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“I never thought I would be the guitarist for Dokken, It’s unbelievable to me”.

Posted: November 3, 2023
The adjective nostalgic is often used to describe someone who is homesick and wants to be back at home with family. It always involves a wistful memory of times that now seem better or simpler. A nostalgic feeling can involve home and family, but it can also involve a longing for long-gone moments.

It can be said that Nostalgia is often misleading. Often, nostalgia brings about feelings of youth, good times, and experiences once treasured. However, we often forget about the bad. Which is a good thing. Especially for this interview. The opportunity of interviewing Jon Levin was a no brainer. While he wasn’t part of the original Dokken crew, he did play an instrumental part in their continued growth. In fact, Jon Levin is one of the reasons why Dokken can continue to crank out the sounds of the past. The Dokken vibe that was so familiar in the 80’s still lives on. There are some differences in creativity. However, it is the same Dokken that we grew to rock with.

When I hear Dokken it brings back great memories. The nostalgia is strong. Probably the most impactful group of rockers that came out of that era. Like many of the bands from that period, there were changes. With breakups came opportunity. A chance to reunite and bring back the nostalgia from years gone by.

The formula for success came with a new perspective, and coveted talent Jon Levin. We look forward to asking him some questions regarding his current role in the band Dokken. First, it is important to review some main points about where he came from, and how his music career began.

ABOUT JON LEVIN

Jon Levin was involved with music very early on in life. He began playing piano at age four, trumpet by age seven, and guitar at age nine. Instead of having formal lessons, Levin played along to his favorite musicians including Randy Rhoads, Eric Clapton, and later George Lynch from Dokken, whose place Levin would eventually take. He played in a club band called Devias at age 19 in the Long Island, New York area, and then auditioned for and joined German band Warlock at age 22. When the grunge scene took over in the early 1990s, Levin took a break from being a musician because he wasn't interested in that type of music. Levin relocated to the West Coast and became an entertainment lawyer. In his capacity as an entertainment lawyer, Jon has served as legal counsel, working with Jim Paidas, of Paidas Management, on a myriad of licensing programs; some of which include Orange County Choppers, Dog the Bounty Hunter, American Hot Rod, and Rockstalgia.

Dokken

In 1998, Levin was asked by Jeff Pilson, Dokken's bassist, to play some solos on a demo. He anticipated playing on a solo album for Pilson, but when he arrived at the studio, all Dokken was present. Levin played on a Dokken track called "Dancin' (The Irish Song)" which originally was to be included on the Erase the Slate album but instead was later included on the Long Way Home import. However, Levin did not join the group until late 2003.

Jon continues to play guitar for the band Dokken to this day. He has become an instrumental part of the bands ability to quantify its existence in a heavily competitive industry filled with top talent. Hired Guns and Guitar Phenoms can he found performing for your favorite music act. However, you will not be able to find rare talent like Jon Levin. He has made choices on when and who he will play for. If the timing wasn’t right, he would be patient for the perfect opportunity.

Thus, his recent promotion of the latest Dokken album called “Heaven Comes Down”, the 13th studio album from legendary American rockers Dokken, is an unapologetic celebration of everything Dokken do best, yet now through a wiser and richer lens. Exchange the urban heat of the Sunset Strip for the warm wilderness of New Mexico, as Dokken brings their timeless convertible Ferrari rock and roll power to the table with key modifications along the creative path. Working with engineer Bill Palmer over the course of a year at his studio in Santa Fe, the Dokken flavors remain as potent as ever, yet they’re also sprinkled with some desert seasoning which gives Heaven Comes Down a richness hitherto unseen on a Dokken album.

INTERVIEW WITH JON LEVIN AND GUITAR THRILLS MAGAZINE

Guitar Thrills: Some of my best memories was listening to Dokken when I was in High School. To this day the nostalgia is strong, as I listen to their old and new releases. Dokken were instrumental for most artists as they decided on a path to music stardom. We are stoked to have Jon Levin interview with us today.

Guitar Thrills: Hi Jon. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us today. When did you first hear about the band Dokken? Did you have any prior experience with the band before you started as one of their band mates?

Jon: I first heard of the band Dokken in 1983 when I was in high school. I was in the car and heard the live version of “Paris is Burning” and immediately had to find out who it was. From that point on, I became an instant fan of the band.

I did have a prior experience with the band before I joined. I met Jeff Pilson through a mutual friend of ours, Tommy Henriksen, who I played with in Doro’s band in the 80’s. It was around 1991 when I met Jeff. Tommy lived right near Jeff at that time, and I remember one day we were walking back to Tommy’s house from Jeff’s house, and we ran into Don outside on the sidewalk. That was the first time I met Don. That must have been in the early to mid 90s. Between 1998 and 2002 I did about a dozen shows with the band, but not as a member. I officially joined in 2003.

Guitar Thrills: Did you ever have any doubt that they would select you as a guitarist?

Jon: Absolutely. I never thought I would be the guitarist for Dokken. I went to law school in 1993 and became an attorney in 1996. I thought my music career was largely over. Looking back, it’s unbelievable to me that I ended up playing in the band.

Guitar Thrills: From what I understand Jeff Pilson was responsible for talking you into playing for the band. How did the conversation develop between you and their bassist? Did it take much convincing?

Jon: It was just by chance that one day in 1998 Jeff Pilson called me and asked if I would play some solos. When I got that message, I was at my father’s house for dinner, and he convinced me to go down and play. I really didn’t want to because I hadn’t played much Guitar for years at that point. I had a record label and a law practice. I had no idea it was for Dokken or frankly, I never would have gone. When I went to the studio to my surprise the whole band was there. I was still in a suit and tie from having been at work that day! I remember Don opened the studio door, handed me a Guitar, and told me to play. I ended up playing a solo on the demo for what later became “Maddest Hatter”, and on a song called the “Irish Song”, which was released as a bonus track in Japan. A few weeks after that Jeff called me and asked if I could play a show at the Dallas Starplex with the band on July 4, 1998, which I ended up doing.

Guitar Thrills: Did you anticipate Dokken becoming a full time Gig?

Jon: Not at all! But this didn’t happen over the course of a night or two. It happened over the course of years. After I played on the demos in 98 and a few live shows with the band, one day in late 2002, Don called me and asked if I would come meet him in Las Vegas while the band was on tour with the Scorpions to see a show. After the show that night, he asked if I would join the band and wanted to know if I would have sufficient time to play in the band. That’s when I joined. In the early 2000’s I used to work in the back of the tour bus with a mobile office. I recall times that the tour manager would come onto the bus and tell me to get changed for the gig!

Guitar Thrills: How have the fans embraced you?

Jon: The fans have been wonderful ever since we did our first tour, I did 2004! It made me feel welcome and I am grateful!

Guitar Thrills: I mentioned in the introduction of this article, that many bands split for good. Some reunite. What do you believe is the reason for many of these breakups?

Jon: Since I am also a Music attorney, I know first-hand why bands break up. Often it is regarding an argument over who owns the band name. If the members can’t get along at some point certain members want to use the band name and tour with other people. You then get into a trademark dispute. Many new bands make the mistake of not having a band agreement, which clearly spells out what happens in the event of a dispute. The music business is a business just like any other. If a band initially has four members in it who start a business together, it’s just like any business with four people in it. I think in the music industry, it’s even harder because bands are around their business partners all the time, especially when they tour together. That is why you see so many bands break up.

Guitar Thrills: Have you experienced directly or indirectly the impact of a band splitting? If so, what was the problem? Did it make an impact on your decisions with how you would handle your relationships with Dokken?

Jon: Yes. In the early 90s, I was in a band that got signed to Atlantic records. The band ended up splitting up and the record never came. As a result, I found myself locked into a contract with Atlantic that I was unable to get out of for years. This was a great learning experience for me. That had an impact on me and helped me advise clients in my law practice based on my own personal experience.

Guitar Thrills: Do you see value in a band reuniting, or is it more of a PR move to accommodate the desires of the fan base?

Jon: There’s a whole range of reasons why bands reunite, and it depends on each situation. I think sometimes reunions can be great for the fans. Other times, band members do it just for money. The music business is a business. However, I think that the best reunions are done primarily to please fans and are not just motivated out of money alone.

Guitar Thrills: As a guitarist, what brands do you favor the most? What application do each of the guitars you play have?

Jon: Throughout my career, I have always stuck to Fender, Gibson, and Charvel. I have several guitars that I use just for recording as my “go to’s”. I know they will work for a particular sound I’m looking for. My recording guitars are an old Les Gothic Paul from 1990, an old Dan, Electro 12 string, a stock Fender Stratocaster, my black and white Charvel and my Polermo Strat. I use the Danelectro primarily for a clean tone that underpins my rhythm. It usually makes its way onto most of the tracks on the record so anytime you hear a clean sound it’s probably my Danelectro. I can pretty much get any sound I’m looking for from these instruments, and I rarely need to find something that these can’t collectively do. For live, I seem to rotate between four or five different Charvel guitars depending on which one feels best to me now.

Guitar Thrills: Dokken has a new release, tell us more about the album and what your fans can expect?

Jon: our new album “Heaven Comes Down“comes out on October 27. To me, it sounds like a classic Dokken album, and I don’t think the fans will be disappointed. A lot of the songs could easily have fit back on some of the records that came out in the 80s, but they are not clones of any old songs.

Guitar Thrills: Do you personally have any goals that you would like to accomplish as an artist?

Jon: Yes, I just want to keep getting better. For me, I think at this point improving on guitar happens more on a spiritual and mental level and because of inspiration. I was never one to sit down and practice scales. I was never able to do that…I just didn’t have the patience and just wanted to play. Overtime I seem to stumble onto new ways to approach playing, and that will usually trigger some inspiration for me. It never works when I try to force it and it just happens as a natural process.

Guitar Thrills: It has been awesome to interview a member of one of my favorite bands. We will keep in touch with you as we want to be the first ones to know what you are working on next. Thank you for answering some questions for us today.

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