Dave Davies - Out Of the Ordinary
By Danny McCue
Guitar Magazine - February 1990
"The Rave" Davies, lead guitarist and founding member of the Kinks, sits
in a straight-backed chair next to a simple table, in the lobby of the Parker-Meridian
Hotel in New York City. Perhaps indicative of the Meridian's reputation as a musician's
hotel - as I waited for Davies, a band checked out; during the interview, Gene Simmons
walked by, flipping down his shades - no one interrupts us for an autograph. Davies
apologizes for being slightly sleepy. "You've caught me first thing in the morning,"
he chuckles, before sitting down. Soon he begins to peel off the years, as he talks
about his earliest guitar experi ences. Prior to the Kinks, Dave was a big fan of
the Ventures. "I think the Ventures were a fantastic band. I used to like their
B-sides. I remember one they had out called 'No Trespassing.' It's fabulous. It's
quite heavy for the time, and the rhythm guitar player was actually the first I ever
heard who played just the three strings that comprised the bass notes, rather than
the whole chord. That was a good excuse not to play the whole thing. Pete Quaife,
who was one of the original members of the Kinks, and I, had a band at school and
we used to do instrumental things."
Thus, the genesis of the sound of the most famous band to come out of Muswell Hill,
North London. The band at this point was called the Ravens, and Dave's brother Ray,
soon to be the architect of international hits, was still at college and exploiting
his connections with the local jazz scene, earning extra money as a rhythm guitarist
and harmonica player with the Dave Hunt Blues Band. Dave Davies, in the meantime,
worked on his image, patterned after Eddie Cochran. His mother gave him the down
payment for his first guitar, a Harmony Meteor; the hire/purchase card, which he
still has, bears the marks of a series of 30 shilling payments. "The trouble
is, I haven't got the guitar, which is a bit sad." In 1963, Ray Davies left
Dave Hunt and became a permanent member of brother Dave's band; shortly thereafter,
they became the Kinks.
"Until Ray decided to make it with our band, the people he played with were
coming out of the jazz-influenced side of music, and I think what we were doing was
more unique, purely rock and blues influenced, and something the musicians he had
been working with looked down on. There's this great film, 'Jazz on a Summer's Day'
(a documentary of the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival), It was one of Chuck Berry's first
appearances at a major festival, and he was the only real rock n' roller on it. His
back-up band was a jazz band, and he was playing out of tune and yet he was great,
and you could see in that film that those musicians sitting behind him really didn't
like him. They were looking down on him. But he knew he had something. I found that
a really big influence."
The film had another influence on the band, which was signed to Pye Records by producer
Shel Talmy, in January 1964. It inspired the record which, after two flops - a cover
of "Long Tall Sally" and an obscure original, "You Still Want Me"
- became the first record by a native combo other than the Beatles to sell a million
copies in Britain alone. "Ray was a great fan of Gerry Mulligan, who was in
that film, and as he sat at the piano at home, he sort of messed around in a vein
similar to Mulligan and came up with this figure based on a 12 bar blues - if you
were in G, you'd go to C - from that we wanted to do a varia tion on the blues, so
we decided we'd go from G to A and A to D. [When we recorded] "You Really Got
Me," it was like we were running out of time in the studio, because we re-recorded
it after deciding we didn't like the original version, which was slower. It was like,
whatever I did was what we used, and if you hear it, it's got that anxiety about
it (laughs), 'They're going to throw us out of the studio any minute!'"
Talmy offers another reason, besides re-recording, for the Kinks' early rushed sessions:
"One of the problems, which I tried to keep from them, was the guy who ran Pye
at the time was one of the worst people I ever had the displeasure of meeting,"
he says, a day after the interview with Davies. "He was really a bastard, even
as inexpensive as things were in comparison to now, in terms of, 'You can't spend
more than this, and if you do, it's coming out of your (meaning my) bread, as opposed
to the band's.' I tried not to rush them, but in many ways, I had a gun to my head."
Talmy used three different microphones to capture the sound of Davies' guitar; one
to capture the sound of the strings, up near the fretboard, one near Dave's amp,
a Marshall, and another, more distant from the amp. "I'm sure he told you he
used a razorblade on the cone and that he kicked the amplifier to get that fuzz,"
says Talmy. "That's true, and it was my job to then translate that onto tape."
Recalls Davies: "I didn't like any of the guitar amps we had at the time, and
I got ahold of this little amplifier from a radio shop that was just up the road.
It was only a little 10 or 12 watt amplifier, and one day, in a fit of frustration,
I cut up the speakers with a razorblade. That's how I started to get the distorted
sound [that carried over to the records]."
By early 1965, after the monstrous success of "You Really Got Me" and its
follow-up, the equally power-chord heavy "All Day and All of the Night,"
the Kinks, despite charting better than such good natured rivals as the Rolling Stones
- who leaked a story to a Fleet Street daily that one of the Kinks had six toes on
each foot - felt a need to switch gears or else be trapped in one groove. The result
was "Tired of Waiting for You."
"It's a ballad, isn't it?" asks Davies. "That was the first hit ballad
- 'hit ballad,' that sounds really weird - that we ever had. That song had been around
quite some years. It was an instrumental that Ray and I used to play together 'cause
Ray's a good guitar picker, really - and then he wrote a lyric to it and we recorded
it, but it didn't sound right. The guitar parts weren't strong enough. So I went
in and put the heavier rhythm guitar part on last, after it was finished."
The Live Kinks, recorded a full three years before the Stone's Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out
and released a decade before The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl, provides a Pandora's
Box-top look into an era when screeching girls were louder than the band onstage
and the Kinks were loose enough to interpolate the Batman television show theme into
their set. A few nights after it was recorded, Dave Davies was knocked unconscious
during a concert in London, resulting in the rest of the tour being canceled.
"It was a weird period, because you'd get up onstage and you'd play for like
ten minutes, and they'd be screaming at you - there was no point in actually playing
- we used to have a little private bet before some gigs; we'd say, Well, are we going
to be onstage 10 minutes to night, or 12, or 20?' And some nights you might have
a little bit more to drink, thinking you'd only be onstage for 15 minutes. I'm sure
Asked if he found the situation frustrating as a guitarist, Davies replied, "It
was dreadful, but I liked it. That period was a lark, and it was only after a few
years, when things started to settle down a little, that we realized that we were
doing this for a living, and that we'd better relearn our instruments."
With that new sense of dedication to their craft also came an emerging devotion on
the part of the principle writer, Ray, to the habits, quirks, and small pleasure
taken by a typically middle-class Englishman - as witnessed by the string of singles
that followed: "A Well Respected Man," "Dedicated Follower of Fashion,"
and "Sunny Afternoon." The songs also showed off another side of Dave Davies'
guitar playing, the perfect accompanist for an evening in an old fashioned English
"The blues influence is always there, but you can't help but be influenced by
what's going on around you. At that time, Ray was probably the only writer doing
what they used to call 'social commentary.' Later things we did, people didn't like,
especially when we touched on the period of Arthur (an LP originally commissioned
as a teleplay by UK Granada TV; its subject is an ordinary man reflecting on his
life), which I got great satisfaction out of. When we started to do that, I really
thought, 'This is what the Kinks really mean. This is what we're going for.' And
it was not accepted in England at all. People got the wrong end of the stick."
It should be noted that the Kinks took the pastoral route at precisely the same time
that the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper and Clapton was "God." Davies addresses
the divergence in style: "I suppose we always felt like misfits in a way. Whenever
there was a trend, we always stood out of the way to let it pass." And then,
with a little instigation, he takes on the idea of the holy guitar triumverate -
Clapton, Beck, and Page. "Maybe I'm a bit obstinate, but I didn't really feel
they affected me. I thought it was strange at the time when Jimmy Page thought that
he invented the guitar at one point. Really, I think [the concept] was just another
side effect of the drugs, and the ego and the glamour of the time. I think it got
a bit carried away. Page actually played tambourine on one of our records, and all
of a sudden he's got these great delusions that he's partly responsible for some
of the Kink's mu sic, which he wasn't."
"Lola," which was a big chart hit in 1970, heralded the Kinks' return to
mainstream success. "'Lola' was written in a similar way to 'You Really Got
Me.' We got together in Ray's front room, and Ray had the basic idea of the song,
the skeleton idea for this song, and I just started playing E in the bottom position,
moved it up to A, leaving the E string open and in the chord. Ray said, 'Ah, that's
great. Let's put that in as well.' [As a songwriter] Ray has a very firm idea about
what he wants to do, and I try to accommodate him as best I can, but I think in certain
areas, on certain songs, there's a lot more collaboration than people realize. Although
Ray and I don't get on particularly well, there's a lot of empathy and unspoken energy
that goes toward the finished product.
"I think a rock 'n' roll record should start off being a song and should end
up being a song. I think that everything around it should be complementary to it,
or help it to evolve, rather than get in its way. I've always tried to keep that
in mind as a guitar player. Rather than say, 'Let's start with the guitar and a 16
bar solo.' It's the song that's important, and the individual parts add to it."
The band, ever volatile internally, went through another of its episodic down periods
in the mid-70s, finding its way again after a label change, at this juncture from
RCA to Arista, and the release of Sleepwalker, their finest over all effort of the
decade. They also got an unexpected career boost from bands copying their old hits,
something Davies considers a compliment; but in the case of one of the most famous,
he harbors a slight twinge of misgiving. On Van Halen's version of "You Really
Got Me," Dave says, 'It's flattering, but it was sort of techno-flashy, which
I think is not how the whole force behind the song came about. The song came out
of a working class environment, people fighting for something, whereas Van Halen's
ver sion sounds like people who've got everything they need. It's not the same feeling,
but it's flattering nonetheless."
In 1979, the Kinks released Low Budget, and the single off the album, "I Wish
I Could Fly Like Superman" - a disco flavored tune - became their biggest hit
in years. On its heels, they began three years of constant touring. "I think
that one was, not the biggest mistake, but it could've been one of the biggest mistakes
we made. I remember I had quite a difficult time with Ray while we were making the
record, because I didn't like the direction it was going. It was a strange time for
music in general, anyway. The fact that it's funny, that it was a humorous song,
saved it. I don't feel bad about that song at all, but it could have been a big mistake."
After peaking commercially with One for the Road, one of the great live al bums of
any era, the Kinks have gone through a peculiar time in the 80s, the most obvious
symptom being a tenden cy on the part of Ray Davies to recycle the songs of their
own past, like "Destroyer," a rift-by-rift recreation of "All Day
and All of the Night," and "Sleazy-town" a recasting of their late
70's ode to Arab oil interests, "Gallon of Gas." It's something that has
led to a series of Dave Davies solo albums: PL 1 3603, Glamour, and Chosen People,
but as the Kinks are his reputation, one has to wonder if he's felt more limited
"Yeah, sometimes," he says. "It got to a point that whenever we were
going to play something in G, I'd say, 'I don't want to do it in G. Let's try another
key.' You canít just sit down and play "You Really Got Me" rifts the rest
of your life. That's why a lot of heavy metal tends to tall down for me, because
it starts to sound like you can take the members of one band and put them in other
bands and itíll sound similar to how it sounded before. Youíve got to try and develop
individual clarities and uniqueness."
Today, touring behind U.K. Jive, the Kinks first album since disbanding temporarily
at the conclusion of their '88 tour, Dave Davies finds peace of mind in the tact
that three of his own compositions, "Bright Lights," "Perfect Strangers",
and "Dear Margaret," wound up on the new album. Previously, he'd been allowed
only a single song per LP (about the same as George Harrison's quota on Beatles'
records). And although something of an elder states man, he still gets a guitar out
in his hotel room when on tour, "Playing for enjoy ment. I practice, but then
I start writing songs; trying to play something I never played before." Onstage,
he prefers a Fender Elite, a limited edition, which he likes because the feel, he
says, is like that of a Telecaster, while the pickups are a little ballsier than
the standard Tele's. "They suit my playing, because I don't like to fiddle around
too much with different sounds onstage. I like to keep things simple and I find I
can play light things with a clean sound, and do heavier things without too much
messing around. They're a good workhorse."
Summing up his place in the guitar scheme of things, Davies is unabashedly frank.
"Without sounding too modest," he says, "I think that guitar sound
circa 'You Really Got Me,' and 'All Day and All of the Night,' has influenced more
guitarists than any other. To think that people are still doing that rift, or that
sound based on that sort of rift; it's quite good really. It makes me sort of feel
like I invented the Dam Buster - a bomb they invented in England that would bounce
on the water until it came to a Dam, then blow up." He shrugs. "Not that
that's a particularly good thing to invent, a bomb."
By Danny McCue - Guitar Magazine, February 1990
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