Lake Tahoe’s mid-May snowfall probably made Don Dokken feel right at home. Huge winters are frozen in the heavy metal rock singer’s childhood memory banks.
The bandleader of Dokken, which performed May 16 in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe, said he grew up in Kings Beach “centuries ago” in a house at the intersection of Coon Street and Steelhead Avenue. He hasn’t been back in many years.
During an interview with Tahoe Onstage, Dokken was surprised to learn there is now a roundabout at the end of Coon Street on Highway 28, and sidewalks, too.
“There were no sidewalks when I was growing up,” he said. “There was only one place to hang out as a kid, it was called The Pantry. I’d walk in the snow up to my waist with my dog down to The Pantry and we played pool and pinball and listened to music. We didn’t go to school half the time because the Truckee shortcut was snowed in.”
Dokken attended Truckee High School because North Tahoe High in Tahoe City was yet to be built, and neither was the one at Incline Village – “They built that for the rich kids just as I was leaving,” he said. “Things change. The world changes, it continues to change. Music changes.”
About 10 years after leaving Tahoe, Dokken in 1978 changed into a rock star. His quartet played an amalgamation of punk and pop rock– glam metal, bursting on the Los Angeles scene with fellow head-bangers Ratt, Quiet Riot and Mötley Crüe. The band Dokken had 14 singles and sold more than 10 million albums.
Dokken and drummer Mick Brown are the remaining founding members. Guitarist Joel Levin joined 12 years ago. Mark Boals is the new bassist. Dokken said the band averages 50 shows a year, although it did not play at all in 2014. It has 25 booked for this summer, followed by tours in Europe and Japan.
Dokken survived an era infamous for sex, drugs and rock and roll, and, as a bandleader, he developed his acumen for business.
“Needles in their arms and cocaine abuse; it was never my cup of tea,” Dokken said of many of his peers. “I was always too busy to get high.
“We did pretty well back in the day but I have made much more financially in other avenues, the stock market and real estate. So I am basically set. I love to play and I love to sing, so it’s nice to be able to play a show without doing it because you have to. You are doing it because you want to. Some bands weren’t so lucky. They thought the party was going to last forever and they spent their money and bought too many Ferraris. I have a Ferrari but just one, not four.”
Dokken’s childhood in a mostly undeveloped Lake Tahoe was shaped by his town’s fortuitous location near San Francisco, the 1960s seminal music hub. The Kings Beach Bowl was a venue for Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jimi Hendrix, Moby Grape, Richie Havens, the Grateful Dead, Canned Heat and the Doors.
“They weren’t just playing the Fillmore,” he said. “There was a big, big venue. It was an old bowling alley. They took out all the lanes and they put psychedelic paint all over the walls and they had light shows and a PA and it was like $5 to get in, and all those bands who were playing the San Francisco scene in ’67-68 when I was in high school, I got to see all those bands. There were no chairs. You just sat on the floor. It was the hippie days.”
Dokken’s mother worked at the Cal-Neva, which was once owned by Frank Sinatra. He said his mother took him to the casino’s green (musicians’) room to meet entertainers, including Dean Martin.
The combination of being exposed to great music and severe winters was conducive to Dokken’s musical development. He had a group of high school friends who practiced at his mother’s house.
“We had a band and as anybody knows who has lived in Lake Tahoe in the winter there’s not much to do because it’s snowing like hell,” he said.
Dokken isn’t the only heavy metal rock star with Tahoe roots. Chuck Garric, who plays bass with Alice Cooper and lead guitar with his band Beasto Blanco, grew up in the 1980s in South Lake Tahoe. Garric was 14 years old when he had first public performance, a battle of the bands at the Sahara Tahoe, which was later named the Horizon Casino Resort and in January became the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe, where Dokken appeared.
Before the show, the said, “We’re going to play the hits “Breaking the Chains,” “Into the Fire,” End of My Dreams” and some other songs like “Too High to Fly” from “Dysfunctional” we did in ’92 and some newer stuff from the last 10 or 12 years,” Dokken said. “We’re going to mix it up and hopefully they’ll let us play a long show. It’s just a good show. People need to come and see it. The band is sounding great and now with Mark in the band, who is a lead singer himself, the harmonies are sounding great. It’s pretty fun.
“It’s my last show (on the tour), so I am thinking about taking and extra day and just drive around the lake. I love the lake. I just might rent a boat and just go puck around because I know all the places I used to hang out, the coves I used to swim in. … I’d love to see some old high school friends if they’re still alive.”