School of Hard Rocks
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Being a 13-year-old guitar player in 1986 meant that a good portion of my free time was spent plowing through stacks of cassettes and Guitar World magazines, attempting to learn the guitar madness I was hearing on those cassettes. In middle school, I was all about hammer-ons, speed-picking, and walls of riffs.
Thanks to California and the Sunset Strip, there were plenty of bands to choose from that were offering up plenty of all of the above: Ratt, Tesla, Great White, Quiet Riot, Van Halen, White Lion, and any other band you could find streaming on Hair Nation as I type this. There’s the School of Hard Knocks, and there’s the School of Hard Rocks. I was a fledging member of the latter for those formative years.
One band that was of significant importance to the L.A. music scene, and to me personally, was Dokken. The band consisted of Don Dokken, George Lynch, Jeff Pilson, and Mick Brown, and were one of the premier bands of the ’80s hard rock scene, not only because they were incredible musicians, but because they could write great songs. They could satisfy the headbangers as well as the headbangers’ significant others. You could mosh and slow dance, all at the same Dokken show.
My first exposure to the L.A.-based hard rock quartet that gave us classic tracks like “Tooth and Nail,” “Alone Again,” “It’s Not Love,” and “In My Dreams” was from a secondhand Memorex cassette I discovered in my older brother’s bedroom. I had a single speaker GE boom box that needed to be broken in, so what better place to find the goods than big bro’s room? The title Tooth and Nail stuck out, way more than Hair of the Dog and Defenders of the Faith. To say that album hit my 9-year-old brain hard is an understatement. To say my brother didn’t nearly kill me because I was rummaging through his room when he wasn’t around is also an understatement.
The damage had been done. I was now “Rockin’ with Dokken.”
From 1981 to 1987, that classic line-up released four chart-topping metal albums, as well as writing “Dream Warriors” for the A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 : Dream Warriors soundtrack. But after 1988’s live album Beast From The East, Dokken broke up for solo ventures. Besides a time in the mid-’90s when the original line-up came back together, for the most part the only original members to remain in Dokken are its namesake, lead singer Don Dokken and drummer “Wild” Mick Brown. They have kept that Dokken magic alive for nearly 40 years, and they’re bringing that magic to Wabash on Saturday, September 8, at the Honeywell Center with special guests Jack Russell’s Great White.
Nowadays, the Dokken lineup consists of Don Dokken on vocals, Jon Levin on guitar, Chris McCarvill on bass, and Mick Brown on drums. Besides those first four classic albums, Dokken pull from a wide range of releases when they’re out playing live, from mid-’90s rockers like Dysfunctional and Shadowlife, to the 2000’s Hell to Pay and Erase the Slate, clear up to 2012’s Broken Bones. With this kind of discography to pull from, anyone showing up for their Honeywell Center gig will be pleased, regardless of when you became a fan.
Last year, Don Dokken spoke to Julian Douglas of Listenjourneysavor.com about his nearly 40-year music career.
“I would have never believed it,” said Dokken when asked how his young self would’ve reacted to the news that he’d still be touring worldwide 40 years later. “I owned an auto body shop and playing was just for fun on the weekends. Looking back, I thought if we could sell out the Whisky A Go-Go, we would have accomplished our goal.”
The topic of ’80s hard rock bands touring in various forms with various personnel was also brought up to Dokken.
“They have to make a living, he replied. “I understand when original members can’t pull it together. I’m an expert on that issue, unfortunately.”
Back in 2010, Don Dokken had vocal surgery to repair nodes and tears on his vocal chords due to years of excessive use. When asked if it’s still something he worries about, Dokken said, “I worry about it every show. Some singers are blessed, like Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio, Glen Hughes, and others. They all kept there range and so on. But like Pavoratti, who never smoked and took really good care of his voice, he lost his range when he got older. It’s just the luck of the draw. My range was all there until I was almost 50, but I took my gift for granted and paid the price.”
His sage advice to young singers is simple.
“Most important, don’t smoke. Always warm up before a show and don’t talk loudly ever. All of these things I’ve done and paid for it. I’ve found that talking loud in a bar or in a crowd really kills your voice.”
On his own influences growing up and coming up in the ’70s and ’80s, Don Dokken was influenced by some of the best.
“Dio, Rob Halford, and Ian Gillan had a big impact on me,” he said. “When I first heard Judas Priest’s ‘Sad Wings of Destiny,’ it blew my mind. I loved Saxon, too.”
When asked by Douglas what the future holds for Don Dokken, his response was encouraging.
“I’m too old to work on cars, so I guess singing and writing songs is my future until my voice gives out completely, which I hope won’t be for a while,” he said. “I can name a dozen awesome famous singers that don’t have their complete range anymore. It’s just life. But they keep going. It’s a rush to be on stage. There’s nothing like it, so I keep on going. Music is my life, as was my father and grandfather. It’s in the Dokken genes.”