|Crossroads: George Lynch|
Pivotal moments in musicians' careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
by Mark E. Waterbury
There are a number of musicians touring these days labeled the "formerly with" tag. Whether you call it a solo or side project, former members of popular acts seem to tour with more voracity in some cases than the bands they emanated from. Perhaps this is because their name was not in the forefront of the previous band, or maybe they just refuse to tread on that particular band's fame. George Lynch is one of those musicians who made a name for himself while he was in the confines of a band. As guitarist for the popular 80's rockers Dokken, George became one of the focal points of the California foursome with his blistering guitar work. He culled loyal fans of his guitar styles from the Dokken faithful who ended up serving him well when, near the end of the 80's, he found himself out of the band. Spending the next decade plus with his band The Lynch Mob along with a brief return to Dokken, George continued to tour and record, growing his fan base and doing what it took to survive in an era when the music business was largely ignoring any band or musician with ties to the 80's. Nearly two decades since George first hit the stage with Dokken, he has a new album saluting his roots ready to be released and is back on the road with an all star touring band. A lot of people instantly recognize the name George Lynch, but it's not all about George.
Born in Spokane, Washington and raised primarily in the Sacramento, California area, George became interested in the guitar at a fairly young age. "It wasn't like a big landslide hit me with an all consuming passion to become a guitarist," George recalls. "It started out with an urge and a curiosity to move in that direction. It just happened with me in different levels. I took lessons but I wouldn't say that I was a good student. I didn't learn music which is what my teachers wanted me to learn. The number one aspect for me as far as learning is concerned was listening to the rock bands of the day and playing along with them like I was in concert." Growing up on a steady diet of Hendrix, Cream, Zeppelin and the Beatles among others, George continued honing his craft. From his teens on into adulthood, he played in several bands in Sacramento before relocating to L.A. where he became a denizen of the club scene. The Boyz, which featured a vocalist named Don Dokken and drummer "Wildman" Mick Brown, was an L.A. band George was part of. Signed to Carerre Records in Germany, the band changed its name to Dokken and released a debut CD called "Breaking the Chains." The album did fairly well in Europe but didn't quite hit in the States. Dokken toured incessantly, more in Europe because of "Breaking the Chains"' popularity there, and eventually garnered the attention of Elektra Records. It was a booming time for the new breed of guitar heavy rock bands with soaring, melodic vocals that were becoming a mainstay on the relatively new but burgeoning video network MTV. Armed with their first full time bassist Jeff Pilson, Elektra released Dokken's "Tooth and Nail" in 1984. "What was happening in the music scene at that time created a lot of opportunities for our genre," George recalls. "The singer/guitar combination riding on the coattails of Van Halen is similar to the way we built our band. We had a slow progressive run which was good for us because it lasted a long time; we didn't just pop with one song." "Tooth and Nail" went platinum in the U.S., and their subsequent studio albums "Under Lock and Key" and "Back for the Attack" did equally well. The band continued to be hearty road warriors, headlined shows and opened for other rockers like the Scorpions, Dio and Aerosmith. The shows eventually produced the live recording "Beast From the East." "I always thought that Dokken was a band that did well despite itself," George muses. " It was a classic combination of what I didn't like about the band musically and what we all did to try to make those aspects viable and cool. That eclectic mix gave it its appeal, it was a sort of quirky chemistry that made it work."
The stylistic differences between George and Don were starting to cause tension within the Dokken camp. During a re-negotiating phase with the band's contract, the rift became a chasm and the band broke up, with Don heading off in a solo direction and George finding that he would have to do the same. "I was forced into having to strike out on my own. I did not want to leave Dokken," George notes." But I did have the luxury of being able to go out and find the best of the best to play with and build a great band on my own." Tapping singer Oni Logan and bassist Anthony Esposito as well as recruiting Dokken band mate Mick Brown, George launched the Lynch Mob. The band would record two albums and tour around the globe, with a focal point being George's undeniable guitar wizardry, but the talents of the other band members were allowed to shine as well. " I never wanted to have a band that was just built around the guitar. I wanted to have a lot of factors involved and the songs are much more important to me. Songs should not just be vehicles for guitar solos all the time. I get much more satisfaction hearing a complete band with great songs rather then someone wearing over a bunch of riffs mindlessly,"
During the Lynch Mob's run, George also released a solo project called "Sacred Groove." Then in 1994, the seeds were sown for a Dokken reunion. A new album perhaps sardonically titled "Dysfunctional" was recorded later that year and spawned a well received tour. Soon after the second reunion album was recorded, some of the same friction began raising their heads again and George's run with the band only lasted three years. In 1998, a revamped version of the Lynch Mob including Esposito, vocalist Robert Mason and drummer Fro released the album "Smoke This." George stayed busy on into the new millennium, with both another studio and a live Lynch Mob album and several other recordings including a project with former Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson. George also paid homage to some of his heavy rock roots with the 2000 album "Will Play For Food." 2004 saw George looking again to salute his influences with the soon-to-be released recording of "Furious George" which will feature songs from 60's and 70's rockers including Mountain, Robin Trower, Deep Purple and Grand Funk. Working together with Mike Varney from Shrapnel Records, a new group titled simply the George Lynch Band was assembled, "We figured this (album) would be a good vehicle to jump start the band. These were songs that I grew up with and I thought would be fun and relatively easy to do. We did it in about a month and then after two days of rehearsal we jumped out on tour." To record "Furious George", George tapped into three highly regarded musicians - vocalist Kelly Keeling who had fronted MSG, Blue Murder and Baton Rouge among others; former Racer X drummer Jeff Martin and Gunter Nezhoda on bass. For the tour, George recruited Marten Andersson (Lizzy Borden) on bass along with Martin and Keeling. George especially looked forward to working with Keeling, who ironically enough had also collaborated with Don Dokken on the two most recent Dokken recordings. "My criteria as it was with the original Lynch Mob was to find the best people that I could that have chemistry and a vibe and are just cool characters to work with. The most important thing is not necessarily to have monster players but to have people that have character and to make sure that our ideas fit together nicely, and when we jammed, that is what happened. Especially the crux of the creative process between Kelly and myself; we meld really well together and just flow like water. Creatively, I don't have any concerns that this next record is going to be a fun and great album." As George tours cross country with his current lineup, including shows with the Lynch Band headlining as well as opening for Yngwie Malmsteen on the Attack Tour, it is obvious that as long as he has a group of talented players who are also a pleasure to work with George Lynch can always be counted on for more albums and great shows in the years ahead. "I always try to keep challenging the fans a bit. I don't want to play it too safe, go the same route and put out the same record every time like some bands do. We have our own sound and I have my own style but I think it's OK and probably necessary for me to do all other things that I like to do. We busted out some tunes from "Smoke This" the other night and I'm sure people left that night remembering that. We just need to do something a bit different now and then."
George's advice for musicians: "You have to get a handle on the business side of things for it not to be a sad story at the end. It's like any other business that you are in. It's not a simple structure as if you are working for a paycheck. A lot of people have their radar on and want to go in and grab their share from you, so you really, really have to keep your eyes open and watch everything. It is a necessary evil to make sure you know how the business end works, and if you are good at meeting people, that is good as long as you can tell the good apples from the bad."