Dave Davies - Of The Kinks

By Dan Forte

Guitar Player - September 1977

"GARAGE BANDS," and the increased popularity of the electric guitar which they fos tered, came into being largely as a result of the "British invasion," circa 1964. But at the time of that auspicious musical awakening, young fans-turned-pickers were most interested not in string gauges, amp cords, and rotating speakers, but in such relevant concerns as which band members were married or single, their favorite colors, and whether they pre ferred Italian or Chinese food. The liner notes to the Kinks' second album, Kinks-Size, are full of such insightful tidbits - hobbies, pet peeves, most thrilling expenences. But hidden in the middle of the group's mini-personality profile, lead guitarist Dave Davies, then all of seventeen, listed some of his favorite musicians - which now constitute his "early influ ences." No doubt the names meant little or nothing to record buyers at the time, but the information now provides a unique insight into the beginnings of one of England's most long-lived and influ ential units. Davies' favorites were American bluesman Big Bill Broonzy, jazz guitar innovator Tal Farlow, and British R & B leader Cyril Davies (no relation). Under the category of "favorite composers," Dave further outlined his varied tastes by naming Bach, Gershwin, Chuck Berry, and older brother Ray Davies.

The London scene of the Sixties which spawned the Kinks and so many other groups of long-haired Englishmen is chronicled by Andy Wickham in the liner notes to a later Kinks LP, The Live Kinks: "The Stones were wearing uniforms in those days - black leather vests and neatly-pressed checkered pants. Georgie Fame was playing blues in a subterranean cellar club called the Flamingo, and down the street at a small club called the Scene was a young group called the High Numbers, idols of the mod cult and later to become the Who. Richmond, a bust ling wooded village on the Thames River twenty miles out of London, was produc ing its own brand of music in the form of Clapton, Baldry, Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and the Yardbirds; and the Beatles were still in Liverpool."

Groups were sprouting up as quickly as they could think of catchy names, but, in his essay on "The British Invasion" in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock & Roll, Lester Bangs helps put all of the Dave Clark Fives and Freddie And The Dreamers into perspective. "For an event so crucial in the history of pop music," Bangs declares, "the 'British invasion' produced little of enduring worth. Out of it all, only the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the Kinks have lasted the Searchers, Herman's Hermits, Gerry And The Pacemakers, and all the rest today seem quainter than doo-wop."

The Kinks' inclusion into such a selected group is usually attributed to leader/composer/lead singer Ray Davies, whose songwriting skill is often regarded as second only to Lennon-McCartney. (Some supporters, like Ken Emerson, also writing in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock & Roll, are quick to point out that Ray's 1965 composition "Well Respected Man" revealed a social satirist whose knack for detail made commentary such as the Beatles' in 'Nowhere Man' seemed vapid.)

But "You Really Got Me," the Kinks' first international hit, was far from a lyrical masterpiece, and harmonically its over-riding riff consisted, basically, of two barre chords. Today, when introducing the song onstage (usually in the encore spot of the set, immediately preceding "All Day And All Of The Night" - which is quite similar except that its main riff consists of three barre chords), Ray gives credit to his younger brother for coming up with the sound which set the whole ball rolling. The band on that 1964 session in cluded drummer Mick Avory, bassist Pete Quaife, Ray Davies on vocal and rhythm guitar, Nicky Hopkins sitting in on piano, an unidentified tambourinist, and Dave playing a Harmony Meteor through a somewhat "modified" El Pico amp. He explains: "I was just fooling around one day, and I took one of my father's razorblades and slashed the back of the speakers. My guitar through the El Pico amp was really the main sound, used as a preamp with a Vox AC 30. And we used a Telecaster in the background, played by Ray. We had recorded 'You Really Got Me' once before that, when we had Shel Talmy for a producer. He played it back, and it sounded like Phil Spector, with echo and everything. We thought, God, what happened? So after a lot of argu ment, he let us go in and do it on our own. So we did it really dry, no dressing or anything, just like the sound onstage."

(It has been reported in the past that Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page played guitar on 'You Really Got Me' and various other recordings by the Kinks. But before the subject is even brought up, Davies volunteers a flat denial. "Jimmy Page did not play the guitar solo on 'You Really Got Me'", he states emphatically. "I read that in an interview once, and many people have mentioned it to me - but that's really a lie. I guess it must be very important for him to say that. At that time, Jimmy was a friend of our producer, Shel Talmy, and he was very keen to get in on the rock scene - and he did eventually when he managed to get in with the Yardbirds. But what's Jimmy Page complaining about? He's great, he's done some great guitar work - why worry about it?")

At a time when adjectives like "beat" and "heavy" were used to describe the rock and roll emanating from England, "heaviest" was reserved for the Kinks. The sheer depth and power of their early performances make any of today's "punk" rockers (which can be said to be an exten sion of groups like the early Kinks, the Who, and the Yardbirds) sound like high school glee clubs. But, though it is virtually absent from their initial hits and did not surface till songs like "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion," the first music to influence the brothers Davies was country and western, in the Muswell Hill district of North London where they grew up.

"Even now, there are a lot of Irish immigrants who live in North London," explains Dave. "They're all into country music. It really is a part of the social life; you go down to a pub, and there's a country and western band playing, you know. Doesn't really sound very English, but that's how things have changed over the years; whereas a few years back, there'd be a guy sitting at a piano singing 'Roll Out The Barrel' [laughs]." (The Kinks later recorded an album entitled Muswell Hillbillies which is virtually an hommage to their country roots.)

Dave now recalls his early guitar influences as "banjo pickers and guitar ists. Oh, James Burton was my idol! This was about the same time that I was listening to people like Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. There were no really good guitarists in pop music or rock; James Burton was bridging the gap between country music, if you will, and commer cialism. When we were on the Shindig TV show in '65, I was over the moon, because James Burton was in the Shindogs. I've still got his records at home - those great solos on "Hello Mary Lou" and the other Ricky Nelson records. Scotty Moore [Elvis Presley's first guitar player] was also incredible."

Another influence, on later cuts such as "Sunny Afternoon," was the English music hall. According to Dave, the change from the raucous numbers like "Till The End Of The Day" to the softer, more melodious tunes was completely uncon scious. "'Tired Of Waiting For You' [1965] sort of linked the two styles," he feels; "it was sort of rock but a bit more melodic. I think Ray would really know why the change took place more than I; he was very prolific at that time - like, every two hours he'd have another song, you know. I suppose you can look back on anything and analyze it, but I don't think at the time we were that aware of trying to create or contrive a certain type of music. It wasn't until '69 when we started touring America that our music started to change a bit. We had been banned by the immigration people, because some people who were supposedly representing us screwed us up with the tax people and the musicians union - we knew virtually nothing about it. That was really mar velous; it held us up considerably."

Because he is self-taught, playing totally by ear, Dave usually improvises around the melodies and chord changes Ray writes. "Sometimes Ray will turn around to me and say, 'Will you stop improvising!',"he laughs. "But I impro vise around what he does, and I think it helps him. I don't think I could do it any other way, because not having had strict musical training I react in a more creative way possibly than I would if I were a technician. I like to think that every time I'm going to play something it's going to be something new. I think that's why I enjoy playing so much. If I felt I had to play the same note sequence every night, then I'd go nuts."

As Ray Davies got deeper and deeper into his singing and composing, he began to play less and less guitar onstage. Consequently, up until recently when Ray started to use his own rhythm playing more, Dave had to hold down both lead and rhythm. "I like to feel busy," states Dave; "I enjoy rhythm and the inflections and accents you can put into playing rhythm, and I like playing solos as well. I wish I had another hand."

Though he now uses primarily a Gibson L5-S Custom onstage, Dave has been through a variety of electric guitars, and many will remember him on the Shindig show mentioned earlier playing what looked like a Gibson Flying V. "When I flew to L.A. to do the show, my guitar was lost on the airline. I was heartbroken. So when we arrived in L.A. a guy said, 'Come along, I'll take you to a store, and we'll have a look around.' And they had all these guitars, but I didn't like any of them. So I looked up on the top shelf and saw this dusty old case. I said, 'What have you got there?' They got it down, and I saw what I thought was a Flying V. I later found out that it was a Futura, which dates back to, like, '56 and had a slightly bigger body. [Ed. Note: Ted McCareney, former president of Gibson who designed the '58 Flying V and Explorer, states that the Futura was a prototype of the Explorer body (not the Flying V) and was made around 1956 or '57. "When we would sit around at the Gibson factory and design these guitars," says McCartey, "we'd usually make about a half dozen models, each slightly different. When we decided on which one would go into production, the other five or so mavericks would be sold to dealers. So there are a few of these one-of-a-kind models around."] Three days later I was using it on Shindig. I've still got it actually - it doesn't go out of the house.

Besides the "V" and the L5-S, Dave's collection of guitars now includes: "a '54 strat which I love very much; Ray's old Telecaster that we used for rhythm on 'You Really Got Me'; and another black Tele; an old Les Paul; a more recent free-pickup Les Paul with a black body; and a Gibson L6-S, a great guitar. But model names and numbers elude me, actually."

Dave doesn't feel the change in axes over the years has really affected his sound because as he puts it. "I get such a rude sound, I think the difference has been negligible. When I started to use bigger equipment I began to listen to the sound a bit more. As you get into recording different sounds, your ideas begin to change, you start to analyze what you're doing."

Along with the changes in guitars came a series of different amplifiers. Around '67 everyone was trying to get bigger, more powerful amplifiers. And people were using Orange amps which were about the size of a house. They sounded absolutely terrible, but they were loud. So I started using Hi-Watts, which I liked for a time - I got a cleaner sound, but I wasn't terribly happy with them. I stayed with those for possibly two years, then I started using (Fender] Twin Reverbs, which I liked very much. Today, I'm using a Peavey amp, which has had its moments, but I'm not totally happy with that either. I'm still looking for a good, decent amp. Peavey's quite good; I've used the small Peavey Pacemaker on albums, and I was really pleased with the sound in the studio, but onstage they're too temperamental.

"I've got four Peaveys that I use in the studio now with a Tele," Davies conti nues, "and they sound great. And I use them with a flat, very long reverb echo - it's beautiful. But it's not a sound I can get when performing live. Telecasters onstage seem a bit thin for me, especially up until recently when Ray wasn't playing much electric rhythm. I needed a thicker sound to compensate for rhythm. But now Ray's started playing again, so I can get a more harsh sound onstage, which is what I like. Playing with an electric rhythm guitar behind me is great."

As for tone settings, Dave says he is "constantly fiddling around, but I suppose I do have some standards. When I used the Twin Reverb, I had the brilliance right up, the treble right up, about half on the middle, and half on the bass (at about 5) - so I could get quite a bit of depth and a lot of highs, too. That was the most consistent amp I've used. One fault I found with the Fender Twin Reverb (which is why I stopped using it) when I was using it with the L6-S was that it had a goad sound, but it was very thin. And I like to use quite a lot of bass, for a very thick sound, so I started using the Peavey - and now I get really hefty middle and bass response, although the amp isn't a very reliable one."

For recording levels, the Kinks have tried a variety of combinations. "I tried using small amps turned up," Davies relates, "but somehow there was some thing not quite right - I don't know what, maybe it was psychological, but it wasn't like having a big amp turned up loud. When you're playing, even though you're in a studio, you like to get some sort of atmosphere, try to create some sort of live energy. From my point of view, I don't think you can get a good sound from playing small amps loud in the studio."

For acoustic things, Dave uses an Ovation with a built-in pickup and also owns a Martin. "I used to do the folkier and bluesier things on acoustic guitar," he recounts, "and Ray would do the picking things. Like I said, we were brought up with a lot of American country and western roots. Ray's a good picker, you know. He plays very well with the little bit of classical training that he had; it enabled him to develop a little bit of fingerpicking technique."

Virtually all of Dave's guitars are stock models, and he uses very few effects devices. "I don't like to change the guitars. If I've got one I'm in love with, I'd think very hard before changing anything about it, unless something was radically wrong. But if it's just a bit noisy or buzzy, and I like that particular guitar, I pretend the noise doesn't exist. That's why I started using an MXR Noise Gate. I've never been one for using a lot of gadgets, though. I've recorded with a Roland Space Echo and the MXR units, possibly all of them. I like the limiter/compressor very much, because it's handy for playing rhythm things; you get a really nice clean sound. I quite like the MXR phaser unit, the Phase 100. But wah-wah pedals I hate. And I don't use boosters, because they make a terrible noise." As for the differences between com petitive brands of strings, Davies jokes, "I usually use wire ones. I don't know - I've been through so many different strings, and I think they're all a rip-off. I think they're probably all made by some Red Chinese company with just different names stuck on [laughs]. I've used a lot of kinds that are supposed to be great but weren't. Lately, I've gone back to using Fender Super-Lights - after going through Picato, Ernie Ball (which I feel are the same as Fender). I use an .008 on top. On my Les Paul, I use fairly light strings and low action; on the Custom L5-S I use the same make strings, but a heavier gauge and slightly higher action - it just re sponds better to that setup.

Now thirty years old, Dave Davies still finds time to practice and try out new guitar ideas to work into the band he's played with for nearly fifteen years. "In the beginning, the guitar was very close to me. Now, on tour, it's not always easy to practice, yet I think I might even practice more today than I did then. When you're working, it's a part of your life; you're playing all the time, and it's a constant thing. The guitar's always there, like a member of the family."

Of Davies' favorite guitarists active today, he states, "I think Albert Lee is the most underrated guitarist in the world! I first met him when he was with Chris Farlowe, And The Thunderbirds, and I worked with him and actually used him on some sessions for a singer I knew. I really admire him very much."

But when talking about favorites and influences, the conversation inevitably comes back around to Ray Davies. I think Ray has really been responsible for a lot of changes in rock music, although we've not always been in the limelight, so to speak. I think Pete Townshend has always respected Ray's writing - more than he might care to admit - and, although the Who's musk is very different from ours, I think Ray has influenced a lot of Townshend's compositions. I think the Kinks probably contributed more to the changes in rock than would be appar ent just on the surface."

By Dan Forte - Guitar Player, September 1977

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