The riff master behind such iconic rock bands as Dokken and Lynch Mob, George Lynch has been prominently mesmerizing the eyes and ears of the hard rock music world since the late ‘70s.
He began his lifelong musical career as the lead guitarist for a small LA band known as The Boyz, and would play alongside such now prestigious rock groups as Quiet Riot and Van Halen.
George’s electrifying playing style would soon gather the attention of a lead vocalist known as Don Dokken, who would go on to join forces with George to form Dokken.
The band would quickly rise in fame and success, with George even earning a Grammy nomination for his instrumental piece, “Mr. Scary”.
However, success can change the inner dynamics of a band for the worst, and in 1989 Dokken broke up.
Following the success of his role in Dokken, George would go on to form his own project, Lynch Mob, with such songs as “Wicked Sensation” and “River Of Love,” gathering considerably heavy rotation on the airwaves.
Following a moderately brief reunion with Dokken, George would go on to work on his solo career, as well as other projects such as Souls of We and Xciter.
Now, George is working on his own guitar line, as well as a new project, T&N.
I recently sat down to speak with George about Slave To The Empire, his history in the music business, and the story behind his abrupt absence from the Dokken lineup.
William: Did you learn to play any other instrument before guitar? Why did you decide to start playing the guitar?
George Lynch: Well, my father was sort of an amateur music freak, and he had audio file equipment, reel-to-reels, and old records of flamenco music, classical music, blues music, and jazz music, and that’s what I grew up listening to and what I wanted to play.
I really just gravitated towards the guitar, for whatever reason. I don’t really remember why.
But it was more exciting than the tonette, or the annatto harp or any of the other instruments we had at school! [Laughs]
But when I first picked the guitar up, I didn’t really have a clue. Most people don’t when they first pick them up.
But I mean, back in 1964, there were no YouTube guitar lessons.
You’re just kinda left on your own to figure it out. I remember sitting in my backyard with this guitar on the swing and trying to figure out how to make a sound out of it, and I thought you were supposed to cover up the strings you didn’t want to resonate and then just strum the whole thing!
So, I had a very rudimentary start, and then there was just a lot of painful learning and building the calluses from there.
William: Was it tough to get recognized with all the other musicians out there trying to get ahead?
George Lynch: Well, sure. I mean, that was many lifetimes ago. I think the way human memory works is we have selective memory, and we remember the good things instead of the bad things.
I don’t think I would ever want to go back to those days, but it was the usual struggles.
You know, all of us living together in a band room with no money and just trying to eat and survive.
But still, that’s music, and those were great days. At least, I think they were! [Laughs]
William: How did you first become involved with Dokken?
George Lynch: Well, I had a band in LA with Mick Brown, and originally we were called The Boyz.
We were sort of like a glitter rock band, with a lot of pyro and outfits and things like that. We all wore face paint, my singer would blow fire, we were into Kiss.
The Boyz were actually more like a progressive band, and we just kept evolving, going around the LA and Hollywood scene.
That turned into a less glam band called Xciter, which had a little more serious music. And we’d play shows occasionally with Don’s band, called Airborne.
He would open up for various bands around town, like everybody else. So, we were kind of aware of each other.
He hit us up at one point, and asked us to join forces with him, and we did. Went to Germany, did some dates and recorded a record, which was Breaking The Chains. And a lot of that material came from Exciter and The Boyz.
William: What’s your take on the song “Dream Warriors”?
George Lynch: Well, Jeff Pilson and I were living in Arizona, and we were kind of the songwriting team in the band.
And we knew we had this opportunity to write this song for Nightmare On Elm Street. Don was also working on his own version, but our version was the one that got used.
But yeah, this was something that Jeff and I crafted in my home studio over about a week period.
We were given the idea of the movie, which we were obviously familiar with, and we had to conceive of something that had the right atmosphere and the right spirit and the right lyrical content.
And, it was interesting. It’s nice when you have something to shoot for, you know? [Laughs]
When somebody gives you a concept and then you can write a song around that concept. A lot of times you’re like a monkey with a blindfold throwing darts.
William: During your first few years in Dokken, you pushed out three successful studio albums. Your instrumental song, “Mr. Scary”, was even nominated for a Grammy. Sometimes success can cause problems in a band – Was success a factor in Dokken breaking up?
George Lynch: To the extent that success can really bring out the worst in people.
William: Although Dokken would eventually get back together and push out a few more albums with you on manning the guitar, you would go on to quit the band in 1997. What prompted you to go out on your own?
George Lynch: I didn’t quit the band. What? No, no, no. We worked very hard to achieve what we did in Dokken collectively, as a group.
And the truth of the matter is that in the lifetime of a musical group, when you really get paid and you achieve your financial successes, when you’ve increased record sales every record, and you’ve gone out there and done the road work for however many years, gotten yourself out in front of larger audiences, put all of the pieces together and after however many years your record label recognizes that, and you’re up for renegotiation.
And then you go in there and you make a deal with the label and reposition strength. And that’s exactly where we were at with Dokken.
So, we could’ve went two ways. We could’ve all just pulled together and said, “Ok, we all worked very hard for this for 10 years. We’ll stick together and take this to the next level. Rising tide floats all boats and it’s good for all of us. And, we did it! Whoopee!”
Or, you get one bad apple who decides to try and take the whole brass ring and dump everybody else, which is what Don did.
That’s the truth of the matter. He left the band, and tried to sue us to keep the name and hire us as hired guns. We said, “Fuck you”. Don’t let anybody try to tell you different.
William: Alright. So, your new band is called T&N. What exactly does T&N mean?
George Lynch: Well, it was called Tooth and Nail, but then somebody sued us and we couldn’t keep the name. So we’re calling it T&N.
William: You recently said that you didn’t want people to think of T&N as the same thing as Dokken, just without Don on vocals. But the name of your new band is the same as Dokken’s second album, and you also have a few Dokken covers on Slave To The Empire. What’s the distinction between the two and what strengths are the same?
George Lynch: Well, you know, just many degrees of separation. I don’t really want to do the math, but as far as I’m concerned, and Jeff and Nick, we were all Dokken, collectively.
There is no Dokken unless you’re talking about the four of us. So, I don’t consider Don’s version of Dokken to be Dokken, either. That’s just kind of rehashing and trying to recreate what we had created.
So, we’re just taking the legacy and recognizing it. You know, the hard work we put into those many decades of struggles and creating that legacy.
We own it as much as anybody else, and we’re going to capitalize on it to a certain extent, just as Don does.
So, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not ashamed of it, I’m actually proud of it. I’m very proud of my contribution to that band, as is Jeff and Nick. And we had a very wonderful thing.
I mean, the thing I’ve always searched for is that kind of family, brotherhood band thing where we all share equally and we achieve something. And we had that within the context of Dokken, with the three of us.
We didn’t really have it with Don, because we cared about the band and he cared about himself. So, what T&N is really that core, wonderful brotherhood that we had among the three of us revisited.
Playing some of the old stuff, playing some new stuff, 25 years later. It’s just fun for us, whether anybody else wants to listen to it! [Laughs]
We did it because we wanted to do it, and it was a blast.
William: T&N’s debut album, Slave To The Empire, features many special guest vocalists, such as Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Tim “The Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest), and Doug Pinnick (King’s X). Why did you decide to go with several different vocalists, instead of sticking with just one for the entire record?
George Lynch: Well, it was our opinion, and sometimes hindsight is 20/20, but we thought it would be a lot more fun and interesting, especially for the listeners, to hear those old songs reinterpreted, because for us just to go back in as three quarters of Dokken and do Dokken songs without Don, that would be a little silly.
That’s been done, Don did it, we’ve done it. Sometimes you have to rehash the old stuff. But to reinterpret it with completely different vocalists, that’s interesting to me.
That’s worth doing, I think, and I think when you listen to the record, depending on your subjective tastes, people might agree.
I mean, my favorite redo is “Tooth and Nail” with Doug Pinnick. I think he just knocked it out of the park, and I’ve been a huge fan since day one, so just an opportunity to play with him on a record just was awesome.
You know, he’s singing gospel on that song, and you’ve never heard “Tooth and Nail” sang this way. It’s just so awesome. It’s kind of what we always envisioned when we were together back in the 80’s, you know?
I always wanted a singer that had a little more balls and blues, a little less white.
William: Just this year, you’ve released a new solo EP, a new record with Lynch Mob, and now your new album with T&N. Is it challenging to keep coming up with all this new music?
George Lynch: No, that’s the easy part. Writing songs and playing guitar is not hard for me. Of course it’s challenging, but I never seem to have the “writer’s block” thing anymore.
I’ve got a lot of different projects going on, and I always seem to be able to rely on inspiration to come through. But the challenging thing is everything else.
It’s putting projects together, it’s the business, it’s after they’re done and trying to get them out to people’s ears and minds.
That’s the challenge. Publicists, radio, touring, press, and what we’re doing right now. All of that stuff, all the pieces of the puzzle.
Really, from my perspective the easiest part is creating the music. It’s very challenging, but I know how to do that.
I don’t know how to make a record successful, other than to write it! [Laughs]
William: I know you’ve expressed some harsh feelings against Don, but is there any chance of us seeing a Dokken family reunion with you back on the guitar?
George Lynch: Not unless the guy changes himself from the inside out, develops a sense of character and passes the Martin Luther King Jr. test. [Laughs]
You know, be judged by the content of his character. The guy’s pulled every dirty trick in the book, for as long as I’ve known him, from day one to the last time I talked to him.
So I doubt it, I’m not going to hold my breath on that one. We’ve all had very full, busy lives, Jack, Nick and myself.
We’re very content and busy with what we do, doing some very satisfying and gratifying projects, creating music we want to create and playing with people we love to play with.
So, it’s all good. If it’s not broke, why fix it?