When Jeff Pilson, a 1976 graduate of R.A. Long High School, was recruited to play in the rock group Dokken 25 years ago, he said he knew it was a step up.
But when Dokken’s “Alone Again” video was released on MTV weeks later, it proved to be a step that launched the bass player and singer to fame.
Dokken’s 1984 “Tooth and Nail” album sold over a million copies. Dokken released eight more albums over the next 15 years and sold millions more. They toured with bands like Judas Priest, Twisted Sister, Aerosmith, Scorpions, Van Halen and Metallica.
In a haze of smoke effects and big hair, Pilson lived an ‘80s rock fantasy.
“It was everything cliche of sex, drugs and rock and roll you could imagine and twice as fun,” he said. “I highly encourage every young man to go through it.”
Twenty-five years later Pilson, 50, lives with his wife and 4-year-old daughter in Los Angeles. His hair is not quite as big, eye make-up not quite as thick and pants not quite as tight.
But Pilson is still rockin’ as the bass player for Foreigner, a band that originally formed in 1976. “I’ll ride this beast as long as it’s making music,” he said.
Pilson was born in Lake Forrest, Ill. He moved to Longview from Wisconsin when he was 13 because his step-dad was transferred to Longview Fibre.
As a student at R.A. Long High School, Pilson said he really started getting into music. “I was the new kid and lonely. Then I started getting serious,” he said.
After graduation Pilson went to the University of Washington to study music, but quit after two years. “I wanted to be out doing it,” he said.
Pilson started playing with a band in Seattle full-time. “I was just kind of drifting and looking for somewhere to go,” he said. “I wanted to play music. California seemed liked the place.”
Pilson joined his sister in the San Francisco area and in 1983 moved to Los Angeles. “I found my home. It was crazy enough for me,” said Pilson, who became part of the Sunset Strip’s famous “glam” metal scene.
Pilson was into hard rock, he said, but the “metal thing” was new. “It was the name for what was going on.”
Pilson, a lover of melodies whose main musical inspiration was The Beatles, rejected the “heavy metal” label for his music in an article in The Daily News in 1986.
In Dokken, Pilson found his place. It was “a melodic hard rock band, as it turned out,” he said. “It was pretty much what I was into. I’ve always been a very song oriented.”
By 1989 Dokken broke up “for all the usual reasons, egos and megalomania,” Pilson said. “We were nuts. I admit it. Everyone was out of control.”
“I got caught up in the whole sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” Pilson said. In retrospect, the break-up was good, he said. “Who knows? I might have been one of those burned out guys that stopped loving playing.”
In the early 1990s Pilson started a band called War and Peace but “trying to get a record deal was like pulling teeth,” he said as he had to “suffer through the alternative revolution.”
He did release a War and Peace album in 1993, however, and another in 2004. Pilson continues to write music for War and Peace. “They are my melodic rock outlet when I have a bunch of songs,” he said.
Pilson briefly joined a rock group called Dio, before Dokken re-grouped in 1993.
“We toured through the rest of the 1990s, put out records and fought a lot,” he said. It was not “the smoothest and most carefree adjustment.”
Upstaged by the grunge era, Dokken had to go from playing stadiums and arenas to clubs and theaters. “We adjusted our style a little, that was one of the dumbest things we did,” Pilson said. Eventually, “we realized we are what we are,” he said.
With Foreigner, Pilson tours all over the world.
The people and songs of Foreigner make it worthwhile, he said. “The song is the thing that lasts,” Pilson said. “It goes beyond the ego. Foreigner has great songs.”
“If I had my choice I wouldn’t be on the road at this point,” said Pilson, who likes to be in the studio. “If I have to be on the road it’s a great band to be in. I love it.”
Previous ‘homegrown’ profiles:
Doug Christie: NBA player, reality television star (Sept. 23, 2006)
Andrea Coleman: Los Angeles purse designer, former Disney animator (Oct. 15, 2006)
Steve De Jarnatt: Writer and director for television and film (Dec. 10, 2006)
Steven Crown: Rhodes scholar from Kalama (Jan. 21, 2007)
David Korten: Best-selling author, advocate for social justice (Feb. 20, 2007)
Tracy Miedema: Federal organic food expert (March 24, 2007)
Fran Reisner: Award-winning photographer, sponsored lecturer (April 26, 2007)
Heather Haebe: Editor at Playboy (May 15, 2007)
Dr. Brandith Irwin: Surgery-free skin care expert (July 31, 2007)
Jeremy Cheung: Personal trainer (Oct. 5, 2007)
Lyndsay Farber Lehner: Mystery novel writer (Oct. 14, 2007)
Allison Powell: Pioneer in online education (Dec. 30, 2007)
Birck Cox: Noted medical illustrator (Jan. 22, 2008)