The quartet of rockers known as Dokken, named after founder, vocalist, and guitarist Don Dokken, achieved a phenomenal level of success during the heavy metal blitz of the 1980s. Much of the Los Angeles-based group’s star status was the result of the tenacity of Don Dokken, who had the foresight to predict that legions of teenagers would appreciate—and buy—records featuring thundering guitar assaults woven around songs about everyday life and love. “Dokken also created one of the darker metal sounds around, combining the classic metal of bands such as Black Sabbath with a new intelligence and a raunchy American-metal sound,” added Brenda Herrmann in the Chicago Tribune. Although often vilified by the American rock press, the band was validated by several platinum-selling records and sell-out tours both at home and abroad during much of the 1980s.
Dokken founder Don Dokken grew up in a poorer section of Venice, California, a circumstance he credits as influencing his musical tastes. He played in a number of local hard rock bands and cut a record called Hard
Original members include Don Dokken, guitar and vocals; George Lynch (replaced in 1990 by John Norum and Billy White; rejoined group, 1994), guitar; Mick Brown (replaced in 1990 by Mikkey Dee; rejoined group, 1994), drums; and Jeff Pilson (replaced by Peter Baltes in 1990 [Baltes also played on debut album]; rejoined group, 1994), bass.
Group formed in Germany in the early 1980s; signed with Elektra Records, c. 1981; disbanded, 1988; reformed by Don Dokken with new members, 1990, and signed with Geffen; reformed with original members, 1994.
Selected Awards: Received platinum records from the Recording Industry Association of America for five of their albums during the 1980s.
Addresses: Record company —Geffen Records, 9130 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069.
Luck Woman in 1980. Released on Hard Records, a label he had started up himself, the effort soon became lost among the plethora of New Wave acts then receiving attention: suddenly bands that sounded like the Knack and the Police were getting booked into local bars. “Wimp music was in,” Dokken recalled, still fuming, in an interview with Dennis Hunt of the Los Angeles Times. “It was cool to stand real still on stage and be nerdy-looking. It was in to be a geek. I had real long hair then. I didn’t fit in with the wimps.” Dokken moved to West Germany to get his career started. “Rock ’n’ roll was still happening there,” he asserted.
In Europe, Dokken met others who had heard his first record and liked it. One of them was Dieter Dierics, who went on to become the producer of the Scorpions’ million-selling LPs of the 1980s. Another appreciative listener was a talent scout for Elektra Records. Dierics loaned Dokken his studio to cut a record for the big label, but at this point he needed a band. Dokken mined talent from a Los Angeles act called Exciter, who had once been his club scene rivals. Exciter guitarist George Lynch had written a song for the demo tape, and Elektra urged Dokken to try him out; additionally, drummer Mick Brown didn’t want to join the new band without his friend Lynch. But the acrimony between the two guitar play-ers-Dokken and Lynch-was undeniable, and it would serve to both fuel and hinder the band’s success for the next decade.
To complete the lineup, Dokken needed a bass player and recruited Peter Baltes, the German-born member of a heavy metal act called Accept. As the newly formed Dokken, the quartet cut their record in Dierics’s studio. It was released in Europe in 1982 and the following year hit the U.S. market as Breaking the Chains on Elektra. Baltes returned to Accept after his studio work with Dokken was complete. He was replaced by Jeff Pilson. By late 1983, Breaking the Chains was making a respectable appearance on the Billboard charts.
In 1984 Dokken released Tooth and Nail, a quintessential heavy metal opus produced by Tom Werman. Thundering guitars cranked against songs with lyrics about problematic women; the occasional softer ballad balanced things out. People contributor David Hiltbrand noted that Dokken seemed to be trying to position themselves as a live act, and “consequently, most of the record is made up of bombastic, febrile tunes,” although Hiltbrand did concede that some tracks from Tooth and Nail “contain a smattering of melody while showing off Don Dokken’s powerful voice.”
Dokken’s third release, Under Lock and Key was produced by Neil Kernon and Michael Wagener. The 1986 work was another straightforward studio rock effort that sold millions and allowed the group to head back out on the road. By this time, Dokken’s style of loud, dynamic heavy metal was becoming more popular; the rise of groups like Bon Jovi, Ratt, and Poison began to cut in on the turf that Dokken had already staked out. Other problems also plagued the band. The volatile personalities within Dokken were clashing. Bandmembers fought during recording sessions, and the rivalry between Dokken and Lynch was evident even to fans, according to Los Angeles Times reporter Hunt. “It’s something you can see on stage, “he reported. “Often it’s like they’re playing in two different groups. In a strange way, watching them not interact is part of the fun of a Dokken concert.”
Dokken undertook another serious, extensive European tour to support Under Lock and Key, selling out nearly 40 shows spread over a dozen countries during the first half of 1986. At the time, terrorist incidents and anti-American sentiments were running high in Europe. “You would see slogans like ‘Yankees go home’ spray-painted all over the place, particularly in Spain and Italy,” Dokken told Chicago Tribune reporter Lynn Van Matre. He also noted the anti-American, anti-Ronald Reagan stance apparent in the media and recalled, “We definitely encountered anti-American vibes in restaurants and hotels.”
Back in the States, Dokken cut a fourth album, 1987’s Back for the Attack. In a review for the Los Angeles Times, John Voland compared it with their previous release, which was notable for having a bit more relaxed, marketable sound. On Back forthe Attack,”more of the band’s salad-days metallic grind is back, “Voland opined, and termed” Lost behind the Wall, “Cry of the Gypsy,” and “Kiss of Death” (an anti-AIDS song) “standout tracks.” The record made it into the Top 20, and the group toured the United States again, this time opening for Aerosmith.
Dokken next released a double live album, 1989’s Beast from the East, but the long-simmering tensions within the band had finally split them asunder, seemingly for good. Don Dokken refused to concede defeat, however, and reformed with new members. He recruited Baltes again for bass, then another European named John Norum (formerly the guitarist for the metal act Europe) on guitar, joined by Billy White, a young Texan, and finally Mikkey Dee on drums.
Guitarist White was only twenty years old when he joined Dokken, and his recruitment was the stuff of which rock legends are generated. “I was recording at Bobby Blotzer’s home studio, “Dokken recalled for Chicago Tribune writer Herrmann. (Blotzer was then a member of Ratt.) “I just pulled a used cassette from a box. When I played it back, there was this guitar player, and he was just burning—it was very psychotic, really.” Dokken called the telephone number on the tape and talked to White. “I didn’t tell him who I was, but when I asked who he liked, he said Dokken. So I sent him an airplane ticket to come try out.”
By this time Dokken had switched labels from Elektra to Geffen and with the new band recorded their debut for the label, Up from the Ashes. To prepare for the stress of touring, Dokken forced all the bandmembers to share a house with him in suburban Los Angeles. However, the new band was short-lived, and little was heard from Dokken—either Don or the band—for the first half of the 1990s. But in late 1994, a sold-out acoustic show was held at a club in L.A.—with all the original members. It was Dokken’s first gig together since breaking up six years before, and a live album was cut from the session.
Early in 1995, Dokken toured Japan, while the live record began climbing the charts back in the States. Next, they embarked on a U.S. tour-playing mainly to crowds in small venues-and released a full-length comeback album titled Dysfunctional. After fifteen on-and-off years together, the bandmembers seemed to have mellowed a bit—and realized that their potential audience never goes away. By 1995 the “wimp” music of the original New Wave phenomenon had shaken hands with the metal mania of the 1980s, all of it remixed, repackaged, and resold to teenagers as “alternative.” In the summer of 1995 the reformed band played a Florida festival along with Tesla and Bush. “By the end of the show the whole crowd was just really into it, “Dokken bassist Pilson told Amusement Business reporter Athena Schaffer. “I could tell that we won over a lot of the so-called alternative fans. It was really an alternative festival, but I could see that these young kids could really grasp what we were doing. That felt really good.”
Hard Luck Woman (Don Dokken solo), Hard Records, 1980.
Breaking the Chains, Carrere, 1982, Elektra, 1983.
Tooth and Nail, Elektra, 1984.
Under Lock and Key, Elektra, 1986.
Back for the Attack, Elektra, 1987.
Beast from the East (live double album), Elektra, 1989.
Up from the Ashes, Geffen, 1990.
Dysfunctional, Geffen, 1995.
Amusement Business, May 22, 1995.
Billboard, October 22, 1983.
Chicago Tribune, May 11, 1986; November 19, 1990.
Guitar Player, February 1985.
Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1987; January 31, 1988.
People, November 19, 1984, p. 30; January 13, 1986.
Rolling Stone, February 9, 1989.
Washington Post, June 23, 1995.
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