It wasn’t always multi-platinum sales and stadium gigs for Dokken. There was a first-phase and there were early days, and it is those bold first steps to stardom which are celebrated comprehensively on Dokken’s The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 album, out on August 28th 2020 through Silver Lining Music.
Featuring spectacular sleeve art by renowned US artist Tokyo Hiro (Motörhead, Motley Crüe), The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 show the crackle and craft of a hungry young Don Dokken as he embarked upon a journey which started in Southern California and Northern Germany. It is a trek which is testimony to the sheer endeavour and perseverance Don Dokken showed in those few years between 1978 and 1981, starting from when he spent time at a guitar store called Drake’s Music, owned by Drake Levin in Manhattan Beach, California.
“Drake was a guitar player in Paul Revere and the Raiders and I used to go over there in my early 20’s just to play his beautiful guitars,” says Don. “He thought I was a really good guitar player because my chops were up at the time, and he asked if I’d ever made a record. I told him I hadn’t, and he said he knew a studio called Media Art Studios (in Redondo Beach, CA) where we could go on ‘downtime’, which means after midnight, for free. So we did it.”
When Don went into the studio, he didn’t have a band, so Drake hired Rustee Allen (bass) and Bill Lordan (drums) from the Robin Trower band. Only 500 copies of that first recording were pressed, and when Levin introduced Dokken to a friend visiting LA from Hamburg, Germany, Michael Boyens (who owned the biggest venue Hamburg, The Sounds Club) Don decided it was time to head to Europe.
“Michael said I should go to Germany because rock was still happening over there during a time in L.A. when the new wave scene was booming,” remembers Don. “Bands like Judas Priest and Saxon were nobody in America. I saw them both at the Whiskey, but they were big in Europe. The rock scene was way ahead of the curve in Germany, and besides, I was a fan of all those European bands, so it made sense to go there and give it a shot.”
On arriving in Hamburg Don would meet a young engineer called Michael Wagener, who would end up producing and mixing some of the biggest rock albums of the ‘80s: Motley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Accept and of course Dokken. Like Don, Michael came from humble, hard-working beginnings.
“Michael Wagener worked in a recording studio called Tennessee Ton Studio which was about 100 yards away from a club,” says Don. “And Michael said, ‘Why don’t I run 150 ft of cable into the Sounds Club and record the gig?’ And you gotta remember, the actual gig was four floors up from the ground. Oddly enough, Michael’s studio was also four floors up. Plus the club’s elevator was broken, so he had to climb five flights of stairs just to get to the club. There was cable running across the parking lot between the two buildings. It was hilarious.”
A fair selection of the treasure on The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 are from these early European days. “Felony” carries a thuggish fuzz-coated riff -think early Van Halen in really greasy embroidered denims - while “Day After Day” showed that Don could pen a radio-slaying ballad.
“Before I went to Germany we didn’t have enough songs to play a whole show,” says Don, “so we literally scrambled. I wrote “Liar”, “Felony” and a couple other songs right there on the spot! It was a live recording, and that’s Juan Croucier playing bass by the way.” (Croucier was in the early Dokken line-up for three years). “I recorded “Day After Day” with Michael at Tennesse Ton Studio. I had that riff and basically wrote the song right there in the control room and we cut it. I played all the acoustic guitar, and it’s almost got a little bit of a Spanish solo on it.”
Those early times with Wagener were the forging of a deep friendship.
“He ended up coming to LA and basically slept on my couch,” says Don, “then I got my deal with Elektra and we became best friends for years. I mean come on, he did “Breaking the Chains”, “Under Lock and Key”, “Tooth and Nail” and he lived in my house. Those are the things that bond your soul when you’re starving and you have no money. Michael and I became best friends because we both came up the ladder at the same time.”
Indeed, the writing and creation of The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 are further tribute to enduring early days of struggle in both Germany and LA., Don would return to LA for a spell after those brief European gigs, and he worked with Croucier on material, including perhaps the truest view of Dokken’s then-future “Hit and Run”, which incredibly did not end up on the eventual Breaking The Chains release. From the sunbaked SoCal hook of “Step Into The Light” to the furious, fledgeling, late-Sunset Strip sound of “Back In The Streets,” The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 shows Don in his unfettered early days of balls-out attitude, qualities doubtless forged in the sheer nature of the adventures undertaken in writing, recording and deciding Europe was the place to keep cutting his teeth.
Dokken returned to Germany in early 1981, with Croucier, Mick Brown on drums and George Lynch on guitar. Thanks to demos recorded at Scorpions’ producer Dieter Dierks’ studios, which Accept’s manager Gaby Hauke took to Carrere Records, Don landed his first record deal. It is some of those demos which Don discovered nearly four decades later in 2019, and decided to revive with guitarist Jon Levin and drummer BJ Zampa for The Lost Songs: 1978-1981.
“Carrere found us a church with holes in the roof from the war, and told us we had ten days to come up with ten songs,” laughs Don. “We were staying at this little place called the Trost hotel, and the lady running it said she had a cellar underneath, like a bomb shelter, that we could use. So we left the church, took all our equipment down there, practised and wrote songs. The problem was that we were rehearsing in this cold, damp ‘bomb shelter’, and all of a sudden, I started losing my voice. I couldn’t figure out why my voice was all fucked up. Then Mick got sick and George got sick, and we couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then one day after about a week, Mick broke his drum-head, and when he took it off to replace it, he found that his kick drum it was lined with mold. There was mold in all his drums! Even the amps had some mold in them!”
Defying the challenging conditions, those writing sessions saw Dokken’s debut Breaking The Chains created as well as several songs which did not make the final album. The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 shows two of those early songs featuring Lynch, “No Answer” and “Step Into the Light”. “It was clear early on that even though George and I did not get along from the start, there was undeniable chemistry,” says Don. “He was just one of the best guitarists I’d ever seen, and so the music always had to come first, whatever happened.”
From these early days, Dokken would return to Southern California, where they would secure a US record deal with Elektra via A&R man Tom Zutaut and score major management in the form of the world-renowned Cliff Burnstein & Peter Mensch at Q Prime.
The story from this point on is one of sharp ascent, sales and successes reaching multiple platinum status by 1988. But the importance and relevance of those early days in both Southern California and Germany cannot be underestimated, and it is why Don Dokken has been so eager to revisit those early, halcyon days.
“Looking back, so much from that time is hilarious and crazy, from running cables across a parking lot to a club to record a gig, to the holes in that church roof to the mold in the equipment, but there is also a lot of raw magic in what we did back then and it is time to share that with the fans.”
The Lost Songs: 1978-1981 not only shares that magic with the fans, it gives them the final, vital and undeniably missing (until now) early album in the Dokken collection.
Musicians who appear on The Lost Songs: 1978-1981
Don Dokken – vocals, guitar
Jon Levin – guitar
BJ Zampa – drums
Juan Croucier – bass
Greg Leon – guitar
Gary Holland – drums
Mick Brown – drums
George Lynch -guitar
Rustee Allen - bass
Bill Lordan – drums
Greg Pecka- Drums