Music Interviews

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Interview by Joy Williams
published in Artist Magazine (U.S.)


“You couldn't get a job in L.A. playing heavy metal, they called it ‘dinosaur rock.’ See, this is when The Knack was really peaking. Heavy metal was on Monday nights, Monday nights at The Troubadour. I'd gone to Europe because heavy metal was still big there.”

--Don Dokken

Three years ago, Don Dokken was gigging around L.A. with various bandmates, gaining attention with the local release of his "Hard Rock Women" single on his own label, Hard Records. It was produced by former Paul Revere & The Raiders guitarist Drake Levin, and featured Robin Trower, drummer Bill Lordan and bassist Rusty Allen. In 1980, this first incarnation of the band Dokken did a short tour of Germany. A year later, Don returned to Germany to perform a follow-up tour.

During this second tour, the singer/guitarist attracted the attention of Scorpions' producer, Dieter Dierks, who later saw Don play again at the Whisky à Go Go in Hollywood. Dierks invited Dokken to fly to Germany as his guest to record demos, using his own studio. Recorded, mixed and shopped in 3 days flat, Don was signed by Carrere two days later. Never one to waste time, Don sang backup vocals on the Scorpions' Blackout LP.

Needing a proper band, Don called up former rivals George Lynch and Mick Brown, then with the band Xciter. George and Mick flew to Germany to form a band with Don. The threesome, along with Peter Baltes from the German metal band Accept playing bass, recorded Dokken's first album, Breaking the Chains.

A series of European shows followed in late '81 and early '82, bringing the band members closer. The Carrere edition of the album was released in Europe in mid-82, where it placed well on the charts of the British heavy metal magazine Kerrang! The album also reached the States as an import.

George Lynch/Dokken c Kevin Thompson/Artist Publications

George Lynch
Keystone Palo Alto
Palo Alto CA 2/5/84
photo © Kevin Thompson/Artist Publications

Though Europe had been good to them, Dokken decided to come home. Before signing with Elektra/Asylum, Don and George each found projects in the States. Don served as producer on several recording sessions, working with Great White and Black and Blue, and George considered and then rejected an offer from Ozzy Osbourne to fill Randy Rhoads' spot after his death.

By the summer of '83, Dokken was working at Total Access Studios in Redondo Beach, CA to improve Breaking the Chains for U.S. release. With Michael Wagener co-producing, they recorded new instrumental tracks, improved upon vocal harmonies and generally tightened the album's sound. The lyrics of one song, formerly titled "We're Illegal" were changed and the tune was retitled "Live to Rock." "Stick to Your Guns" was completely re-recorded, and the studio version of "Paris Is Burning" was replaced by the more fiery live rendition. The LP was also remastered digitally for maximum sound quality.

Just days before Elektra/Asylum released Breaking the Chains, bassist Juan Croucier left the group and was replaced by Jeff Pilson. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Pilson, at 23, is a veteran of numerous bands, the most well-known of which was that of guitarist Randy Hansen.

Finally, Dokken, the band that was formed in Germany of Americans, had come home, touring in support of the new record. Dokken appeared at the Keystone in Palo Alto on February 5, and I was there to talk to Don Dokken, at the behest of the record company.

Q: So, why don't you fill us in on how this all came together in Germany?

DON: I was over there recording demos in the Scorpions' studio, and one of the songs that I was using was a song that Mick and George had written, called "Paris Is Burning." I asked if I could use the tune and fix it a little bit. So I made a few changes, I took it to... Have you ever heard of a band called Accept? Well, you're gonna hear about them, they're really good. Debbie took my tape to Dieter Dierks and played it for him and he gave me a plane ticket the next day. Then  it turned out the publisher who owned the company at Carrere Records heard the tape and he signed us.

Q: That's great, but how did you happen to be in the Scorpions' studio?

DON: I was on tour in 1980 with the original Dokken, which was like an Elvis Presley impersonation. And the road manager who was handling the tour of Europe in '80 had been the photographer on the US. tour of the Scorpions. 'cause he speaks English. So, the producer for the Scorpions flew in to Hamburg that night and was staying over. Our guy said, "Listen, I'm the road manager for a band from L.A. called Dokken; why don't you come down and see them?" So when Dieter Dierks came down, he saw us play. He liked the band, so he flew to L.A. to see me play at the Whiskey, and he said the band stank. But he said he liked my voice, so he said, "I want you to go to Germany and make a demo and go solo." I went to Germany and he paid for the demos on the condition that I get myself there. The reason he did all this is because I helped him on a few things—found some musicians for a few of his bands. He let me stay in the studio for a few days and returned a favor. It's kind of hard to tour without a band, though, so Mick and George called me and said, "We want to play with you." I'd known Mick and George from the band Xciter. They were like a real popular heavy metal band gone wimp. (laughs)

Q: Why did they go wimp?

Don Dokken c Priscilla Gallatin/Artist Publications

Don Dokken
Keystone Palo Alto
Palo Alto, CA, 2/5/84

photo © Priscilla Gallatin/
Artist Publications

DON: 'Cause you couldn't make a living. You couldn't get a job in L.A. playing heavy metal, they called it "dinosaur rock." See, this is when The Knack was really peaking. Heavy metal was on Monday nights, Monday nights at The Troubadour. I'd gone to Europe because heavy metal was still big there. [Here], everything had gone very commercial and mainstream—all the labels were snatching up every band that had a tie on. When I got back to L.A., I got the record contract. Xciter had come within inches of a record contract... First, they were a metal band, then they went new wave, then they figured that they were still too heavy. The joke was, in '80 you couldn't get a deal. I mean, it didn't matter if you were good anyway, because the labels wouldn't sign anyone in L.A.  'cause they thought that L.A. was just the shit hole of musicians. It was all New York and England and films.

Q: What changed?

DON: Well, what changed was, we came back and we did the Roxy [Theatre on Sunset Street in West Hollywood, capacity 500] with Mötley Crüe—in fact, Mötley Crüe warmed us up for two days—shows how the tables turn, boys. But after that, we went back to Europe and toured and did a one-hour TV special. Then when we came back, Mötley Crüe was starting to get a little bit of a following, and all of a sudden, bands like W.A.S.P. started popping up, and Ratt and Great White. We saw what we had been doing for two years, but they were saying, "It's a new thing called heavy metal." But I never wimped—I stayed heavy metal the whole time.

Q: How do you feel about that first album you recorded so quickly in the Scorpions' studio?

DON: I'm very proud of the first album because it was like people raved and ranted about the songs and the production, they liked it. And we did that album for nothing—that album was recorded for zero money.

Q: On the new U.S. version you used digital mastering. How did you like that?

DON: Well, for bands like Yes and Asia, digital is fine. Or for the headphone nuts—no hiss, no popping, no crackling—you don't get any of that on digital. But for us, it's kind of a funny sound. But we used digital 'cause we had a few problems because it had been sitting in a vault for two years.

Q: So you re-mastered it.

DON: Yeah, and remixed it. See, we got released in Germany in 80 and we didn't get released in the U.S., for two years, so the tapes had bee sitting in sub-zero temperatures in that vault for two years and had almost deteriorated. We lost tracks, and no on knew where the masters were; in fact, we still don't know where the originals went. We had to take the basic tracks off the tape and fix them. The problem now is that the record stores on Sunset Boulevard have half imports and half regular or our records, and it hurts our record sales.

Q: How is that?

DON: We don't make any money off the imports. You figure 30,000 people buy imports and that would mean that we lost 30,000 customers, and you come up broke.

Q: So the German version is being sold at the same time as the remixed and remastered record, here in the U.S.?

DON: We put an injunction against it; it shouldn't be coming in anymore. What we've done is knock the price down on the album. First, it was being sold at $8.99, now it's down to $5.99. The import costs $10.00, so why would anyone want to buy an import at $10.00 when they can get a regular album for $5.99? So it's not practical for them to ship them into the country.


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