He first surfaced in mid-1976 as a founding member of Th' Dudes, one of the country's biggest bands of the era; Dobbyn was widely tapped as their breakout star, earning notoriety for writing and singing their biggest hit, "Be Mine Tonight." Critical backlash, combined with drug and alcohol problems, ensured that Th' Dudes' success was short-lived, and following the group's 1980 demise, Dobbyn went into seclusion, writing and recording solo material in relative anonymity. A tour playing guitar in Sharon O'Neill's supporting band followed, and in early 1981 his debut solo single "Lipstick Power" appeared on CBS; it failed to chart, however, as did the follow-up, "Bull by the Horns."
In mid-1981, Dave Dobbyn's Divers -- a band also consisting of ex-Lip Service guitarist Rob "Revox" Guy, drummer Peter "Rooda" Warren and bassist Lisle Kinney -- made their live debut. After a handful of gigs, they rechristened themselves DD Smash and soon issued their first single, "Repetition"; it quickly reached the Top 25, and led to the 1982 release of the LP Cool Bananas, which entered the charts at number one. After an auto accident, Kinney left the band, and with new bassist Ian Morris, DD Smash resurfaced in 1983 with the hit "Outlook for Tuesday." After a concert LP, Live: Deep in the Heart of Taxes, Dobbyn fired everyone but Warren, recording 1984's The Optimist with session players.
On December 7, 1984, the new DD Smash played a free concert which ended in rioting; Dobbyn was made the scapegoat of the incident, and was tried for inciting the crowd to violence. The charges were eventually dismissed, but Dobbyn's reputation was sorely damaged; in the wake of the trial, he kept a low profile, recording the soundtrack to the animated feature Footrot Flats, and in early 1986 resurfaced fronting a new group dubbed Dave Dobbyn and the Stone People. The solo single "Slice of Heaven" followed, reaching the top of the New Zealand charts. Another single, "You Oughta Be in Love," was also enormously successful, and after extensive touring, Dobbyn finally issued his proper solo debut, Loyal, in 1988. After a handful of singles, he resurfaced in 1993 with Lament for the Numb; Twist followed a year later.