In a recent interview with Max Volume of Reno’s classic rock radio station 105.7 KOZZ, Don Dokken recalled what it was like growing up on Tahoe’s North Shore, doing odd jobs for Frank Sinatra at his lakefront home.
“[Frank] had a pier, where his boat was, and he had a lot of parties,” Don said. “Lake Tahoe’s water’s crystal clear, but you can walk out on the pier and you can look straight down and see beer bottles and whisky bottles — they were all at the bottom of the lake. And I guess he had — I can’t [say if it’s true] — but that was during the [John F.] Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe days when he’d bring Marilyn up and Kennedy when they were having their affair. So, yeah, he hired me and two of my friends to dive down and pick up all those bottles and clean up his little dock.
“If anybody knows about Lake Tahoe, it’s ice water — it’s freezing freakin’ cold,” he continued. “And I only weighed about — I swear to God, I probably weighed 150 pounds. It was only about 10 feet deep. I couldn’t even swim to the bottom, so I put rocks in my bathing suit pockets — I just let myself sink. And I’d have this bag, and I’d be picking up bottles as fast as I could, and then take the rocks out of my pockets and float to the top again.”
Dokken‘s mother worked at the Cal-Neva, which was once owned by Sinatra. He said his mother took him to the casino’s green (musicians’) room to meet entertainers, including famous actors and comedians.
“I regret that my mom, when she passed away, the pictures were lost,” Don said. “I had pictures with everybody — all those movie stars, and [American actor and comedian] Red Buttons.
“Frank, he never showed up half the time. He’d never show up — he’d always have somebody else show up. He’d always have [American stand-up comedian] Don Rickles come and fill in. But my mom would let me help with [taking] things away and [bringing] out their dinners.
“They had a private little room backstage,” Dokken added. “A beautiful ballroom that they’d always use. It was so beautiful, ’cause it didn’t look like a casino — it looked like a hunting lodge. And I remember Don Rickles once. Somebody gave me a tip or something, and he goes, ‘Hey, don’t be a cheap ass, man. Give the kid some money. Here’s 20 bucks, kid. What, you’re gonna give him two bucks? Give him 20 bucks, man. Don’t be so damn cheap.’ [Laughs] And I remember that. But I didn’t know who those guys were. At 14, I wasn’t impressed by all these famous people, but years later, I said, ‘Oh my God. I met all those guys. How cool.'”
According to Don, the money that he earned working for Sinatra helped him afford his very first guitar.
“I remember after the summer, [my mom] drove me to Reno, and I went to a pawn shop in Reno,” Don said. “And the guy was trying to talk me into buying a Fender Strat, which I regret now, because it’s probably worth a fortune. But I didn’t want a Strat — I wanted a Fender Mustang. And it was baby blue. I bought a Fender Mustang baby blue. So, thanks, Frank, for that one.”
DOKKEN will release an album called “The Lost Songs: 1978-1981” on August 28 via Silver Lining Music. Featuring sleeve art by renowned U.S. artist Tokyo Hiro (MOTÖRHEAD, MOTLEY CRÜE), the effort contains material written and recorded by a hungry young Don Dokken as he embarked upon a journey which started in Southern California and Northern Germany.