Comeback Kink

Photo by Val Wilmer/Redferns

By Dave Hunter

The Guitar Magazine - January 1999

From temperamental 'baby brother' in world hit-makers The Kinks to the father of overdriven British rock guitar, Dave Davies has ridden out a rollercoaster career to keep on rocking, both as indispensable partner to brother Ray and solo artist in his own right. Now a new compilation bridges the gap ...

So often music's defining elements are some of its simplest ones: the searing heat and bleak Delta horizons conjured up by Son House's glass-on-steel zwannnng; Hank Williams' nasal country drawl lamenting 'I'm so lonesome I could cry'; the funk-essential snare drum whack of James Brown's drummer Clyde Stubblefield. It's telling, then, that a single, two-position power-chord riff served to define not one but two major points of departure in the evolution of rock guitar. When Dave Davies' crunching, distorted two-chord intro to You Really Got Me hit the airwaves in August 1964, the British charts - packed with the likes of the Honeycombs, Jun Reeves, Cilla Black and Manfred Mann - had heard nothing quite like it. When Eddie Van Halen chose to cover the song for Van Halen I in 1977, it was a clear reaffirmation of the simple power of that riff.

While The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and a few other Kinks contemporaries had their 'heavy' moments, You Really Got Me is widely acknowledged as the first appearance of recorded heavily distorted electric guitar in the British charts, and thereby the progenitor of hard rock as a genre of popular music.

'The Beatles didn't like to do gigs with The Kinks because we used to blow them away, says Dave Davies in confirmation. 'We had a much heavier sound.'

Having invited TGM for a cuppa and a chat in the lounge of a discreetly post-modern-posh Kensington hotel, ostensibly to discuss his recently released two-CD Kinks/solo compilation Dave Davies Anthology : Unfinished Business (Castle), the erstwhile Kinks lead guitarist and newly rejuvenated solo artist is nevertheless happy to scamper back over old ground - and still cheekily pleased to have been the hard kid on the block all those years ago.

'People always said our music was "quirky"... and when I first came across people saying The Kinks were quirky, I didn't know what they meant,' Davies puzzles. 'I always thought quirky meant "out of the norm" or "unusual" or something. Nothing was as unusual as You Really Got Me at the time, so yeah - I think "Kinks" and "quirky" go together.'

Like so many other young British rock'n'rollers of their day, The Kinks originally formed in 1961 to play what they thought of as R&B, though while the raw power of the 'people's music' that appealed to the young Davies brothers remained at the heart of their own sound, they stretched the root further toward. By the mid-'60s, in fact, The Kinks were seen as the quintessentially English band.

'Initially Ray and I used to do duo stuff - he'd write instrumental tones and I was the rhythm guitar player,' Davies recalls. 'We did our first gig when I was 11 in the pub across the road, only because
my dad used to frequent the place. We'd do this sort of Chet Atkins thing. Ray had classical training, which really served us well later when we got into the studio, but I just used to pick ... I thought I was Earl Scruggs or something, but I didn't know what I was doing.

'Then an important thing happened: our brother-in-law, Mike, introduced us to Big Bill Broonzy. I'd never heard anything like it. I was awestruck; I just could not believe the power, the soulfulness of it. From then on I knew I wanted to hear more of this stuff - him, and others like John Lee Hooker. He had a funky guitar sound, and it had that buzz, that drive. I used to listen to him and think "what the fuck's he doing there? That's amazing - how do you get that sound!?"

'I think it was all those elements that led to me messing around with amplifiers, because all the amps were clean, soulless. The blues players were the first to crank it up and the music had that spirit, that anguish, that a lot of working class people had. You could relate to it easily through music - it was probably the first time working class people had a voice, in the late-'50s and early '60s.'

Photo by Petra Niemeier/Redferns
Rather a categorical philosophical leap from shredded speaker cones to modern social theory, perhaps, but in the music's odd trajectory from the Mississippi Delta to Muswell Hill the dots do somehow join up, however oddly. And if a big factor of this newly acquired working-class voice was a distinct desire to put the shits up the middle classes, what better to do it than the sound of modem technology pushed past its limits?

'All of British culture - the movies, playwrights, politics, television - was defined by the middle or upper-middle classes, the "terribly, terribly" types,' explains Davies, affecting his best plum-mouthed toff. 'Then you started to get those films like Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, all the "aye, god, bloody hell", swearing, drinking pints of beer ... and we related to that. It was a very vital, very interesting period - and the middle classes were terrified because they had the house and the car, and they wanted to keep it that way.'

When hit-making producer Shel Talmy was enlisted to finally break The Kinks in the charts after two lacklustre covers releases, the team decided to focus their efforts on a Ray Davies composition for a change - but the slick, studio concoction that was the first recording of You Really Got Me lacked the working-class growl and grime that the brothers so wanted to capture.

Shel Talmy's production of You Really Got Me was abominable - all this echo and gloss, you really couldn't hear the guitar at all,' moans Davies. So we went back in to do it ourselves. We had to fight and argue to get there, but that was the way we wanted it.' Indeed, that was the way the people wanted it, and the track steamed confidently into the number 1 slot.

But how did upper-echelon society take to the 'heavy' sound of The Kinks? Oddly, thanks to their upper-class first manager Robert Wace, one of the band's main audiences was debutante balls and society-season bashes.

'A lot of them loved it - "Oh, jolly good, that's splendid!" - dancing away in their £500 suits,' laughs Davies, arms jigging stiffly side-to-side like your tight-arsed uncle Cedric up on the dancefloor after one too many vermouths at a family wedding. 'It was like that Monty Python sketch, The Upper-Class Twits.

We played this place called The Grocers Hall, some rich do where the guy would throw a massive party for his daughter. So we would get to drink champagne all night - and shag posh women, which is why I was put on earth, I'm sure! So we had a lot of that around us and Ray was absorbing all of these influences. I was always the demonstrative one if there was a party happening I was always the one in the middle of it. But I think this was how Ray's writing developed, just from being in the band and picking up these things - seeing a different side of society and how society was changing.'

In classic songs like David Watts, Waterloo Sunset, Autumn Almanac, Sunny Afternoon, Dandy, Victoria, Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, A Well Respected Man, and the entirety of 1969's concept album Arthur, Ray Davies delved exploratorily further into the whole concept of Englishness than any other songwriter of his day. Meanwhile, for all his influential guitar grindings, the younger brother was occasionally feeling somewhat under-appreciated. Solo singles like Death Of A Clown, Love Me Till The Sun Shines, Lincoln County and Susannah's Still Alive, which Dave Davies variously wrote and sang, scored well enough with the fans but were sometimes confused in the listening public's mind as just further efforts of brother Ray.

'Yeah, there's been some confusion,' acknowledges Davies, 'like on I'm Not Like Everybody Else, which I included on Anthology - it was never a hit for The Kinks, but over the years every true Kinks fan relates to that particular song, and it's funny, because that particular version is one of the only songs where Ray and I actually swap lead vocals. Elsewhere, when he sings lead I do the octave harmonies, or where I sing lead he's doing background vocals. Ray and I have very different ranges, fortunately, and our textures are different, which really helps for distinctive harmonies.'

While the band weathered occasional solo ventures, brotherly fallouts and even the odd bout of sibling fisticuffs, it was more the divergent styles of the day than ego conflicts that seemed to threaten The Kinks at the close of a very successful '60s. Contemporaries like The Stones, The Beatles, The Who and others had already dipped their toes in the candy-coloured waters of psychedelia by 1969 when The Kinks' studio experimentalism took more lyrically thematic form.

The ambitiously conceptual Arthur (Or The Rise And Fall Of The British Empire) - which drilled even deeper toward the malaise The Kinks perceived at the heart of contemporary English society - is now acknowledged as an artistic masterwork, but pop pickers at the time were generally either confused by its scope or dismissed it as an attempt to imitate the Who's much-hailed Tommy (despite the fact that Ray Davies' project had been conceived and nearly completed by the time Pete Townshend's rock opera was released). The perceived failure was very much the start of a downward slide into the '70s.

'I think there were two main factors to our problems,' says Dave Davies. 'One, we were banned from working in the States for three years because our manager had fucked up with the unions, and the other was ... well, my favourite Kinks album is Arthur, I thought we'd really found a path. At the time it felt so right; it was like another You Really Got Me. Ray was writing fantastic, sensitive words that were so relevant to what was going on - better than any politician. I was really surprised at the response we got to (single) Shangri -La, because I thought it was going to be a massive, massive hit.

'I think The Kinks were always coming in ahead of our time,' he muses, apparently still rather puzzled by the 'failure'. 'We could have recorded stuff and put it away for five years before bringing it out and we would have done all right. In my solo show I do Young And Innocent Days, and it's one of my favourite songs. It's a timeless song, and there's no way it should get buried in all the shit that's gone on in music since.'

All the same, The Kinks weathered their first run at fame - and failure - to come back for second and third bites at the cherry. Successful stadium tours in an arguably less-quick-to-forget North America in the late-'70s, followed by a new record deal with Arista that spawned (largely American) album hits from Misfits, the live One For The Road, Give The People What They Want, State Of Confusion and others all helped carry a significantly rejuvenated Kinks well into the '80s and beyond. The band's new commercial stability also proved a springboard for Dave Davies' most prolific period as an artist in his own right, with the release of solo albums AFL1-3606 ('the bar code album'), Glamour and Chosen People between 1980 and 1983.

Davies' independent efforts will forever be overshadowed by his work with The Kinks, but the solo arena continues to give him major personal satisfaction. 'What I find really interesting - and it's something that's taken me a large part of my adult life to learn - is that failure doesn't exist, because everything that you do is a part of something that you're going to do next,' he explains. 'As a creative person you may think you've failed at something, then find out later that you've really learned from it. I wish I'd realised that when I was feeling really shitty about Shangri-La not being number one.

So with everybody's creative and emotional heads back in the right place these days, is there any chance of a Kinks reunion? 'Noooo,' declares Davies with a strenuous shake of the head. Sucks, man. I hate that whole reunion/comeback thing - "Hey hey, we're the Monkees..." No disrespect to The Monkees, but... Ugh! I'm really enjoying my solo thing, and I've got a band that I really like, so that's all going great. I'd like us maybe to get together in the studio and make an album, or at least me and Ray as The Kinks. Now, that would be fun.'

By Dave Hunter - The Guitar Magazine - January 1999

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