DON DOKKEN Talks The Lost Songs Compilation, New Material Sounding Like "A Cross Between Tooth And Nail, Under Lock And Key"
September 1, 2020, 23 days ago
Dokken has a history that goes back to the beginning of the ‘80s, actually 1981 when the debut Breaking The Chains was first released in Europe, followed by a re-release for America in 1983 on Elektra Records when the title track became a hit with plenty of rotation on MTV. Before the band struck a record deal, leader Don Dokken was writing songs, lyrics, playing guitar, during this 1978-1981 period. An unofficial Dokken release called Back In The Streets came out in the late ‘80s without Don’s permission or participation. Since then these four studio and two live songs have never been released officially until now, a collection of unearthed Dokken songs from the vaults, called, The Lost Songs: 1978 – 1981.
Singer Don Dokken spoke with BraveWords about the release with the story behind how these songs were stolen, retrieved, the other tracks to make The Lost Songs eleven songs, new Dokken music, plus an update on his health after back surgery. As you will learn in the interview, Don has been on the scene making music since the late ‘70s and is an encyclopedia of rock ‘n’ roll knowledge and should write a book. Until then, hopefully these answers will hold readers over.
BraveWords: Don, before we talk about The Lost Songs, how is your health after the back surgery. Is rehabilitation working, what is the prognosis for a full recovery?
Don Dokken: “I’m doing it, going to therapy, unfortunately I don’t see an improvement, maybe 10% after seven months so far, but from the shoulder down I’m still paralyzed, fingers too. I’m going to give it the year, and if that doesn’t work maybe they will try another surgery and move some tendons and maybe I will get my thumb back. It’s really hard to pick up a fork and spoon, if I can pick up a guitar pick I’ll be happy with that. This surgery shouldn’t have happened the way it did, I drew the short straw this time, and nobody is owning up to what went wrong and why my arm is not right. But I talk to the surgeons, they will say off the record, not on the record, what happened. They are saying they either hit the spinal cord, or barely did, and that causes a problem. It’s called reperfusion, the flow of blood to an organ or tissue, and it was too much or something, and the muscles go into shock and can die. Since I am a singer, they could have gone through the front, through my neck which is much safer, but we were afraid of screwing up my vocal chords. They said I may not be able to sing for a year this way, and I was ok with that, instead of being paralyzed on one side. I went to a specialist that knows how to go through the back, but they fucked me. I am learning to be a lefty (laughs). I have done so much research, but I knew something was wrong, I was in surgery for five hours and when I came out something didn’t feel right, and my hands and arms were burning on fire. But my left hand is working, it’s just weak. I am training, hiking, lifting weights, so I’m trying. But I can still sing, so that’s all I care about.”
BraveWords: So The Lost Songs: 1978 – 1981 is out now and the promo videos are classic!
Don Dokken: “We have two videos out, one for ‘Step Into The Light’, ‘No Answer’, which has this animated lyric video and its funny when I wrote it; it was like during the Iran thing in '78 or '79, and it’s basically about the government because they don’t tell you anything, no answer. If you look at the lyrics, what’s going on, let’s get some answer and nobody has them. It’s politicians, you get the dance, they know how to give the people the run around, tell you what they want you to know. So when I found these tapes in the garage after all these years I said ‘oh shit, these lyrics are relevant to what’s going on now’.”
BraveWords: Are those two songs the only ones with rerecorded guitars and drums from current Dokken members Jon Levin and BJ Zampa?
Don Dokken: “I think there’s four, but all these songs are mostly the original bass, vocals, most of the guitars are me, solos by me, but the reason I had BJ do some drums because two of these songs originally had a drum machine and they sound like shit, especially then. So he added the real drums to it, added some light to it, and the other songs had real drums. And then Jon, he just added solos, a couple songs didn’t have solos, a couple I did. If I had the tracklist I could tell you what he played on, what I played on. You know when I found these tapes in storage, I really had doubts they would play. Because you can’t leave two inch tape in a hot garage for forty years and expect them to play. But we took these two inch analog tapes and baked them in a convection oven, this is what Jimmy Page did too for the Zeppelin remix remasters, at like 300 degrees, for like three hours to get the gooeyness to unstick. But you can only get like two passes when you play it, or it doesn’t. And I actually had seven more songs at the end of the reel, but unfortunately they fell apart. They had that wobbly sound. So Jon did a couple solos, and so did I, and obviously you can tell who is who. Jon is ten times better guitar player than me. The record company wanted to keep the drum machine, but I said ‘I’m not going that far low fi, I can’t do it’.
“The funniest song, worst sounding song was my own single, ‘Hard Rock Woman’ from 1978 that I released as a 45, and I only made 300 hundred records and sold them in Germany in ‘79 when I was 26 or 27, when I went there with Juan Croucier who was in the band at the time. But I never made more of that song because I finally got Dokken together with Mick Brown and George Lynch, so that record is in the wind. So when I was doing these interviews for The Lost Songs, I was talking to a guy from Swedish Rock magazine, and these songs are on YouTube they are just really second, third, fourth generation copies, shitty quality, and I was telling this guy at the magazine that I was bummed I don’t have copies of ‘Hard Rock Woman’ and ‘Broken Heart’. He goes ‘I have a copy’, and I said ‘What the fuck are you talking about dude?’ He said my brother in 1979 saw you play in Berlin and bought two copies, and I think he gave me one. So I said I’d pay him to try and find it, and didn’t hear from him for like three weeks until I get an email from the guy and sends a wave of it. He said I found the record, but couldn’t find anyone who had a record player to play 45s (laughs). He actually had to go to a store that sold record players that played 45s. It was just dumb luck.”
BraveWords: These songs from The Lost Songs, are pulled from a demo called Back In The Streets, which only had four studio and two live songs. At the time, pre-Breaking The Chains first release in 1981. Did you have intentions of releasing these songs officially?
Don Dokken: “No, that’s how I met Michael Wagner in Hamburg, his studio wasn’t far from Sounds club, and that was where I met Michael Boyens who was in a band, he said ‘I got amps, drums, bass, rig, a guy who can help you with the translation,’ where we played a couple nights. When we came back, Wagner said I can run some cables from where I work, and he had only done one record, Accept’s Balls To The Walls, so he ran the cable to the Sounds Club and recorded the show. But for some reason there were only two songs. So at night what we would do, Michael would say, ‘when after you are done playing if you guys want to come to my studio we can bang out some demos.’ So we did this at like three o’clock in the morning, myself, Juan, and Greg Pecka (drums), because we were only a three piece at the time, we made those demos. So I am getting ready to leave Germany and I had a cassette of the songs but they went missing in action, but I think the owners of the studio took it. And it never came out, but then what happens, years later we became a multi-platinum selling band, and the owners of the studio must have said ‘wait a minute, don’t we have those old Dokken demos?’ and then that’s when it was put out in the late ‘80s as Back In The Streets.
“I remember talking to my manager, Cliff Bernstein at the time, that I should sue this guy, and he said, ‘Don, it will cost you a fortune, it’s in Germany, they will have a German lawyer, you are in America, honestly nobody is going to buy it, it’s just a bullshit demo knock-off album.’ So I let it go, and I find out when we were doing some publishing deals twenty years later that fucking guy made like a million dollars. I didn’t think he’d made anything off it, and people in Germany say that guy brags about his house and said, ‘it’s the house Don Dokken bought me.’ So when you figure it out, when we did the publishing audit, I think he made $950,000 dollars. And you know how it works, you are supposed to pay me royalties, publishing, I never saw a fucking dime. And when I found these other old songs, my guitarist Jon (Levin), who is also a lawyer, said ‘dude, you own those songs, they are yours, you can give him a cease and desist letter immediately, unless he wants to cough up $250,000 in royalties owed to you.’ So I told Silver Lining that I’ll do this record, but you have to absolve me if this asshole comes after me saying I stole his songs, when they are clearly mine. So that’s why I took what was on Back In The Streets, remastered, cleaned them up as much as I could because you know it was the ‘70s, I didn’t know what I was doing yet mixing this shit. But they were demos, drums, bass, guitars in a room together. So yeah, Jon said you own those songs, I’d take them and that’s how these Lost Songs all came about. I know Back In The Streets is off iTunes, we went after him hot and heavy. Now I have the money, I can sue him (laughs). When I was talking to Silver Lining, I told them I had five or more songs to add and they thought it’d be cool to show a window into my past. It’s not like Back In The Streets went gold.”
BraveWords: "Rainbows" and "Broken Heart" are two unreleased songs until now. Am I right saying they are from the ‘70s period, and without Lynch or Mick on the recording?
Don Dokken: “Absolutely, nothing from this album has Mick, or George, or Jeff (Pilson, bassist) on it, all these songs were done before I met them. I didn’t even meet those guys until 1980 when I was singing background vocals on the Scorpions album Blackout, at Dieter Dierks studio, and I got the record deal for Dokken on a French label. I had a record deal, but no band (laughs). I remembered Mick, George and I would cross paths at the Whiskey, Starwood, we were all playing together on the scene. That’s why I thought of Mick because I always thought he was an amazing drummer, and at the time I only hired them to play on the record. George actually left before the album was finished, he had to go back home. So I finished the record, it came out in Germany, it was called Don Dokken, not Dokken, and there is a picture of me on the cover. That’s the original release, I was signed as a solo artist. So I put it out and it sold like 35,000 copies, and that’s when I called George and Mick and said this album is selling and this guy wants to put us on TV for a special called The Beat who had AC/DC and Judas Priest play there. I’m wearing the stupid striped shirt (laughs). Someone asked me who owns that performance, because it’s pro-shot, and I said ‘I assume it’s the show,’ but the show went away. They were like the MTV of Germany, everybody played it. I don’t know how the label pulled it off because we were nobody at the time. I haven’t seen it yet but I heard there is a pretty good version on YouTube. So I assume I own it but I don’t know if anybody would buy it, it’s a long time ago.
“We did a song ‘Little Red Book’ because we didn’t have enough songs for an hour, and Juan Croucier is in the video. And after we came back to America with hopes to get a deal. But it didn’t happen because when I got back to LA, the rock scene was gone. I see in these biographies, DVDs, people talking about the Sunset Strip and how it was happening, but that all went away, I grew up playing the clubs with Van Halen and Quiet Riot in the ‘70s, and ‘79 to late ‘80 it was all new wave. It was all like Blondie, songs like ‘My Sharona’, Depeche Mode. All these rock bands were fucked, that’s why I went to Germany. But people don’t talk about how bands like Poison and Ratt didn’t get a record deal until later mid-80s, the Winger album came out in 1988. By the time the glam, and I hate the term ‘hair’ metal, explosion was happening, Dokken was already on a fourth world tour. So we were there at the very beginning, and it was luck, but when MTV started in 1981, '82, '93, there were no commercials and they didn’t have enough videos yet for continuous programming, for 24 hours a day, and ‘Breaking The Chains’ got a lot of airplay as a result. And then we got the record deal for an American release in '83, and the Blue Öyster Cult tour.”
BraveWords: I think "Hit And Run" is a great song, developed verses, melody, and chorus and would have fit on Breaking The Chains. Why didn't it make the album?
Don Dokken: “That was probably the last song we demoed, and I heard different versions on YouTube, and I couldn’t remember where we recorded it, and Michael (Wagner), said we didn’t record it in Germany, so I called Juan (Croucier) to see if he remembered it, and he said ‘yeah, I wrote it, you wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics.’ And I couldn’t recall it, but I asked if he had a copy, he called Michael Wagner, and he had a good copy of it. There is a Dokken album out called From Conception Live 1981, and ‘Hit And Run’ is on there, but the music, the lyrics, the melody is completely different, and in the last verse I say ‘Hit And Run’, that’s it, it’s not in the chorus. My memory is not so great forty years later, but if I remember correctly why is it on this release, but not on the album. I guess for some reason we just abandoned it. You know sometimes you have high hopes for a song, but at the end of the day it doesn’t make it.”
BraveWords: Is the song "Prisoner" an early idea for what became on the Back For The Attack album?
Don Dokken: “The title is the same but one song doesn’t have anything to do with the other. We recorded that in ‘79, so I guess we just took the title for a new song on Back For The Attack. But this version is kind of half time, dark song and then it kicks in fast, and then I do a crazy long solo (laughs). I told the label I think I should cut this solo. But it was the ‘70s, man. It was like an Allman Brothers thing.”
BraveWords: Tell us about the cover art design for The Lost Songs. The fiery bird is from Dokken's more recent album Lightning Strikes Again, and live show backdrops. Why use it on a release of old music?
Don Dokken: “Well, that phoenix really has nothing to do with the one on our backdrop on stage. It’s completely different, they hired some famous Japanese artist to do it, and that phoenix is different. My good friend Dave Williams, who is an artist, drew like 80 percent of the Dokken album covers by hand, he unfortunately passed away last year. He came up with the Dokken logo, which it slowly changes from Breaking The Chains onward, it evolves. He drew it, and the phoenix for my Up From The Ashes album, and that phoenix has gone through changes over the years also. It’s our signature thing. Dave was always redrawing it, but I can’t speak for the new phoenix on The Lost Songs because they hired a new artist, apparently he’s a well-known artist. I love using the phoenix for our live backdrop. The backdrop is used when we played Wacken in 2018 and when black lights hit it the bird it glows, it’s very cool.”
BraveWords: Would you ever consider adding one or two of these songs from The Lost Songs to the live set?
Don Dokken: “ I don’t think so; reason is in my career I wrote a lot of great songs, even some songs that were videos, like ‘Burning Like A Flame’, and ‘Heaven Sent’. Problem is we did ninety minute sets then, now it’s like an hour and ten minutes, sometimes, shorter, and you don’t have time always. So what do I do, what do we play? We always have to do the hits, and we throw a couple in there for ourselves, like ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’, ‘Too High To Fly’. But how do you keep the fans happy and do both? A few years ago I saw Iron Maiden at Irvine Meadows, and they had a new album out and only played the album, and a few hits at the end. And people were pissed, they wanted to hear the hits. And I was like ‘I get it.’ I understand when people go to a concert it’s about nostalgia, ‘I remember that song when I was in high school, or collage’, it’s about your youth. I’ve had people say to me ‘Don, you’re the soundtrack to my youth.’ People want to relive what they remember from the ‘80s. So if I play stuff from a new record people don’t relate to it.”
BraveWords: But coming from a fan of both Iron Maiden and Dokken, I want to see the legacy bands do a tour and set with all rarely or never played songs. I don’t want to hear the same thing, or almost the same set, every time, especially when you have so many great songs. If Dokken did a setlist for the die-hards, I think it would be appreciated and go over well.
Don Dokken: “Yeah, you are right, I agree and Jon and I have talked about that. All our favorite other songs, but I don’t know if we can do it for a whole tour. We’d call it The Selfish Tour, maybe at some point.”
BraveWords: I always wanted to know about the live album Beast From the East. Dokken were at the top of their game. Why was there never a concert video to go with the audio, does it exist?
Don Dokken: “We filmed the whole thing, it’s a compilation of three different shows; Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and we took the best stuff. But something went wrong and the mix from the console to the camera they didn’t get it, and it was all vocals and guitar. We could probably synch up the audio with the video, and that show is really killer, but nobody seems to know where the footage is. I was really pissed about that, so then when we got back together in 1995 and recorded Japan 95 we made sure the cameras and mix were working right going onto a hard drive. I saw some of the Beast From The East footage and it looked fine, but the audio wasn’t useable.
“Honestly, right now I want to look forward, not backwards, and The Lost Songs is coming out after my surgery went bad, Covid hit, and I never thought in a million years my right arm would be paralyzed. Thank God, Jon and I wrote seven songs so far so we already have half an album of material written. Jon wrote three new ones since, so The Lost Songs is kind of like a band aid, I am not feeling well, going through rehabilitation, the new album is not done, I have a hard time standing for long periods of time, I am falling apart, the pandemic is happening. Even though we did a few shows in the beginning of the year with Lynch. But I get on Skype and Zoom with the guys, I sing a couple melodies, so hopefully the album will come out next spring, God willing, with the pandemic and everything else going on, hopefully things will be back to somewhat normal. 2020 will go down in history for this generation, an election coming up, and we got rioting going on, black lives matter, which is great but it’s not when people take advantage of it to loot and destroy and create chaos. ‘What does this have to do with George Floyd?’ The world is a mess, and on top of it with people not wearing masks it spreads covid-19. So I can only hope a vaccine is sooner than later. This year will definitely give me a lot to write about.”
BraveWords: What direction is the new Dokken album going in?
Don Dokken: “I don’t want to use the word old school, but I said let’s make a record that a cross between Tooth And Nail and Under Lock And Key. Tooth is more of a raw heavy album but with melodic hooks, Lock and Key is [slicker], big production and harmonies, like a Def Leppard's Pyromania. But, I don’t get it, for years some of these newer bands just lack the melodies and harmonies. And for so many years, people weren’t playing guitars solos, it wasn’t cool. And I say ‘they just weren’t good enough to play one.’ Some of these guitar players could play three chords and that’s it, they didn’t have chops. They weren’t an Eddie Van Halen, or George Lynch, or John Norum, or Reb Beach. I’d like to see a new wave of kids that want to be a Richie Blackmore. Where are the solos and harmonies? Same thing with these new bands. One of my disappointments with these grunge bands in the ‘90s was they had the hit, good songs, but I listen to the whole album and it’s all filler. A lot of bullshit on these records, two or three good songs, seven mediocre. But in Dokken I always said every song had to be good, or we dump it and move on.”
"No Answer" lyric video:
(Don Dokken live photo by James Garvin)