(Mental Health Conversations):  The Legendary DON DOKKEN

(Mental Health Conversations): The Legendary DON DOKKEN

Editor’s Note:  On August 28th, the legendary 80’s metal/hair-metal band Dokken released their album “The Lost Songs 1978-1981” via Silver Lining Music.  Essentially, Dokken founder Don Dokken found a collection of old tapes while cleaning out his garage during the “quarantine era” of the Covid-19 pandemic.  In this conversation with Madness To Creation, Don Dokken discusses coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, the bad rap that Great White got in the press over having shows, social unrest, the album and career highlights in their music.  This interview will also be available on YouTube for anyone to listen to.  Fans can find Dokken at the following locations:

www.facebook.com/DokkenOfficial

www.Dokken.net

Madness To Creation:  This is Madness To Creation, thank you for taking the time to interview with me today, how are you Don?

Don Dokken:  It’s going good, nice weather, which is a little weird living in New Mexico and it’s smoky as you’ve seen in the news there’s fires everywhere, the smoke just comes over in the mountains and just hits you right in the face.  The whole world is so terrible with these tragedies with the biggest fire in California on record, then you have the rioting, then you have the hurricanes.  And you have the Black Lives Matter protests and the election coming up.  We should’ve called this record “The Apocalypse” or something like that.

Madness To Creation:  Do you think it feels like the Apocalypse in a way?

Don Dokken:  Absolutely I think that 2020 will go down in history where the next generation in school will be talking about the suffrage movement and the Civil Rights Movement.  I think people will look back and say, “how in the hell did people survive 2020”, and the pandemic as well.

Madness To Creation:  How are you coping with the Covid-19 pandemic?

Don Dokken:  I’m trying.  We’ve done three shows the past couple of months, we actually went to the airport and got in the airplane, we flew and did a show in Virginia and another one in Arkansas, I did a show recently in Milwaukee, and that’s it, we have another show in Texas and we had one in Michigan, and the boys and I talked and I said, “I think we’re pushing our luck”, let’s just go home.

Madness To Creation:  How were the preparations for the show different as opposed to pre-Covid?

Don Dokken:  We had security around us, we didn’t talk to anybody, we wore our masks. At the airport’s everybody’s wearing masks. It’s mandatory in airplanes and at airports. Now go to the band guys wearing a mask, you know, we went to our hotel room didn’t talk to anybody. You got ready to go to the concert. We have security people basically surrounding us, you know, so people wouldn’t know if you close to us and the sad thing is you look out in the audience and see on a mask, but you see a lot of people not wearing masks.  So makes me nervous. You know what I’m on stage.  Excited to have this album out!

Madness To Creation:  What’s the first thing that you want to do when this pandemic is over?

Don Dokken:  We want to tour!  We’re excited to have The Lost Songs out and we are also halfway done with the new record and it’s so hard to get everyone together to record over Skype or Zoom.

Madness To Creation:  Would you say that’s been the biggest challenge?

Don Dokken:  The biggest challenge is not to catch it(Covid).  We live on 13 acres of trees and forest and there’s nobody around us, we don’t have neighbors.  We live in the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere.  So you can buy your food, like John, my guitar player, has his food delivered and go online.  The world is adjusting, you can buy your food online, you can do everything online.  You stay home, you stay away from people and there’s nothing that you can do about it.  I have several friends that have caught Covid and they were very careful and they said, “Don, you don’t want to catch this, it’s really brutal”.  It’s brutal. It’s very hard. It’s very hard on you. So I’m just hiding out but we did go out to those concerts and I just was going more and more anxious. You know, he got one of these you the roadies, you got the lighting people, you got, you know, electricians on stage. You don’t know who’s got it. Well, so I decided to call it a day. We’re probably the only band in the last five months they said that play concerts. 

Madness To Creation:  You don’t have to answer this question if you don’t want to, but did Dokken receive backlash because I know that Trapt received backlash?

Don Dokken:  Zero!  Zero!  Look, Great White did a show and they caught all this shit. You know how dare you go play a show with the Covid and and you know, and I don’t and I thought Great White was wrong to apologize and say we’re sorry. We’ll never do it again. I’m like, first of all, they didn’t start Covid second of all there are contracted to do a show and they did it and they just social distanced it the best they could it wasn’t on Great White.  To go apologize to everybody and everybody gave a shit about it. But I also think they did that because of their infamous thing about the fire, you know!

Madness To Creation:  That was the show in Rhode Island right?

Don Dokken:  To go apologize to everybody and everybody gave a shit about it. But I also think they did that because of their infamous thing about the fire, you know! well then showing weird Island, right? Yeah, a lot of people died, but I wouldn’t apologize for any show they did this year.  They did the show, the fans were going stir crazy, they’re bored and they want to get out of the house and we just try to go out there and give them a little love and give a little rock and roll and play some music for him and let them escape their lockdown, you know, and we are very careful. We plan a 5000 seater they checked everyone’s temperature if we came in and they only about 2,500 people in and everybody was eight feet apart sitting down the lawn. So it worked out great.

Madness To Creation:  Let’s talk about the album.  I love the songs that you released called “No Answer” and “Step Into The Light”, what was special about recording those songs back in the day and what are some memories that you had when Dokken was cutting their teeth so to speak?

Don Dokken: I worked for a living as a cook and you know, when I cook food all day at the restaurant, you know, I cannot swing shift I get off work about midnight and I have my guitar in my car and I would just head over the studio and they called it down time, you know, so usually between midnight and 6:00 the morning, the studio was empty and I worked out a deal with my producer to go in there on downtime and work on songs and that’s what I did and then when I went to Germany and ‘79 playing the club tour to play the same clubs that The Beatles played and met Michael Wagener and he worked recording studio. Same thing though. Nobody’s in the studio at night. So he’d let us come in after the show and we just had him start writing demos. The tapes disappeared forever  and they were gone.

I guess somebody had an EP of some of the songs that were stolen. But you know, I found all the songs that are on this record. I did find versions of them on YouTube. I don’t know how you know back in the day when you’re a musician, you know, you’re you do a demo and you’re proud of it and you make a budget to where you give it to your friends and you give it to your girlfriend, and you give it to your parents.  you know, and those tapes somehow, you know decades later ended up on YouTube, but they sounded horrible.

Because they were copies upon copies and it was just not listenable, horrible hissing  and you could tell the song was on a cassette sound like god-awful and I was just lucky enough to find the masters in my garage, you know, because I like everybody I said, well, it’s “Covid time”, time for everybody to get out get your butts out in the garage and get all that junk out of your garage for years.  Ain’t got nothing else to do, I’ll go out in the garage, I was just spring cleaning you know.  It was packed to the rafters and I just bought a new car a ‘64 Sting Ray convertible, it’s a beautiful car but I can’t leave it outside, and I had no room in the garage, so I gotta clean the garage.  My girlfriend and I were cleaning the garage, keeping what was good and throwing away what was bad, and made enough room for the car, and I was almost finished and I found this plastic tub, open it up and I see all these two inch analog masters, which I have not recorded on analog tape in 25 years. So I was curious and I opened up the box and there it says Michael Wagener Hamburg Germany 1979 Drake Levin Media Art Studios 1978. What the hell?  So I just took them off to the studio and “baked ‘em”.

They say you to bake cakes when they sit that long, they get sticky and gooey.  I should’ve taken that picture but I didn’t because when I opened the box one of the tapes had green mold all over it. Literally. So we put them up I guess there was about 10 demos over the years between 1974-1977, you know over the years when you can sneak into the studios to make demos and but unfortunately those tapes wouldn’t play, they’re just too far gone. So I always saved what I could save and luckily we ended up with enough songs have a record with those songs.

Madness To Creation:  Back in the day you worked with Juan Croucier of RATT, what was that like working with him?

Don Dokken: Juan and I, we’re like blood brothers because Juan was one of the original members of Dokken when I went to Germany.  I’d never been out of the country. I didn’t know anything. I don’t speak German and one and I and a drummer named Greg Becca. We were three piece. I sang and I played guitar, Juan played bass and sang a couple songs and we had this offer to go to Germany. We all said why not, you know like an adventure and you know, and we knew people there they had equipment they loan us and all we had to do was come up with the plane tickets and we literally hocked everything we had, you know our amplifiers a couple of my guitars. We took all every penny we can find to buy those plane tickets. And so of course I have fond memories of going to Germany and Juan and I sleeping on the floor at my friend’s house and sleeping in the back of the van I  remember we went to Berlin and remember 1979 The Berlin Wall is still up, it was still Russian. And we had to go to what they call Checkpoint Charlie. And it was starting to snow and they asked us to take all the equipment out of the truck. And I mean it was freezing and I may want to comment and I said, I don’t get it sir. I go. “Nobody is trying to sneak into East Germany, or East Berlin, everybody is trying to get out”!

Madness To Creation:  How did they react when you said that?

Don Dokken:  They didn’t understand me.  I go. “Nobody is trying to sneak into East Germany, or East Berlin, everybody is trying to get the hell out” How do they react when he said that they didn’t know?  We went to Checkpoint Charlie and it was an adventure. It was scary. They we laughed because we’re in a band. We had just enough room to like crawl in the back and sleep on top of the cases.  And they took tape and they taped our doors closed because you weren’t allowed to stop between wherever city it was and Berlin we were only allowed to be on that one road as one road with thousands of trees and they have white painted on the trunks like white stripes and you’re supposed to follow that road and don’t divert as you’re in basically Russian, so we laughed our asses off about that because when we want to pull over we see a town we want to pee. All you have to do is roll the damn window down and crawl out the door.  I’m like, “what’s with the tape on the door” That’s really going to stop me from getting out of the car just roll the windows down and pee!  It was kind of stupid.  We ended up stopping at a couple of towns, went sightseeing and went to Berlin and that was that.

Madness To Creation:  Based on The Beat Club in Germany and MTV getting it’s start, Dokken started to come to it’s own, when did you notice that Dokken was becoming a household name and famous?

Don Dokken: You know after the first U.S. Tour,  it took us a year and a half after the album came out in Germany, we sold 35,000 copies, which was very respectable for that back then, and we come back to LA and we think that we have a record out.  We’ve got a French label backing us. We took it to every company in L.A. everybody passed on us, nobody wanted us, we couldn’t get a record deal, it was very disheartening. And I think that’s when Juan decided to leave the band and at the last second we got a reprieve from Elektra from Tom Zutaut, who was just a young kid and he’s only 24 at the time. He’s the one that went on and signed Guns ‘N’ Roses and Tesla and Hole and you know Tom is a famous A&R guy and he was just a guy working singles and Elektra and he took our record to the president and we got a deal so we thought, we were well on our way then we land this big huge arena tour.

 We’re really on our way. We did this tour and 10,000 people. We did everything we could do and we came home. We only sold a 100,000 records which was bad and Elektra said, “we’re going to drop you”, you know, we figured we’ll be well on our way and then all of a sudden we were done. No, we’re going to just be all back to where we started cooking and doing whatever everybody else is doing.Now, so by the grace of God, you know, I begged and pleaded and they gave us one more chance and that’s why I called the album “Tooth & Nail”.  So I told the guys, “if the album don’t go, it’s over, you know”. And then when we got the tour with Blue Oyster Cult and Juan left the band, we needed a bass player.

And I called Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records and I still looking for bass player that can sing and he recommended Jeff Pilson and Jeff just happened to be playing a mile from where George and I were hanging and staying at my girlfriend’s apartment and he was playing at this club called Shot of Gold. So we drove down over there and walked in the club and there was this band with the girl singer and he was just playing bass for about 30 people and we checked them out, and we asked if he wanted to join the band.  And he said, “I’m not sure”.

So you’re playing in a bar in front of 30 people and we’re offering you a chance to go play in front of 10,000 people and you’re not sure, I was shocked!

Madness To Creation:  What was holding him back at the time?

Don Dokken:  I think that he wanted to be a lead singer and he wanted to have his own band, he didn’t want to just be a bass player, and I respect that, he wanted to just think about it.  And I said, don’t think too hard, the tour starts in three weeks, and we’re still looking for a bass player.  I think what I think Jeff during the band thinking, you know, it’s one or two months out of my life will go on tour playing arenas in this band called Dokken and I’ll go back and do my own thing, but that didn’t happen, things changed. So that’s why I think he didn’t want to commit because he really did want to be a lead singer and later on he did some solo albums.  But you know now he’s the bass player in Foreigner.

Madness To Creation:  Do you still keep in contact with him today?

Don Dokken:  Oh yeah, we just did a reunion tour together two or three years ago.  We went to Japan, got offered this crazy amount of money to do a U.S. reunion tour, like millions and I said “no, I don’t want to do it”.  And I said, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do, we’ll go to Japan, do four shows and we will see how it goes”, because I didn’t know where their heads were at or if they changed or if they’re still doing drugs, I didn’t know, so we went to Japan, it was great all fine and dandy, but then I came back and decided to stay with the boys that I have now, then a couple of months ago, George was on tour with Dokken, Lynch Mob and Lita Ford and he would come on stage jam four songs with us and that was fun, and after the Japan tour, we wrote one new Dokken song after 35 something years and made a video for YouTube, it’s called “It’s Just Another Day”, it’s a really cool video, and that was that, we made that song, we did the video and everyone went their separate ways, they went back to Foreigner, George went back, and I went back with my Dokken boys, and then last year, Nick decided to retire and that threw me for a loop after 40 years of playing with him, he didn’t want to retire, he just flat out told me at the airport that he can’t do it anymore, I mean he’s been playing drums since he was ten years old, that’s 50 years, it’s like saying, “I’m going to be a linebacker in the NFL for 50 years”, you can’t do it. I’ve always said that the drummer’s got the hardest gig in the band, and Nick’s a hard hitter, he’s like a John Bonham, and I used to always tell him not to hit so hard and he said that he doesn’t know how to play drums any other way, but his knees were going, his arms were going and his elbows, he’s had torn rotator cuffs, it’s kind of the same story as Neal Peart on why he quit Rush, you just wear out, you have a timeline, a life expectancy as a drummer, you can’t play drums forever unless you’re Ringo Starr.  I saw Ringo Starr seven months ago, he’s 77 now, he’s still playing his ass off.

Madness To Creation:  How does he do it?

Don Dokken:  He’s fit and he’s skinny, him and his misses have been in A.A. for 30 years, they quit drinking, they look pretty healthy, they did have Jason Bonham on drums as well, so when Ringo would come out on front and sing “Yellow Submarine” or “Little Help From My Friends”, Jason was back there backing him up, and it was an amazing band, all of these great famous musicians, the bass player from Men At Work, it was a great show, we had a great time watching Ringo, but I was shocked, watching him hit those drums and he’s 76 or 77 and he’s just wailing man.  Everybody’s different, Tommy Aldrich is in his 70’s now, I did a tour with him a couple of years ago, and Tommy literally sets up his drumkit backstage every night before the show and warms up for an hour, it’s like he’s doing the show twice and Tommy is in great shape.  Nick’s idea of practicing was a Jim Beam and Coke and a Playstation in front of him, so we miss him and he’s retired and he’s happy, he sold his drums and that’s that, and the lineup I have is the lineup that is going to remain and I told George that maybe we can do as Jeff said, “put the cherry on top of the pie” and do one last reunion tour in U.S. and Europe, but we don’t know if we’ll be able to do it and I honestly don’t want to do a tour without Nick, it’s kind of like Led Zeppelin breaking up when John Bonham died.

Madness To Creation:  I know that Dokken is working on a new album, where have you seen growth in your songwriting in your legendary career?

Don Dokken:  The main growth I’ve seen is don’t overthink the songs, that’s the most important thing that I’ve learned in songwriting, don’t overthink the songs.  I would say throughout my career, the songs that were not my favorite Dokken songs are the ones that we spent the most time on.  The songs that were inspired by the cosmic heavens God, or whatever inspiration comes to you, those songs always ended up being the singles.  You don’t know where it comes from, the most famous story is from the band Kansas, their most famous song is “Dust In The Wind” and the guitar player was just doing a finger exercise to practice finger picking and he was practicing it over and over again, and his wife said, “that’s a really good melody you should make that into a song”, and he said, “it’s not a song, it’s a finger exercise” and that is where “Dust In The Wind” came from and took the finger exercise, took it to the boys and said, “I got this little acoustic thing that I’m doing with my fingers” and “bang” the song was born an hour later, and they said that as soon as they played it together it would be their first number one hit.

Madness To Creation:  In your band, what is a song that you felt compelled to write and record immediately, like it was magic in the writing process?

Don Dokken:  “In My Dreams” , with that song I was sitting on vacation, going down, I had my acoustic guitar with me and a pen and paper, I was just playing on the beach, I was sitting on some rocks with some noisy seals in the background and they were barking and howling and I was just playing this guitar riff for “In My Dreams” and I came up with the lyric “In My Dreams, it’s still the same, your love is strong and it still remains” and that was it.  I went back to my room and finished it, brought it home and did a quick four track demo in my living room, took it to the boys, they liked it and the rest is history.

Madness To Creation:  I can’t imagine the feeling of the crowd singing it back to you, I bet it doesn’t get old…

Don Dokken:  Hell no it doesn’t get old.  When the crowd stops singing back to you, that’s when you’re in trouble.  When you see kids half your age singing the songs back to you, that’s the ultimate flattery, it’s the ultimate thank you, pat on the back, that you wrote a song that stood the test of time for 40 years, and you see the young people sing it back, of course it doesn’t get old.  When they sing along with us, it makes us play better, it puts a smile on our face and be grateful.

Madness To Creation:  One last fun question, what’s one fact about yourself that might surprise our readers and listeners?

Don Dokken:  Well, I was mostly raised in foster homes when I was young, different foster homes here and there, I had one foster parent for two years and the father was a drummer and he used to let me go in the garage and play on them and practice on them, so that was actually my first instrument was the drums.  So, I left the foster home and went back to be with my mom and she took me to Reno and let me pick out any instrument I wanted to.  Of course, when you’re 14, you want to be a guitar player, so she bought me a powder blue Thunder Mustang and I think for $125, which was a lot of money to her and I, because we were poor, she bought me that guitar and I came home, and right around the time she bought it for me, the winter came and in Lake Tahoe, when it snows, it snows, the snow would be up to your waist.  You wouldn’t even be going to school half of the time, the school bus would be picking us up at Kings Beach and we would be driving 45 to 50 minutes up to the high school and go up this little tiny road and I lost count the amount of times the bus couldn’t make it up the hill, and they would turn around and bring us back down around the hill and it was scary with a big ass bus on a two lang highway.  The bottom line was I had nothing to do, because it was snowing besides shoveling the snow every day so I just started practicing on the guitar all day for five hours a day until my fingers were too sore and that’s how I got started on the guitar, I just spent a whole winter every day playing guitar because back then, there was no TV, there was no cable dish network.  You had rabbit ears for antennas and when it snowed, there was no TV, so that was a fun thing by an act of God that I got that guitar before winter hit and it gave me four months of snow to practice.

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