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Exclusive! Kerby's Interview With Vocalist Don Dokken

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Thursday, December 2, 2004 @ 11:13 PM

Still Dysfunctional: Kerby's C

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Dokken Speaks.

This pretty much happens whether you like it or not. Some don’t. Unfortunately for them, his candor suggests that the comfort level of others isn’t necessarily his main priority. The fact remains that Don is one of the most candid interviews in the business, and for that, everyone should be grateful. Along with Blackie Lawless, these two happen to be a couple of front men who, besides being intelligent, are also two people who are willing to speak on nearly any given individual or topic. Even though the group Dokken never achieved arena-headlining status, it is undeniable that the band did produce a body of work that has stood the test of time better than much of the other music of that era. Back For the Attack, Under Lock and Key and Tooth and Nail are three records that can still be placed on any turntable and enjoyed even today. The same can’t necessarily be said for bands who achieved more commercial success such as Poison or Bon Jovi. If you listen to the frustration in Don’s tone throughout the interview, what appears evident is that the singer understands all too well that the group’s best chance at longevity and success came with guitarist George Lynch and bassist Jeff Pilson in the band two decades ago. It is also readily apparent that the vocalist realizes that the group didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities at their disposal that would have allowed them to become one of the premier bands in metal. It’s undeniable that if there wasn’t that pervasive sense of what could have been surrounding Dokken, there wouldn’t be so much frustration and animosity all these years later. Even though it is probable that most readers won’t agree with everything Don says, credit should be given to anyone willing to be controversial knowing the risks that unflattering disclosure entails.

Besides Dokken, over the last two months, I have also had the opportunity to speak to George Lynch and Jeff Pilson. (Stay tuned for those coming up…-Ed.) Each individual proved gracious and appeared to be consistently straightforward in regard to their recollections of what occurred back in the group’s heyday. Obviously, there are going to be some inconsistencies in the way these three view certain situations as would be the case when dealing with any group of people asked to look back upon their past. What may surprise though are the parts on which they actually agree. As for who is primarily to blame for original Dokken lineup dissipating, it may be prudent to ascertain that it was simply a typical scenario wherein a band just wasn’t able to stay together due to disagreements over money, power, fame or women. If many still want to believe this day that Don should receive a disproportionate amount of blame for what transpired, it makes sense—he is the lead singer, and at the end of the day it’s his name on the marquis. That being said, it’s also on the cover of the band’s latest effort entitled Hell To Pay—a record which is undeniably a step up sonically from the previous effort and serves as essential proof that Dokken may still have some quality songs left to write. When one considers that Jeff Pilson and George Lynch have also produced formidable records this year, the sense of squandered opportunity then shifts from the band members to the listeners themselves who are left to enjoy the legacy while still considering the possibility that Dokken wasn’t nearly the musical force that it could have been.

KNAC.COM: I recently spoke to Tesla, and they were saying that they regularly engage in a group type therapy situation. By now, everyone also knows that Metallica has done something similar. Do you think that would have helped Dokken?
DOKKEN: I think that would definitely help some bands out—if you look at many of the bands who have taken a really bad turn in their careers like Aerosmith. They were at a high point, then they went way down where they were imploding and then rose back up again. The difference was that managers and other people were able to reach out to them and help them. A lot of other bands don‘t have that. It’s a crooked business. Your managers, your accountants and the record company just want a finished product. They don’t care how you get there. When things end and the band implodes, they just move on to the next one. At one point, our manager did have a therapist come on the road with the band. It was a crisis management type thing where he was going to find out about the jealousies and problems and why everyone was at each other’s throats. It was kind of like the alcoholic thing though where they say you’re half way to being cured once you admit you have a problem. It’s hard. It’s a tough business. A marriage is hard—try taking four or five people out on a bus. All the personalities and egos and jealousies are going to clash. Obviously, when you’re the front man of a band that’s named after you, you get a lot of heat. Maybe it would have helped us to have therapy, but I doubt it. The guys in Dokken didn’t get along before we became a band. It wasn’t like we got famous and then started to fight. Everyone knows the story where George [Lynch] came in right before we started to rehearse. The day before we were going to record Breaking the Chains, he almost got up and got back in the plane and went home. He said he didn’t want to do it. He just got talked into staying by Dieter Dirks. By doing that, he almost ruined the band’s career before we even got off the ground. It’s always interesting looking at who did what or who, but if you look around, you see who the survivors are rather than the ones who are just cranking out the product. Some of these people are really talented too—you just have to wonder why their career is taking the turn that it is.

KNAC.COM: How do you keep the road from becoming a blur after all this time? How can you keep the routine in any way fresh or new to you?
DOKKEN: Music is an addiction. There is a rush to be onstage and sing a song that you compose and have people respond to it. After singing some of these songs for twenty years, there is a nostalgia thing going on there as well. If the fans keep coming and keep buying records, then there is some happiness there as well.

KNAC.COM: You’ve told me before though that you just aren’t in the same headspace that you were when you wrote “Breaking the Chains.” How do you keep from just standing there onstage while people are singing the song back to you and thinking “here we go again!”?
DOKKEN: No, I mean, I’ve had those nights where I’m struggling to get through the show because I’m just exhausted from scheduling. If I get to the point though were I’m tired of playing these songs, I’d just quit. Jeff [Pilson] is a primary example—he didn’t want to be in Dokken anymore, and he hated playing those songs. When he left he said that he wanted to do something different and didn’t want to keep playing these songs over and over again. He just got to the point though where he didn’t want to fake it anymore.

KNAC.COM: Do you understand that, or do you think he should have in some way had more respect for the material or do you understand where he’s coming from?
DOKKEN: Oh yeah, of course. Especially when you have aspirations to be the front man or the lead singer yourself. Maybe he needed to go back and fulfill a dream, you know? I lived my dream. I started a band, got famous, played stadiums. I made a good living at it and made enough to put my kids through college. If you’re in a band that you aren’t happy with… you know… I don’t think Michael from Van Halen wakes up and goes, “Oh, I’m just the bass player in Van Halen.” I remember when we asked Jeff to come into the band and he was just playing little bars and playing cover songs. At that time, he was very reluctant to join because he said that he was trying to start his own band, start his own thing and be the lead singer—that was back in 1983. It was something that had festered our entire career. I think what happened to Dokken was that everybody just figured that they had nothing else going on, and since I had a record contract, they would just go along. They probably figured that it would last a year or a year and a half. I think they just thought they would do that record, and then they could all move on. Everybody was pretty surprised that we got to the level that we got to eventually. These demons we had though--plus the drugs--will make you crazy. When you are taking so many drugs that you are almost overdosing, that has to do something to your psyche. It’s like the saying that alcoholics hang out with alcoholics and drug addicts hang out with drug addicts. Since I didn’t do coke in Dokken, I was kind of the odd man out. It’s like, you’re not in the clique.

KNAC.COM: Do you have less empathy for erratic behavior when you don’t feel as if you are engaging in it on that level yourself?
DOKKEN: Absolutely it made me irritated. Lots of people tell me, “Oh, I was nervous about interviewing you because we’ve heard so many stories about you being difficult or an ass or egotistical, irritable or cranky. The deal is, when those stories started circulating, I was pretty frustrated with Dokken. Here I saw us becoming what might have been one of the greatest bands of all time and getting to this level where maybe we would go on for years and years like an Aerosmith or be a Bon Jovi—that famous--but instead, I’m seeing a band trying to self-destruct every day. Yeah, that made me real irritable. There was just nothing I could do about it. Do you know how frustrating that was? That band is called “Dokken,” and the band is writing great songs, and you’re living your dream—yet you have no control over the other members of the band, and they’re just hell bent on destroying everything that I had worked so hard for. The only chance I ever got to enjoy myself was for that one hour a day on stage. That was when I’d feel at peace—you know, when the audience would sing along and have a good time with smiles on their faces and banging their heads. The other twenty-three hours were misery. Watching people sit up for two or three days on a bus snorting mountains of cocaine and drinking bottles of wine until they would just pass out. That went on for seven days a week.

KNAC.COM: There is also the pervading perception that you just can’t share the stage with a personality or musician like George Lynch.
DOKKEN: Yeah, I’ve heard it. That’s hilarious.

KNAC.COM: Ok, why do you think those stories would have originated? Do you think it was intended to mask the other activities that were going on at the time?
DOKKEN: Somebody has to come up with a reason. George Lynch is a genius guitar player. The better George played, the better we all looked. The better everyone played is the better we all looked. To think that I was such a megalomaniac to think that, “Oh, this guy is too good a guitar player that I just can’t stand it” is just asinine for people to say. That is probably just information coming from a group of people who just aren’t very educated or something like that. It’s hearsay, and it’s fodder. Most of the people who read this interview probably aren’t going to know what “fodder” means. They can look it up in the dictionary… but, that’s how that got started. George was never really into doing interviews or that part of it. He’s just a very introverted person. George is not an extrovert.

KNAC.COM: When you have people in a band who are either unwilling or who for whatever reason aren’t equipped to deal with the press, is it fair to the other members? Did you personally resent it?
DOKKEN: No, I think that’s cool. I mean, there are a lot of people like that in the business. That didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that I was the one who would basically champion him at radio stations and tell people how great he was. I did that because George was kind of shy when it came to things like that. Then, when it came back that I didn’t want to share the spotlight, I just thought it was ridiculous because I did everything I could to try to make him the “next Eddie Van Halen.” He came close to having that crown, and he deserved it because he had that talent. He just didn’t want to brag to people any more about his guitar playing than I want to stand up and say, “Yeah, I’m a great singer.” How do you say that? You can’t. You can’t do that because your kudos have to come from other people. It didn’t bother me that he was shy and didn’t want to go to the interviews. There were four of us in the band. Mick [Brown] was the funny guy who kept it lively on the radio by cutting up and stuff like that. George just felt more comfortable when he was talking about his guitar or his rig or his equipment. He had to have been on the cover of Guitar World a hundred times. At that point, he was in his element. He had a single focus, and that was on his guitar.

KNAC.COM: Was it just after Under Lock and Key that you felt that the band had to make the step if it was ever going to?
DOKKEN: Yeah, at Monsters of Rock, I knew that we had nowhere to go but down. The band was completely imploding. When Jeff had come back to the band in ‘95 to work on my solo record, Dysfunctional, which actually turned into a Dokken album--we got into conversations a couple of times about what happened. When we would talk, I told him, “Well, there are a couple of things you probably don’t know, Jeff.” He said, “What?” I told him, “You know, you guys used to talk pretty loud when you were partying. Do you know what it’s like to be the lead singer of a band and trying to get some sleep in your bunk when you have three guys up at the front of the bus plotting how to try to get rid of you?” It was like, “Boy, if we could just get a better singer or a younger singer.” It was also stuff like, “Jeff, you could do the lead vocals and we could go as a three piece if we could just get the name.” I had to listen to these types of conversations where people were just conspiring to try to undermine me. It didn’t make me a real happy camper in the morning.

KNAC.COM: How did you manage to handle that situation? I mean, how do you keep from confronting them the next day--even if they‘re band members?
DOKKEN: Uh… well, I was taking tranquilizers and anti-anxiety medications. I went through a stint where I was actually having heart palpitations. I was waking up, and my heart was racing. I called the doctor and wanted to know what the hell was going on. It ended up that he just said that I was suffering major, major hyper anxiety. The doctor was a really good friend of mine, and he actually came on the road a few times to witness what was taking place on the road. I was like, “I can’t explain it to you, you would have to go on the road to understand this.” Afterwards he said, “It’s too bad. You guys are doing so well, but it’s like you’re in a den of thieves. It’s like you’re trying to watch your wallet every five seconds.” It was pretty obvious that there was no love lost between any of us. I didn’t really take offense to that George thing. I really felt that Jeff was the most ungrateful. Here was a guy who went from a bar on a Monday to joining the band and in ten days shooting a video, and in two more days he was standing in front of 20,000 people on the Blue Oyster Cult tour. He didn’t have to pay his dues. The album was done, and it was already on its way. We had a great manager. We had a great label. I had done all the legwork. He just kind of got lucky and stepped into the whole thing when Juan went with Ratt. You can ask Juan Croucier, “Why did you leave Dokken when you had just finished an album and were getting ready to go out and do it?” I’m pretty sure the reason he would give would be that he just couldn’t handle George and the manipulating and the complaining and the hating everything all the time. It doesn’t make it a lot of fun. I just tried to have thick skin about it all. Unfortunately, the response from the press that probably saw me was that I was probably pretty sour. Instead, I was just trying to survive another day of madness for the sake of the band. I wasn’t in the best of moods when I was going in to do an interview after a show and my wardrobe lady told me that I had to change my jacket because there was spit all over the back of it. I was like, “What’s all that from?” She said, “Well, every time George would walk by you on the stage, he would spit on your back.” I was thinking that wasn’t very nice. That kind of stuff just works you into a frenzy where you want to punch someone out. Instead, I had to go and do interviews and pretend that everything was roses. In the end, I guess I wasn’t a very good actor.

KNAC.COM: You had to have been going through a pretty heightened stage of paranoia—or a legitimate sense of tumult--if they really were out to get you.
DOKKEN: The Monsters of Rock was just the undoing. When you had all those bands, Eddie Van Halen and Rudolf Schenker going to George directly and saying, “George, stop it. You’re destroying this band.” It’s infamous. Anyone who went to see Monsters of Rock had to have seen a show where George played the entire set with his back to the audience. You don’t do that in front of a hundred thousand people. Those people paid to see you perform and do your best. I think it was Eddie who was talking about, “Hey, no one knew that Dave [Lee Roth] and I didn’t get along until the end.” For years, for those two hours on stage, you would have thought those two were the best of friends with the way they played onstage. They didn’t wash their dirty laundry in public. For some reason, ours just came out in public. There were also a lot of stupid things journalists did as well. One time, a huge magazine came on the road with us for three days—like a tour diary for Dokken. They went around hiding cassette recorders all over the place like under the table or under the benches of the bus. I thought that was chickenshit.

KNAC.COM: What ended up on the tapes?
DOKKEN: Us arguing or complaining about trivial, minor things. When you’re on coke, everything is amplified. You don’t sleep for two days, and everything is amplified. Everything gets blown out of proportion. I remember one time I accidentally hit Jeff in the head and clocked him pretty good too. I was spinning my microphone stand around, and just as he happened to whip around, I ended up hitting him right in the head with it. That’s not bad—it only happened once in like one thousand or two thousand shows. Even though it was an accident, he was convinced that I had did it on purpose. If you’re not high or you’re not bitter or resentful or envious of somebody, you probably wouldn’t think those things. It was an accident. If you’ve already made up your mind about how a person it though, then you tend to think those things. I had this weird, cosmic thing happen to me last month where I saw George—I hadn’t seen him in about seven years. I was in the valley--not near my house. I was at a store, and George came in, and we talked. It was like, “Hey, how’s it going?” We talked, and everything was great and friendly. He said, “Maybe someday we can do something together again.” I said, “Yeah, you never know.” He was very pleasant. Then, apparently two days later in an interview, he called me a liar and a cheat and a thief. He basically just said that I was this horrible, terrible piece of shit. That was after he had just given me big hugs and told me how much he missed me. It’s pretty devious. That’s why I have to stay away from people like that.

KNAC.COM: There was a report that Dokken was slated to do a show at the Anaheim House of Blues, but that when you found out that Lynch was going to play with one of the opening acts, that you threatened to cancel the show. What happened?
DOKKEN: The truth was we were playing that night, and George was supposed to go and jam with the opening act. All of us in the band felt very uncomfortable about him being there. It wasn’t just me, but of course it always falls on me. Mick was adamant too—he didn’t want George in the venue. He didn’t want him onstage or backstage. He didn’t want to see him at all because we just didn’t trust him. We didn’t know if he’d try to unplug our amps or sabotage things. He’s done a lot of crazy things in his time. I don’t want to get into them all right now though because I’ve moved on with my life. I don’t need to bash George. I just think he is his worst enemy. I wish I had half his talent as a guitar player. He’s such a great guitar player, but I don’t know what’s going on in his life. It’s not part of my life--I have my own kids to worry about. I have my own band to worry about and my career. I can’t be worrying about him. The truth was, I didn’t say that I wouldn’t play. I ended up saying that if he was going to play, we were going to go to the dressing room well after they had played and were done--then we would show up and go to the dressing room. That’s when the club owner said that it sounded like it would be opening up a can of worms. Because of that, the House of Blues asked him not to show up. That’s the truth.

KNAC.COM: What motivates you to record new albums when someone like Paul Stanley basically says that because their prior material represents these vivid sonic snapshots of peoples’ lives that recording new material is problematic because it has to compete with peoples’ memories?
DOKKEN: I still like it. I still enjoy it. I’m not a superstar.

KNAC.COM: You don’t have a million dollar mansion?
DOKKEN: No, no. I don’t have millions of dollars. I’m just comfortable. I’m lucky that I can play and tour just because I love it and not because I have to pay the rent. I’ve always thought that there was genetics involved in being a musician. I think some musicians become musicians because they want to be, but maybe they weren’t born to be ones. For me, my father was a musician, and his father was a musician. My mother’s father was a musician. My daughter has been playing concert piano since she was five years old. She just picked it up. Why is that? Artists continue to produce art because they love it. Maybe it’s an ego thing too. For any musician to say they don’t have an ego is… well, they’re full of it. To stand on the stage is a physical thing for me more than a technical thing, and it’s sort of like a purging. It’s just something that when done well brings you to a sense of bliss. When the show goes as it should, and the band plays amazingly with the four of us walking off stage with big smiles on our faces and satisfied that we did our best, that’s all you can ask for.

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