Dave Davies - Band Focus

Rocklove Online - February 1999

[Photo by Jim Steinfeldt]

"I think a lot of musicians are going back to using older instruments and amplifiers. They're looking for a kind of character in the music and sometimes older things have more character to them."

In his book Kink (published by Hyperion), The Kinks' guitarist Dave Davies recalls the day in his parents' front room of their Muswell Hill (a London suburb) home when he first became completely and forever enamored with the guitar: "When I was sixteen, I discovered how to make my guitar scream," writes one of the leading guitar purveyors of the modern rock era.

Along with his older brother Ray, Dave Davies and The Kinks made history. From You Really Got Me to Lola, All Day And All Of The Night to Living On A Thin Line, Low Budget to Where Have All The Good Times Gone and so many more hits, The Kinks are etched in our collective rock n' roll memories for all time to come. Now 52 and embarking on his first set of solo tours, Dave Davies is out promoting an anthology kronikling his Kinks and solo material, as well as playing shows where the music recounts his almost 40 years in the music business.

Most interesting about Dave Davies and musicians of his time, is that they didn't have The Beatles, The Stones and The Kinks to draw from as influences. The late 50s and early 60s were the virginal times of rock n' roll, times that Davies, his brother Ray and The Kinks helped to subsequently deflower. "We come from quite a musical family. Ray and I are the youngest of eight and we have six older sisters, so they would play piano and stuff and brought lots of different music in the house, everything from Doris Day to Fats Domino to Elvis Presley," Davies tells RockLove as he, very English proper, sips tea in his Los Angeles hotel room the day before a recent gig. "So, there was a lot of different influences. And also, our parents come from a generation where they were into vaudeville music and they used to go to concerts and shows and see everything they liked, but there was quite a diversity and mixture of music we were opened up to. And then of course, I really liked Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran was a big hero of mine, Buddy Holly, of course."

[Photo by Jim Steinfeldt]

And for the younger Davies, it was artists like Eddie Cochran who he saw as stepping away from the norm to create something new and fresh, something that would lead youngsters like The Davies brothers to take the music to the next logical step. "What was on the radio in England at the time was very pop oriented, very light weight music, like ballady types of things, very gimmicky

[Photo by Jim Steinfeldt]

records," recalls Dave Davies of the times. "It was like a revelation to hear Buddy Holly, the excitement and freshness of it. Rick Nelson, I mean a lot of these rockers then had a heavy backbeat. Rock Around The Clock was really quite a vibey record at the time. All those influences, very

There was an impetus there that made Davies go after the guitar, excelling to a point where the world musical landscape would forever be changed. "I heard a blues guitar player called Big Bill Brunsey who really, I decided I wanted to play guitar after hearing him play. Him and that mixture of Eddie Cochran were the two that made me actually want to get a hold of a guitar. It was really from then that I learned to play guitar as quick as I could and it just sort of grew out from there," says Davies about his early guitar enthusiasm. "Ray and I played out as a duo in a few local pubs and stuff, we would play at school and then it kind of all of a sudden, after a few gigs, grew out of that, evolved out of that."

Success did not come immediately though, for the brothers Davies. At one local North London hall gig, their bubble was almost burst by a promoter who didn't quite like what he had heard. "One of our first shows we did was at a place near Muswell Hill, North London, where we lived and there was a hall there that used to have a dance every Saturday night and we begged and pleaded to play there because we thought we were great--we had one amplifier between three of us and the drummer had a very basic drum kit," explains Davies about an early show that would lead to practice, practice, practice. "We got up there - the guy said we could have a spot and we played. And after we had played the guy, the promoter told us that we were probably the worst band that he had ever had there and that was a little bit disheartening. But we practiced and we did some more local shows."

[Photo by Jim Steinfeldt]

Things started to move for The Kinks when they hooked up with an agent--one who coincidentally enough, was serving as The Beatles' promoter and agent. From that moment on, things started to turn around for The Kinks, a hit record followed and in those days, one hit single skyrocketed artists into the national and international spotlight. It is said that artists who are living such quick and phenomenal success really don't see the whole thing at the time, as they are living it from the inside. "It was just so exciting, so euphoric, it was like amazing, one long high. I think though, that after a few years, when you season yourself to it really and realize that it's all a very fragile
existence, then you know that you can't take yourself too seriously," says Davies on the reality of stardom. "I think when the realization dawns on you, you put things in perspective a bit and I'm just glad that I'm still able to do what I do after all these years."

What is difficult to understand for Dave Davies is the impact that certain songs have on the fabric of social culture. "It's difficult for me to view that objectively, explains Davies, adding "It's obviously amazing how we've influenced now three generations of musicians, The Kinks have. It's quite surprising."

Take, for instance, the song Lola, one of the more controversial songs in modern rock. The all-time great hit about a transvestite, still today, throws listeners for a loop. "We just thought it was little bit tongue-in-cheek humor that we might slip by the radio censorship, which it did. We always tried to get things past the censors and a lot of people didn't realize what the song was about," recalls The Kinks' guitarist about the naivet* of the public. "In fact, I was doing a radio show a couple of months ago and a guy phoned up from Texas and we were talking about that, Lola, and he said 'Hey, Dave, I've been playing Lola in my show, I do a covers show and I only just found out it was about a transvestite, I think I'm dropping it from my set.' He was actually performing it and he didn't know what it was about.
Weird, isn't it?"

[Photo by Jim Steinfeldt]

The relationship between Dave Davies and his brother Ray has been written about for years. Where did brothers like The Gallaghers (Oasis) learn such influences? Dave Davies says that the media makes more of it than what these relationships really entail, but that they also have benefits in the making of the music. "I think that obviously there were very difficult times that Ray and I had--we bumped heads and sort of got in each others way a great deal, but I think that what people only know of are the bad incidents and there's the really good magical moments, which far outweigh all those little negatives," says Davies, adding that some of the worst of times fueled what became some of the best of times - and the best music. "I think generally the whole intensity of our relationship, looking at it as an overall thing, I think it only helped our music. You know, without that intensity, a lot of stuff might not have happened or been generated. Sometimes you need energy and intense situations to create things. Not always, fortunately. But sometimes, it's important."

What kind of wonderfully horrific things could fuel such energy, one might ask? "Tensions. Sometimes tension makes the atmosphere different, you know, it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck and things like that. But our goading each other, it's very difficult to define, but sometimes when you're stimulated emotionally, you play differently, there's more aggression in the notes that you're playing," explains Davies about the good that came out of often stormy situations with brother Ray. Even their family found their relationship competitive, to say the least. "My sisters used to come and watch Ray and I play tennis some years later and they thought it was hilarious, the level of gamesmanship and the cheating and the tryin' to one-upmanship and things."

Dave Davies took some time to make solo records in the 80s, but in this anthology tour in support of his Unfinished Business 'Best Of' package, he is finally out on the road with a band. "I had solo records in the early and mid-80s and that was enjoyable. It was fulfilling enough for me to make the albums and it was suggested to tour at the time, but it didn't excite me," says Davies, adding "With The Kinks, I had been touring quite heavily anyway, so it seemed silly to finish one tour and then go out on tour again."

However, as one would imagine, the whole solo experience brought Dave Davies back into The Kinks' fold, refreshed and ready to help fuel what became a 1980s wave of resurgence in the band's popularity. "It was lovely. It was a chance for me to express meself how I had wanted to, I had a lot of songs I wanted to get out there and I had a lot of ideas that I wanted to get off of my chest," explains Davies in his thick and heavy English accent. "It was a very vibrant time for me, I really enjoyed that. I think it really helped, it refreshed me and put a different spin on things, it recharges you, I think."

[Photo by Jim Steinfeldt]

[Photo by Jim Steinfeldt]

Music has changed so much since the early hey day of The Kinks. But for a lover of guitar-based music like Dave Davies, he finds that it all comes back to the riff and the song, both of which he finds plenty to hoot about these days. "I think all really good ideas don't change all that much. I think all good rock n' roll music is based on riffs. Look at Rage Against The Machine and Korn, I mean, it's all riff-based rock and I think riffs always are the fundamental basis behind any song, any rock song. So, I don't think it's really changed all that much, I mean, what's interesting now is that there's a lot of diversity out there now. There's lots of different types of bands out there," explains Davies, the music fan, adding that his only concern has to do with the studio and technology. "I just warn people not to spend too much time in the studio, I think that's where music can suffer. There's too much technology now in the recording studios and there's so much equipment, you don't really need half of it to make a really good rock n' roll record."

Comparing the situation to The Kinks way of doing things, Davies says "You know, it is the songs that are the most important thing - my own songs, I want to make songs work and sometimes in the studio, you could spend days and days getting the drum sound and it defeats the object, you know. Most good engineers can get the sound going in a few hours, get it up and get cracking. It shouldn't be a labor, because if the songs work then it's sonically interesting enough."

Bringing us to the present, Dave Davies is out on tour with some younger musicians who he finds rejuvenating. His set consists of romps through Kinks' songs, some solo stuff, never before released material, all told in song, his favorite form of communication. "I really enjoy, it I love it," says Dave of his first-ever solo tour. "I find it really energizing working with these younger people and I get a great buzz off of the crowd. It's very fulfilling for me. I love every minute of it, I'm really enjoying singing, I've always enjoyed singing, although sometimes I use singing as an instrument more, but you know, I'm just having a ball. I think it's fabulous. I get a chance to mix the set up, I do some old Kinks songs, I do some new songs of mine, like the Unfinished Business song and unreleased material, I get to
mix it up good."

[Photo by Jim Steinfeldt]

Unfinished Business is an interesting title for an anthology album. Does it imply that there is more to come from Dave Davies' arsenal? "I think the whole set up of the record is that the past is great and I'm here today still, fortunately. There's my solo stuff and there's also new stuff and it's an ongoing process," explains Davies of the anthology title. "It's very much a statement that means that there's still a lot of creative ideas I want to pursue and music I want to do--very much so."

Switching the topic to his instrument of choice, the guitar, one can't help but ask such a pro of his caliber about the evolution of the instrument. "I think they've tried to fancy it up a lot of times, didn't they," he says, rhetorically. "But I still use fenders and I don't think they've changed. I mean I met a band the other day and they were all using old guitars like an old Gibson and an old valve amplifier. I think a lot of musicians are going back to using older instruments and amplifiers. They're looking for a kind of character in the music and sometimes older things have more character to them. Some of the new stuff is too sterile, I think that's what's really exciting about young musicians that I've met. Take Beck, he's created an awful lot of character within his music, the style of his voice and his interesting use of words. It's about character rather than technique. Some of this technology has a cold, daunting type of thing, especially when you go in the studio with all this sophisticated equipment."

[Photo by Jim Steinfeldt]

As for the music that influenced him, Dave Davies seems ecstatic about a resurgence in the blues, the music from which most modern day rock has evolved from. "Blues has always been the basis behind rock n' roll anyway. When you think way back, Elvis, Eddie Cochran, a lot of these guitar licks were kind of blues-based guitar, I don't know who Eddie Cochran's influences were, but I would have loved to have known. That's what we were hungry for when we first started," says Davies about how the blues influenced his earlier days. "Rock n' roll and the blues, it's all intertwined with emotions and people being frustrated or unhappy or happy - it runs the whole gamut of human emotions. And that's what I think is at the heart of all the blues and rock n' roll--singing about things you hate and singing about things you love. Even some of the early country music was like that. When I first listened to Hank Williams when I was a kid, I felt it was very touched with rock n' roll sensibilities. It was about loss and loneliness and fear and what's going to happen tomorrow, it was very interesting and I think bands are rediscovering these emotions, as well as a love of the blues."

[Photo by Jim Steinfeldt]

It's the power of music that is behind it all, whether you are Dave Davies, who has been around for almost 40 years making music, or today's current crop of rockers. "It is incredible that the communication of music breaks down everything," explains Davies of his love for the live gig and the manner in which musicians and audiences communicate at such events. "It connects people in a heart sense and that's why anyone can go to a rock n' roll show - you don't have to be a political person, you don't have to be a member of a certain sect or anything. You can go to a rock n' roll show and you can commune with the emotions with everyone else that's there. It's a great way to share energy."

And it is those emotions that make it fun, even after all these years. "I'm 52 and I feel like I'm 25 when we're up onstage, it's very energizing," admits Davies about his current show and performing, in general. "The feel good factor is nice and it brings a smile to your face at the end of the night. One of the reasons why I think The Kinks have had such a long career is because the humor element has always sustained the music I think. You can't take yourself too seriously."

Our time together nears an end and I ask the one question I have pondered for the entire time, what of The Kinks? Can they become the next big band to reunite one more time, giving fans one more glimpse of the glory and joy they have provided us with all these years? "It's possible, nothing definite, but it's a possibility," says Dave Davies, leaving the door more than a crack open. It is a crack we will all try to insert our collective feet into, hoping that the Davies brothers and The Kinks give it one more go. There is, as Davies' album implies, Unfinished Business.

But for now, let us rejoice in Dave Davies' first big solo tour ever. "I recount my life through the selections I choose, I do it through the music. There are certain things that I communicate, but it's mostly through the music. It's a rock n' roll show, but I do quieter moments, more subtle songs, it's quite a mixture."

Rocklove Online, February 1999 - Photographs by Jim Steinfeldt

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