US hard rockers Dokken had multi-platinum success in the mid to late eighties with classics of the genre such as ‘Under Lock And Key’ and ‘Back For The Attack’. However like all success stories there are tales of trials and tribulations in the preceding years which helped to make the band who they became.
Words: Ian Sutherland
Some of the songs which came out of that period are contained in ‘The Lost Songs: 1978-1981’, released through Silver Linings Music on 28 August 2020.
Sunset Strip in L.A. is famous for being a haven for all things glam and hard rock in the eighties but it wasn’t always that way.
As main man and driving force of all things Dokken, Don himself confirmed to MetalTalk: “The New Wave music scene was becoming very popular on the strip and I did not play this kind of music. In Germany, bands like Saxon, Scorpions and Accept were very popular. These bands were not that well known in America in the late seventies, so that’s why I went to Germany.”
The songs on this album, while released under the Dokken banner, cover a period from when it was all just about writing songs through the early line ups and formation of Dokken the band, and the line up which would record debut album ‘Breaking The Chains’.
“They’re just songs I was working on in the late seventies in my studio and some of my friends had studios as well. I recorded a lot of these songs in Germany in 1979 when I did my first tour. I met Michael Wagner while on tour and he invited us to go into his studio and record some demos at his recording studio in Hamburg, Germany.
“Other studios as well in Los Angeles let me go in and work late at night, so I went in and was just writing for the sake of writing music.” says Don.
Opening track ‘Step Into The Light’ has that gritty feel that was used but smoothed out a little on ‘…Chains’. ‘Rainbows’ is more of a mid-tempo slow burner of a tune while ‘No Answer’ has a cool vibe, maybe with a nod to the more mature sounds to come from the band down the road.
The energetic ‘Hit And Run’ surely must have been a contender for inclusion on the debut while ‘Broken Heart’ has a much rawer feel.
These songs comprise the least familiar of the eleven tracks on this release. They are originally from demos but have had some work.
“I was cleaning out my garage and storage lockers last year because I was moving to New Mexico and came across several boxes of old analog tapes that had been there for 35 years or more, so I took them to a studio to see what was on them and this is what I came up with.” explains Dokken.
“The boys in my band helped me finish up the songs. Some of the songs only had a drum machine and that sounded terrible and there were songs that did not have any solos, so I had my guitarist Jon Levin put solos on some of the songs and my drummer BJ Zampa put real drums on.”
The other half of the album features the songs from the unofficial ‘Back In The Streets’ EP which will be familiar to Dokken aficianados.
“I worked on those songs by remastering them to make better quality sound. They are the same versions as I had no choice because that is a bootleg album and I did not have the masters to work on.
The tapes had been stolen and came out a few years after we became famous.”
The four studio cuts are all heading towards that classic ‘Breaking The Chains’ vibe with ‘Felony’ inevitably standing out, although this is a rawer cut than the version on the debut.
The collection is rounded out by live recordings of ‘Liar’ and ‘Prisoner’ which are a great snapshot of what the band sounded like at that time.
While this is a hugely enjoyable slice of Dokken past, the band is of course a going concern. Looking to the future, Don addressed his well documented health concerns.
“I’m fine, but my right hand is still paralysed, so time will tell if someday I will play guitar again.I am hoping for the best.
“We are playing two concerts in a few weeks – outdoors in Virginia and Arkansas. We will see how it works out. There is nothing we can do about Covid.
“Nobody is touring now, but we are headlining two big festivals and we will see how it goes. Fingers crossed that we don’t catch Covid on the six flights we have to take to do the shows!.”
An album of brand new material is also in the works.
Don concludes: “We are almost finished writing the songs and have been working on a new album for many, many months. We are just waiting to find a way for the four of us to get together and do the final recordings, right now we are working via skype.
“Covid has changed the world so we will just continue to write new songs until it is time to go back on tour to support a new album.”