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DOKKEN – All Keyed Up?
Dave Reynolds
Metal Forces, Issue 17 (1986)

Dokken (l-r): Mick Brown, Jeff Pilson, Don Dokken and George Lynch

Unlike in the United States, taking a shopping trip after half past five in the evening is futile, because that’s when the working day for most Britons comes to an end; doors are locked and all your shop assistants and owners go home to watch Eastenders or Coronation Street. There are exceptions of course, usually “all-night” supermarkets around the corner owned by enterprising Asians; but these are, in comparison, few and far between.

I met Dokken members George Lynch and Jeff Pilson after they had just tried to do a spot of shopping in one of London’s infamous tourist traps and home of Music For Nations, Carnaby Street, and were a mite pissed off because everything was closing down for the day. A far cry from the US where shopping malls don’t close until nine o’clock, and a good many other stores including record shops perhaps an hour or two later. To be honest, I’m sure this is one of the reasons why the UK’s economy is so bad. Anyway, back to Dokken.

The band have recently been in Europe touring as support act to Accept, which included a seven date UK jaunt. Dokken’s latest album, Under Lock And Key, has only just been put out in the UK (to coincide with the tour), although if, like me, you can’t wait for such occurrences you’ll already have picked up US or German pressings about four months ago.

Now I’ve always been in two minds about Dokken. On the one hand I’ll agree that they are a fine bunch of musicians and have a pretty good collection of songs, but on the other they’ve always struck me as being a little too restrained; a little too laid back in style. They’ve never realty been heavy enough for the style of music they were supposed to represent and if you remember, that was the Accept style, if you’ve been following the band’s fortunes from day one like I have!

Of course nowadays they get mentioned in the same breath as Ratt, Mötley Crüe and the Scorpions, a band you may recall that mainman Don Dokken is pretty good mates with through his longstanding association with Dieter Dierks. Where the mainman was I did not know, for Dokken’s record label Elektra had arranged for me to talk with the band’s guitarist and bassist.

So how come it’s taken Dokken so long to get to Europe to tour in earnest? Jeff: “Nobody invited us before!!” George: “As you know we played a little bit in Germany a few years ago, but that’s about it. I guess that the sales figures for the Tooth And Nail album didn’t warrant us coming over here.”

You must have a considerable market in Germany though? George: “Well I guess we do.” Jeff: “Yeah, it’s probably the country in Europe where we sell the most albums.”

Originally Ratt were supposed to be playing support to Accept in Europe weren’t they? Jeff: “Yeah, but for some reason they decided not to, so Accept came to us and asked whether we would be interested in doing the tour.”

Have you played with Accept before? Jeff: “No, but we’ve played with just about everybody else! Last year we played with Twisted Sister, Dio, Sammy Hagar, Krokus, Kiss… quite a year last year!”

Is there any way you’ll be able to break out into a headlining act? George: “Well we will be when we go back to the States.”

Dokken’s new album Under Lock And Key is doing quite well for them in the United States even though it’s only a few months old and yet to grow, as it were. I mean, look at how Autograph’s debut album, Sign In Please, stayed dormant for nearly a year before increased radio play of ‘Turn Up The Radio’ forced it right into the Billboard Charts!

However, when I played Under Lock And Key for the first time I found to my disappointment that it was even less heavy than Tooth And Nail. George: “Really? There are a couple of songs on there that are kinda light but the stuff that’s heavy is heavy, it’s got a much better production.”

Having said I found it less heavy I’ve got to admit that the opening track, ‘Unchain The Night’, is one of the best things you’ve done. George: “I think there’s a real good mix on that song. ‘Til The Livin’ End’ and ‘Lightning Strikes’ are also real good, heavy songs as well.”

I’ve got to hand it to the band though, that whatever the song there’s always a hook line that sticks in your mind all the time. George: “Yeah, we try to write the whole album like that. To be on our album a song has to have a reason to be there, it has to be something that people would remember. Once we’ve established that, we can branch out and write songs that don’t necessarily have to have a hook.”

But do you write for the radio? Jeff: “No, we write for our own tastes. It’s like the other day I was listening to the first Montrose album, a band that I’m a real big fan of. I could see whilst I was listening to it why that album was never the huge mega success I always thought, at the time it was made, that it would be, because it doesn’t contain those hooks even though the material is great. So we want to have the hooks and that kind of energy Montrose had to make the songs more song-worthy, so we can be mega-successful. Ha! Ha!”

I might add that Jeff’s tongue was firmly in his cheek when he added that gem, lest you think we’re dealing with one of those tiresome big-headed bands. Now I knew that these guys are pretty much down-to-earth people but there’s been such a big deal made that the band just does not get on with each other, that there’s always dissatisfaction and in-fighting. The American press appear to be the ones that get a great kick out of this ‘fact’… Jeff: “Somewhere along the line the whole thing’s been blown way out of proportion and I think you’re right, the press do seem to get a kick out of it.”

But then again, it has given the band an awful amount of media attention just because of that fact! George: “Which is probably why the people who blew it out of proportion did, because they’ve seen that it’s worked! So guys like you can ask us about it and we can say that it’s just a bunch of bullshit!”

Well, how about the story that was going around when Dokken was formed that you taught Eddie Van Halen how to play guitar George?! “Oh yeah! He still owes me for the lessons!” Jeff: “That’s funny, I taught Paul McCartney how to sing and play bass!” George: “No, that’s bullshit! I couldn’t believe it when I read that story. How old do you think I am?!”

I don’t know George, but I’ve got a hilarious video of you with short hair from German TV of 1981 vintage that also shows Juan Croucier (later to join Ratt) with a Fargo T-shirt on as a member of Dokken!! “Oh no! Ha! Ha!”

And, what’s more, I’ve also got Xciter demos with you and Mick (Brown; Dokken’s dynamic drummer) struttin’ your stuff on ’em! George: “You’ve got all the bad stuff on us! No wonder we’re not big over here. Ha! Ha!”

Yeah, want some more? Tell me how you got involved in Mike Varney’s Cinema and the Rock Justice LP Jeff?!! “Oh boy! Mike and I started doing demos for this project that Marty Balin was putting together and I came in and played bass and sang, then we branched out and formed a band called Cinema which also included Leonard Haze from Y&T. We did the album, (which also includes contributions by Phil Kennemore of Y&T and Gere Fennelly who later joined Anvil Chorus), but it didn’t work so that was it!”

So how did you hook up with Dokken? Jeff: “Through Mike Varney. Don called him up one day and asked him if he knew any bass players that could sing, so Mike put me into contact with Don and it’s just been one big happy family ever since. Ha! Ha!”

How does Dokken fit in with what’s happening in LA now? If Kelv Hellrazer is to be believed, it’s the centre of the US glam explosion at the moment. Jeff: “Dokken wants to be the band that’s not glam anymore. Ha! Ha! (this guy is a laugh a minute seriously!)”

Really? So how come on the cover of your new album you’ve got your hair ratted up and stuff?! George: “That was Jeff’s idea!” Jeff: “Yeah, I invented ratted-up hair… after I taught Eddie Van Halen how to play guitar!”

George: “There used to be a scene in LA but from what I can see that doesn’t exist anymore. In LA now it just seems to be full of bands that mimic bands that have broken out of LA; there’s no bands creating anything new.”

How come Don decided to concentrate on singing? Was it because he couldn’t compete with George as a guitar player?! George: “It wasn’t a matter of competing, it was a matter of lack of focus in the band. We were a little non-descript at that point (just before Tooth And Nail arrived) so we psyched it up a little bit, sound-wise and look-wise.”

Jeff: “We really had an idea for the sound we were going for with just George playing guitar. The main thing was having a lead singer and the band, performance-wise, has come a thousand miles since.”

Was it always Don who was to be the frontman? You could’ve done the job equally as well Jeff? George: “Yeah, but have you ever heard Don play bass?!!!” The interview is brought to a temporary standstill as we all curl up laughing our heads off!

So guys, this is the mighty Metal Forces. What’s your opinion on thrash metal? Jeff: “Anything that’s good is fine with me. There’s some good thrash metal bands and there’s some bad ones.” George: “It’s like punk… another step further really. It seems to appeal to 15-year-old boys with overactive glands.”

Whereas you seem to appeal to 15-year-old girls, which is much better don’t you think?! Jeff: “Yeah! Especially if they have overactive glands! Seriously, I love extremes. I think it’s great when bands do that, it’s just that the thrash metal thing doesn’t happen to be our thing. But I love that energy, which we try to put across. ‘Lightning Strikes Again’ is a real energetic tune… wait ’til you hear it live.”

I think your most energetic and heaviest track is the title track on the Tooth And Nail album, that even crept into Bernard Doe’s thrash filled Top 20 albums of 1984! Are you a 15-year-old girl with overactive glands Bernard?!

So, what do you think of being called a “poser faggot band” by the anti-Crüe / Ratt / glam metal brigade? George: “Well, I can understand it. If I was a kid into Slayer and Anthrax I would be put off by Dokken – seriously! But the only thing I could equate it to when I was younger and listening to the most extreme stuff I could get my hands on would be Journey or something. I don’t think we’re a poser or a sell-out band. We can fill that gap, not that we want to, but because we have some melody. We also play hard rock that we’ve been playing all our lives and we’ll continue to play it.

“If it’s fast then people might call it thrash metal, or if it’s slow then they call it dirge metal or gothic death rock. Y’know what I mean? Or if it’s got melody to it then it’s a ballad and you guys are selling out. We’re not trying to appeal to everybody; we just play a lot of different kinds of hard rock music.”

Jeff: “But there are a great many people we do appeal to, so whatever we’re doing must be right.”

Need I say more?

Interview taken from Metal Forces, Issue 17 (1986)

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