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Don Dokken: Breaking The Chains | The Complete Story

Breaking The Chains: The Don Dokken Story

Drugs, alcohol and ego. They are a bad mix

– Don Dokken 

It is, as Bon Scott once warned anyone that would listen, a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll. And no one knows the truth and wisdom of that adage more than Don Dokken.

He’s a man who understands the true price of fame and the pound of flesh that it demands from those that it bestows its favors on and the sacrifices that they need to make to reach their goal.. 

Dokken cut his teeth in the heart of the hardest, most demanding rock and roll scene in the world, the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, at a time when nothing was taboo and amplification and degeneration walked hand in hand.

And he not only lived to tell the tale, but the band that bore his name became one of the biggest and most successful hard rock acts of the eighties and nineties. 

The Don Dokken Story

Forty years of tumultuous highs and personal and professional lows haven’t dampened Dokken’s ardor for the limelight, the call of the crowd and the lure of the stage, and the band who once reigned supreme as the Kings of the Rainbow Bar & Grill, are still doing what they always did better than anyone else.

Turning the volume up and writing, recording, and playing the sort of infectious songs that made an entire generation want to break their chains and hurl themselves headlong Into The Fire every single time they heard their favorite band on the radio or saw them on MTV. 

Going Airborn

Don Dokken wasn’t an overnight success, and he spent most of the late seventies playing the club scene in Los Angeles with a band named Airborn.

After a couple of years, his bandmates Juan Croucier and Bobby Blotzer (both of whom would later become members of another incredibly successful Los Angeles hard rock act, Ratt) left the Airborn fold and discovering that another band who were already signed and had the power of their label’s legal department behind them, Don formed the first embryonic version of Dokken. 

Following the release of their debut single, Hard Rock Woman, Dokken toured Germany early in 1979, with a new line-up and returned a year later with Juan Croucier firmly back in the fold.

At some point during the first two German tours, Dokken came to the attention of Michael Wagener, who would later record the demos that secured the band their first record deal in 1981.

By the time Dokken landed that record deal, the band included longtime drummer Mick Brown, and Don Dokken’s writing and sparring partner, guitar virtuoso George Lynch. 

Breaking The Chains, the first Dokken record was initially released as a Don Dokken record following the singer’s stint with the Scorpions while their frontman Klaus Meine recovered from vocal surgery.

Recorded in Germany with Dieter Derks at the helm between July and September of 1981, their debut record somehow found its way to manager extraordinaire Cliff Burnstein who promptly found the band a home at Elektra Records, who issues remixed version of Breaking The Chains for the domestic market.

And as 1983 rolled into view, Dokken took the stage as the main support to Blue Oyster Cult on a nationwide arena tour.  

Despite their hard-touring schedule paying off in Europe where they were starting to become a name to watch for those in the know thanks in no small part to the UK Heavy metal bible putting their considerable weight behind the band and promoting them whenever they could, things weren’t great for them in the States.

The tour with BOC wasn’t the launching pad that they’d hoped it would be, and Breaking The Chains wasn’t selling the sort of numbers that the band and their label had assumed it would. 

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Fighting Tooth And Nail 

Fearing that the band was about to be dropped by Elektra Records, Juan Crocier left Don Dokken in the lurch for the second time in 1983, mere weeks before the band was due to film the music video for Breaking The Chain.

Even though he’d later find fame with Ratt, Crocier was wrong about Dokken, and the video, filmed with the bass players replacement Jeff Pilsen, went into heavy rotation on MTV, just in time for the release of their sophomore album, Tooth And Nail, which landed in record stores in September 1984. 

Tooth And Nail was a huge hit for Dokken, gave them their first Billboard Top Fifty hit, and sold a million copies. In less than six months the Dokken had gone from being the most likely to be dropped from their label after a disastrous first album launch, to genuine rock stars.

Whatever promises George and Don had made to the God of Metal worked, as three tracks from Tooth And Nail, Just Got Lucky, Alone Again, and Into The Fire carried them to the top of the Billboard Rock Charts, and Fire would later bring the band to the attention of a whole new eager legion of rock devotees when it appeared on the soundtrack for Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors in 1987. 

Open The Lock And Throw Away The Key

Eager to capitalize on their success, between the release of Tooth And Nail, and their third album, Under Lock And Key, Dokken hit the road as the mains support for Judas Priest, Dio, KISS, Aerosmith, and AC/DC which ensured that Lock was another Platinum smash, selling over a million copies and gave the band another two, In My Dreams and The Hunter Billboard Rock Top Thirty hits for the band. 

Lock And Key also made sure that when The Scorpions arrived in the US for their 1987 tour, there was only one band that they wanted as their opening act, and that was the hard-rocking crew led by the man who’d helped them out when their own singer had been laid up in 1981. 

The tour with The Scorpions raised the band’s profile even further, which led to them recording the title song for the already mentioned third installment in the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, Dream Warriors.

The film was a box office smash, and as ticket sales for the latest installment in Freddie’s slash-a-thon increased, so did Dokken’s record sales. It was the perfect partnership, hard rock, and horror.  

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Back For The Attack And The Beast From The East 

Their relentless recording and touring schedule had taken its toll on the members of the band, and they decided to take some time off from playing to write and record their fourth album, Back For The Attack.

Proving the old adage that absence really does make the heart grow fonder when it was released in November 1987, Back entered the Billboard Album Charts at Number Thirteen and became Dokken’s third consecutive Platinum record, and once again three of Back’s thirteen tracks hurtled straight into the Billboard Rock Chart top thirty.

Dokken was on top of the rock and roll world and it felt like nothing could stop or slow them down. If you tuned into your favorite rock station or switched Headbanger’s Ball on in 1988, Dokken was there. They were everywhere. 

Their studio success opened the door and laid down the red carpet, to The Monsters Of Rock Tour, and once again Dokken found themselves on the road with The Scorpions, along with  Metallica, and Van Halen and played what was at the time, the biggest heavy metal festival in the world,  Castle Donington in England.

And when a band reaches those sorts of dizzying heights of fame and fortune, there’s the only thing that they can do in order to make sure that the fans who couldn’t get to see them didn’t miss out on the full-throttle Dokken show. They recorded a live album. 

But Dokken being Dokken didn’t just record any live album, they decided to follow the lead of the band that their destiny seemed to be inextricably linked to, The Scorpions and chose to record their live album on the Japanese leg of their World Tour.

Released in the closing moments of 1988, Beast From The East entered the Billboard Chart at Number Thirty-Three and was certified Gold before the end of the year. 

Beast From The East wasn’t their most successful record, but then no one thought it would be (as a general rule of thumb, the only heavy metal band that breaks sales records with a live album is Iron Maiden), as it was merely meant to serve as a stop-gap until the band could regroup and eventually return to the studio to record their next album.

Fate was about to deal Dokken’s fan’s an unexpected and decidedly unwelcome blow as Beast From The East was the last time that all four members of the band would appear on a record together for more than half a decade.  

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Slippin’ Away 

As Don Dokken has readily admitted, one of the worst things about success is the effect that it has on a musician’s ego.

And the band’s success caused its two principal songwriters to continually bump heads and get into the sort of arguments and fights that there’s no coming back from, and in March 1989, accentuated by the months that they’d spent on the road, George Lynch and Don Dokken ended up at each other’s throats and the band that they’d driven to multi-Platinum success came to a grinding halt. 

In the aftermath of the band’s split, Don Dokken would record his first solo album, Up From The Ashes which he initially wanted to release as a Dokken record, but was prevented from doing so by the other three members of the band having the legal right to determine what could, and couldn’t be recorded and released under the name, Dokken.

It was a contentious issue and would prove to be one of the more insurmountable troubles that would continue to be a problem between Lynch and Dokken for the next three decades, 

George Lynch and Mick Brown formed Lynch Mob after Dokken split and recorded and released two incredibly well received and commercially successful albums, 1990’s Sensation and 1992’s Lynch Mob, while Jeff Pilson would become something of a journeyman and following Dokken’s first split, would go on to play with both the McCauley Schenker Group (MSG) and Dio. 

Perfecting The Art Of Dysfunction

After recording his second album, Dysfunctional, Don Dokken found himself having to make the sort of choice that he never thought he’d be confronted by. Dokken was told by the label that wanted to sign him that if wanted Dysfunctional to sell, the best way to do it was by releasing it as a Dokken record.

And that meant having to put the band back together and work with George Lynch again. Pragmatism is a hard lesson that a lot of bands are forced to learn early in their careers, and with Pilson and Brown agreeing to revive Dokken, George Lynch also returned to the fold, but only on the condition that he be allowed to re-record all the guitar parts for the record. 

Dokken agreed, and the band signed with Columbia Records, and in 1994 despite the fact that the rock and roll world had gone grunge shaped and was about to embrace the punk rock for the second time around, Dysfunctional sold more than 300,000 records at a time when ninety-nine percent of hard rock bands were dead in the water.   

Even with a resounding thumbs up from their audience, who seemed to adore Dysfunctional and turned out in force to see the band, George and Dokken couldn’t put the past behind them, and the record’s title proved to be horribly apt, as their old rivalry took center stage.

Lynch’s antagonistic behavior during the press tour proved to be too much for Columbia Records, who dropped the band after a single album. 

The fractious relationship between Lynch and Dokken came to a decisive climax after the band released Shadowlife in 1997. Dokken accused Lynch of deliberately trying to sabotage the album, as a way to bring the band to a premature end, an accusation that, as odd as it sounds, Lynch has never publicly denied.

With Pilson and Brown firmly in his camp, Dokken fired Lynch after the album was released, and the two musicians wouldn’t speak for nearly fifteen years, and wouldn’t share the same stage as each for another two decades. 

Dokken – Then And Now 

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For most bands, that would have been the final straw, but Dokken isn’t like most bands, and following Lynch’s unceremonious departure in 1997, John Norum formerly of Europe, and Rob Beach from Winger both assumed guitar duties for the band until Dokken finally asked the bands former attorney, John Levin to join their ranks in 2003, a position he’s held ever since. 

Pilson followed Lynch and left Dokken in 2001, briefly rejoined Dio, and eventually became a full-time member of Foreigner, while Mick Brown remained with Dokken until he finally retired in 2019.

But the story of George and Don’s strange relationship didn’t end in 1997, as in 2010 both men appeared The Metal Show and said that they would perform together again and that their “previous” antagonism had all been a publicity stunt that had gone too far, and had been taken far too seriously by both parties.

Less than a week after the show aired, Dokken then publicly stated that he would never play with Lynch again, which left the guitarist stupefied as he claimed that the muted reunion was something that he’d been working toward for years and that the only thing that was preventing it from happening was Don Dokken. 

And then in 2016, the seemingly impossible happened and Don Dokken announced that Lynch and Pilson would both be returning to Dokken to play a series of Japanese dates, and one US show, and despite later stating that all of the dates were a one-off, the classic line-up of the band did record one song together, It’s Just Another Day, which would later appear on the 2018 album, Return To The East. 

While Pilson is no longer a member of Dokken and Brown has retired, Lynch is still as far as fans know, a member of Dokken and until either he or the bands founding member state categorically that he is no longer in the band, we’ll live in hope that one day we’ll see one of the greatest rivalries in the history of rock at its dysfunctional best, on a stage playing the songs that made their band one of the biggest hard rock acts in the world.

After all, stranger things have happened… 

If you’ve got a bit of time up your sleeve, grab a coffee (or beer depending on the time) and dive into this epic Monsters Of Rock documentary below, featuring Don Dokken and many other juggernauts of the time!

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