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Don Dokken Reflects On Life, Career On Final Dokken LP Heaven Comes Down

In the fall of 2000 during our interview to discuss The Lost Songs album project, Dokken frontman Don Dokken revealed to me his progress on an upcoming studio album. At the time, seven songs were completed with plans to write and record five more.

Now, three years later, Dokken has released Heaven Comes Down – their final studio album.

Ditching the project started in 2000, Dokken – founding member and vocalist Don Dokken, Jon Levin on guitar, Chris McCarvill on bass and BJ Zampa on drums – started fresh, writing 25 songs for a reflective musical journey of Don’s career spanning over four decades.

I caught up with Don to talk about the songwriting process for Heaven Comes Down. He gives a rundown of each track (I completely overlooked “Lost In You” – Ed.) and we find out what’s next for the man behind Dokken.

You told me in 2020 that you had some tracks left over from the Broken Bones sessions you were hoping to work into a new Dokken album. Did any of those tracks make it onto Heaven Comes Down?

We started to but just ended up starting from scratch. My mindset changed. On this record we actually ended up with four left over. The record company only wanted 10 tracks. We had 14 that I thought were killer. It’s out on vinyl. If you put 10 tracks on a record and 14 on a CD then everyone will buy the CD and it kills the record sales. We’ve got four left over that I would call A-tracks. We’ll see what happens with that. Right now I’ve just got to concentrate on this record. There were some songs from Broken Bones left over – some lyrical parts made it to this record. Musically we just started over.

Heaven Comes Down seems to be a lot more personal than any other Dokken album. Am I wrong?

No, you’re right. You hit it. Most of the songs on this record are stories. It’s definitely more personal because this is our last record. I really don’t think we’re going to make any more records. It’s not my choice. I had surgery and my right arm was paralyzed. I can’t play guitar, can’t play piano. I’m kinda screwed. When you’re inspired, you’re inspired. I can’t now just pick up my guitar and play. I gave everything I had to this record.

The album has a unique feel to it. The songs flow really well and I don’t think rock fans get to experience that very often these days.

It’s funny you say that. The boys and I were talking about hearing a hit song on the radio, buying the record and the rest is all filler. I didn’t want any filler on this record. We wrote 25 songs, narrowed it down to 14 and put 10 on the record. Like you said, it’s an experience. Each song is different. I don’t want to just repeat what I’ve done the last 40 years of my career. Lyrically I tried to come up with stories and messages. I tried to get some points across. Instead of just saying, “Baby, baby let’s rock all night” – I didn’t want to go down that road.

You just said this would probably be the last Dokken album. Did you write those songs with that idea in mind?

Yeah. After my surgery and my hand was paralyzed, how the hell was I supposed to write any more music? Over the years we’ve had some leftover pieces and parts of songs and Jon Levin and I took the best of the best and finished them. Jon said if this was going to be the last record that we needed to go out with a bang.

How did you guys get together to write Heaven Comes Down?

I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I would fly to LA and go to Jon’s studio. He would come up here to my studio. Bill Palmer produced it. I couldn’t use a keyboard anymore because of my hand. I had Bill Palmer engineer everything. That gave me the luxury of just concentrating on lyrics instead of multi-tasking. When you’re pushing Pro Tools and cutting and pasting and editing, I just wanted to concentrate on writing lyrics and melodies and arrangements. He did all the grunt work and I got to stay in creative mode. It worked out.

Dokken ‘Heaven Comes Down’

If you don’t care, let’s do a track-by-track of Heaven Comes Down.

“Fugitive” was the first single. We had the music for a long time and I didn’t have any lyrics. That came out of an off-handed comment Jon made to me when he came up to my villa. I live way up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere now. I left LA and just dropped out. He got up here and said, “Man, you’re like a fugitive up here. A dropout. You really are a fugitive from life.” I thought, “Hey, that could be a good title for a song.” That was the seed that made me write “Fugitive.” I’ve changed my lifestyle so much. All I was doing was spending three days a week in therapy trying to get my hand to work and my fingers to move. I decided to leave LA. There’s traffic and cars and freeways there. Where I live now there’s nothing. I can look out any window in my house and I can only see mountains. No neighbors. No traffic. It’s a different environment.

I live up here with a lot of Native Americans. It’s one of the biggest Navajo areas in the country. I met a lot of different people as opposed to hanging out in LA at the Rainbow or something. There’s a lot of Native Americans and older people and I’d hang out with ’em. It seemed like these older people had a lot of sage advice. They’ve had a lifetime of a different world. That’s what inspired me to write “Gypsy.” “Gypsy won’t you tell me what you know. I’ve lost my way, got no place to go.” That song is me trying to search for truth.

“Is It Me Or You?”
“Is It Me Or You?” came from a conversation we were having about the relationships in our lives. Usually the guys are always the ones that say “It was her fault. She’s the one that screwed up the relationship. It’s not my fault.” There came the question, who is putting the kibosh on this relationship? It’s easy to point fingers at the other person when a relationship fails. Are you at fault or am I at fault? A lot of these songs just came from us sitting around my studio talking about life and what we’ve been through.

“Just Like A Rose”
We were sitting outside on the patio in the summer and I made a comment about one of my relationships way back when and how much I adored them but I didn’t realize how fragile they were. When you’re out on the road and you’re famous and traveling, looking back I probably should have treated them a little more carefully and given them more attention. It’s a metaphoric chorus. I didn’t realize I was too consumed with my career and my life and they just couldn’t hang. When they’re trying to be there for you and you disappear for a month on the road, it may just fall apart.

“I’ll Never Give Up”
It’s like an oxymoron to “Just Like A Rose.” You see the relationship going south but you keep thinking that you have to save it. Some people have that revelation that they have to keep trying to make it work. It’s about trying to save a relationship that’s going into the toilet.

“Saving Grace”
Like “Just Like A Rose” was me saying I should have been more attentive and “I’ll Never Give Up” is just the opposite. It’s not like old Dokken songs. “It’s Not Love,” “Just Got Lucky” – it was always their fault. “Saving Grace” is about me being lost deep in my career. We all get wrapped up in our own daily shit. We should all learn to be more graceful with people in our lives. Not just relationships – family, kids, everybody. I should have had more grace for the people in my life. This album was all reflective about my life and probably because I knew it was the last one. I guess I’m trying to purge my thoughts about my past. My spiritual mentality changed a lot. I did a lot of reading. You have to have compassion for the people around you. “Saving grace, I guess I left it in that other place.”

“Over The Mountain”
In the video you see a ship sails into a harbor and the guy climbs up a mountain. He’s looking for Shangri-La. He’s looking for peace of mind. “Over the mountain to better days. Over the mountain to find my way.” I fell into these heavy reflective thoughts about my life. After my hand was paralyzed I had a lot of time to reflect. That came from a lot of people I met on the road asking me for advice. I don’t know all the answers, but you’ve gotta keep trying. It’s not easy climbing that mountain. In my case I was referring to music, but it could be about trying to succeed in any job. “Over The Mountain” is basically telling you to keep goin’, man. Keep climbing. You’ll get to that place eventually.

“I Remember”
Looking back, there’s been a lot of people in my life that I really loved and I thought it would be forever. Like I mentioned before, we would all get in these big heavy conversations over a beer. That’s the seed of this song. We were talking about all the people in our lives that maybe we could have had a better relationship with or we could have made it or had a longer lasting relationship. We were reflecting on our missteps and all the things we screwed up in our lives. That inspired me to write “I Remember.” When you’re 30 years old you’re all about yourself. That song is about all things I should have done that I didn’t.

“Santa Fe”
That was a tough one. We used to always end the records with a burner. “Tooth And Nail,” “‘Til The Livin’ End,” “Lightning Strikes Again” – always a heavy song. When I wrote “Santa Fe” it was just an acoustic guitar and me singing. I never thought it would make it on the record. That was me sitting in the studio with Bill Palmer and he had the mic on asking me “How the hell did you get from LA to New Mexico?” How do you write your whole life story in four minutes? It’s almost impossible. We were talking for about an hour and a half about my life back then and how different it was. I don’t live that lifestyle anymore. I could’ve said “I hopped in my Chevy with a six pack of beer, took off for parts unknown” but I said “I hopped up on my old horse with a bottle of whiskey to keep me company, along the way to Santa Fe.”

You turned 70 this year. Is there anything left you’d still like to accomplish musically?

I’d like to keep writing music. I’m working out Monday, Wednesday and Friday with a physical therapist but reality is reality. It’s been three and a half years since the doctor butchered me and severed my spinal cord. I guess I’m lucky I can even walk. I’d like to make more music. We’ve got four songs left that didn’t make Heaven Comes Down. Those four songs are the last songs I actually played on before my surgery. I really wanted those to be on the record. I’ve done everything I wanted to do in life. I’ve had a great career.

Dokken 2023

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