Breaking the Chains – Don Dokken Unshackled

Written by on October 25, 2012 in Cover Story, Interviews, October 25, 2012 - Comments Off on Breaking the Chains – Don Dokken Unshackled


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If you were a head banging child of the 80’s you more than likely were adding one of Dokken’s lps to your collection. Dokken exploded out of the hotbed that was the hard rock and heavy metal scene in Los Angeles in the early ’80s and went on to produce such classic albums as TOOTH AND NAIL, UNDER LOCK AND KEY and BACK FOR THE ATTACK. All were certified multi-platinum, with songs like “Alone Again,” “Just Got Lucky,” “Into the Fire,” “It’s Not Love” and “Dream Warriors” still being regarded as amongst the genre’s finest.

The group continues to tour the world extensively and has shared the stage with AC/DC, Metallica, Aerosmith, Judas Priest, Van Halen, KISS, Scorpions, Bon Jovi and many more.  While the line ups have changed over the years the ring leader has always been Don Dokken.

We had the chance to grab a few minutes with Don to find out more about his new album, what he thinks about Impressionist painters and what is next for this rocker.

All Access Magazine (AAM): Obviously your name is instantly recognizable Don, and you’ve been at this since the late 70’s but how did you become interested in music in the first place?

DD: I started around 5th or 6th grade playing guitar as an escape, I was raised in foster homes and there wasn’t much to do, a million kids running around and I would go off by myself and play guitar. My mother plays classical piano, my Dad was a Jazz musician , my daughter is a classical pianist so I guess it is genetics, but I think everyone is pre-disposed to certain talents. I can’t ever be an accountant, you know? I can’t add without using my fingers, if there’s no calculator I am screwed. It’s not my thing, my brain doesn’t function that way. But, I can write my thoughts down, play my guitar and all of a sudden something clicks and my brain connects. Still, it gets harder and harder as we get older. There’s that old saying that it takes 20 years to write your first album, and 20 weeks to write your second.

AAM: Indeed… well let’s talk a bit about your role as a guitarist.  In terms of you starting out as a guitarist first how do you feel that dovetails into your position as a front man and leader of a band? Does it change the dynamics?

DokkenDD: I never wanted to be a singer honestly. I mean I was a guitar player and a singer, but guitar was my thing in my earlier bands. When I played my first big show, which was opening up for Journey , and our singer didn’t show up! I was like, “holy crap” so I sang and played guitar. After that I sang and played guitar and then after Breaking the Chains with George in the band we were both playing guitar, but these were the days of David Lee Roth and such so there was a downside to trying to play guitar and be the lead singer.  You can’t get off the mic, unless you’re like Sammy Hagar and wear a head set. Our management said “we think you should just front the band and let George play guitar”-he’s an excellent guitarist, but it was hard. It had been my crutch, it was kind of weird at first. I ended up as the lead singer b/c it was the days of Van Halen and other bands coming out with front men running around, going stage left and stage right and working the crowds.

AAM: You were one of the cornerstones of the LA music scene, in a time that was very special.

DD: It was.

AAM: It seems that there has been resurgence of bands that have been playing since that heyday releasing new material, etc. I am curious from your perspective, as someone who was in the midst of that time, was there a particular time or moment that was pivotal for you?

DokkenDD: Well, yeah I think a pivotal moment was when we started getting a following and opening up for bands like Van Halen, etc. and then obviously I got the offer to go to Germany and sing background vocals on the Scorpion’s album, and that was pivotal for me. I had done a demo and the manager for ACCEPT was there, and they took my demos and handed me a plane ticket and told me I had a record deal. I got paid like 7500.00 dollars—for the whole deal…so I had a record deal and no band. What some people don’t realize is that I had a solo album out in Germany,  called Don Dokken. Then when we got the American record deal, they dropped the first name- and it became Dokken.

AAM: You just put out your 11th studio album and a documentary-and I am curious about the latter- you’ve done one other documentary, what prompted you to do this one?

DD: It’s not real in depth… we were recording and filming at the cottage at my house. We recorded and would be around the camera- someone started asking Jon and I about the songs, what they were about, etc. so we put together a montage of where we recorded- most bands record in a studio and we were recording in this cottage which was great-we’re looking at deer and mountains- it’s out here in the Hollywood Hills and there’s no neighbors which is why I bought the place.  I knew I couldn’t record in my house, I would never sleep!

AAM: “Broken Bones” is supposed to have the signature Dokken sound, and it seems that the sound you are known for is overshadowed by pop here in the US… yet many of the bands of the 80’s are releasing new material so do you see a changing the tides for the future of rock music?

DokkenDD: I don’t honestly. You know in England, rock is dead. It’s all pop, Lady Gaga, old school punk, techno, except for Castle Donnington once a year, Motorhead, Metallica, you’ll see bands like them. But in Europe, it’s weird, we played with Twisted Sister a few years ago who were headlining and they don’t even tour here anymore. Saxon plays big festivals in Europe but don’t here. ACCEPT just played here, and packed out the Grove, they’ve got a new singer and have been hitting it for 18 months, I saw that one of their videos had like 5 million hits for a band that has been out of the loop for ten years. You see that and you say, wow, something is going on. We’re playing next week with Queensryche, ACCEPT and Michael Schenker, and we’re special guests under Queensryche. I think it’s mostly packaging. People are putting out records to perpetuate their touring career because obviously everyone knows that no one buys cds or records any more. There’s no more Gold records. In fact I have a platinum album and the sun was hitting it and it got damaged and no one is making them anymore. If you’re P Diddy now you get a platinum cd. You can still buy them, they’re just not the real deal. So for a record from 27 years ago, you’re out of luck.

AAM: Speaking of your platinum albums, there was a recent comment you made that” We’ve never had a number one hit, we’ve just been winning fans over one by one”  and I ask this of people who have had such a long career in a very tough business, so why did you stick it out?

DokkenDD: They should do some kind of psychological survey or study on that. These days without private jets, limos, and all the stuff to make you comfortable we say its 23 hours of hell for 2 hours of glory. Whether its bad hotels, or freezing your butt off, or this was like the 3rd hottest summer in history and we played a lot on the East Coast and in Louisiana when it was 103 degrees – it was brutal—I can’t speak  for other artists, but it’s like a runner’s high when you are on stage… you’re singing lyrics you wrote, and you’re seeing the crowd sing with you—I don’t know if its ego or what, but you get this high that kicks in…I’ve been amazed at some of the shows we have done that none of us have passed out you know? I would walk off stage and lay on the cool cement floor. I think there is a bit of a rush—its part physical, part spiritual. Obviously to be acknowledged and to see people singing songs I wrote 28 years ago, is great… and some of these kids are 13 and 14 and they know all of the songs and lyrics… it’s like Brad Whitford of Aerosmith was asked what is your demographic and he said “6- 60”—there’s some truth in that—some of our fans from our heyday now have kids, and they’re coming to the shows and it’s an interesting demographic.

AAM: So what is new for you down the road? Are you looking to produce more cds, more touring, etc.?

DD: This is probably our last Dokken record. Jon and I are the main writers and we have decided this is it… this will probably be the last record I will do under the moniker of Dokken. I want to do other things.  People expect a certain sound and I get that, if you like Cheerios and that’s Dokken and if Raison Bran is Metallica, and you go to buy a Metallica album and it’s Cheerios, that’s a problem,- you want what you want.

DokkenThere’s a few of my records where I stretched out, did some fusion, added different sounds and people didn’t like it too much. They were like, “What is this?”. “I want Tooth and Nail” and my comment has always been well if you want Tooth and Nail go buy it. I don’t understand it you know? I understand where my bread is buttered and what fans expect, and that they like the sound of my voice. But think of the Beatles.. what was their first album, “Meet the Beatles”? What if they kept writing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” over and over again, they would have never survived. They were constantly changing- and everyone was cool with it, but now Bon Jovi, Poison—those bands have to stick right to those guidelines or people are like, “uh?”

AAM: It can be limiting after a while.

DD: Well it’s like I said in another magazine article can you imagine Monet painting the Gardens of Giverny and this guy standing over his shoulder is saying “not too much white, put more red in there like the other painting.  Wait a minute, the tree was on the left last time, this time it’s on the right, can you change it back—make it look like all of your other paintings, just change the color a little.”  As a painter, how can you put your soul and vision on a canvas and have someone telling you “don’t spin out” ? Picasso got away with it, people think of him as an abstract guy who painted sideways noses and Cubism, and people don’t realize his early work was very traditional. His work was normal, old school, portraits and paintings and then he kind of went off the deep end (chuckles)– what would have happened if someone told him to keep doing what you have been doing?

DokkenIt’s not going to fulfill me as an artist, and I get frustrated. Then, if you don’t do what they want, the fans are disappointed and the record company gets frustrated, and they say, give us a Dokken record, and I don’t know what that means. I just write what I write and hope that you like it, so I have those confines under the name of Dokken and I’d like to write an album and call it the Mud Puppies or something, you know? Whatever comes out of me, comes out of me… staying within the box gets frustrating for me. I’d like to not have those confines… I’m getting older, I’ve done 11 albums and I want to write different stuff.

AAM: You want to break the chains?

DD: Well it’s like you’re a writer and journalist- what if you asked the same questions of every artist– you’d be bored out of your mind. Whether you’re a writer, artist, architect… it doesn’t matter-so that’s really where I am at… I put my best into this record, and tried to write the very best songs and now I am done and ready for something new.

AAM: Well it sounds like you are in a good place Don and the future has some new possibilities for you. I’m glad we had this time to catch up and good luck on your new adventures.

DD: Thanks sweetie, bye.



Dokken is: Don Dokken (vocals), Mick Brown (drums), Jon Levin (guitar) and Sean McNabb (bass).