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
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
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
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
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?"
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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