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A Brief History of Dokken

I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.


Dokken Is Still Rockin'

Born in Los Angeles during the "big hair" days of the early '80s, Dokken scored a number of Billboard and MTV hits before their initial breakup in 1989.

They reunited in the mid-1990s, and since then Dokken has consistently kept the flag flying for traditional, L.A.-style melodic hard rock. Currently, the band's lineup consists of vocalist and bandleader Don Dokken, drummer B.J. Zampa, guitarist Jon Levin, and bassist Chris McCarvill.

Dokken's most recent release was The Lost Songs, a 2020 compilation of rare tracks, demos, and other odds and ends spanning the band's early years.

"Broken Bones" album cover (2012)

"Broken Bones" album cover (2012)

The Early Days

Don Dokken has been kicking around the Los Angeles hard rock scene since the late 1970s, when he fronted a band called "Airborn." By the time they released a single in 1979 ("Hard Rock Woman" b/w "Broken Heart"), the band had changed its name to Dokken and they continued to ply their trade on the California circuit, trying to solidify their lineup and land a record deal.

Don's first big break came in 1981 when he got a call from the managers of the Scorpions, who were in the midst of recording their Blackout album. Scorpions vocalist Klaus Meine had just undergone throat surgery and the band needed a singer to provide "guide vocals" and backing tracks that the musicians could work around while Meine recovered. While in Germany working with the Scorpions, Dokken managed to land a European record deal for his own band, which by this time included guitarist George Lynch, drummer Mick Brown, and bassist Juan Croucier.

Dokken's debut album, Breaking the Chains, was released in Europe in late 1981 on the French label Carrere Records. (Useless trivia: though Croucier is credited with the bass work on the album, the actual bass tracks were recorded by Peter Baltes of Accept fame.)

When Dokken returned to America, their Los Angeles stomping grounds were in the midst of a hard rock major-label signing frenzy spurred by the sudden success of Quiet Riot. Dokken signed a deal with Elektra Records, who re-released a remixed version of Breaking the Chains in 1983. The final piece of the "classic" Dokken lineup, bassist Jeff Pilson, replaced Juan Croucier (who had joined crosstown rivals Ratt) just in time to appear in the music video for the album's title track.

The Rise (and Fall)

Dokken quickly gained a reputation as a must-see live act due mainly to the guitar heroics of George Lynch, who was soon being tapped by guitar magazines as the heir apparent to Eddie Van Halen.

1984's sophomore release, Tooth And Nail, showed the band's skills had grown by leaps and bounds. Relentless touring and MTV airplay for the videos for "Into the Fire," "Just Got Lucky" and the power ballad "Alone Again," which peaked at #64 on the Billboard Hot 100, earned Dokken their first Gold record.

Dokken struck platinum with their third album, 1985's Under Lock and Key, on which the band found the perfect balance between their heavy metal tendencies and slick, airplay-friendly harmonics. Charting at #32 on Billboard, Under Lock and Key included three hit singles—"In My Dreams," "It's Not Love" and "The Hunter," all of which received heavy MTV rotation. The band continued living on the road, most notably serving as the opening act for Judas Priest's highly successful Turbo tour in 1986.

Unfortunately, the ride wouldn't last. Even though 1987 proved to be Dokken's most successful year yet, the band was fraying around the edges. Personality clashes between Don Dokken and George Lynch made for great press, but it made working conditions within the band unbearable.

In early '87 Dokken released "Dream Warriors," the theme song to the third "Nightmare on Elm Street" film, and capped off the year with the release of album #4, Back For The Attack, in late Fall. Back For the Attack hit #14 on Billboard, produced two more hit singles—"Burning Like a Flame" and "Heaven Sent"—and went platinum, but by the time the band hooked up with Van Halen for the "Monsters of Rock" festival tour in the summer of 1988, tensions were at an all-time high between the band members and it was clear that the end was coming.

A live album taped in Japan, Beast From the East, appeared in 1988 but it was soon followed by the announcement of Dokken's breakup. Don Dokken released a solo album (Up From the Ashes ) in 1990, which failed to recapture the sales figures of his old band, while George Lynch formed Lynch Mob.

The Resurrection

Dokken returned in 1994 with a self titled release on the Japanese record label Victor Entertainment. Positive response in the Land of the Rising Sun resulted in the record getting remixed and re-released worldwide by Columbia Records in 1995 under the very-appropriate title Dysfunctional. Released at the height of Grunge Mania in the U.S., the album sold surprisingly well (reportedly around 250,000 copies) despite limited promotion and airplay, proving that Dokken still had a solid cult following.

An acoustic live album, One Live Night, surfaced through new label CMC International in 1996, then Dokken hit the wall—again—with 1997's Shadowlife, an ill-fated attempt to jump on the alternative-music bandwagon. Shadowlife was met with massive fan backlash and resulted in the exit of George Lynch. He was replaced by former Winger guitarist Reb Beach for 1999's return-to-form Erase the Slate and 2000's Live From the Sun live album.

Reb Beach left the band almost as quickly as he'd arrived, and for the next few years, Dokken suffered from near-constant personnel instability. 2002's Long Way Home brought in new guitarist John Norum (ex-Europe) and bassist Barry Sparks (UFO, Ted Nugent), then guitarist Jon Levin came aboard for 2004's Hell To Pay.

For the next several years, constant touring and the release of numerous "greatest hits" compilation albums helped to keep the band in the public eye. Dokken's 2008 studio album, Lightning Strikes Again, was their most successful in a number of years, achieving a Billboard chart position of #133 and garnering some of the strongest reviews they'd had since the glory days of the 1980s.

Greatest Hits, a 2010 collection of re-recorded classics with several new tracks added, marked the recording debut of new bassist Sean McNabb, and Dokken also made a splash on the viral-video scene by appearing in a series of humorous commercials for Norton Anti-Virus software, of all things.

"Protect your Chicken from Dokken!"

Broken Bones' release was followed, as usual by extensive touring. While Dokken's fans would surely love another album in the mold of their '80s classics, Don says:

"I write what comes from the heart, I don't believe in writing music trying to repeat what you've already done. I understand what the fans want but as an artist, I see no point in painting the same picture over and over. Our label hates me to say that and I'm sure the fans too. So we're walking a tight rope trying to keep everybody happy without selling out."

This long-time fan enjoyed Broken Bones and I consider it another worthy entry in the band's impressive catalog.

Hell Freezes Over?

After years of rumors and speculation, the "classic" lineup of the band (Dokken, Lynch, Pilson, and Brown) reunited for a half dozen live shows in Japan in the Fall of 2016, including a co-headlining slot at the prestigious Loud Park Festival alongside the Scorpions.

Unfortunately for Dokken fans in the rest of the world, Japan was as far as this "reunion tour" went—they played one warm-up gig in the U.S. at the Badlands Pawn complex in Sioux Falls, South Dakota before heading to the Land of the Rising Sun, but since their return from Japan, the "current" line up of Don, Jon Levin, Mick Brown, and Chris McCarvill picked up where they left off. The Japanese reunion was commemorated with a live CD/DVD package entitled Return To The East Live (2016), which was released by Frontiers Records in April 2018.

"Unleashed in the East 2016" tour poster

"Unleashed in the East 2016" tour poster

© 2012 Keith Abt


Moral Man on August 14, 2017:

Dokken is the best of the heavy metal bands. They have great voices, great songs, and awesome guitar playing. Dream Warriors, The Hunter, Into the Fire, Breaking the Chains, Alone Again, You just got lucky, and Heaven sent are favorite hits. They are incredibly talented. There arent many other bands that can match them in talent. In a word, Dokken are awesome.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on June 16, 2014:

Hi Hackslap - I don't think Dokken's story is much different from any other '80s band; a mix of fame, clashing egos and alcohol/drugs eventually led to the inevitable breakup....

Harry from Sydney, Australia on June 16, 2014:

Wow I'm surprised I never came across this hub before .. Dokken's one of my favorite metal groups from the 80's and George Lynch is probably one of the best axe-men out there ...I could be wrong but I've heard it was essentially Don's attitude which broke the group apart after the 'Back of the Attack' era..

tammy b on April 02, 2014:

I have been a true Dokken fan for the past 32 years and love them truly. Dokkens music has truly got me threw some tuff times. Thanks Don

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on June 10, 2012:

Thanx Doks! Glad you stopped by!!

Doksdad on June 10, 2012:

Great work Keef!!!

Jon on May 23, 2012:

I hope your voice heals!

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on May 23, 2012:

Don, is that really you? Wow! Thanks for stopping by!!

Don DOKKEN on May 23, 2012:



Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 04, 2012:

Thanx Eturnl... as for the videos, use the arrow buttons on top of the video capsule to move/adjust the size of the video windows...

Eturnl from Colorado on March 03, 2012:

Would like to know how you got the videos small and of to the side love the hub and love Dokken

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 02, 2012:

As usual, thanx for stoppin' by, Manny.

Manny on March 02, 2012:

As usual I enjoyed the cliff notes version of Dokken's history

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 29, 2012:

Thanx for the kind words and the Facebook support, Shinkicker -- appreciated!!

Shinkicker from Scotland on February 29, 2012:

Nice Hub, you've captured their history very succinctly. Not a band that have really hit the heights but a solid back catalogue there.

Cheers FatFreddysCat, voted up and shared on Facebook. I'm sure other Rock fans will be interested about a new album.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 29, 2012:

Thanx Joker!

theJOKERiv on February 29, 2012:

Great write-up! Rockin' With Dokken!