February , 1984
By Greg Garrett
Giving Up Europe to Dokken America
Although the name is a bit misleading, and the history of band itself has European roots to it, you’d never know that Dokken is as American as apple pie and power chords. The fact is, before this band made a home and name for itself overseas, they actually got their start in Los Angeles.
Lead singer Don Dokken was playing the club circuit in and around Southern California when he was spotted one day by noted Scorpions producer Dieter Dirks. In 1981, after a world tour and during the recording of the Blackout album, vocalist Klaus Meine lost his voice to the extent that he couldn't even speak properly. Meine was advised by his doctor to consider another profession because of his voice problems. However, after therapy and two vocal cord surgeries, Meine's voice recovered. During the interim, Dierks had remember Don Dokken’s remarkable voice, and asked him to fly out to Germany.
While Dokken was working on some demo tracks, the producer asked the singer if he would be interested in doing backup vocals and some tracking for the Scorpions new album. Klaus Meine was recovering from some vocal cord problems, and the band was already hard at work on new material. Don agreed to do whatever he could to help the band out.
"I met the producer of the Scorpions, Dieter Dierks, in Germany,” recalled Dokken of his roundabout way of getting signed to a label, “while I was on tour in that country. He came to one of our shows and really like me. Later he flew to Los Angeles and saw me at the Whisky in Hollywood. He hated my band and said, 'Quit your group, come to Europe and I'll pay for you to make some demos.'
“While I was in Cologne at Dieter’s studio, he asked me if I'd like to sing on the Scorpions' Blackout album. Klaus was having some throat problems, and he thought my voice was very similar because of the vibrato and all. I said sure and did background vocals and sang the higher stuff, because I'm a tenor. I also did some of the lead vocals by helping them with the arrangements. Klaus was burnt from touring and his voice was in no shape to record an album. He finally recovered and came in and finished up. I was just sort of a workhorse. Some of the high parts, and even some of the lead they liked a lot, so they just left them on the record.”
While doing recording work at Dierks studio, the band Accept was also recording an album. The group’s manager, Gaby Haukes, offered to assist Don secure a record deal. She did that by helping him sign a deal with Carrere Records in Germany. Breaking the Chains was first released in that country under the name Don Dokken. It was shortened simply Dokken in the United States when Elektra bought the distribution rights to the record for the U.S.
“I got a record deal with Carrere after recording some songs,” said Dokken. “Since we did the demos in Dieter's studio, I felt like we owed it to him to do the album there. George and Mick were originally in the band called Xciter, and when I got signed to Carrerre, I needed a band. Obviously I called them up and asked if they'd go in with me. They said yes, came to Germany, and we did the album."
Los Angeles was a pretty competitive place to be back then. Dokken had played on bills with groups like Van Halen, Motley Crue and Quiet Riot who were also active on the club scene. Going overseas seemed like a logical thing to do at the time.
"Europe was big and I was known there,” replied the singer of his decision to release his debut outside the country. “I basically just said, 'Screw it, go to Europe.' I kept playing Europe every year because they wanted to hear heavy metal, but the last time I came back, suddenly America was receptive to heavy metal."
The group pulled together and played across Europe in 1981 and early 1982. A gig for a hooker's convention was one of their most interesting dates.
"When I left the States,” relayed the singer, “The Knack was really the big thing. That skinny tie music is what record companies were looking for. A three-piece heavy metal band like Dokken couldn't get a gig. We were a real dinosaur.
“Europe seemed like the right fit for the band when the album was released. Then we found ourselves in a bit of a dilemma. We were melodic, but liked playing heavy. Then after some discussion, we just decided not to worry about it and to go for a different sort of sound, something that would draw all kinds of fans together."
When Dokken returned to America, Elektra Records was waiting with a contract. Melodic metal was cool, and the band already had a bonafide hit single with the title track “Breaking The Chains.”
“We’re in the right place at the right time now,” declared Dokken. “You watch, bands like Dokken and Def Leppard are going to break big very soon. Some people think that this melodic pop metal is a craze. I’m here to tell you it is not.
“Big arenas have always relied on rockers to fill their venues. New wave is a trend that is dying out. Duran Duran is the big deal right now and even they’re being knocked off by The Fixx and other band’s wearing Gentlemen Quarterly clothes. The same thing happened with The Knack. Before you knew it, there were 15 other bands performing in suits with and skinny ties.
“On the other hand, you can go back to the days of Cream, Iron Butterfly and even Deep Purple. They were all heavy metal bands in the late ‘60s before the term was even coined. This music is never going to go away. Fads come and go, but rock is here to stay.
Dokken sees Def Leppard as a band that will make a giant statement with its music this decade. He calls the group’s Pyromania album simply brilliant.
“Leppard was the first heavy metal band that could sing harmonies and do it extremely well,” stated Dokken. “Compared to bands like Saxon, that scream bloody murder, it’s like night and day. Leppard has the songs people will remember 20, 30 years from now. They don’t bludgeon you over the head with heavy handed music.
“One of the reasons our album is going up the charts is the fact we have songs on their people can relate to and also remember. If you want to call us mainstream metal, I’ve got no problem with that. The hard core metal bands would scoff at the idea, but I’d rather be playing arenas with the type of music we play than clubs. We’re a high energy band and our sole intent is for the music to sell Dokken. The props will come later.”