Dokken's Jeff Pilson

An Exclusive Interview with Dokken's
Jeff Pilson!

Jeff Pilson is the bass player from DOKKEN. He has also worked with DIO, and is presently working on a number of new projects such as a movie and a solo album! In swapping notes with Jeff, he agreed to do an interview and here it is! If you're not familiar with what Dokken has been up to these days check out the band's latest excellent studio disc "Erase The Slate" (on CMC) -- which saw a return to the old Dokken rocking sound and featured the debut of new guitarist Reb Beach [who used to play for Alice Cooper!]. Or watch for the forthcoming Live album. For more info on Jeff Pilson check out < OR >

Q: How did you get involved in music professionally?
JP: I started playing clubs at about 15 years old, and just continued on in bands through high school and college- then dropped out and had to make my living with it. A lot of starvation and good times!

Q: who were your earliest influences? fave bands and musicians growing up?
JP: Beatles, Zeppelin, Yes, and ELP

Q: you play a lot of different instruments [reference to new album] Is bass your first 'love' and or your best talent?
JP: Bass was my first, but now I really love to play everything. There aren't a lot of preferences, but I really love to sing.

Q: what bands [of note] were you involved with prior to Dokken? any recordings? anyone of notoriety that you played with then?
JP: No real notoriety, but I did play with an amazing guitarist named Randy Hansen, we had a band - no real recordings - but what a live show! Did a record called "Rock Justice" in 1980, was a rock opera on EMI. Good songs, but not a very good record - oh well we all learn!

Q: you joined the band after the first album, replacing the guy who was in Ratt [i believe]. How did you land the gig?
JP: Through Mike Varney, of Shrapnel records. He's a good friend and we played in bands together before that.

Q: As I recall it was the success of "Alone Again" that opened a lot of doors for Dokken commercially in the 80s, being one of the first great power ballads by a Hard Rock / Metal band. Would you agree? and what did Alone Again and the success from it alter from your perspective, for the band?
JP: Yes, that's quite accurate, it did open a lot of doors. We went from selling a couple hundred thousand records to a gold act almost overnite. People take you more seriously after that.

Q: throughout the '80s Dokken turned out a steady set of strong Hard Rock albums, with decent guitar riff-rock, melodies, and harmonies. What would you put down to the band's success in being consistent for a whole decade before the split?
JP: Good songs, a lot of internal talent, great business team behind us, and there was a strong core commoraderie between George, Mick and myself. I also had a strong working relationship with Don that I think helped bridge certain gaps.

Q: How would you sum up the previous years [Dysfunctional , Shadowlife] prior to the change in guitar players and return to old Dokken rock direction?
JP: Rather scattered and not very focused. We weren't all going in one direction, and not the one Don and I had intended for sure. But there were a few valuable experimental moments that I think produced some good music.

Q: "Erase The Slate" is a real return to solid guitar rock in the best Dokken ways, yet [IMO] with a bit less of the big production feel some of the 80s stuff. Would you agree? and what did you set out to accomplish before writing and recording it?
JP: That's exactly what we set out to accomplish- very nicely put!

Q: How was the transition from George to Reb? How has Reb Beach fitted in to Dokken musically and personally?
JP: Welcome transition and a new spark oof life for the band. Reb is great team player as well as being so talented - so for us all to go pretty much in one direction is amazing and wonderful.

Q: The band shares writing and production credits on Erase The Slate. What can you tell me about how closely the band worked 'hands on' on this album, and what the basic songwriting process would be??
JP: We worked very much like a band. A lot of the music came from jamming, maybe Reb had a riff, then I'd throw in a verse riff, we'd all then take it to the next part, etc. But with us it's so hard to formulate, anyone is capable of coming up with anything. And when someone does bring in a whole song, it generally gets pretty chopped up, but in a good way. We just threw a lot of ideas back and forth til it felt right - how's that for a description!?

Q: Why the cover of the Three Dog Night classic "One"? [Who's idea?]
JP: Originally Reb's idea for a jam during the live set, I thought it'd make a good cover for the record. It just seemed to fit Don perfectly and with all the harmonies and the rhythm we put underneath it, it just seemed right.

Q: What are your faves from the album, and what is being pushed in the live set and to radio? ["Change The World" and "Who Believes" standout as having strong commercial appeal to me].
JP: I like "Maddest Hatter" and "Erase The Slate" best, also "In Your Honor", but we released "Maddest..." and "Erase..." to radio. I wish there would have been more singles, and I think "Change..." would have been an outstanding choice.

Q: "In Your Honor" stands out as a very different sounding song to the rest of the album [which is quite heavy], with the keys, acoustics, mellotron, harmonies.... What can you tell me about this song - lyrically [is it about anyone in particular?] and how it came together musically? Inspiration?
JP: It came from a song I had a few years ago for my progressive band. Don accidently heard it when an old dat tape ran til the end and he said, 'what's that?'. He started writing the first verse lyrics right away and we finished the song in about 20 minutes. It really talks about missed opportunities and mistakes in love. Don had just been in a relationship that he was afraid he had ruined, and may never live down.

Q: How has the reaction been from your perspective to Erase The Slate from fans and press?
JP: Excellent, best fan reaction in years. The traditional rock press has also been quite flattering.

Q: How and when do you guys plan to follow it up? Any plans at present?
JP: Live cd [video and dvd to soon follow] at the end of April, tour in the summer with Poison, try to finish up my solo cd in any time I can find, finish work on my movie, then start writing and recording a Dokken cd in the fall. So yes, there are lots of plans!

Q: how you landed the gig with RJ Dio?
JP: Ronnie and I have been friends since we toured together in '84 - he's also my neighbor! And Vinny Appice is one of my favorite people on the planet! They just came over one day and asked if I knew a bass player, I said "yea, ME!'.

Q: How was Ronnie to work with?
JP: Absolutely the best, professionally and personally! Or as he would say in an imitation of me, "GREAT!".

Q: What did you think of the albums you were on?
JP: I thought we made some amazing music, and took several chances. It didn't sound alot like traditional Dio, but that's what we wanted to do and I thought we did a great job. It probably should have been called something other than Dio to get a more pure reaction, but that was what we needed on a business level to get through some doors. Kind of too bad cuz we were a great modern band, with trad elements.

Q: How much did/could you contribute to the writing and ideas on those albums?
JP: We were extremely collaborative, and the sky was the limit with everyone. It felt very much like a band, but a well-oiled machine, something I wasn't much used to!

Q: Best memories of the Dio band and/or any stories?
JP: Just the intensity of the live gigs, and singing harmonies with Ronnie, what a powerful sound and what an honor!

Q: Still have contact or any plans to work together again?
JP: I'm sure we will someday, it was too good a situation, and we're great friends.

Q: What was your association with MSG? [Recordings, tours, etc..?]
JP: I played on the '91 MSG album, then did an acoustic tour with them [playing acoustic guitar alongside Michael Schenker- what a trip!!]. Great fun - Robin is such a great singer and guy!

Q: How was Schenker to work with? [Who else was in the band when you were?]
JP: Great, he's very precise and it was such an education to have him work with me on the acoustic guitar stuff, it was like being payed to have guitar lessons with Michael Schenker! But then in working out the electric stuff he was very open. It was just James Kottack [drummer - Scorpions], Michael and I working out the music, and Robin would belt it out. They were very band-like in their approach to making the record. And it was a good band at that!

Q: what was your association with Craig Goldy? [see # 23]
JP: Craig and I had a project together for much of '94 called the '13th Floor'. It was very heavy and progressive music and something I'd love to release one day. We had to give that up when Dokken signed with Sony at the end of '94. I still talk to Craig, and I know he's really excited about the new Dio record.

Q: what else have you been involved in recording-wise in more recent years?
JP: Oh God, a million tribute records, this 'Metal God' movie thing [I got to be musical director for much of it], and now I'm working on my solo cd. Someday I'll release all the best parts of all the projects I did in the nineties, but I have a lot of new music to do til then.

Q: what would you like to do in the future? any plans for a solo album or work with anyone in particular? [are you currently working on anything outside of Dokken?]
JP: I think I just answered that one by getting a little carried away on the last answer! But yes, I'd like to get my solo cd out around the time of the movie, and in the future put out my pet project "A Better Mousetrap" - which is very pop. I need more time in the day! But yes I'd like to put 'Mousetrap' out when I can, even if it's through my website [here's a plug- !!!]

Q: what do you think of the return of many '80s HR/Metal bands in recent years? Do you think the music biz has changed for better or worse since the '80s when bands like Dokken, Ratt, Motley Crue ... were huge on MTV, radio, etc... ?
JP: I think it's worse in that record companies aren't near as supportive of young bands as they once were. No hit and you're done - that's not good for music. There never would have been a Dokken if that were the attitude in the '80's. We took three albums to break! I think HR bands are at a bit of a nostalgia state at the moment, but I think young bands need a model for quality melodic rock, and I'm sure eventually there will be a call for that. That's where us "old" guys fit in. The new school is very rap-oriented, which is to be expected, but there will be a need for melodic hard rock soon.

Q: Can you give me a few of the following > favorite bass players, singers, songwriters, guitarists, etc.. [new and old] ??
JP: Chris Squire, John Paul Jones, Paul McCartney // Coverdale, Chris Cornell, RJ Dio // Lennon, McCartney, Sting, Paul Simon, Tommy Henriksen // Zakk Wylde, Reb Beach, Beck.

Q: Favorite 'classic' albums [70s / 80s....] and newer faves? [what do you listen to mainly?]
JP: Fragile, Close to the Edge, Bridge of Sighs, and anything by Radiohead.

Q: I see you use Ampeg equipment, have you met Ken Hensley [Uriah Heep] through this? :-)
JP: Ken is great. I was actually in the first batch of "new" Ampeg endorsees in 1986, and Ken and I have been friends ever since. What a great guy!

Q: Hobbies, interests outside of recording and touring?
JP: Writing! And I love museums, art, yoga and all metaphysics.

Copyright Kevin J. Julie, 2000