Dave Davies - Out Of The Survivors

By Matt Resnicoff

Guitar Player - March 1990



"We don't throw equipment at each other as often as we used to. There's still a lot of friction there; it's just that we've learned to live with it."



'Pardon me, boy, is that the Poughkeepsie choo-choo?" Ray Davies is making one of his inimitable launches into spontaneous composition, so the Kinks dip into their deep idiomatic bag and start swinging. Over at stage left, Dave Davies laughs as he kicks down his volume and comps along expertly through the changes. Ray does his best to milk the moment, but tonight's crowd of stone-faced locals seems to be getting a bit restless. When the muse flees for good, Ray wheels around and signals his brother, who glides into overdrive and sends out a bolt of metallic yelps that puts the band back on the rails of its streamlined, strategically paced set.

The Kinks' self-contained Rock 'n' Vaudeville revue has long been structured to accommodate all creative detours, onstage or off, and each ironic twist plays a crucial part in their legend. And if risk or tension has motivated the wanderings of the band's two prime movers, it's been easy to forgive them: While Dave and Ray were out on their respective limbs, they probably did more to validate rock and roll than most bands that went before or since. The Kinks were not simply the most vital, entertaining, and prolific band from the British invasion to survive into the '90s, but the only one to survive at all without calculated reconciliation, the agony of defeat on the solo-career front, or the sponsorship of the masses. It's merely a nominal honor that this year they've been selected for induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame; against the unseemly back drop of this inspirationally sagging industry's many recent reunions, revivals, and resuscitations, they deserve the Rock And Roll Purple Heart.

Sweeping through that quarter-century of pathblazing is the inspired guitar work of the younger Davies, who, since his speaker-slicing teens in Hornsey, North London, has gone on to level some of rock's most inspired instrumental moments (as friction between him and his brother intensified, Dave's personal saving grace - probably what kept him in the Kinks at all - was that his solos became not only ubiquitous, but required song components). Dave cut his teeth onstage and in the studio with the band, continually exhibiting a discipline and range scarcely found among his Invasion contemporaries. From his raucous pentatonic stabbing on early classics like "You Really Got Me" to his deft chord-melody work throughout 'Arthur Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire' to his rippling fingerstyle on the rootsy 'Muswell Hillbillies' to his funk/reggae chops on tunes like "Black Messiah" from 'Misfits' to the wicked, overbent notes pouring forth from his Gibson Les Paul Artisan on the road with the Kinks in the late '70s and early '80s - well, let's just say Dave Davies knows his way around the neck.

As Davies' musical scope expanded, so did an urge to convey an identity outside the lead guitarist, harmony vocalist, and occasional songwriter/vocalist roles he established in the Kinks. During a break between tours in late 1979, he hunkered down at the band's own Konk Studios in London and recorded his first and best album, AFL 1-3603 (an earlier attempt at a solo album, actually a collection of '60s B-sides and singles by Davies backed up by the Kinks, was aborted with the guitarist's blessing 15 years earlier). Two follow-ups, Glamour and Chosen People, were less cohesive efforts, likely a result of outside collaborators absent from the debut. "It was a wonderful experience," says Dave of the AFL 1-3603 sessions. "I played all the instruments, produced it, and engineered half of it. I really needed to touch every aspect of what it takes to make a record. I even went to the factories to see how they were pressed. When I came to make the next one, I felt I needed other musicians around me again. That was good, because I realized that maybe I would actually enjoy touring with the Kinks again. Sometimes you have to go away and come back to realize that it was all right at home in the first place."

At 42, Dave still doesn't mind mussing expensive suits when getting pulled into a mass of maniacal fans, or extending a still-strapped-on instrument over a wiggling sea of fingers to let some one in the first few rows have a go. The stage is a perennial site of rebirth for the Kinks, and, with the coming of each album, for new songs, as well. Those on UK Jive, their 32nd album, are as poignant as any they've recorded in years; from the discontented screams and snarls of "Aggravation," through the melodic vocalizing in "What Are We Doing?" through the bittersweet, futile whisper of "Loony Balloon," it gives a fresh account of one of rock's (and rock guitar's) greatest treasures.

You've practically seen and heard it at all; what catches your ear these days?

I don't go out of my way to listen to any thing specific. As you get older, you tend to put your interest into a lot of different kinds of music. I'll home in on unusual things, whether it might be a fairly quirky vocal sound or a different style of guitar playing. When I first got over, someone asked me what I'd been listening to - I suddenly realized I'd been in the studio for a year with the Kinks [laughs]. Once you're in, you don't listen to anything much outside. But I listen to anything - anything that's played with a bit of passion, interest, or uniqueness.

Is that passion missing in contemporary music?

I think so, probably because of the advent of all the sequencing and programming in certain types of music. Years ago I used to write songs on acoustic guitar, and I didn't consciously think about bar structure. It was similar to the way a lot of folk songs are born: You just play it and sing and you get a melody. And when you get down with a rhythm section, you find you've got all these funny bars, like a 5/4 bar, and since the advent of new technology, you tend to think in stricter bar patterns. I've experimented with it, but it's too intelligent, too analytical for me. I prefer things that happen more spontaneously. It's taken a lot of its power and passion out of rock and roll. That's probably why there's a lot of young guys in hard rock bands now, and that seems to be happening more over here [in the U.S.] than anywhere else.

Is England still steeped in synthesizer music?

It is, really. I think it's changing now. People are starting to get a bit fed up with it. We've almost reached a period like we did in the '70s, when everybody was really starting to get pissed off at disco. There's a kind of similar thing happening now, at the end of the '80s, with all this moronic dance music. It's good to dance, but people dance when they come to our gigs [laughs].

Except for more recent isolated moments, the Kinks have avoided trendiness and industry-conscious compromises. In fact, there wasn't a single ad for any of the current gigs you're doing on the East Coast.

We really only put this tour together at the last minute. Typical us. We spent a lot of time in the studio, and were all very eager to get out and start playing live again. The studio's boring, particularly for me. If it's not happening, I like to go on to something else, but Ray's a bit more persistent. He likes to try a thing right through to the very, very end - people falling over and all that. We really needed to get out working, because we're a touring band. This is one of the longest breaks we've had between tours over here.

In the early days of the Kinks, the small guitar-bass-drums unit was pretty well preserved, but during the Village Green period in the late '60s, you began experimenting with horns and orchestration. Whose idea was that?

It was a natural evolution. When you try to expand ideas, you can be limited by your instrument. Certain colors and images suggest other instruments. That's quite an experimental record for a rock band. There was a mentality in that period about change for change's sake, which we never went along with. With us, it was more like the change was necessary, but you don't throw it all away; people who felt that way were not in the mainstream of thought at the time. Things like Preservation, they're very special little times. Like good books, they're not always best-sellers, but you find it and read it one day and think, "God, that's amazing!"

Anyone familiar with the pre-1979 Kinks might go to the shows today and think, "Where has all that great material gone?" Don't you miss doing the songs from the old days?

The thing is, there's such a hell of a lot of material. At the moment, we're bringing in new songs that seem to be working really well, and it's exciting. We're entertainers. We learned that the hard way a long time ago. You've got to perform for people; you've got to give them something. But I know what you mean. I always felt that things like Soap Opera and Preservation were neglected; they should have been movies or on Broadway. All those things were just a little bit before their time. Two years later, it had be come fashionable to do that, and we'd al ready done it.

Those records must have been challenging, since they presented many opportunities for thematic ensemble playing, and for guitar statements that worked with the stories. The solo in "Headmaster" [Schoolboys In Disgrace] is a real work of art in that way in illustrating what Ray is singing about.

And for untrained musicians, that's something of a minor achievement, because I'm the type of musician who functions very inspirationally. When we did Preservation Act 1,I had a bit of a problem with it. But the more I got into it, the more I thought that it actually was quite good, because we were experimenting, and I had to pay much more attention to the lyric and structure ot songs. It makes you realize that songs are the most important thing anyway. You listen to how you can color something by not playing so much. It was an important, interesting time. It also brought a lot of humor back into the music, because we'd had a really sort of weird, tucked-up period towards the end of the '60s.

You mean, as far as a perception of the band?

Yeah. For example, we made Arthur, which I still think is one of the best albums we've done. It was a true conceptual piece, and English people just didn't want to know. Radio wasn't interested at all, and I resented it. Particularly, I like "Shangri-La," a very compassionate song which was totally misinterpreted as though we were having a go at the little, common man. Years later, we found that guys like The Jam drew a lot of inspiration from it. So it all adds to itself; your work becomes bigger, because it influences all kinds of people. That's the most exciting thing about being involved in music. It's not enough to just be a good musician anymore, because anybody can play if they have time to study. What's lacking in most rock and roll is individuality. I'd like to think when you hear Dave Davies play, you know who it is, and when you hear Pete Townshend play, you know it's Pete Townshend - the unique style of players. That uniqueness is special. With a lot of bands now, you can take a guitarist out of one band and put him in another and you won't notice the difference.

When did you find your voice?

I liked the guitar sound on "All Day And All Of The Night," the second single we had. When they tried to develop amplifiers that had pre-gain and all, I thought it wasn't quite right, and I struggled with the sound for a while. I never liked Marshalls, because they sounded like everybody else. Then in the mid '70s I started using Peavey, and people said, "Nobody uses Peavey - country and western bands use them" [laughs]. I used to blow them up every night. I used two Peavey Maces together, and it was brilliant. I still use one, but I don't have it on the stage; I use two Gallien-Krueger stacks for the front line, with the Peavey in back to add warmth. It's a nice mixture, and it's reliable. That's why I don't take a lot of guitars on the road. Over the years I've learned to find some that stay in tune, without the worry of carrying around expensive guitars that are easily stolen or damaged. Rock and roll is a very practical thing anyway. You can say a lot very simply.

Your sound has tended toward the ag gressive throughout the Kinksí career.

I was a wild kid, always discontented. I've always had an aggressive streak. As you get older, you learn to deal with the crazy parts of your personality, but that sound was born out of total frustration. You see, amplifiers all sounded the same in '62, '63. It used to drive me mad, this funny, clean guitar sound. In a fit of frustration, I just took the screws out of the back of this little Elpico amplifier, not much better than a radio, and slashed the speakers up with a razor blade. I hit a chord and this phenomenal sound came out, just amazing. I used to use it as a pre-amp into a bigger amp, like a Vox AC3O. We did our first tour, with the Hollies and the Dave Clark Five, and I'd get onstage and plug in my little amplifier and people used to come over: "The bloody noise coming out of that that thingl" They used to make fun of me about it, but I didn't give a shit - arrogant kid, and just as well, at the time. The Hollies had a bit of vision about it, but a lot of the others thought it was a joke, that I was being silly. And after a while, people started trying to copy the sound, and manufacturers even built amplifiers with specifications to actually create a sound like that.

Did you make a lot of slashes, or just a select few around the cone?

I did silly things. I started putting drawing pins in, thinking that their sound would have some effect. I didn't know anything about electronics. I was 16. The drawing pins just used to pop out; they didn't do anything. Then I realized that making holes might change the sound. I nearly electrocuted my self plugging those things into each other, not knowing at all what I was doing.

Did you have any guiding lights in those days?

At a young age, I loved the Ventures, who were one of the first bands that actually used three-fingered barre chords rather than the whole chord. That's the first time I ever heard that. There's an instrumental which I still think is a classic, "No Trespassing." It's got that chugging sound I always liked. We didn't have guitar readies in those days, so we'd be onstage and the tuning used to go. Sometimes the bottom strings would stay in tune better, so instead of playing a full chord, you'd just hit the bottom three strings; it made the chord sound so much tougher and bassier. You only find things like that out of limitations. Sometimes you find out a lot more than when you've got everything high gloss, high-tech, perfect.

What else inspired you?

I used to listen to anything that had guitar on it. When I first heard Big Bill Broonzy. I thought the bends were just amazing. I used to like Rick Nelson records, because the guitar sound was so fantastic. James Burton is such an influence on rock and roll guitar playing. Because it wasn't country, although it was country-influenced, it was more special.

A lot of Kinks music had a country influence, of all things.

Oh, yeah. When I was really young, I had a lot of Hank Williams records, and I thought that the emotion in some of his early stuff was very similar to the emotion in good rock and roll. Although it was more swingy, it was that same sort of feeling, which a lot of modern country music doesn't have - it's become too smooth. I always wanted to play steel guitar, as well, but I never really had the time to get around to it. It's a very sad/happy sound. I like things that have a lot of poignancy, that make you feel like you're re membering something, but you're not sure what it is.

Some of your solos sound very composed, and at the same time, very off-the-cuff "Life Goes On" [Sleepwalker] is a good example. Do you ever work them out?

Ideally, if I'm emotionally stimulated, I feel like I can play anything. With "Life Goes On," we sat down and Ray just started playing it. It was the song that was really important: the emotion it created, the hollowness of it, but the fullness, as well. Those kinds of things really get me going. It just came out, because it was still that period where you could go into a studio and make a decent record ing in a couple of days; you didn't have to spend three weeks just trying to get a sound on a drum computer. You could actually go in and do a song and the solos at the same time. I play off Ray's vocals, the way he expresses himself. Although I love guitar, it's still only an instrument that should help the song. That's my musical role, in a way.

It's easy to trace a rapid development in your early playing with the Kinks. The way you were chording on Arthur - for a kid slashing up speakers, it's pretty disciplined parts-playing.

It wasn't a conscious thing. Who knows what goes in? There was always music in the house as kids, and it comes out all different ways. I'm not a great believer in sitting down and working out guitar parts. If they work, they work, and if they don't, you don't use them. You do things however you can. When I was making my first solo album. I had never really played keyboard, so I bought a keyboard chord book. I couldn't look at it; it irritated me, so I started just playing. I thought I was making up all these chords, only because they were different trom guitar inversions. It was great, and it helped me write. I found out what I was playing on guitar: "Oh, this is a Gmaj7" [laughs]. That sounds very naive, but that little process made me write a lot of songs I might not have ever written, It makes me think back to when I was 14 or 15, and I felt very fortunate that I didn't end up just going into a factory, which I quite easily could have done. I could have been strung out on a street corner. I was lucky, being a wild, arrogant kid, that I had a way of expressing myself through playing. There are so many other feelings and depths to people that you can't analyze or write down, although Ray's probably come nearer to it than most. You've got to find that self-expression. You know, when I was 14, banging out those few chords I knew, I thought I knew everything, but it triggered off something else in me which was very important.

How did you get the huge sound on "Nothing More To Lose" [AFL1 -3603]? Does Konk Studios have a gymnasium-sized amp room?

It is quite a big room. I'm not going to tell you everything, but the builders were doing some work next door, and they'd left sheets at metal lying about that reflected a lot ot sound. Also, I used my Peavey amp in a corridor between the vocal booth and the room. It gives a sort of tunnelly sound, and we put mikes all over there for strange reflections.

Chosen People has a song called "Mean Disposition," where you use a bunch of electrics and acoustics that all really pop out in the mix.

I was working with a keyboardist on the steel guitar and brass parts and thought, "What am I doing? I want all guitars." I realized that I could do the same brassy part using electric and acoustic guitars and build it up from there. A lot of the charm at the early Buddy Holly records came from that chingy guitar. So I just used a Simmons drum with a bass drum preset to help the guitar out on the bottom.

Did you trade off acoustic guitar parts with Ray on Kinks records?

It would depend on the song. Sometimes it's easier to play two acoustics, but most of it is Ray. If you write the song, your own style of playing helps it out. There's a song on UK Jive called "Now And Then" which we tried to record with different arrangements, and it never worked, so in the end we did it with two acoustic guitars and Ray singing, and it worked great. We kept the vocal and the band built around it. I would have liked it to come out with just two guitars and a vocal, but that was Ray's decision. Although we have a lot of arguments, you've got to know when to stop. Otherwise, you never get any thing done. Creative people, if you don't al low them room, get stifled and can't work.

But the same goes for you, too. If he's telling you to play different notes while you're trying to solo, it might hold you back.

Well, that's when arguments occur. That happened on this album on certain things, but in the end you compromise. You have an argument over some guitar dub, call him an asshole, and say, "That's it; forget it," and then you realize that there are so many much worse places in the world to be. I do a bit of what I want to do, and he gets a bit of what he likes. It does work both ways. But it's difficult for him to give me space. I find that's why I like playing onstage much more than recording. Working in such close proximity in the studio with people is difficult enough anyway, but when you've been doing it with the same people for a while, it's even crazier - real science-fiction stuff at times.

As the inventor of an often-copied sound, and as part of a group of renowned British guitar innovators/heroes, what are your perceptions of the current state of things? It must have been bewildering to have young listeners compliment you on "Van Halen's 'You Really Got Me'."

Well, it's always very flattering for people to copy you, but it's only music, isn't it? It is an important vehicle, but we shouldn't take it too seriously. We've been copied more than a lot of people would care to admit. Ray's music has impressed upon and influenced a lot of people in many different ways, but that's good. When I first heard Van Halen's version of "You Really Got Me," I laughed. It just seemed so exaggerated. It really missed the point of the whole meaning of the song: four working-class guys, struggling to do something different. In the original record, you can sense that in its energy, the roughness. It's very impure, the Van Halen thing; it's very accomplished and flashy, but what does it mean? Whereas when the Stranglers did "All Day And All Of The Night," I thought it was much more respectful, because they actually tried to get a similar snare drum sound and guitar sound, which I thought was strange; I can't imagine anybody wanting to do that anyway [laughs]. But at least it seemed more respectful to the original concept and feeling. Even the solo was like the original solo, which I thought was really nice and sweet.

There's been some confusion surrounding whether Jimmy Page did the solos on those records, but it's quite obvious that the guitarist who played on "All Day And All Of The Night" also did "You Really Got Me," as well as the solos on all those other Kinks records.

You see, Jimmy Page was a friend of [producer] Shel Talmy's, and was a session player who used to hang around and hope that he could get in on sessions. And we locked him out. But he learned a lot, you know, like the many other people who wouldn't admit borrowing from the Kinks. And I suppose when he became successful himself, all credit due to him, his ego was so inflated he probably thought he invented the bloody instrument anyway, being carried along on that crystal and glamour. It's all an illusion, building your ego up, and eventually something's going to pop it like a balloon and you're back flat down on your ass again. Which is what happened, didn't it? And I suppose it was a bit unfortunate of him; I thought he did me a great injustice by saying that. Besides, I can't see anybody crazy enough to play a solo like the one on "You Really Got Me" anyway [laughs].

How old were you when you did that?

16. Iím 42 now, so it would have been spring ë63.

Was it strange being in that line of work while so young?

Actually, I had a great time. I'd virtually just come out of school. I had a little job cleaning musical instruments, but I used to work in clubs at night, playing. And all of a sudden we were making some money, which we never had before. I feel the pressures much more now than I did when I was that age [laughs]. Like every other aspect of life, you've got to work at it to get something meaningful out of it. But I enjoy playing more now than I have for a while. I hope it lasts for ages to come.

How did you discover Gibson Artisans?

I wish I could remember. I think it was a limited edition for about a year, and I've been trying to get others. I like the sound, the feel, and the weight - it's really nice. It's like a Les Paul, really, just a variation on a theme. I don't use them as much now. I use another limited edition onstage, a Fender Elite, which is also variation on a theme. A lot of people don't like them, but I happen to think they've got a lot more sustain and balls than the regular Telecaster. I've never been a great lover of specialists' guitars and pick ups and things. I'm very practical; I use a very simple, slow phasing effect, and that's all. I don't use any gadgets. I've had lots of bad experiences with them, and in the end they just get in the way.

You're able to go from a good heavy sound to a good clean sound without losing volume.

It's the volume control on the guitar. One thing I like about the Gallien-Kruegers is that I can run both channels, but not use them both at the same time. One channel has a clean sound, but at a similar volume level as the other, which has a rougher, heavier sound. It's simple, you see - just two things to think about.

You and Ray have always gotten nice acoustic sounds.

We've got a couple of old Martins that we've had for years. Mine's got a big crack in it from when Ray threw it at me about 15 years ago. It still sounds alright, and I'll never let it go. We've had a Guild 12-string for a really long time. I have a '60s-model Fender 12-string that looks a bit like a Jaguar, and it's got a great curved neck, which is a good idea for a 12-string. And Ray's still got his original National Dobro that he used on "Lola" and "Apeman." I used it for some slide work on Muswell Hillbillies. It's nice, but if you haven't played it for a while, you pick it up and think, "God, how can anybody play these things?" [laughs].

Do you miss the spontaneity of going on stage and not knowing what you would be playing, or whether you'd get hit in the head with a hi-hat?

There's still a bit of that; some nights Ray just throws songs in, or writes a song on the spot, gets about halfway through and says, "Oh, let's get on with it." We don't throw equipment across the stage at each other as often as we used to. There's still a lot of friction there; it's just that we've learned to live with it. Playing live is a release for a lot of stuff that goes on. But we've been through some really terrible periods. It's such an un glossy world, really, and it's so unglamorous there's so much that can go wrong. It's so easy to look stupid.

Did you ever threaten to quit the Kinks over artistic differences having to do with making the band more guitar-heavy?

I always find that strange, the tendency to always categorize things. I find that the actual sound and the feeling of the best Kinks music - apart from the majority of it being Ray's writing - comes from a compromise in energy between me and Ray. I suppose it's surreal, really, because you're working in some sort of mental world all the time. Especially in the studio, there's that strange sort of feeling that you're waiting around for something to happen through the night. When you find a couple of days later that you've accomplished something, you don't believe it. I like that, though. I'm happiest when I don't notice whether I'm happy or not, like when you lose yourself in a situation, and all of a sudden, it's gone and you think, "God, that was great, wasn't it?" All the time outside those sorts of feelings, I feel that I'm searching for something. Which is actually the nature of the creative beast, I suppose; you've got your antennas out all the time. And when there's two or three or four of you doing it in the same room, it can get a bit strange [laughs]. It's really a crazy thing to do for a living.


By Matt Resnicoff - Guitar Player, March 1990


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