be Mixed as they weren't masters, plus there were a lot of noise, pops and snips. I spent several months getting rid of all the noise and the glitches. It was a lot more work than I ever expected, to put that way.”
Todd: How close are you all to finishing a 'new' record? Broken Bones (2012) was released quite some time ago.
Don: “We have about six, maybe seven songs that I have to finish, so we'll need to write four more. ...It's just that everything came to a screeching halt. We would have been done with the studio album for the summer, but when I had my surgery and it didn't go well, everything stopped because I couldn't keep writing. (Dokken lost the use of both hands after undergoing spinal surgery) When my hand got paralyzed, I couldn't keep writing and I couldn't play guitar. My arms didn't work, so that fucked us. So I said 'Well, guys, my hand is paralyzed. It might take a year, year and a half to come back or it may never come back, so I'll take these lost tapes and spend a couple months working on them'. I thought it was an interesting record for the sake of nostalgia. All those songs were written before George, Jeff, and Mick. They were all written when I was by myself. I thought it was interesting, so I just did it. ...I didn't know if Silver Lining (Music) would want it, but they did say they liked it.”
Todd: That must have been an incredible time to be an up-and-coming musician. Considering the overall level of activity taking place within the region, what prompted you to relocate to Germany? That was a bold decision.
Don: “Absolutely. I was still in my 20's and the world was exciting. The two live songs (“Liar” and “Prisoner”, which were recorded during the 1979 'Working For Nothing' tour at Sounds Music Club) on the record reminds me of when I was still in Hamburg, Germany and we were a three-piece. We went out to Germany and played all these clubs. I'd never been out of the country before, so at age twenty-six or twenty-seven, it was very exciting. It was culture shock, but I wanted to go to Germany because of bands like Accept, Judas Priest and Saxon. There were all these European bands that were popular there, but weren't that popular in America. In 1979, the Rock scene had died in LA. A lot of people don't realize that. All these videos and documentaries about the Rock scene and the Sunset Strip... All of that didn't happen until 1981 or 1982. In the '70s, it had all changed, and became New Wave. It was Devo, X and everything else New Wave. New wave became very popular and bands like Dokken were not popular anymore. The only band I remember that broke out of the scene right before it all changed was Van Halen in 1977. Things had changed, so I said 'Well, New Wave is popular now. ...I don't want to cut my hair and I don't want to wear a sharkskin jacket, so I'm going to Europe'.”
Todd: When you were in the studio working with the Scorpions, what, exactly, did (Producer) Dieter Dierks (Accept, Black 'n Blue, Twisted sister) have you work on? Were you hired to sing lead vocals or is that a rumor?
Don: “No, just background vocals. ...Just the high very, very high stuff because (Scorpions frontman) Klaus (Meine) had just had throat surgery. There's all these rumors that I sang lead and guide vocals, and I did do some scratch tracks, so I guess I did sing some lead vocals. I sang a lot of stuff. I don't really remember it all, but I was basically just a workhorse. Instead of having Klaus sing the same song ten times, I sang it. And then when we worked out the arrangement, we worked have everything ready to go so Klaus could come in and sing it without breaking his voice. I was twenty-six years old, so, my voice was fresh. I just basically there to keep Klaus from straining his voice by singing five hours a day. That's all I did. ...At the end of the day, I did some very high vocals “All I Need” “Dynamite” and “No One Like You” (from Blackout, 1982). ...Dieter, is very, very picky. This was before the days of Britney Spears where vocals can be auto-tuned. If she's flat or sharp, it doesn't matter. They just put your vocals through an auto tuner and you come out perfect. Back then, you had to hit the note right on the money or you had to do it again. ...You had to be patient, so when Dieter said 'Do it again', I did it again. Trust me, Dieter would make me sing those parts ten or fifteen times until I would say 'Dieter, my voice hurts. I need to stop. I need to rest'. He pushed me hard, but he taught me how to concentrate.”
Todd: What do you feel separated Dokken from many of their contemporaries? When I look back at the height of the group's commercial peak, it seems that you were less focused on writing songs all about partying and sex.
Don: “We had good songs. A lot of bands came out in that era, but they weren't very good. I remember when I came back from Germany in 1982, I remember a lot of the bands on the Hollywood strip being more interested in how they looked. They had their hair, their clothes and the makeup, which was all kind Glam Rock, but they weren't concentrating on the music. The music was kind of so, so, ya know? I saw all those bands. I used to drive up to the strip to see what was going on and I saw a lot of bands that made me think 'Man, their music's not very good'. They did look great, though. ...I totally regret the cover for Under Locking And Key (1985). The clothes we were wearing... I think we all worn them one time on stage and threw them away. I mean, come on. If I would have gone to the band and said 'I've got a song called “Unskinny Bop”, they would have threw me out of the studio. I just can't do that. ...I'm a Cancer, so I'm already moody anyway. I'm a moody person and I write poetically with my lyrics. I've read a lot of books. I'm the kind of guy that's read (essayist and poet Henry David) Thoreau and a lot of English poetry, so I have a lot of influence from that. I would never write a song called “Unskinny Bop”. I was very happy that it was huge a hit for them, but I never could've written that song.”
Todd: With that in mind, do you feel the group being labeled Glam/Hair Metal was unfair? It always felt so odd.
Don: “No, it happened because we when came out, we all had big, long hair hair and we were always ratting it up. ...People started saying things like 'Oh, it's just another Hollywood Glam band', but if you listened to the records and you saw the videos on MTV for songs like “In My Dreams”, “It's Not Love” and “Just Got Lucky”, they're very commercial, but if you listen to the whole record, you'd hear that we have dark songs like “Heaven Comes Down”, “Kiss Of Death” and “Tooth And Nail”. We've always had a true Heavy Metal side to our stuff.”
Todd: In hindsight, do you feel as if the group hit it's 'stride' one (former bassist) Jeff Pilson officially joined? It's amazing you were able to find what would be the ideal replacement so close to the beginning of a huge tour.
Don: “I think so. Jeff joined the band two weeks before we were leaving to go on tour. ...Jeff had nothing to do with the record deal or Breaking The Chains, which was about to come out. I had just landed landed the Blue Öyster Cult tour, opening up for them with Aldo Nova in big arenas. (Bassist) Juan Croucier (DuBrow, Liquid Sunday, Quite Riot), was our bass player and right before the tour started, he decided to leave and go play with Ratt, so we were in a really tough position. ...Here we are about to start an arena tour, playing in front of ten thousand people, and we've got no bass player. I'd found Jeff in a bar singing (the Prince classic) “Little Red Corvette”, which was in Top 40 at the time. George and I had gone to a bar called Shot Of Gold and he was playing in a band with a female singer. He had really short hair and was singing “Little Red Corvette” and we we're like 'Well, is this the guy?. We were like 'Well, we'll go ask him.' And he actually hesitated. He wasn't sure he wanted to join. I was being sarcastic and said 'Do you want to play at the Shot Of Gold Bar for eighty people or do you want to play in front of ten thousand people? You need to make up your mind' and he ended up joining. We rehearsed for two weeks and off we went, so it was kind of a fluke that Jeff joined the band at the very last second. ...And then we filmed (the video for the single) “Breaking The Chains” a week before we left.”
Todd: When the group has found itself in need of new/replacement members, how important is personality compatibility? I would imagine there would need to be a good relationship in place prior to you hiring someone.
Don: “Personality-wise, it's completely important. I would never play with anybody I didn't get a long with. I would never do that again. Everybody knows that George and I didn't get along back in the day. There were two alpha males in the band and we had a really hard time during the '80s. We were getting more and more famous, but the more famous we got, the more George and I argued and it made it things unpleasant. It wasn't fun going onstage anymore. It wasn't pleasant and it wasn't exciting. It was like arguing while in a bad marriage. You're married and you live in the same house, but you're not getting along. I will never do that again. After that, when I got my solo band started up, I got (Europe guitarist) John Norum and (guitarist) Billy White (Broken Teeth, Dangerous Toys, S.A. Slayer) and they seem to have bought in on my Don Dokken (i.e. Up From The Ashes, 1990). Then (Winger guitarist) Reb Beach came into the band for two years. He was great\ and super easy to get along with. And then I met Jon Levin and he's been in the band for twenty-two years now. ...Originally, he was my attorney (laughs. He played with Doro Pesch. Everybody kept asking 'Is your guitar player a lawyer?' and I'd say 'Yeah'. He'd played was Doro Pesch, but actually before that, he's also played with Doro in (German Power Metal icons) ...And then he left and he decided to become an attorney. He had actually quit playing for over ten years. One day he stopped by my studio so I could sign some papers and I said 'Can you do me a favor and put a solo on this song?' and so he did. I was like 'Holy shit, you are great'. ...That's how this all got started.”
Todd: Am I correct in understanding you recently played two shows with Reb? That must have been a lot of fun.
Don: “We did some shows where Jon just couldn't do them, so I called Reb and said 'Hey, Reb, do you want to play a couple of shows?' and he said 'That sounds like fun because Whitesnake isn't touring right now'. So I flew Reb out and we did two shows together and it was just like it was the good old days. We played some of the Dokken hits and we played some songs from Erase The Slate (1999) that Reb wrote with us. We played some of Reb's songs, we played some of my songs and a song from Up From The Ashes. ...We mixed it up and had fun.”
Todd: How would you describe your relationships with the other members of the group's most popular line-ups?
Don: “It's fine. We did a reunion in Japan a couple of years ago. We did a full reunion in Japan with all original members and we all got along great. We did a live album which was all original. I also wrote a new song called “Just Another Day”. ...I wrote some of the song, George wrote the music and Jeff and I wrote the lyrics. We even did a video with all original members. I've done many shows with George over the course of the last year or so. Lynch Mob would open and then George would come on stage at the end of the night and jam a few songs with us and everything we were fine. We're too old to argue (laughs). ...We're in our 60's. Come on, man.”
Todd: What prevented you from re-uniting with them on a full-time basis? That could have been really amazing.
Don: “Because I already have my band. I have Jon, (bassist) Chris (McCarvill, House Of Lords, Jeff Scott Soto, Obsession) and (drummer) B.J. (Zampa, Driver, House Of Lords, Wayne) and that's Dokken. I've moved on. Look, if you get married and it doesn't work out, you get divorced. Twenty years later, you don't suddenly say 'I'm going to get re-married again to the same person'. Time moves on. George has his band KXM and Jeff is in Foreigner. He does some side projects like Black Swan with Reb and (McAuley-Schenker group vocalist Robin McAuley. Everybody's kind of moved on with their own projects. George can now be his own boss. I mean the guy has put out seven albums in the last couple of years. That's a lot of records (laughs). Every month it's like 'Wow, there's another new record out from George Lynch'. But I don't do that. I always spend a year on a record because I'm really picky about which songs I put on it. Look at it this way: I don't want there to be any B sides.”
Todd: How involved were you in the production of the videos for both “Step Into The Light” and “No Answer”?
Don: “I've only seen it once. It's just an animated thing that I had nothing to do with it. The record company did all of that. The first video that came out last month was for the song “Step Into The Light” and it's a pretty cool video because they only wanted pictures of me between 1978 and 1980. I had to look and look for live pictures of me playing at (the club) Whisky (A Go-Go) and live pictures of me at the (now-defunct) Starwood (club). If you go and look on YouTube for the song “Step Into The Light”, it's just a montage of pictures of me in Germany in 1979, 1980 ...It's a whole montage. (For the video for) “No Answer”, that's the more animated thing with the car going down the road. I really didn't have much to do with that. The record company is just trying to keep some videos and songs out there so this buzz will stay alive until this album comes out. ...That's all, really”
The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 (2020)
Return To The East Live (2016)
Broken Bones (2012)
Lightning Strikes Again (2008)
Hell To Pay (2004)
Japan Live '95 (2003)
Long Way Home (2002)
Live From The Sun (2000)
The Very Best Of Dokken (1999)
Erase The Slate (1999)
One Night Live (1996)
Beast From The East (1988)
Back For The Attack (1987)
Under Lock And Key (1985)
Tooth And Nail (1984)
Breaking The Chains (1983)
Back In The Streets (EP) (1979)
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