Dokken & Co. Is Back on the Attack
“Music has to have intensity, man . . . intensity . . . intensity ,” stressed Don Dokken, lead singer of the suddenly hot heavy metal band that bears his last name.
“If (the music) doesn’t have that, it ain’t got nuthin’. Our band has it. I mean, we really have it. People are finally tuning into what we have. We don’t have to take a back seat any more.”
Long regarded by critics and numerous other industry observers as minor-league--despite two gold albums and one platinum album--the band Dokken has suddenly made the leap to the majors. The group, which will open for Aerosmith on Thursday and Saturday nights at the Long Beach Arena, has rocketed into the national Top 20 with its fourth Elektra album, “Back for the Attack.”
At a Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills, Dokken was spewing out words at super-speed during his “intensity” rap. The waiter interrupted, bringing spring rolls.
Flip as ever, Dokken cracked to the waiter: “Say dude, how about some pizza and spaghetti?”
The waiter smiled blankly.
“That intensity,” Dokken said, returning to his favorite theme. “That intensity that shows you’re ripping your heart, your soul, your guts out for the audience--that’s what gets you over.”
But there’s more to this band’s appeal than intensity. There’s also Dokken’s vocals, George Lynch’s often stirring and long-underrated guitar-playing and increasingly strong songs.
The fury, the rage, the anger--all staples of metal--were found in abundance on the group’s three previous albums. But the songs always came up short--simmering rather than exploding. Some of the material on the latest album, however, is explosive, particularly “Kiss of Death"--about the threat of AIDS--and the searing “Burning Like a Flame.”
Like all metal bands, Dokken benefits from the current metalmania, which started with Bon Jovi’s smash hit album, “Slippery When Wet.” Like Bon Jovi, the handsome quartet--which also includes bassist Jeff Pilson and drummer Mick Brown--has acquired a large female following.
Still, you can’t get away from the intensity--which apparently carries over in the recording studio.
Tom Werman, who produced the band’s second album, “Tooth and Nail,” said in a separate interview that he almost came to blows with the “temperamental” Lynch, who, Dokken said, is infamous for giving producers fits.
Confirming Werman’s statement, Dokken said, “Once George said to (Werman), ‘I’ll kill you.’ I said, ‘Lighten up, man, it’s just music.’ ”
But producers don’t really play a major creative role in the band’s sessions, Dokken maintained. “They don’t really have any say in what happens. They’re referees. That’s what we really need.”
The word among Dokken fans is that the group’s singer and guitarist don’t get along. It’s something you can see on stage. 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.
Somehow, though, this volatility--this negative chemistry--works. “I don’t dig him and he don’t dig me,” Dokken said. “But we respect each other as musicians. He can be a total jerk, but I’m not that easy to get along with either. But when we play, it clicks.”
According to Dokken, who was in a orphanage until he was 5 and in foster homes until he was 16, he and Lynch have been getting along better lately. “Maybe it’s our current success that’s making him feel better.”
Dokken apparently has conflicts with the other members too. He attributes much of the general ill will to the fact that the band is named after him.
“Consciously or subconsciously, they resent the name,” he said. “But I’m the front man. I started the band. Financially, we split everything up equally, which is a great deal for them since the work isn’t equally split up. If you’re happy in this band, stay. If you’re not happy, leave.”
Dokken, who grew up in the black section of Venice, is proud of his roots. “I hung out with the blacks,” he said. “I wasn’t a stupid surfer like a lot of the kids.”
His friends influenced his musical tastes. “I started out liking jazz and blues, but I also liked good hard rock. That wimpy, white . . . music turned me off.”
By the late ‘70s, Dokken, then a confirmed hard-rocker, was active in the local music scene. But when he was looking for a record deal in the early ‘80s, heavy metal was out. The softer, quirkier sound of New Wave was dominant then. Dokken still carries a grudge against that music--in particular, the Knack’s huge hit, “My Sharona.”
“That song single-handedly ruined my career back then,” he recalled with a sneer. “Everybody was singing like that for a while. The local clubs stopped booking metal bands. Wimp music was in. That’s when the Cars and Devo and Elvis Costello came out. 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 with the wimps. So I went to Germany. Rock ‘n’ roll was still happening there.”
During his stay there, Dokken wangled a solo record deal with Elektra Records. He asked Lynch, with whom he’d worked in Los Angeles, to join the band because one of Lynch’s songs helped clinch the deal. At the time, Dokken was actually more interested in hiring the band’s current drummer, Mick Brown, who didn’t want to work without his close friend Lynch.
“So I took George too,” Dokken recalled. “What if I hadn’t taken George? Sometimes I wonder.”