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Exclusive! Kerby Interviews Frontman Don Dokken

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Friday, February 21, 2003 @ 12:44 AM

Up From The Ashes of RockFarce

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This summer found Dokken playing alongside Ratt, Warrant, LA Guns and Firehouse on the ill-fated RockFest tour. When the Sept. 14th show scheduled for the Palladium in Hollywood was cancelled in the fall of last year, many inevitably blamed Don Dokken for the disintegration of the bill. This assignment of blame by many metal fans was attributable both to the existing perception that the singer can be difficult to work as well as from media reports of that time which detailed on-stage tantrums and in band fighting. After the lukewarm reception of the band’s latest album Long Way Home, news of a failed concert trek was all that was needed for many to dismiss Dokken as a failing band still clinging to past glory on the nostalgia circuit.

In truth, events had become so difficult at one point that the band was considering not even touring in America for awhile and instead concentrating on other areas of the globe---basically any place they felt would treat them with the type of respect they deserved but hadn’t received during those three frustrating months on RockFest. The importance of Dokken landing the opening slot on this spring’s Scorpions/Whitesnake tour can’t be overstated---their reputation had obviously been damaged by the experiences of the summer, and the future of the band would have been drastically impacted if this opportunity hadn’t presented itself. As Don Dokken sat in front of me during this interview, it was clear that the events of the past still served as a major irritant for him, yet at the same time he seemed decidedly optimistic about this new chance to bring Dokken to the populace as a member of a credible concert draw playing arenas throughout this country.

After talking to the vocalist, it seems incredibly doubtful that Dokken will let the chance to reintroduce his band to an audience who may not have seen it in a while go by without giving the best performance of which he is capable. Whether or not that pleases everyone is a variable that Dokken knows he can’t control because with the possible exception of Axl Rose, the singer realizes he may be the subject or as many negative Internet posts as anyone in metal. Whatever you may think of him personally or about the current line up of the band, what needs to be respected is that for over twenty years, this man has been showing up to play the type of music that visitors of this site claim to love. Unlike many of the groups he has previously toured with who are currently playing bars and nightclubs on other bills now, Don has never strayed too far off the heavy metal radar, and for that reason as much as any other, Dokken should always be viewed as one of the more important singers to come out of the ‘80s rock scene.

KNAC.COM: We’ve talked before about the whole Don Dokken love him or hate him syndrome before, and after this summer there was a lot of negative sentiment directed towards you after the cancellation of the Hollywood date of the Rockfest Tour. Is there anything you want to say about that?
DOKKEN: The bottom line is I originally offered to do the gig. I told the guy we’d do it. At the time I just thought, what the hell? Let’s play.

KNAC.COM: It was supposed to be the climax of the tour, right?
DOKKEN: It was going to be a culmination of the tour, but then they told us that we were going to have to play for free and lose our money, and that’s when we said no.

KNAC.COM: So there’s no truth to any of the reports that there were personality conflicts between you and some of the members of the other bands?
DOKKEN: No, I just had a problem with what time we were going on—I didn’t like going on at 1 AM. I just think that it was disrespectful to the band Dokken. When the band before us is dragging out their set playing ZZ Top covers for twenty minutes, yeah, I take offense to that. It was unprofessional and amateur, and I put up with it for three months. I will never do that again.

KNAC.COM: I just hope you never have to tour with another metal musician who goes on stage sporting a Mohawk and a New Found Glory t-shirt. As you stated though, this situation where you were put in a position to go on late was something that had occurred throughout the entire tour, it wasn’t a one-time occurrence as it was initially reported, right?
DOKKEN: No, it was an ongoing thing every single night.

KNAC.COM: You do realize though that all the reports were slanted to make you look like the bad guy. It was something like, “Unreasonable Don went off again…”
DOKKEN: Look, I never lie. The truth is that they consistently went nearly a half hour over time.

KNAC.COM: And that was enough—
DOKKEN: Yeah, and they were going to fine me $5000 for it. Basically I was going to get fined because they went over. It was either that or our set was going to get cut by fifteen minutes.

KNAC.COM: Other reports also had you fighting within the band and that Mick had actually quit at one point. What happened there?
DOKKEN: He’s here, right? All that crap about he quit, we got in a fight---it’s just not true.

KNAC.COM: So you’re telling me that there was never any fight that could have been misconstrued or misinterpreted as part of a larger incident?
DOKKEN: No, what happened was that he dislocated his rotator cuff, and I think he actually made it on the tour longer than he should have. He was in a lot of pain the last ten shows, and finally he said, “Why are we doing this tour? Why are we going on at one in the morning? Why are we playing with bad production every night?” Everyone was trying to save money, and we weren’t able to put on a proper production, and it all fell down on Dokken. We’re not a club band, and we don’t want to be perceived as a club band. If the other bands aren’t comfortable with that and think it’s just about getting drunk and chasing women, that’s not why we’re doing this. Mick had just had enough.

KNAC.COM: Basically, you just don’t feel like they capitalized on the opportunity you gave them? I mean, where was Warrant before that tour?
DOKKEN: Yeah, they could have been playing bars. I put them in an arena situation, and gave them lots of money, and this is what happens.

KNAC.COM: So the problem with you headlining had more to do in your eyes with who you tapped to be the supporting bands?
DOKKEN: That and there were just too many bands.

KNAC.COM: Ideally, what would you like to see?
DOKKEN: Three bands. I mean we had about five hours of music on that tour. Who can listen to five hours of music? Then there were just little things like other bands abusing the P.A. A lot of tours will do a thing called sandbagging where each band gets more power than the band that goes on before it, but we didn’t do that—instead, we gave everybody full P.A., full everything, and they abused it.

KNAC.COM: In comparison, how is your situation on this tour? I know you are currently performing about seven songs.
DOKKEN: Yeah, seven, but the Scorpions have given us full lights, full P.A. Basically, we could do whatever we want, but we don’t take advantage of their good will. We play as long as we should, and we never go over. We are exactly on time. We’re on at exactly 7 o’clock and we’re off stage at exactly 7:40, and we clear the stage in ten flat. That’s the way it has to be. That’s why this tour is going on so smoothly. The RockFest was probably the worst thing I ever did.

KNAC.COM: So you needed this type of experience after the bad one this summer?
DOKKEN: Yeah, otherwise I wasn’t motivated to come back to the “our careers are over anyway, let’s just get some money and have fun” type of attitude that some of these bands had. I just didn’t want any part of it.

KNAC.COM: Wouldn’t you think you could expect a little more maturity from a group of guys at this stage of their lives? You certainly wouldn’t expect their poor behavior or performance to come at your expense either, correct?
DOKKEN: I was shocked. Yeah, it was at my expense—people wanted to know why Dokken was going on so late as if I was pulling an Axl Rose or something. An opening act who causes us to go on late or doesn’t even show up to a couple of gigs isn’t being fair to the group going on afterward.

KNAC.COM: I’m sure your frustration was made worse knowing that if something around you is getting screwed up, you are going to be the scapegoat.
DOKKEN: And that’s after like twenty years of this perception of either you love me or hate me. There are people who just love to do nothing more than bash on Don Dokken, and those people aren’t my fans. All I care about are Dokken fans and putting on a good show. I’m not interested in the 10-15 people on the Internet who have no life. If you go to Bon Jovi’s site, Metallica’s site or Aerosmith’s site, they don’t even allow people to post. It’s outgoing only with no incoming messages, and here I go trying to create an open forum, and people abused it. I kept putting up with it, and then finally I just said told them if they didn’t have anything good to say, then they shouldn’t say anything. I just shut it down. There was just always someone saying something, and then there was my fans having to defend me. I just thought that they shouldn’t have to defend me. It’s just the same people talking shit every single day. Sometimes, even people who are your fans see something on your site, they think it has to be true—

KNAC.COM: The whole idea that if it’s printed it has to be accurate.
DOKKEN: Yeah, it’s the same thing where people see something in the paper they think its real. The first to start that thing was the Herald Examiner, and they bashed on movie stars and they bashed on everybody because it’s that National Enquirer mentality—that Metal Sludge mentality, and I said I wouldn’t be a part of it.

KNAC.COM: Of course that site was the source of many of those reports about the RockFest tour. It’s no secret that they’ve had issues in the past with you either.
DOKKEN: Look who owns Metal Sludge. It was people on that tour who are involved with that site. A couple of guys on RockFest are heavily involved in Metal Sludge. It was like they would come up to you and go, “how’s it goin’ bro?” and then turn around and bash you on the site.

KNAC.COM: That’s the ironic part about them—they want to sit around and bash the very people that they need in order to perpetuate their very existence.
DOKKEN: Yeah, you know, if they want to make a satire out of me, then fine. They want to know all kinds of things like: Is Don’s hair real? How old is he? Is he sixty? Are you really as big an asshole as people think you are? Did Mick sleep with Jeff’s wife? Then it starts to get taken too far because it’s nobody’s business to know about other people’s sexual habits—you know, whether they’re gay or whether or not they have small penis—I just decided I didn’t want to be involved in that. If you look at any of the pro bands like Aerosmith, AC/DC and Van Halen, they don’t get involved in that. You don’t even see them acknowledge such a low I.Q. type of gene pool mentality. I just asked myself, “why should I?” I won’t do it. If people think it’s arrogance on my part, then fine. Do I feel that Dokken is a great band that’s legendary and should be respected like a Whitesnake and the Scorpions? Then yeah, I do.

KNAC.COM: People always want to do comparisons, and one of the TV stations who does a million different types of countdowns that rate bands is VH-1 who is also sponsoring this tour. During their Hair Metal countdown, you guys were rated higher than either Whitesnake or the Scorpions. Is it weird to open for them or is there something wrong with the criteria used to assess the groups?
DOKKEN: Well, I don’t know. Wasn’t Poison number one? All I know is that after RockFest, Mick just said, “let’s stop touring here and go to Europe where people have respect for us. We don’t need this anymore. We’ve got the money to live on.” Then they offered us this tour, and we had to decide where we belonged. Yeah, the Scorpions are long time friends of ours, and Whitesnake with Coverdale and of course Reb used to be in the band, so everyone feels comfortable. There’s just that respect. You’ll see in the show tonight that we’re kicking ass. The promoters have all told us that they weren’t sure what to expect with us on this tour, and that the strangest thing is that the opening band usually plays to nobody, but every night it has been almost a full house by the time we hit the stage. There were ten thousand out there when we played in San Antonio the other night. The promoter said, “you guys have a huge draw still.” I don’t think people realized the hard core fans that would come out to see Dokken. The problem was that they just didn’t want to come out and see Dokken on the RockFest tour because they didn’t like any of the other groups. It wasn’t that they were bad bands—it was just that they were a different type of music. We are a metal band. Even on this tour we are kinda the heaviest band. On that tour though, we just didn’t fit.

KNAC.COM: How does that feel to play in an arena to an audience the size of the ones that have been showing up to these shows after all this time?
DOKKEN: A lot better than it did going on at 1 AM after four hours of nonsense. I used to get really upset about it, and I know that it is a trite thing to say, but the music should do the talking.

KNAC.COM: But you know that even if you put up a flawless performance night after night, it wouldn’t matter to certain members of the Internet community—they are still going to write negative statements no matter what you do.
DOKKEN: All I know is that if I sing it perfectly and it’s a great show and it sounds amazing, they should shut their mouths. I could be the second coming of Christ on stage and it wouldn’t make any difference. I read where one guys said, “I’ve seen Dokken four times on this tour and they’ve just been awful.” I’m like, why the hell did you come four times then? The Internet is an interesting media though because people can remain anonymous and say anything they want about anyone without having anything come back on them.

KNAC.COM: Any you don’t have the same luxury. They get to discuss you specifically, but when it comes time to dispute anything, you are responding to some anonymous 98 pound chronic masturbator who still lives at home and goes by the chat room moniker of Badass.
DOKKEN: Or Knucklehead, and I just think that’s pretty interesting because if you’ve got any balls or you’re a man and you have beliefs or an opinion on somebody, you should back it up.

KNAC.COM: Put your name down.
DOKKEN: Yep, put your name down. If you’ve got something to say to me, say it and tell me who you are. That’s the thing with Metal Sludge. How ludicrous it that they go around with these fake names which give them this vehicle to go around and say whatever they want about anybody? That wouldn’t be allowed in a magazine or on television. Does a newscaster have an imaginary name? If you’ve got something to say, say it, and stand up for what you believe. The Internet just allows cowards a place to go and hide.

KNAC.COM: At the same time though, they want something from you—whether it’s 20 Questions or an explanation or something like that.
DOKKEN: They need something to keep their thing going. The people who owned Metal Sludge just sold it, and they made lots of money. They made money off of t-shirts and merchandise.

KNAC.COM: In a sense they made money off Don Dokken.
DOKKEN: They made money off Don Dokken. In a sense that’s pretty funny. I found out who one of the guys who started that site was, and as it turns out that he was just some singer who never made it. He was in a band who was like one of the laughing stocks of the ‘80s and only cut about one record. Then he started Metal Sludge.

KNAC.COM: What better way to get back at people who were better than you?
DOKKEN: Yeah, he just made a stab at it, failed and started Metal Sludge because he was upset with Metal Edge because they would never give him the credit that was due him. It was just his way of getting back at the people who actually did something. It just got out of hand. You’ve got Jizzy and other guys posting things on the tour and telling their own versions of things to paint them in a good light. Basically, it’s just not legitimate journalism.

KNAC.COM: No, you’re right. If you want to be taken seriously, don’t use a pseudonym—bottom line.
DOKKEN: I just don’t care what they say because it has nothing to say about the real fans. We get something like 10,000 hits a week on the Dokken site, and it’s about 90% good, but the same seven guys or so ruin it for everyone. People loved the open forum on the Dokken site, but others screwed it up. It’s a shame to give them that power. Then you go to ban them, and they just come back as someone else. I had to stop it.

KNAC.COM: Internet reports aside, have you found the print and television media to be mostly positive? Have you talked to different publications that you haven’t in awhile?
DOKKEN: Yeah, but this tour I haven’t read one review or one interview. All I heard the other night was that every review so far has been great. It was stuff like, “Don’s singing great, and he’s singing like he did in the eighties.” I’m thinking, yeah, I’ve got the proper P.A.’s and monitors. I can hear myself, and I’m not having to scream at the top of my lungs because everyone in the audience is drunk and hung over. Let’s go out in proper arenas with a proper P.A. That’s all I asked of the Scorpions was that they give me the tools to go out and do a proper show. Give me lights. Give me a stage. Give me a drum riser. Give me a sound check. I will kick ass. We’re doing it. On RockFest every day it was fighting and screaming and yelling. People wouldn’t pay us. Promoters were stealing from us. Bands were drunk and breaking equipment. It was just insane.

KNAC.COM: Did you feel like you had gone completely back to square one with that tour?
DOKKEN: It was worse than that. I’d rather be headlining the Midnight Rodeo in Albuquerque or the House of Blues in Los Angeles and putting on a great show rather than be a part of that travesty. They should have called it the Has Been Tour. I didn’t want to be a part of it. There were bands on that tour though who were great. Firehouse took the stage every day on time and put on a great show and sounded amazing. I had never seen them before. I didn’t know who they were before or was even that aware of their music, but they had quite a few hits. They were always on time and never gave anyone problems—they were absolutely professional. There were members of some of the other bands that were professional like Warren DeMartini, but there were also other key members of each of the other bands that just couldn’t get it together. I tried to talk to them like the father figure and say, “look you can’t lock yourselves in a hotel room with a bag of cocaine and not play the shows.” I’m not going to say which band it was, but they missed some shows basically because they were too high to perform.

KNAC.COM: Yet, uh…that’s the reason you’re on tour.
DOKKEN: I went, “Oh my God. What do you mean you’re too high? You’re cheating your children. You’re not cheating yourselves. You have a family—think about them.” You can’t just not play because you’re too drunk or too high or too hung over. It’s not fair. Those people paid the money to hear you play, and you need to play and be 100%. It’s different if you are really sick or something. I mean, I get sick. People get sick. That’s unavoidable. This is different.

KNAC.COM: You also close the door on future opportunity when you burn bridges like that too.
DOKKEN: Yeah, I don’t see us going out on the road with any of those bands any time in the future…actually, I love L.A. Guns. They were great. I’d tour with them again. I’d tour with Firehouse again too.

KNAC.COM: Basically the whole idea of being a professional was lost primarily on the other two bands then?
DOKKEN: It’s like I’ve seen Tommy Aldridge who is one of the greatest and most famous drummers out there, and he’s got hearing loss and severe shoulder pain, but you’d never know it when he gets behind that kit. He still plays like a monster. He doesn’t sit up there and tap his drums and say, “ouch.” He does his job, and I respect him for it. David Coverdale sings one hundred percent every night. I have never seen the Scorpions do a bad show ever. Something goes wrong, and they just get past it and act like it didn’t happen. I tried to do that on RockFest, but there is a difference between ten percent of the shows being bad and eighty percent of the shows being awful. It’s just bullshit and Mick and I had enough.

KNAC.COM: So if anything you and Mick were totally on the same page about the tour?
DOKKEN: Yeah, he said that after twenty-two years he had never seen me so angry that it affected an entire tour where everyone was just afraid to be around me. He just saw how upset and frustrated that I was that it had come to this embarrassing level as it had in Phoenix. He realized that we weren’t playing good. We weren’t sounding good, and it was a nightmare. We had decided that we’d rather retire than let Dokken sink to that kind of level. We don’t have to do this for a living. We could do other things or just sit our butts at home, and we both realized that it was time to stop. I felt obligated to keep going for the fans though, so I was kind of caught. As early as about midway though the tour though, people kept coming up to us going, “don’t quit the tour.” The thing is, we blew off an entire headlining run of Europe to do that tour.

KNAC.COM: If you guys had left that tour, there wouldn’t have been a tour anymore, would there?
DOKKEN: No, there wouldn’t have been, but nobody saw it that way. We were told that we were only closing the show but that we weren’t headliners. I thought that was fine, but then every time there was a financial hit to be taken, it came out of our pockets. If the PA is out, it was our problem. If the lights went out, it was our problem.

KNAC.COM: It’s that whole situation where if you win, it’s everybody’s win, but if you lose, then it’s your fault.
DOKKEN: Yeah, nobody wanted to accept responsibility. Stupid things would happen every night. If one of the bands had all the audience members come down to the front and the fire martials go crazy, you’d think that band would have to be the one to pay the consequences. Instead they would come to us and say they were keeping our money. They would say that because we were headlining, it was our show. I was like, “we’re just closing it, why don’t you go and talk to them?” If you asked the other bands, they’d say we’re just closing the show too, but whenever there was a five thousand dollar fire marshal fine, they took it out of Dokken’s money.

KNAC.COM: So you’re telling me that there was a perception within the other bands that you all were of equal value to the tour?
DOKKEN: That’s right.

KNAC.COM: You’re also telling me that you actually shared the revenue equally with those other bands except when you were getting fined or paying for equipment?
DOKKEN: Yeah. We made no more money than anybody else. That was the hysterical part of the whole thing. We ended up losing over fifty thousand dollars.

KNAC.COM: When you did finally make it to the stage, did you play for a longer amount of time?
DOKKEN: Well, we carried the tour. I mean, I’m not trying to be arrogant, but everybody knows that we carried RockFest. If there wouldn’t have been a Dokken on that tour, there wouldn’t have been a tour. They wouldn’t have had eleven thousand people in Detroit. It was hard on my band and it was hard on the crew. We actually played a strip joint parking lot at one point. It was a gig out in a cornfield with a plywood stage and a PA that should have been burned twenty years ago. There were only about eight or nine lights on the stage. It was humiliating.

KNAC.COM: How did you react?
DOKKEN: I said, “this is ridiculous, but what do we do?” We just played and tried to keep the honor and do it for the fans. Then we realized though that the fans were getting screwed. It was just about money and greed and everybody was just trying to cheap out so that they could make as much as they could off of us.

KNAC.COM: The worst part though is that you ended up getting blamed by some of the very people you thought you were trying not to disappoint.
DOKKEN: Everybody blamed Don Dokken. He’s an asshole and a prima donna. Yeah, I heard all of it. It all fell on me. Then, they asked me to defend myself, and I didn’t make one comment in the press.

DOKKEN: Because it would have just been a waste of time. Whatever I say would have just been misconstrued. I have to take the high road with my spiritual beliefs. Why should I lower myself to the level of some guy with an imaginary name? He hasn’t even got the balls to say who he is. I won’t respond to an imaginary person who is so spineless that he won’t even use his name. You know, you put your own name. You put your money where your mouth is, so I’ll talk. Anything else is just a waste of time. I’m above it all now though. There are other things to do.

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