If it wasn’t for grunge, Jon Levin never would have gone to law school.
Throughout the late ‘80s, Levin had built himself a solid career as a heavy metal guitarist, most notably with the German band Warlock. But when Nirvana hit, he saw the writing on the wall.
“In an instant, you saw the entire Sunset Strip going from guys with long hair looking like they wanted to play in Whitesnake to, all of a sudden, everyone’s wearing flannel,” he remembers, looking back on the year he cut his hair and enrolled in Loyola Law School.
Levin graduated cum laude in 1996 and by ’97 had his own practice in Century City. He used his old music contacts to build his client list, specializing in entertainment contract law, as well as the occasional divorce case because, well, rock stars get divorced a lot.
He still played guitar in his spare time, but his old music career was the furthest thing from his mind. So far, in fact, that when one of his clients, a member of Dokken, invited him down to the studio to “play a few solos,” he showed up in suit and tie. “I’d been in court that day, I think.”
Levin has assumed he would be helping out his friend and client’s solo project. Instead, he was greeted at the studio door by one of his childhood idols, Don Dokken himself.
He’s grateful now that his client (to maintain client confidentiality, he won’t say which band member it was) hadn’t been more specific, because the intimidation factor would have kept him at home: “Dokken was my favorite band growing up. Had he said it was for Dokken, I wouldn’t have ever done it.”
Don Dokken was all business. “He had a Les Paul in his hand and I guess he was skeptical — he didn’t know who I was.” Without a word of greeting, the ‘80s metal icon thrust the guitar at Levin.
“Here,” he said to the young lawyer. “Play.”
[Growing up playing in bar bands on Long Island, Levin had studied the solos of Dokken’s original guitarist, George Lynch. So despite his nerves and Dokken’s deliberately vague directions (“It’s in 'E'—just solo”), he nailed the audition and was invited to perform with the band at a Fourth of July concert in Dallas just a few weeks later. “It was a sold-out show; there were 20,000 people. That was my entrance back into playing.”
Despite the success of that gig, Levin opted to go back to his law practice. “I was getting my business going and I didn’t want to let that go,” he explains.
Levin estimates that he did “another 13 or so” shows with Dokken over the next four years. But it wasn’t until 2003, when the band was heading into the studio to record their ninth album, Hell to Pay, that he became Dokken’s full-time guitarist.
He’s been with the band ever since, enjoying the career resurgence they’ve had since their 2008 return-to-form album, Lightning Strikes Again. Levin himself, who now co-writes most of band's material, had a strong hand in shaping that record. “I wanted us to do a Dokken-sounding record,” he explains — a concept Don Dokken was slow to commit to, but has since fully embraced.
Now, when Levin goes to perform with Dokken at big classic rock and metal festivals, he’s a rock star guitarist onstage and a rock star attorney backstage. Of the Rocklahoma festival, which Dokken last played in 2013, he says, “So many of the bands that were there, I represent someone in the band.”
Levin is cagey about his client list, only naming names in the vaguest possible contexts. (“Standing next to” is one of his favorites, as in, “Some people say I’ve stood next to [name of famous metal singer] in a legal capacity.”) But the handful he’s cleared to confirm give you a good idea: Alice Cooper band members Tommy Henriksen and Chuck Garric. Rob “Blasko” Nicholson, bassist for Rob Zombie and Ozzy Osbourne. James Kottak of The Scorpions—and his ex-wife, Athena Lee, sister of Tommy and star of the reality show Ex-Wives of Rock.
Sitting at a round conference table in his Beverly Hills law office, the 48-year-old Levin looks more the part of attorney than rocker these days — though his jet-black hair does curl slightly below the collar of his pinstriped suit. This is his first summer off the road since he joined Dokken full-time, and although he insists that constant touring didn’t hurt his legal practice (“No one comes to an office when you’re doing entertainment clients”), he’s trying to drum up more business.
“The whole music industry’s so different,” he says, in a voice that still bears a trace of his Long Island roots. “The record budgets I see now are less than half of what they once were. And now they want a percentage of ancillary rights, which encompasses anything you do. They want 10 or 15 percent of the gross because they can’t make money selling records.”
With a smile, he adds, “I’ve negotiated it down to 8 percent, in certain instances.”