Dokken became one of the biggest acts on the planet towards the late 80s with their MTV friendly anthems and the striking Don Dokken/George Lynch axis. Rushonrock Editor Simon Rushworth spoke exclusively to the man behind the band following the release of early years compilation The Lost Songs: 1978-1981.
Rushonrock: Did you genuinely believe that the music that appears on The Lost Songs was gone forever?
Don Dokken: Believe me, these songs were lost for a long time. I was home in LA and I decided to move some stuff. I opened a storage locker and found this box with a bunch of reel-to-reels in it. A lot of it wasn’t even marked but I have a friend who has an old reel to reel machine and I took them to him. He said we’d have to bake them as they’d been left for so long but after that we put them on and I was going ‘oh yeah, I remember that’ and ‘I’d forgotten all about that version’. Some of the songs weren’t done and some were just recorded with a drum machine. We were going to record a new album but at that point I had nothing else to do so I thought I’d work on them. I contacted the record company and said it might be fun to put the newly discovered songs on an album. Some of the stuff is original and some isn’t but it’s all based on those reel to reels. There was an album called Back On The Streets which was a bootleg featuring tracks stolen from me that I recorded around the same time – some guy in Germany stole the tapes and released the songs. But it wasn’t a true representation of the band at the time. I wanted to release something official so we set about re-recording some of the guitar parts and doing the drums and basically getting The Lost Songs ready to be rediscovered!
Rushonrock: Much of the material sounds nothing like the Dokken that fans will remember from the late 80s – was this at the back of your mind when you started The Lost Songs project?
DD: That was always going to be the problem with this. I could have taken three or four of the songs that weren’t finished and made them into brand new, punchy sounding tracks. I actually went the opposite way. I stripped them back and said to the guys in the band let’s try and stay true to the retro sound. I don’t really care what people think about that. It’s what I wrote at the time and that’s the way the band sounded back then. Things changed when George came into the band and we developed our sound. But The Lost Songs is what we sounded like back in the early days. That’s what I was doing when I was 25. I guess it does sound a little naïve and the arrangements might be quite simple but it’s a true representation of those songs as they were. I talked to a lot of my friends and fans of the band before I decided to record The Lost Songs and their feedback was important – they knew what was coming and accepted it.
Rushonrock: What were your reference points and influences during the late 70s?
DD: The NWOBHM was pretty much all I cared about back in the early days. Most of the other bands back home were just listening to US music but I was always drawn to the British and German metal bands and I guess that does come across on The Lost Songs. When I bought Judas Priest’s Wings Of Destiny in 1976 I was hooked. After that I followed bands like Saxon and Accept and I was really into the metal scene. I wasn’t really into what was going on in Hollywood – with the exception of Van Halen. I did a few shows with them before they put their first record out and I loved those guys. But I actually chose to do a tour of Germany instead of a tour of the US mainly because most of the bands I was into were metal bands popular in the UK and Europe. We went over there in 1979, found someone to book a few clubs for us and saw how well we were received. We were hyped up because we’d come over from America but then the fans came to see us because of the music we played – rather than because of where we’d come from.
Rushonrock: You really bucked the trend by coming over to Europe as a young US band rather than staying home and building your fanbase there…
DD: It was very rare for American bands to do it that way. But back then it was just as rare – and just as difficult – for European metal bands to come the other way. I saw Saxon and Judas Priest perform at The Whiskey and I saw Accept when they came over to the US in the early 80s. But all of these bands played to tiny crowds in little clubs because they just weren’t popular with American audiences back then. Dokken, to an extent, were the same. We were a better fit for the UK and European market at around the time we were playing the material that appears on The Lost Songs.
Rushonrock: How did you first meet Michael Wagener…and just how significant would that meeting prove to be in terms of Dokken’s evolution?
DD: I met Michael in Germany. He was working as an engineer in the studio which was right across the street from a club we were playing in Hamburg. He checked us out and said we should come over to the studio after the show. Michael said we could record some stuff after hours on the down low. We snuck into the studio and recorded a bunch of songs – they were the songs that I later discovered had been stolen. I went back to Germany in 1980 to do another run of shows on a short tour. It was freezing cold but the trip worked out ok as I met Dieter Dierks – he was producing Scorpions at the time and I ended up singing background vocals on the Blackout album. In the end we recorded Dokken’s debut album Breaking The Chains at Dieter’s studios in Cologne with Michael as producer. That chance meeting with Michael in Hamburg turned out to be hugely important as we ended up working with Michael on and off for the next 15 years.
Rushonrock: What was it like to work with George Lynch in the early days and was there always a spark and a connection between the two of you?
DD: From the day that George joined the band we started butting heads. There were two alpha personalities in the mix and that was never going to work. We made some fantastic music together but everyone thinks we were a songwriting duo. That’s just not true. We never wrote a song together! I’d got the deal to produce a Don Dokken record – it was supposed to be a solo record and in my opinion that’s what it was. But I’d called George and Mick [Brown] as I needed a band. So they flew to Germany and rented some old bombed out cellar and we started writing the album there. It was the usual situation – we asked each other what songs we’d got. I had a bunch and George had a bunch and I think we came up with about 14 in the end. We picked 11 that we wanted on the record and I never knew what happened to the rest.
Rushonrock: And that was the genesis of The Lost Songs?
DD: I guess so. I just assumed the record company had kept the tapes but I should have known better as they were a shambles! A few years later the owner of the studio where we cut our debut said he didn’t want to store old tapes any more. He said he had around 500 tapes and he was asking all of the bands and musicians to come and collect what belonged to them. I went over there, picked up my tapes and just threw them in the garage. I forgot all about them.
Rushonrock: Now you’ve found them again – and released them – what about Dokken’s future, rather than the band’s past?
DD: We’re making a new record and have been for some time. We’re more than halfway through. We wrote so much stuff for 2012’s Broken Bones – our last studio album – but that’s when I could still play the guitar. I’d built a little recording studio at home. I was using ProTools in my bedroom and just working out of my house. But I can’t play any guitar right now and that’s a big problem. It’s difficult now because my right arm is still paralysed following surgery last year. At the time I thought ‘oh shit, how am I going to play on the new album?’. But I went back and listened to the recordings from the Broken Bones sessions and realised we had six or seven unfinished songs. I thought we had enough to make a new record even if I couldn’t contribute on the guitar. It’s just pure luck those songs were there.
Rushonrock: So you’re feeling positive about the new album despite the setbacks?
DD: It’s going to be a great album. Jon [Levin] is a great guitarist and I can still sing! Jon has been writing new material and we’ve been working together over the internet. He sends ideas to me and I call him back and we get to work. It’s a good system. But Covid-19 has changed everything. Every band that I know is writing as much new material as they can. We have no choice. What else is there to do?
Dokken’s The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 is out now via Silver Lining Music