Don Dokken

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Don Dokken is ready for some changes. With the release of his namesake’s latest, and possibly last, album under the Dokken monikor, he is contemplating some new and exciting pursuits; one being a project with guitar phenom Michael Schenker. But before he can focus on all that, he has some talking to do. His mind has been a busy place these last months. Not one to sit back on past laurels and hum “In My Dreams” in the shower, Don Dokken keeps true to himself and his songwriting by allowing powerful CNN images of death and destruction to consume Jon Levin led riffs and Mick Brown sonic drumstick booms, forming the gist of the new Broken Bones.

Never at a loss for words, the father of such melodic metal hits as “Alone Again”, “Heaven Sent” and the aforementioned superhit “In My Dreams,” Dokken has spent four days shedding light on the crop of tunes that became Broken Bones. Many are self-explanatory, a la the first single and video “Empire,” but he wants to make it clear that words can be Shakespearean – monumental in what they do and do not say. A vibe or a raging hormonal riff can cause just as much psychic impact as a line of straightforward poetry. That is why he wants you to listen to the new album not once but twice, in order to grasp what he is trying to say.

So at the end of a long day of talking, Don Dokken settled down with a hoarseness that did not deter his desire to share his thoughts and his memories and his love for classic cars.

You have said that people should not listen to Broken Bones once, but to listen to it twice.

Yeah, if you listen to it once, you won’t grasp the gravity of what we were trying to accomplish. The second time you realize that all of the songs are kind of different and they have their own flavor and their own vibe, their own groove. It’s not just nine songs the same old thing. I really worked hard. Jon and I spent eleven months and wrote over thirty songs. Some of these songs we rewrote three and four and five times. I really pushed myself on this one. It’s our last CD so I said, this has to be it. I want everything to be stellar.

Why is this your last Dokken CD?

I want to do other projects. I want to do other things. I think I’ve said what I had to say in the Dokken style of music and I want to stretch out a little bit and do other things.

Some musicians don’t want to leave their comfort zone.

No, I’m the opposite. I always want to try something different. I’m going to start working on an album with Michael Schenker. It’s going to be fun. He’s a great guy and he put out a few acoustic CDs. I saw him last month in Bulgaria and he says, “Don, we’ve always been talking about doing an acoustic record.” And I said, yeah. So he gave me a couple of his albums that are just instrumental and I said, “Why don’t I take them home and see if I can write lyrics and sing over the songs.” And it’s coming out really great. It’s not rock, it’s a kind of chill record.

You recorded Broken Bones at your house. That must have been nice.

It was nice, not to have to go to a studio and stare at four walls. You know, in control rooms in a studio, there’s no windows of course cause of the soundproof. But I live up in the Hollywood Hills and I don’t have any neighbors. I have two acres of land so the only people that can hear us are the coyotes. It was just nice to go to the cottage, which is away from the house down at the bottom of the hill. I didn’t want to mix music with my private life and my peace and quiet, so we just took the cottage, the guesthouse, and set up our recording gear and it was nice to record in the afternoons; just look out the windows and see the trees and the mountains and the birds and the squirrels running around the trees. It was a very peaceful environment and it was nice to be able to look out a window and see mountains when you’re singing.

You mentioned the tranquility that you are enjoying now. Has that always been a side of you or did it come from all the years of performing?

No, my career has been a rollercoaster with all the problems with George and up and down and being on the road for a year at a time. You never come home, you live on a bus and you’re on a plane, you’re tired and worn out, you got to keep pushing, pushing, pushing. But I’m in a spiritual place now. I’m getting older and I’m just at peace. I lived at the beach my whole life. I still have my beach house but there’s houses next to you and I said, I just want to go up in the mountains and the hills somewhere. I like LA and the only place I could find where there’s land is in Beverly Hills so I moved up in the hills here and I’m surrounded by some very eccentric people. I live by Jack Nicholson, Ann-Margret, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. We all kind of live up here cause you can get away from the rock & roll lifestyle, you know.

And be that normal person that you are.

I want to be normal, yeah. I don’t want to walk around in my house and sleep in my leather pants. I get up in the morning and put on my shorts and go out and pull weeds and plant flowers and trim my trees and shoo off the deer (laughs). And then hop on my motorcycle and go for a ride and then we work.

Speaking of work, you’ve been doing a lot of thinking.

Yes, I have. I see the world through different eyes now. I never really was one to write songs like “Unskinny Bop.” I mean, it’s a good song but it’s just not my style. I never was into that kind of frivolous happy-go-lucky songs. I’m a serious guy, I know that. Anybody that knows me well knows that I’m very serious. I’m a thinker.

The title track is pretty powerful.

It came just being in the studio working, the TV sometimes playing in the background. We’d take a break and have dinner and turn on CNN to see what is going on and it was just the same thing every day: Syrian people getting slaughtered, the Pakistanis killing American soldiers, in Africa you have half a million, a million refugees that are starving to death and no water. After you just keep hearing it and hearing it and hearing it, I found myself saying I don’t understand. It’s the year 2012 and we’re not any more enlightened than we were two thousand years ago. I don’t understand how the human race hasn’t come to a place that violence solves nothing. We’ve had a couple thousand years to figure it out and it just seems all we figure out is new ways to kill each other. And it’s depressing. So I wrote the song “Empire” about my frustration because let’s say the Syrian President who is murdering his own people right now. Ok, if he does it and he wipes out his own country, at the end what does he win? Nothing, a burning empire, he’s got nothing. So he’s the king of rubble, he’s the king of the destroyed country, it doesn’t make any sense.

Does it make you more depressed or angry?

No, I don’t think it makes me depressed at all, or angry. It makes me frustrated that people don’t have more spiritual consciousness and don’t read more books from people that are sages, whatever your religion can be: Judaism, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim; all these religions teach to love each other and be peaceful and to turn the cheek and it seems like people use religion as a weapon and justification to kill people. When you got people in these Arabic countries where women have to cover their entire bodies and if a gust of wind blows up and it shows a calf, they can get stoned to death. It’s insanity, this suppression of women. And the Taliban, these guys are nuts. They don’t think women should be educated, they don’t think women should know anything; women should just stay in the house and cover themselves up. It’s insanity.

What about “Burning Tears”?

I think the lyrics explain the story themselves. It’s not a story about anyone in particular. It’s like you said, it’s hard to see the world through the burning tears. Like, it’s hard to find your way when you’re in a dark place, and I see people living on the street in LA, cause I live four miles from Sunset Boulevard, and you see people just wandering the streets, like lost souls and drugged out and coked out and on crystal meth. I see people I’ve known for years and I see them every year when I go on tour and I watch them. I see them every year in different states, Oh I remember you from the last tour or the tour before or the tour before, and I see them aging five years every year because they’re caught up in bad relationships and they get caught up in drugs and alcoholism and they get caught up in unhealthy relationships. And my metaphor was that it’s hard to see the world through your burning tears. In other words, leave the past behind and all these wasted years.

It’s like, whatever’s happened, you can always change your life but a lot of people are waiting for someone to change it for them, and I don’t really believe in that philosophy. I believe in, it’s up to you. I have a lot of friends in the music business, I know people in other businesses, and they all seem to be waiting for someone to come and save them. And that whole song is about you got to leave your mistakes behind, learn from them and look to tomorrow. Like someone once said, you got to look to tomorrow because that is where you’re going to spend the rest of your life. And a lot of people live in the past and I think that’s very dangerous and a bad way to spend your life, looking backwards. Rock stars, you know, all they want to do is think about the glory days in 1987. It’s like, that was then this is now, this is the year 2012. Move forward.

Are there any songs from the early days that you’ve had tucked away that you’ve never recorded but would like to revisit and work on?

No, not really. Anything that I haven’t recorded means it wasn’t good enough and I just threw it away. I’ve got kind of a disease – I write two or three songs a week whether I want to or not and I just put it on a little tape recorder and I just stick them away. I’ll go through them. On this record we looked at my digital recorder and I had a hundred and seventeen ideas to get down to twelve songs.

Was it hard to pick the twelve?

Very, very, very hard

So what kind of elimination process did you use? Was it by feeling or by what you wanted to say?

Yeah, some of the songs I’d write and Jon would write a riff and I’d say, “You know, we got another song that sounds very similar to this one.” So we’d say, let’s pick which one we think is best and continue writing that one. And a lot of songs we wrote came from six, seven, eight ideas on tape. They were kind of like these Frankenstein songs. For “Waterfall”, I wrote that guitar part and it was just some bluesy thing I’d written and put away for a year and it just kind of reemerged and it was very Led Zeppelinish and I just thought it was cool. So we did it.

Were you writing songs when you were really young?

I used to write a lot of my thoughts down because I was raised in foster homes most of my life and in a foster home you got eight kids and one Tv set and there wasn’t much to do. So I would go in the garage. That’s where they would let me go with my little guitar and my little amp and I’d play my little records, my little 45’s, and just learn songs by playing to records. Then I would just start writing my own thoughts down and my own lyrics. It was an escape.

Who did you like to listen to?

Oh boy, the typical – Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Beatles, Thin Lizzy, all the great bands. I liked a lot of the English bands when I was really, really young, like bands before your time, English bands that came out around the Beatles like the Beau Brummels and the Kinks and the Stones. I was like this sixth grader, something like that, and I liked the English bands a lot.

So what made you want to do what they were doing?
I don’t think I ever did want to do it. I started playing in a band because it was fun. We played the bars and I just thought, well, we’ll do this. But honestly, I never thought I could make a career out of it. It was just for fun. And music is really just an escape. Some people paint, some people write books, I played guitar.

How did you meet Mick Brown?

Just on the Sunset Strip back in the days of the Whisky-A-Go-Go. There was Van Halen and Quiet Riot and Dokken and then all these other bands playing on the Sunset Strip. And Mick was in a band called The Boyz with George Lynch and they were just one of the bands that we always played with and I always thought he was a great drummer. So when I went to Germany and got my record deal, I had a dilemma. I had a record contract and no band. So I called Mick from Germany and I said, “I’m looking for a drummer. I got a record deal, do you want to do it?” And he said, “Yes, it sounds like fun.” And that’s how it started. And he brought George along with him and we made Breaking The Chains.

Mick has a lot of that John Bonham sound in him.

He is so Bonham it’s ridiculous. He’s just fun to be around. They don’t call him Wild Mick for nothing. You heard about his little golf cart incident?

Yes, I did

Yeah, he got himself in trouble. I hope he comes out of it ok. It’s pretty serious. I said, “Mick, I’ve stolen a hundred golf carts during my career and so have you.” We always get away with it and he got caught one out of a hundred. Not bad. But you walk off the stage, there’s usually a van to take you back to the hotel, might be a block away, or you can walk or it’s cold and there is always golf carts when you’re playing a huge arena. People can’t get around, they have to have golf carts. So sometimes we get impatient and want to get back to the hotel and we just grab a golf cart and take it. And we’ve done it, I’ve done it, I’m guilty. And this time he got caught.

Out of all of the songs that you have written in your career, which one is the most special to you?

Wow, that’s almost impossible, I really can’t answer it. That’d be kind of like asking me that if I had six children, which was my favorite. How do you pick your favorite kid? It doesn’t work that way because I’ve written songs over my career and when I’m all done I’ll say to myself, this is the greatest song I’ve ever written. I love it, I love this song, I’m totally in love with it. But then a year goes by and I start writing another record and then I fall in love with another song. It’s like a love relationship. I fall in love with a song and I give it my TLC as a producer and a writer and I make it the best I can and I write the lyrics the best I can but then next year you write something else and you fall in love with that. I loved my first car but I can’t say it was my favorite … Actually it kind of was.

What was that first car?

A 1955 Chevy. It was awesome. Then I had a 1963 Corvette in high school and that was really an awesome car. Those old cars are great. I loved my Chevy. I loved my Stingray.

Do you collect the old cars?

It’s a disease in my family. I owned my first car when I was thirteen. I wasn’t old enough to drive but I used to hang around at this gas station and they let me pump gas and help them out in the summertime when I was out of school. It snowed up there. I lived up in Lake Tahoe and it snowed and I put chains on people’s cars and helped out and made some extra money. There was this car sitting in this field for about a year, just weeds growing through it. Somebody just left it there and abandoned it and the guy at the gas station said, “If you can get that thing running, you can have it.” And I didn’t know anything about working on cars so I just got the manual and started tearing it apart and I spent the entire summer working on it and I got it running and it was very exciting. And my mom used to actually let me drive it (laughs). And I was thirteen.

What do you have now?

I used to collect a lot of old Rolls-Royces. I had Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, a couple of Ferraris. But I only have a two car garage now and I found out when I moved in here that the old Rolls-Royces were too long, they wouldn’t fit in the garage. So I sold them. I sold the whole collection. I’m not like Jay Leno. I can’t afford to have my own personal shop. But I was always into Rolls-Royces. My little brother and me both worked on them when we were kids because we got jobs as apprentices at a Rolls-Royce repair shop. So I know a Rolls-Royce upside down and backwards. And they’re cheap, those old ones, you know. I like the old ones, the big giant headlights and the big grill. I think they’re really cool looking.

I love those old 50’s/60’s Bentleys.

Yeah, that’s what I had, a 1959 Bentley and a 1960 Rolls-Royce. My very first Bentley, I have a great picture of Mick and I hanging out of the sunroof. It was a 1953 Bentley Silver Dawn, really old. Big giant headlights. It was a fun car. I bought it for $5000. We used to laugh cause we were so broke and here I am driving around in this white Bentley and we’d go up to Hollywood and hang out at the clubs and people thought we had made it cause I’m driving a Bentley. They’d want us to take them for a ride and I’d say, “No problem. Anybody got money for gas?” (laughs)

What happened to it?

Oooh, you don’t want to know that story (laughs). Actually I loaned it to Mick one night and he wanted to take a girl out on a date and I said, “Well, for God’s sake, Mick, you know this is a really old car, it’s impossible to find parts for, if you wreck it, don’t come home.” We were living together as roommates. So I let him borrow my Bentley and he brought it back in the morning and woke me up and he said, “I got some bad news. I wrecked the car.” And I said, “Ha ha, very funny.” Went back to sleep and he said, “No, no, really, a pickup truck backed into me.” And sure enough, he was parked somewhere and the back end was hanging out of someone’s driveway and the guy was backing out and didn’t see it and tore the whole back of the car off. And that was the end of that Bentley. I was pretty upset and I said, “Oh well, Mick,” and I had no insurance of course, I couldn’t afford it. So that was the end of that car. I had to just sell it. I couldn’t fix it, I couldn’t afford it.

I hate to hear that because I love those old cars, especially an old Packard from the 1930’s.

My dad had a 1937 Packard. I just bought a 1966 Jaguar last year, you know the old XK, convertible. It was a beautiful XK. I worked on it but I’m so busy with the band, I just can’t do it so I gave it to my little brother and he’s rebuilding it right now. My brother has like a 1956 Mercedes. Everybody in the Dokken family always collects cars. Like I said, we were building cars at thirteen and fourteen years old. Because we didn’t have any money, when something broke we’d have to fix it ourselves and just figure it out. We couldn’t take it to a shop, couldn’t afford it. Go to a junkyard and buy the parts and put it on.

Do you miss those times?

I think we all miss our youth. I liked it when I could bend over a car for five hours without my back hurting. You get older and you get up and go, “Where did that ping come from? What did I do now?”

Yeah, you get up out of the bed and you think it’s the bed creaking but it’s your knees.

Yeah, it’s you. Did I just hear a crunching sound when I bent my leg? Yeah, it happens to everybody and it’s just the natural way of life. And I’ve been riding Harleys and motorcycles since I was thirteen as well, so yeah, I’m a little beat up for it … Sean [McNabb, Dokken bass player] rides a Harley, I ride Harleys still. I still have the Harley in my garage. I ride it and I love to ride it but I admit when I go for a long ride to clear my head, if I get stuck on a song, I’ll hop on my motorcycle, and since I live up here in the Hollywood Hills, there’s lots of little roads to drive around without getting ran over, cause the traffic is so bad here. I’ll come home and I’ll be, yeah, I’m pretty achy. But I still do it. I loved my Uncle who passed away this year. He was 76 and he was riding his Harley until a week before he passed away. He loved his Harley.

My dad is a Harley man and I remember being a little girl and him showing me all his motorcycle magazines. I loved the choppers.

Oh yeah, a chopper looks great, you look cool on it, but they’re a kidney killer. They destroy your back because there’s no shocks. They ride bad and if you’re young you can do it but I rode choppers when I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty, and I definitely know my back is damaged now because of it. It really trashes you. But that’s the way it goes. It was fun, no regrets.

Getting back to Dokken, when all the things were happening between you and George Lynch, with the turmoil and the tension, did you ever think about giving up on this business and just saying, I’m done, I’m tired of all this fighting?

No, I mean, I just thought, I’m done, I’m tired of playing with George. Because here we were at the top of our careers, we’re becoming superstars, and every day we should’ve been kissing the ground and saying thank you God for this blessing that we’ve been so lucky to have a successful career and you’ve got one guy in the band that’s like completely always trying to make it unpleasant and miserable. It was really sad, you know. He ruined my dream because he just complained constantly. I think it was just his personality. Some people thrive on misery and I don’t. And that was our big problem, with George and I. So yeah, when I broke the band up in 1988, I said I just can’t take it anymore. We’re doing great, we’re playing stadiums, hundred thousand people a day, and every day there’s a problem, every day there’s complaining, every day there is drugs and arguments and it just made it a really unpleasant experience. It’s kind of sad.

How long have you been playing with Jon Levin?

Ten years. Jon is an angel. We get along great. That’s why he’s been in the band ten years. Who would have thought my attorney would become my guitar player. And we get along. I think it helped cause him and I would just sit down and he’d play a solo and I’d say, “That’s great, that’s great, and how about this little part here? I think you can do it better.” It was a very positive creative experience. You know, he’ll tell you, I used to make him really nervous on the first couple of records cause he hadn’t played in years. After Doro Pesch he’d become an attorney and he said, “You made me nervous.” Reb Beach once said, “I love playing in Dokken but I wouldn’t want to make another record with them,” because I’m too intense in the studio. And I said, “Yeah, Reb, but you came out of it a better guitar player.” I’m very intense when it comes to making music. To me, it’s passion and if the song’s good then I don’t like it. It’s got to be great.

And that’s the way you’ve always been?

Oh yeah. I mean, we thought we had six songs done. We wrote six more then went back to the first six and I said, we can make these songs better. And we did. And it’s hard but it had to be done.

Are you going to be doing any touring for this? Cause you said you were going to be working with Michael.

Yeah, that’s only going to take a couple of weeks. The album’s coming out now, we just filmed the video for “Empire” and then the holidays are coming up and I’m going to go out and do a little acoustic tour for Christmas, like I always do, by myself, and then we’re just going to try and hook up on an arena tour in the spring.

With her angelic voice, Susanna Hoffs helped the Bangles become national hitmakers. Next week we talk with her about her latest solo CD, her early days in music and what it’s like being a mom in the hustle & bustle of the music business.

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