Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2004 | 8:05 a.m.
Don Dokken can't deny he used hairspray and wore makeup during the 1980s. The evidence is right there on his band's old record jackets.
But the 51-year-old vocalist disputes the notion that his veteran metal outfit should be lumped in with that decade's more poppy, so-called "hair bands" such as Poison, Winger and Motley Crue.
"It's unfair. If anything, we were more on the metal side than the pop side," Dokken said in a phone interview from a hotel room in Oklahoma City. "Yeah, we had some commercial hits, but we never toured with any of those '80s bands, a Bon Jovi or a Ratt.
"We were always out there with Judas Priest, AC/DC, Dio, Van Halen, Metallica, the Scorpions, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper. We did all those tours."
Dokken accepts that some of the band's album covers including one for 1985's "Under Lock and Key," featuring all four members in bright leather pantsuits with teased-out hair dropping far below their shoulders don't paint the most serious picture of the group.
He just asks that audiences judge Dokken by their music, rather than some long-retired glam look.
"Just because we had long hair and looked a little bit androgynous on our album covers, people said, 'Oh, it's one of those kind of bands,'" Dokken said. "But that wasn't the case."
Dokken plays the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. L.A. Guns and local band Bronson open the show.
These days Don Dokken's hair is relatively short, though he says he's growing it out. The band member with the longest locks is Dokken's newest addition: guitarist Jon Levin.
The 38-year-old Levin has been in the group less than two years, but he's known Don Dokken, drummer Mick Brown and bassist Barry Sparks far longer than that.
For the better part of a decade Levin has been the band's attorney, helping them in record label negotiations and court matters.
"Dokken was his favorite band growing up," Dokken said. "He was in a band called Warlock for a while, and then he went back to law school and cut his hair off and became an attorney. Then after 10 years he decided he wanted to play guitar again, to 'follow his bliss," as he calls it."
Levin plays on Dokken's latest album, May's "Hell to Pay," which Don Dokken said signals a return to the band's roots.
Having the lawyer-turned-guitarist on board also has other benefits.
"It makes people a little more careful now when they try to screw us over on the contracts," Dokken said.
Levin is the fifth man to hold down the guitar position during Dokken's 21-year history, following George Lynch, Reb Beach, John Norum and Alex DeRosso in the role.
Don Dokken realizes that his revolving lead guitar slot probably has earned him something of a reputation.
"People probably think that I'm difficult," Dokken said. "But I'm not going to defend myself with that one.
"The only person I ever didn't get along with was George. We just had spiritual disagreements, as I call it. He thought he was God, and I disagreed."
Dokken said that Norum and DeRosso left the band because both live in Europe, making it difficult for them to collaborate with the Los Angeles-based band.
"It's just so difficult having guitar players that live in Italy or Sweden," Dokken said. "It was just becoming a logistical nightmare.
"I get inspired when I get inspired. And if I'm in the studio I need to be able to call my guitarist and say, 'Let's get to work,' instead of calling Sweden and saying, 'Hop on a plane.' "
The bandleader also explained that American work visas have become tougher to obtain in recent years.
"Since 9-11 it's almost impossible to get a long-term visa," Dokken said. "They're really cracking down on people coming in."
Dokken is proud of his band's accomplishments, most notably selling more than 10 million albums worldwide.
The group also continues to draw well on the road, years after their last significant foray up the charts.
But Don Dokken has stated for the record that this Dokken lineup will be the last, meaning that if another member leaves it will signal the end of the line for a band that has outlasted nearly all of its peers.
"If things don't work out, I'm not going to keep changing members," Dokken said. "I have other things I can do, solo records, go into producing.
"But we can't complain. We've had a 20-year career. Most of the bands from the '80s are gone. At some point every band retires."