30 Years In The Making, Dave Davies Gets the Kinks Out For First Tour
There are many important turning points in the history of rock and roll: Bob Dylan goes electric. The Beatles release "Sgt. Pepper." Jimi Hendrix plays the Monterey Pop Festival.
But before any of that happened, a 16-year-old English boy named Dave Davies was sitting in the front room of his parents' house in Muswell Hill in 1963, frustrated at the tinny sound coming from his small, 10-watt green amplifier.
Desperate for a new sound, he slashed the speaker cone with a razor blade, shredding the material. After that crude motivation, the little amp sounded fuzzy, distorted, nasty. It sounded like what it was; an amp was falling apart. That little sonic experiment might have gone unnoticed by the rest of the world, but Davies' older brother, Ray, had written a catchy little song called "You Really Got Me" on the family piano. Dave played the riff through his little green amp. The brothers formed a band called The Kinks and recorded their song.
And the world was never the same. Engineers in music companies began trying to duplicate the sound from "You Really Got Me" by adding distortion to amps and designing effect boxes. Electric guitars would no longer sound clean. Heavy metal would be born, and then punk and then grunge. Meanwhile, Dave Davies would stay in the background for the next 34 years, always the lead guitarist in The Kinks but never the star.
Until now. Last Monday, one of the most influential rock guitarists of all time performed his first solo concert, choosing a small West Hollywood club to play crowd-pleasing Kinks hits, samples from his solo work and some new songs. His second show will be April 29 at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. "I really don't know what to say about that," Davies laughs, replying to a question about why he has never done a solo tour. "It's peculiar when you think of it. I've always enjoyed playing in the Kinks, although we've always had our ups and downs, obviously."
At times the Kinks have appeared to be their own worst enemy, seemingly always out of step with the times and plagued by poor career decisions. In typical Kinks fashion, Davies' tour is off to an stumbling start, with advertisements for his Belly Up show first indicating he was either opening for the Smithereens or playing with them as his backup when actually the Smithereens are not even appearing that night.
Despite 30 years to plan for his first solo tour, the snafu with the Smithereens may be an indication to just how unprepared Davies is for the venture. With no advance publicity for his Southern California shows, Davies had to be tracked down for this interview at a friend's house in Los Angeles, and he seemed genuinely surprised that he was getting any press attention at all.
While Davies launches his solo tour on the west coast, his brother is continuing his own "Storyteller" tour in which he speaks, performs scaled-down Kinks songs and reads from his autobiography, "X Ray." "I've read the book and I thought some of it was really very interesting," Davies said about "X Ray." "But I suggested to him that he should have called it 'Y Ray.' He didn't think it was funny."
Rows between the Davies brothers are among the most legendary in rock and roll folklore, and at 50 years old, the younger Davies seems forgiving, if not close, to his older brother. "I've seen some video of it," Davies said about his brother's "Storyteller" show. "But he hasn't invited me, and I'm not going to buy a ticket. "I might invite him to my show, but I don't think I'd let him on stage," he said. "But maybe. What could I get him to do? He could play the triangle. He could play maracas. Or he could play the harmonica on 'Susannah's Still Alive.'" That Dave Davies-composed Kinks song has long been absent from any Kinks concert, but it was one of the songs performed last Monday, according to reports posted on the Kinks' web site. Davies himself wants to keep the set list a secret to surprise his fans.
The younger Davies recently released his own autobiography, "Kink," and his brother comes off both a musical genius and a manipulative megalomaniac in the book. Davies suggests he got off lightly. "I think he has read it," he said about Ray. "I know he said he hasn't. But there's been a distinct difference in his manner. I sensed he had read the book." That difference in his manner was relief, Davies said, as Ray probably had assumed he would look much worse in the book. "I think both books demonstrate how totally different our personalities are," Davies said. "You could be locked in the same room with somebody all your life and hardly have anything in common with them." The most striking difference about the two books is how Ray Davies continues to reveal so little about himself while Dave Davies shares everything from his most exhilarating moments in his career to his most painful personal tragedies. Along the way he also shares his views on philosophy, vegetarianism, drugs, spirituality and even UFOs, which he says he's seen on several occasions.
Looking forward to his San Diego visit, his interest in UFOs naturally led to a discussion about Heaven's Gate. "I was deeply saddened by the whole thing," he said. "It really affected me. I don't know why they didn't understand things like karma. "I believe in extraterrestrial beings, but apart from that whole angle, my point of view is we've got our own great heaven's gate on earth. This could be our heaven."
Davies expects to release "Unfinished Business," an anthology of his work, in mid-June, and he said the Kinks probably will be back in the studio themselves soon enough, and then back on the road as a full band. The Kinks were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and both Davies brothers agree Dave's little green amp should be on exhibit there. But in their typical style, they still find something to disagree about. Asked earlier this month about the amp, Ray said it is in a family member's possession. Dave says it's been missing for years. Ray says the amp's cones were shredded with their mother's knitting needles. Dave says he used a razor, then adds, "Who are you going to believe?" "It's difficult working with family," Davies say. Ironically, one of the most tumultuous relationships in music also is among the most stable. Along with the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and the Ventures, the Kinks remain one of the few bands of their era that has remained together in some form since inception, and they did it largely while being unaccepted in the music industry, Davies said. "It helped give us a little special place in rock and roll," he said. "We're not like everybody else."
Gary Warth, San Diego North County Times