Don Dokken Interview Exclusive

Published on October 12th, 2009

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What is it that makes a singer more than just a person behind a microphone? Maybe it’s the attitude, the delivery, or that audience connection. Whatever it is that separates the good from the great, one thing is clear: Don Dokken has it. His distinct singing and writing style, coupled with his on stage persona and off stage candor have long set him apart from other singers of the era and given him recognition today as a legendary rock vocalist. With 11 studio albums to his credit and thousands of live shows under his belt, Don has nothing to prove. Yet still the song ideas flow and the fans scream for more; it seems indeed there is no ‘off’ position on the genius switch.

Don led his band Dokken through trials and tribulations in the 1980s, recording metal anthems and passionate ballads all the while. In the ’90s he released a solo album before surprising fans and critics alike when he rejoined all of his former bandmates as Dokken once more. Members have come and gone since this 1995 reunion, but the band’s discography has more than doubled in those years. New record after new record, songs like “Sunless Days” and “Standing on the Outside” have proven than even 25 years later, no one can rock it quite like Dokken.

We are honored to present this revealing and entertaining interview – a glance into the life of Don Dokken. Endless studio, and even some auto work left Don understandably exhausted by the time he rang our line that evening, so the interview is somewhat brief. However, we promise that this will not be our last chat with the always entertaining frontman – many readers submitted questions that we were unable to get to. Our conversation ranged from the upcoming Greatest Hits re-recorded project to the status of future band and solo projects. A very special thanks to our good friend Neeley at the Classic Metal Show for making this interview happen.

LRJ: It’s a true honor to have you on the line this evening Don. What’s happening with you?

Don Dokken: Well not much. I wish I could tell you a bunch of stuff but we’ve just been touring for 7 months and trying to wrap up this greatest hits album, going to Japan in a few weeks to play a big festival with Judas Priest and lots of bands like that – and Lynch Mob is playing. And that’s about it. Start a new record.

LRJ: So I caught you in the studio tonight if I’m not mistaken?

DD: Yeah I just want to wrap it up because we’re so close. We’re 98% done. So between tonight, tomorrow, and Monday, we’ll hopefully be done.

LRJ: Do you try to stay out of trouble and out of the L.A. scene?

DD: Yeah I always stay out of trouble, working on my cars every day. Me and my brother are car nuts so I’ve been under my XK all day, getting greasy. Of course I came to the studio, but working on my cars is the therapy.

LRJ: Sure, there you go. Are you a car collector? Do you have a lot of classics?

DD: Not anymore. I used to have a lot of old Rolls Royces and Bentleys but now my brother has an SL Mercedes and I bought an XKE 66 Jaguar. It’s a piece of crap, I’ve been trying to make it NOT a piece of crap. But that’s the whole point. Anyone can go out to a car show and buy a mint condition one and it doesn’t mean anything.

LRJ: What’s the strip like in 2009 vs. 1989?

DD: It’s rockin’, you know. It’s like the ‘80s – there’s a million clubs and a lot of bands. It’s all starting to look like it did in the ‘80s with long hair and the tats. It’s a revival, what can I say.

LRJ: Now on this greatest hits album Don, it’s two covers and two new tracks?

DD: Yeah two covers and two new tracks. We have a cover song called “Lies” by the Knickerbockers and also “Bus Stop” by the Hollies. Mick sang live as a duet on that and it came out really cool. And then two new songs, one is called “Magic Man”, it’s about drug dealers.

LRJ: Which label is handling the release? Is Rhino out of the picture?

DD: Cleopatra. Yeah, Rhino is out of the picture.

LRJ: One question that we had from a reader was if there are any plans to go back to the earlier Dokken albums and remaster those.

DD: Everybody’s doing that – we’re not going to do that. Remaster why? Add some EQ, some bottom end? What’s the point. I don’t see the point.

LRJ: Let’s talk a little bit about these new Norton Antivirus commercials.

DD: Alright – let’s talk about the dead chicken.

LRJ: Right, of course we’re referring to these Norton commercials featuring Dokken. If I remember correctly these commercials were done in some sort a blimp hangar?

DD: Yeah it was at Long Beach Airport, they built it during the war. It’s the largest wooden structure in the world.

LRJ: Dokken is not only the perfect name for a band, but also for a computer virus.

DD: Yeah, we just did it for fun. Why not.

LRJ: There are a lot of rumors about a Dokken/Lynch Mob tour – do you know how those got started?

DD: It’s a possibility. I talked to George about it, they’re going to see if they can put dates together. I threw it out there, and we’ll know in 10 days.

LRJ: Speaking of George Lynch, I heard that you recently had an encounter with his Souls of We project. You actually ended up on stage at one pont?

DD: Yeah I just walked up and told him to tune his guitar. I mean it’s the Souls of We – it’s a very strange band, you know, it’s dark music and he’s just doing his thing. George is doing a spin off and I get it, you know. But it’s not my style.

LRJ: You’ve always had your own style, where as George has gone in so many different directions.

DD: A lot of different directions. If you take a look at his last four albums they’re all over the map. And that’s fine, that’s cool.

LRJ: So I was at the Sturgis Bike Rally over the summer and was there when Steven Tyler fell off the stage.

DD: Oh you were there? Bummer.

LRJ: Yeah and I was wondering if anything like that has ever happened to you over the years?

DD: Yeah, my first show with Dio in like ’84, our very first show I just walked off the end of the stage by accident and broke my foot. Since they didn’t have the tape down I couldn’t see and went over the edge into the pit. And, I broke my leg on the Poison tour in 2004. I did half of that tour on crutches with a broken leg. I broke my leg on a day off on a jet ski.

LRJ: Really? I think I do remember hearing about that story somewhere.

DD: Yeah I did the tour with crutches. I would just walk out on crutches and sing on a stool.

LRJ: You carry on, right?

DD: What are you gonna do? It didn’t affect my voice.

LRJ: Well you’re a man of stage trademarks, and one that fans have noticed over the years is air drumming.

DD: Yeah I love to air drum.

LRJ: Did that get started back in the ’80s?

DD: I don’t know, I don’t remember. I like to jam out with Mick, you know.

LRJ: I have to tell you that one of my first ever concerts was you guys with Great White, and you came out on stage full clad leather and sunglasses, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever (laughs).

DD: (Laughs) I’m kinda going back to that.

LRJ: The stage dress has changed a lot over the years though.

DD: Yeah well I just got older and fatter you know. I can’t wear that stuff anymore (both laugh).

LRJ: So my question is when does the Don Dokken reality show start? Would you ever do something like that?

DD: Never. My life is private and I want to keep it that way.

LRJ: You got a point, I mean Bret Michaels is out there…

DD: And he’s made millions God bless him. It was fun. But, to keep his private life private, he was in a rented house with a bunch of bimbos, so it wasn’t really his private life. But I’m not down with that, those aren’t the kind of girls I like. I’m not into strippers and I’m not into sluts, you know. I’m not into sport screwing.

LRJ: Have you always steered clear of that stuff?

DD: Yeah I mean I had my day in the ’80s you know? I had my binge. It’s kind of hard to say no when a runway model walks up and says “All I’m wearing is a trenchcoat.” (both laugh)

LRJ: What were the crowds like this summer on the tour? I noticed a lot of younger fans.

DD: They were great, and when they stop being great I’ll stop touring. I see younger fans, I see 12 year olds, I see 50 year olds. It’s a very eclectic crowd because you’ve got the moms and dads who grew up with Dokken in the ’80s and they’re bringing their 15 year old kids to the show. It’s a very eclectic audience.

LRJ: Sure. Are there any bands that you haven’t toured with that you would like to? Over the years you’ve toured with Aerosmith, KISS, Judas Priest…

DD: Nope. Well, Led Zeppelin.

LRJ: There you go. It seems like Robert Plant can’t really make up his mind.

DD: Well look, he’s not going to be able to sing that stuff like he did when he was 25 years old, it’s just a given. It would be tough to sing, I have a hard time singing my stuff too. So you know I haven’t toured with Zeppelin, haven’t toured with Deep Purple but I’ve played with them. I don’t think there are many bands I haven’t toured with – Motley Crue, haven’t toured with them. Played a show with them in 1982 at the Roxy but that was about it. I’ve toured with everybody.

LRJ: Sure.

DD: It’s not really about who anymore. From KISS to Blue Oyster Cult I’ve done it all, but I’m more concerned with Dokken, you know. My band, having fun, playing the hits, and if people get nostalgia and are happy and it brings back fond memories, god bless ‘em.

LRJ: Absolutely, that’s what it’s all about. Let me ask you a bit more about the greatest hits project. I know it’s been a very taxing one for you. Are you mixing the hits up or trying to stay true?

DD: Totally true. Except trying to make it more punchy, and less reverb, you know. Making it more modern – it is the year 2009.

LRJ: Are there any crazy stories from the road over the last few years? You’ve been doing a lot of shows.

DD: No, things are mellow. All we do is hang out and go to the show, go the the movies. I’m over 50 now, things have slowed down. There is no craziness backstage. I’ll leave that for Bret Michaels.

LRJ: I made a special note to touch on the solo album that you did last year – Solitary. Are there any plans to make that available again or are the copies all gone?

DD: Yeah I mean I haven’t released it yet, I just put it out privately. But I’m trying to get a record deal with people who seem to get it. The labels go “Oh, it’s not rockin’, it’s too mellow.” I’m like, tell that to Robert Plant who’s sold two million copies with Alison Krauss. I don’t know what to tell you. I like the album, I’m proud of it. Maybe Starbucks will pick it up, I don’t know.

LRJ: I would say that it would be a good fit for Starbucks – laid back, drink some coffee and listen to music.

DD: We’ll see. You never know.

LRJ: Looking back a little bit to the Back for the Attack era when the infighting reached a peak. Do you think that putting George on a separate tour bus would have solve the problem, or would that have been too little too late?

DD: Yes, looking back, if we would have put him on a different bus, we could have survived. But whatever, that’s coulda, woulda, shoulda. It’s like looking back at old girlfriends saying I should have done this. Look – Ghandi, Buddha, they all say don’t live in the past. Live in the future, because that’s where you’re going to spend the rest of your life. So I don’t dwell on that, it’s just a waste of time

LRJ: Well speaking of the future, today we’ve got Kanye West and Hannah Montana, who really don’t have the talent that was necessary back in the day.

DD: You got that right.

LRJ: What are your thoughts on that? Is there any new stuff you see out there that you like?

DD: I like Nickelback, I like Avenged Sevenfold, I love Green Day. But all of this commercial, Disneyland stuff, come on. I mean Hannah Montana, Miley Cyrus, give me a break. She’s got no talent, she’s crude. Just a little trailer trash girl they picked up and made a star, good for her. She’s making millions, but I’d love to hear her sing a cappella on acoustic guitar. Good luck.

LRJ: Yeah, no kidding.

DD: With no autotune or effects on her voice. It’s all smoke and mirrors, man.

LRJ: Why do you think it is that quality vocalists like yourself, Rob Halford, and David Coveradale are so hard to come by today?

DD: Because protools, and autotune, and all of these programs can make you in tune. It makes you lazy. We come from the days where an A was an A, an E was an E. You’re either flat or you’re sharp. We were trained to sing on key. But now it doesn’t matter if you’re flat, doesn’t matter if you’re sharp. You can sing, bark, and then walk out of the room and the engineer fixes it. You can come back and it’s all perfect.

LRJ: You’ve talked before, and said a few different things about what will be next for Dokken. Because of the good sales figures on Lightning Strikes again, are you going to record another album, or was Lightning Strikes Again the curtain call?

DD: Yeah we’re going to do another studio album. I don’t care about sales figures. I don’t make records because of sales figures anymore – I make records because I love to do it, it’s fun. It’s art. People don’t create paintings to become millionaires – they do it because they love to paint. The great painters of the 1800s died poor, but they still painted. Monet, all of them. They were poor, living in little apartments in Paris. They didn’t paint because they had to, they painted because they had to because they loved it. That’s why I make music, I don’t care about record sales. 20 million records sold, who cares anymore.

LRJ: That’s how you were living in the Breaking the Chains era, wasn’t it 20 dollars a week or something?

DD: 20 dollars a week, yeah. Lots of Top Ramen and hot dogs.

LRJ: Top Ramen, can’t go wrong.

DD: Love that stuff, can’t go wrong. It’s tasty for 20 cents a pack. (both laugh)

LRJ: Absolutely! Now I know that you also have talked about doing a “break all the rules” solo project.

DD: I would like to, but the record company wants another Lightning Strikes Again. They want it to be like Dokken. I said OK, fine. I’ll give you one more Dokken-esque album, and then I’m going to do a metal, no rules no boundaries album. But I gotta get this next album done first.

LRJ: Ok. Do you know when…

DD: That’s a year from now, that’s down the road man. After Japan we will start writing. I can’t really explain it, it’s a spiritual thing and I don’t want to get into it. You wake up, you hear nothing. You wake up sometimes at 3 in the morning and have an idea come through your head. You jump out of bed, turn the tape recorder on, grab your guitar and you put it down. That’s how it is.

LRJ: I think the quality of the albums has gotten stronger and stronger over the years.

DD: I’ve tried.

LRJ: I mean, you look at Lightning Strikes Again. Every track on that album stands out in its own way.

DD: If that album had come out in the ’80s it would have sold millions.

LRJ: Absolutely. What was it like working with Jeff Scott Soto during those recording sessions?

DD: He’s a great singer, he helped me out a lot with the background vocals. A nice guy. He actually came in a couple days ago to sing.

LRJ: Is there a release date for this Greatest Hits package?

DD: Next week I’ll have that and I’ll know it. I’m not going to give a release date until I got the album covered. If I can deliver the album, then I’ll know. I’m a week away and that’s all I can really say. I wish I could be more informative, but I don’t want to say anything until it’s done. This album should have been done six months ago.

LRJ: You’ve been working on it for four years, haven’t you?

DD: Yep, off and on. I’m picky, I can’t help it. I’m a perfectionist.

LRJ: The fans love you for it though.

DD: Let’s hope so.

LRJ: Ok, now I have a question from a reader in Brazil, and he is wondering if Dokken has ever had an offer to tour in South America.

DD: No, but we plan on going to South America next summer. Never been there, but signed to go.

LRJ: Really? That’s great. You’ve got quite a few dates for 2010 lined up already.

DD: We’re working on it. It’s a recession, it’s hard times.

LRJ: The last question I want to ask is about Dokken albums in general. The first track always seems to have a hook that really grabs you – its there a certain pressure in choosing that first song? A certain process you use?

DD: No, we just write all the songs, and when we’re all done we just pick the song that really jumps out and the chorus grabs you. Then you put that as the lead track to suck people in and get their ear and get their attention. Like Lightning Strikes Again – Standing on the Outside. It’s just a great song. There’s no like “Oh, this will be the first song”. To write like that is ridiculous. You just write the songs, get them all done, sit down and listen to it, get away for a week, then sequence it. I’m not a hit machine, I just write whatever God, this higher power dictates, and whatever comes out comes out. Sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s not so great.

LRJ: What is it about the Beatles that makes them such an influence for you?

DD: They were geniuses – they tapped into the universe and it showed on their records. I wish I could do that. Sometimes I feel tapped in, sometimes I don’t. It just happened to be four guys that were in the right place at the right time. They tapped into the right energy in the universe and they turned out eight years of incredible music. End of story.

LRJ: Alright Don I don’t want to hold you on any longer, you’ve probably been holed up in the studio for a while.

DD: Yeah, well I worked on the car, and now I’m just exhausted. I gotta push forward two more hours and try to make it. Try not to crash.

LRJ: Well I want to thank you so much for talking to me, it’s been a real treat.

DD: No problem man. I appreciate it, I hope you catch some shows in the spring.

LRJ: Absolutely. Thanks again, take care.

DD: Take care, bye.

You can get all the latest on Dokken at www.Dokken.net.

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Comments

  1. Posted by Neeley on October 12th, 2009, 14:18 [Reply]

    Good job Matt. Glad the interview with Don worked out for you. I think this is the first interview with Don where he actually commented and even made somewhat of a commitment for recording a follow-up to Lightning Strikes Again. Only time will tell!
    Rock!!

  2. Posted by Matt Becker on October 12th, 2009, 17:08 [Reply]

    Thanks Neeley! I was a bit surprised at that as well during the interview – it wasn’t the answer I expected! Great news nonetheless for all Dokken fans.

  3. Posted by walker caine on October 14th, 2009, 12:53 [Reply]

    I like the singer remarks.
    I used to call most of the ’80s singers the Choir Boys – because a lot of them got their training in the church choir. Those clear voices aren’t heard anymore. I used that training in the late 70′s but then went to the individual song so as not to sound the same on everything … no processing, no EQ, just put it out there and let it be what it is. If a bad note fits, why fix it? Some of the best stuff (mostly pre-80′s) are riddled with mistakes.

    It’s an aspect I’ve always appreciated about Robert, Don, Brett, & some of the others.

    Good interview Matt.

  4. Posted by mary on November 8th, 2009, 16:14 [Reply]

    I am 45 still love Dokken. Don is still the most beautiful man I have ever seen (and I was NEVER a slut)and can still hold his own…great musician!My 16 yr old son plays guitar and loves the metal.His metal is Lamb of god,and screamers like that…still appreciates the 80′s metal-it’s always around and meant to be enjoyed,no bullshit fun.

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