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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 donít. Unfortunately for them, his candor suggests that the comfort level of others isnít 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 canít necessarily be said for bands who achieved more commercial success such as Poison or Bon Jovi. If you listen to the frustration in Donís tone throughout the interview, what appears evident is that the singer understands all too well that the groupís 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 didnít take full advantage of the opportunities at their disposal that would have allowed them to become one of the premier bands in metal. Itís undeniable that if there wasnít that pervasive sense of what could have been surrounding Dokken, there wouldnít be so much frustration and animosity all these years later. Even though it is probable that most readers wonít 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 upÖ-Ed.) Each individual proved gracious and appeared to be consistently straightforward in regard to their recollections of what occurred back in the groupís 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 wasnít 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 senseóhe is the lead singer, and at the end of the day itís his name on the marquis. That being said, itís also on the cover of the bandís latest effort entitled Hell To Payóa 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 wasnít 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 outóif 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 donĎt have that. Itís a crooked business. Your managers, your accountants and the record company just want a finished product. They donít 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 otherís throats. It was kind of like the alcoholic thing though where they say youíre half way to being cured once you admit you have a problem. Itís hard. Itís a tough business. A marriage is hardótry taking four or five people out on a bus. All the personalities and egos and jealousies are going to clash. Obviously, when youíre the front man of a band thatís 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 didnít get along before we became a band. It wasnít 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 didnít want to do it. He just got talked into staying by Dieter Dirks. By doing that, he almost ruined the bandís career before we even got off the ground. Itís 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 tooóyou 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: Youíve told me before though that you just arenít in the same headspace that you were when you wrote ďBreaking the Chains.Ē How do you keep from just standing there onstage while people are singing the song back to you and thinking ďhere we go again!Ē?
DOKKEN: No, I mean, Iíve had those nights where Iím struggling to get through the show because Iím just exhausted from scheduling. If I get to the point though were Iím tired of playing these songs, Iíd just quit. Jeff [Pilson] is a primary exampleóhe didnít 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 didnít want to keep playing these songs over and over again. He just got to the point though where he didnít 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 heís 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 youíre in a band that you arenít happy withÖ you knowÖ I donít think Michael from Van Halen wakes up and goes, ďOh, Iím just the bass player in Van Halen.Ē 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 singeróthat 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. Itís like the saying that alcoholics hang out with alcoholics and drug addicts hang out with drug addicts. Since I didnít do coke in Dokken, I was kind of the odd man out. Itís like, youíre not in the clique.

KNAC.COM: Do you have less empathy for erratic behavior when you donít feel as if you are engaging in it on that level yourself?
DOKKEN: Absolutely it made me irritated. Lots of people tell me, ďOh, I was nervous about interviewing you because weíve 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 Jovióthat famous--but instead, Iím 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 ďDokken,Ē and the band is writing great songs, and youíre living your dreamóyet you have no control over the other members of the band, and theyíre 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 Iíd feel at peaceóyou 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 canít share the stage with a personality or musician like George Lynch.
DOKKEN: Yeah, Iíve heard it. Thatís 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, ďOh, this guy is too good a guitar player that I just canít stand itĒ is just asinine for people to say. That is probably just information coming from a group of people who just arenít very educated or something like that. Itís hearsay, and itís fodder. Most of the people who read this interview probably arenít going to know what ďfodderĒ means. They can look it up in the dictionaryÖ but, thatís how that got started. George was never really into doing interviews or that part of it. Heís 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 arenít equipped to deal with the press, is it fair to the other members? Did you personally resent it?
DOKKEN: No, I think thatís cool. I mean, there are a lot of people like that in the business. That didnít 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 didnít want to share the spotlight, I just thought it was ridiculous because I did everything I could to try to make him the ďnext Eddie Van Halen.Ē He came close to having that crown, and he deserved it because he had that talent. He just didnít want to brag to people any more about his guitar playing than I want to stand up and say, ďYeah, Iím a great singer.Ē How do you say that? You canít. You canít do that because your kudos have to come from other people. It didnít bother me that he was shy and didnít 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 Ď95 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, ďWell, there are a couple of things you probably donít know, Jeff.Ē He said, ďWhat?Ē I told him, ďYou know, you guys used to talk pretty loud when you were partying. Do you know what itís 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?Ē It was like, ďBoy, if we could just get a better singer or a younger singer.Ē It was also stuff like, ďJeff, you could do the lead vocals and we could go as a three piece if we could just get the name.Ē I had to listen to these types of conversations where people were just conspiring to try to undermine me. It didnít 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 theyĎre band members?
DOKKEN: UhÖ 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, ďI canít explain it to you, you would have to go on the road to understand this.Ē Afterwards he said, ďItís too bad. You guys are doing so well, but itís like youíre in a den of thieves. Itís like youíre trying to watch your wallet every five seconds.Ē It was pretty obvious that there was no love lost between any of us. I didnít 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 didnít 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, ďWhy did you leave Dokken when you had just finished an album and were getting ready to go out and do it?Ē Iím pretty sure the reason he would give would be that he just couldnít handle George and the manipulating and the complaining and the hating everything all the time. It doesnít 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 wasnít 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, ďWhatís all that from?Ē She said, ďWell, every time George would walk by you on the stage, he would spit on your back.Ē I was thinking that wasnít 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 wasnít a very good actor.

KNAC.COM: You had to have been going through a pretty heightened stage of paranoiaóor 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, ďGeorge, stop it. Youíre destroying this band.Ē Itís 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 donít 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, ďHey, no one knew that Dave [Lee Roth] and I didnít get along until the end.Ē 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 didnít 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 daysólike 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 youíre on coke, everything is amplified. You donít 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. Thatís not badóit 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 youíre not high or youíre not bitter or resentful or envious of somebody, you probably wouldnít think those things. It was an accident. If youíve 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 GeorgeóI hadnít 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, ďHey, howís it going?Ē We talked, and everything was great and friendly. He said, ďMaybe someday we can do something together again.Ē I said, ďYeah, you never know.Ē 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. Itís pretty devious. Thatís 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 wasnít just me, but of course it always falls on me. Mick was adamant tooóhe didnít want George in the venue. He didnít want him onstage or backstage. He didnít want to see him at all because we just didnít trust him. We didnít know if heíd try to unplug our amps or sabotage things. Heís done a lot of crazy things in his time. I donít want to get into them all right now though because Iíve moved on with my life. I donít need to bash George. I just think he is his worst enemy. I wish I had half his talent as a guitar player. Heís such a great guitar player, but I donít know whatís going on in his life. Itís 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 canít be worrying about him. The truth was, I didnít say that I wouldnít 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. Thatís 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. Thatís 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 peoplesí lives that recording new material is problematic because it has to compete with peoplesí memories?
DOKKEN: I still like it. I still enjoy it. Iím not a superstar.

KNAC.COM: You donít have a million dollar mansion?
DOKKEN: No, no. I donít have millions of dollars. Iím just comfortable. Iím lucky that I can play and tour just because I love it and not because I have to pay the rent. Iíve 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 werenít born to be ones. For me, my father was a musician, and his father was a musician. My motherís 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 itís an ego thing too. For any musician to say they donít have an ego isÖ well, theyíre full of it. To stand on the stage is a physical thing for me more than a technical thing, and itís sort of like a purging. Itís 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, thatís all you can ask for.

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