A Kink's Kronikle
....More than thirty years after the release of 'You Really Got Me,' well-respected Ray Davies continues to rock all day ad all of the night. 'I'm not like everybody else...' Ray Davies repeats this sentence four times in each chorus of the Kinks' 1966 teen rage anthem of the same name. As he does so, his voice modulates from a belligerent sneer to a defiant, doomed yelp. It is one of the most chilling moments in all of rock. It is also a monumental understatement. As songwriters go, Ray Davies is like nobody else. One of the most literate tunesmiths ever to work the genre, his peers have names like Townshend, Dylan and Lennon/McCartney. But for all his verbal wit, Davies hasn't got a pompous bone in his body. His songs tend to be simple and direct. They cut right to the heart of their subject matter----or 'To The Bone,' to quote the title of the Kinks' brand new single.
Raymond Douglas Davies has written some of the most influential songs of the rock era: 'You Really Got Me,' 'All Day and All of the Night,' 'A Well Respected Man,' 'Sunny Afternoon,' 'Lola,' 'Celluloid Heroes,' 'Superman,' 'Come Dancing'.....Some were big hits. Some are cult classics. All are memorable. Davies' tunes have been covered by everyone from Van Halen to Shonen Knife, from Herman's Hermits to the Pretenders. (Lead Pretender Chrissie Hynde was Ray's lover in the early Eighties.. They had a daughter and lots of highly publicised brawls, but that's another story.)
When the Kinks first came on the scene in 1965, they had the longest hair and the roughest sound of any rock and roll band. They were androgynous and endearingly sloppy--foppish and thuggish all at once. They were banned from performing in America during the late Sixties. Garage punk, heavy metal...trace any rude, anti-social style of rock music back to its shadowy source and you'll find the Kinks lurking there.
'I'm not like everybody else...' By the end of the Sixties, Ray Davies had proven that, in his case, non-conformity wasn't just a fashionable pose. When the whole rock world was preaching hippie revolution, the Kinks were singing nostalgically about village greens, cups of tea and Victorian decorum. They were sarcastic when rock was pie-eyed and utopian. They were sentimental when rock was jaded and cynical. Throughout their 30-year career, they've dabbled in 'unfashionable' styles like British music hall, American Tin Pan Alley and country. Their eccentricities have endeared them to a small, but fanatical, band of misfits known as Kinks fans.
The Kinks were one of rock's first cult bands. While mainstream success has eluded them for decades at a time, they've also benefitted from flying low and avoiding the radar. When the punk revolution exploded in '77, the Kinks were one of the few surviving Sixties rock acts not to be universally denounced. Instead, The Jam lovingly covered Davies' working class football yell, 'David Watts.'
'The great thing about the Kinks,' says Davies, 'is that none of the new punk bands said anything about us being boring, old farts. They knew we could out-punk them. Certainly Dave could.'
Dave, of course, is David Russell Davies, Ray's younger brother and the Kinks' lead guitarist. The brothers' ceaseless sibling rivalry is as legendary as the Kinks' classic hits. They hold all known records for on-stage punch-ups and music-press pissing matches. They make Cain and Abel look like monks. Oasis' Liam and Noel Gallagher have clearly learned many things from Ray and Dave--and not only in the 'hating thy brother' department. Today, Davies and the Kinks are rightly hailed as the godfathers of Britpop, the musical progenitors of Blur, Pulp, Elastica and all other modern practitioners of well-made, three-minute tunes with clever lyrics and catchy melodies.
Three decades of Kinks history are beautifully summarised on 'To the Bone,' the band's new two-disc set, which weaves together live material and an 'unplugged' session taped before a small, invited audience at the Kinks' own Konk Studios in London. Two brand-new tracks--'Animal' and 'To the Bone'--prove that Davies is still in top form as a tunesmith.
'I really like the new record,' says the Kink's kingpin. 'I think it's quite good, because nobody made us make it. There was no record company pressure or anything like that.'
Perhaps more than any of his British Invasion contemporaries, Ray Davies seems to have mastered the art of growing old gracefully. His recent round of one-man shows, which combine stories and song, have taken rock performance in a new kind of theatrical direction, Davies penned his own 'unauthorised autobiography,' X-Ray (Overlook Press, 1995) to widespread critical acclaim. He has a solo album due out next year and plans to revive his old record label, Konk. He leads songwriting workshops in England and generallly seems quite comfortable in the role of rock elder statesman. Has age mellowed Ray Davies? Well, he has begun saying nice things about Dave.
GUITAR WORLD: Is songwriting a compulsion for you? Do songs just come to you or is it more a matter of sitting down and going to work?
RAY DAVIES: It's not so much a compulsion as an affliction. I'm a really annoying person to live with. That's probably why I have continual trouble in my personal life. I guess I'm like...who's the guy that could not tell a lie? Abe Lincoln?
GW: George Washington.
Davies: Right. I'm like that as a songwriter. Even if I'm lying in a personal relationship--pretending I'm happy when I'm not--I'll start humming a sad tune. My emotions come out through music. I'm walking down the street and I make up my own theme tune as I'm going along, depending on the situation.
GW: Do you ever get writer's block?
Davies: Yeah, I get that. But you know how I cure it? I go to an art gallery. The only formal training I've had, creatively, has been as a visual artist. And when anything creative comes along that baffles me, I go to a gallery--usually of Impressionist or Expressionist paintings. Abstract stuff. And it puts tones on my tape [laughs] I can adjust and see the world in some perspective. Or I'll read something that has good structure. I think the secret of writer's block is that it happens when you lose your feeling for structure. So if you want to cure yourself, go back and read a poem that's well-constructed, or even listen to a great record that's perfectly put together. I think wroter's block has got a lot to do with loss of order. Loss of parameters. Loss of perspective.
GW: Good advice for songwriters: Go out to a gallery.
Davies: Or do something you know about. Because the joy of songwriting is that nobody really knows how to do it. Those who think they know how to do it work for Microsoft, and they don't know shit.
GW: Who picked up the guitar first, you or Dave?
Davies: I did. But the thing about Dave is, he's what I'd call a mathematical person, in that he adapts to things like automobiles. I didn't learn to drive until eight years ago. Dave had a car as soon as he was old enough. And not only that, he could take them apart and put them together again. He's a good chess player. Good in the technical sense. I picked up the guitar and went off into dreamworld with it. I imagined more than I actually played. Dave actually got up and played it. That's the way we are with women, as well, I think. I'm a romantic. He gets straight to it and hits the chords.
GW: Great manual dexterity.
GW: So many guitar aces are really into cars. Like Jeff Beck.
Davies: Strange, isn't it? I don't know what that says about me. I rode a bicycle most of my adult life.
GW: Tell me about the legendary 'green amp' that was used to get that raucous guitar sound on 'You Really Got Me.'
Davies: Dave informs me that the green amp was called an 'El Pico.'
GW: In books, I've seen it referred to as an 'El Pedo.'
Davies: I'm pretty sure he said it was said it was an El Pico. But if it was an El Pedo, hey, what's a 'd' or a 'c'? If I could get my hands on one, I'd love to have it again.
GW: In your book, you said it was a five-watt. But in John Mendelssohn's Kinks book (The Kinks Kronikles, Quill, 1984), Dave said it was an eight-watt.
Davies: Well, who would argue with John Mendelssohn? It may have been a five, but the way Dave played it, it sounded like eight!
GW: Did Dave really poke knitting needles into the speaker cone to get that sound? Or is that one of rock's great myths?
Davies: No, it true.
GW: And Dave would use the green amp as a pre-amp to a Vox AC-30?
Davies: Yeah. Because we didn't have fuzz boxes or any of those boxes back then. We had a Vox AC-30 and we'd use the green amp as a pre-amp. So we'd plug into that first, then send that signal into the AC-30 to get more power. That's now we got that sound on 'You Really Got Me' and 'All Day and All of the Night.'
GW: Was Dave playing a Harmony Meteor guitar at the time?
Davies: Yeah, a Harmony guitar. He had a Epiphone for a while as well. I played a Maton. It was a fake Australian Gretsch.
GW: But eventually you switched to a Telecaster.
Davies: Yeah, Eric Haydock, the bass player for the Hollies, told me I should get one. So when 'You Really Got e' ht the charts, I sold the Maton, went to Selmer's music store and got a Tele, which I had until it was stolen about three or four years ago. But for the recording of 'You Really Got Me,' I still had the Maton. I played the rhythm part on it through a Wallace amplifier. A Wallace was a custom-built amp--by a man called Wallace, obviously. He made amps for jazz people. And the person who had the amp before me was a vibes player. So it's not really a guitar amp; And we had Arthur Greenslade playing piano on 'You Really Got Me'--to double up the bass chords. Pete [Quaife, the Kinks' original bassist] played bass, Dave played lead. And a guitarist who worked for our publishing company, who I believe was named Al, came in just to play the double of my part, to make that big wall of sound. We couldn't do overdubs. We had to put it all down on one track.
GW: We should deal with the persistent rumour that Jimmy Page played lead guitar on 'You Really Got Me' and/or 'All Day and All of the Night.'
Davies: Yeah. I don't like going to court, but if I'd been Dave I would have sued somebody about this. I'm particularly incensed with Jimmy for actually perpetrating this untruth. Dave played 'You Really Got Me' and 'All Day and All of the Night.'
GW: Of course. But Page did play some rhythm guitar on the first Kinks album [You Really Got Me, Reprise, 1965], right? [The album was recorded some months after the single--GW ed.]
Davies: Well, see, when the Kinks started, you know, it was the hottest new band. Everybody wanted to be in on the sessions, to see how we got the sound with the green amp into the Vox. Jimmy was doing a session next door. He came in and played acoustic guitar, I think, on that Bald Mountain track ['I've Been Driving on Bald Mountain']. The following day, I think, he came in and played 12-string acoustic on 'I'm a Lover Not a Fighter,' doubling Dave's electric part; and he played tambourine on 'Long Tall Shorty.' And that's all that I seem to remember him doing. As for playing the lead guitar on 'You Really Got Me' or 'All Day and All of the Night,' that's absolute nonesense.
GW: Thanks to 'You Really Got Me' and 'All Day and All of the Night,' you have often been hailed as the inventor of heavy metal. How does that make you feel?
Davies: In the case of 'All Day and All of the Night,' I don't mind because it was in my head to write something very loud. So I understand that as being one of the first heavy metal tracks. But 'You Really Got Me' was written more as a jazz song. The way it skips along is more in keeping with jazz music.
GW: The ascending chord progression.
GW: Can you recall your initial reaction on hearing Van Halen's version of 'You Really Got Me?'
Davies: The great thing about them, I understand, is that they took 'You Really Got Me' up a tone and played it in A. That allows you to thrash the chords out more, and it changed the sound of the whole thing--playing an open G and then slamming you hand down to the A. Wheras we did it in G, and had to play barre chords and slide them. It was a great idea. More no-nonsense than our version.
GW: And it was recently licensed for a car commercial?
Davies: We're still looking into the legal implications of that [laughs]. Look, I've never had anybody really ask me permission to use that particular song for anything. So why start now? I think that's the way my first contract was. As I say, I'll have to look into that. But yeah, a car commercial, I think that's fine. Cars and rock and roll. The two go together. My real guideline with any use of my songs is that as long as it serves the music and doesn't sell anything that will harm people excessively--obviously cars can harm people--then I don't mind too much.
GW: They're using Van Halen's version on the commercial.
Davies: Well, yeah. Theirs is more...automotive.
GW: Around the same time, Pete Townshend was developing the rock opera, you were taking narrative rock in a different direction. On an album like Arthur [Reprise, 1969, originally the soundtrack for a British television movie], you were working on a more intimate, domestic scale than Townshend--writing for the small screen and dealing with everyday subject matter. To what extent were you conscious of Pete's work at that time?
Davies: I obviously focussed on it. Because we though the Who's first single was the first time we heard it! ['I Can't Explain' was patterned after 'You Really Got Me'; both records were produced by Shel Talmy--GW ed.] So when they brought stuff out after that, we were obviously interested in what they were doing. It didn't surprise me when they came out with Tommy [Decca, 1969], because I'd met them briefly at gigs and they were a bit more...I hate to say the word intelligent...but more focused than a lot of the other bands back then. Most of the bands the Kinks toured with were just in it for the fun: to make money and buy a nice car. But with the Who, you got the feeling that they were out to rewrite the rules. Which attracted me, because I was trying to do the same thing.
GW: But at the time, you weren't drawn to the grandeur of a concept like the rock opera?
Davies: No. Pomp has never appealed to me.
GW: Musically, at least, you never seem to have had much use for psychedilia, either.
Davies: Well, I did all my drugs at college. Like everybody else, I've done my share of experimenting. But it's nothing I'd want to base a career on. And at the time, there were other people who were doing that very well. So why should I? I love the concept of psychedilia because it makes me laugh. Music's got to have humour to it. Although I've written some humorous lyrics, I don't think I've ever come up with music as funny as most psychedelic rock. Look, I know the people who made those records were trying to say something about society and the world. But it just so happened that the nature of the sounds they were making was kind of ....drippy. I can't think of a better word for it. For me, it only became interesting when Frank Zappa came along and found a way of containing psychedilia and turning it into his own art form.
GW: Could you comment on the importance of the British music hall in your work?
Davies: For years and years I denied it. But listening to bands like Blur and Pulp, who write songs about English life, I can see a definite influence from music hall in what they're doing. I'm not saying it's all oom pah pah music. It's just in the attitude. A lot of those bands cite the Kinks as being an influence, so I think there's a common thread there.
GW: The music hall influence is the bit that gets left out of most rock histories. The party line is that the British Invasion groups just copied American rock and roll.
Davies: I think that's because music hall is, in rock and roll terms, quite an uncool thing to be associated with. It's hardly the most chic thing in the world, whereas the blues is. But music hall was undeniably an important influence. And I'd put someone [English comic singer and banjo-ukulele player] George Fromby right up there with [American bluesman] Big Bill Broonzy. I feel they're connected in some way--albeit only through me. Some of the acoustic guitar stuff I do resonates with the George Fromby style. And I'd also say that a lot of stuff Pete Townshend did was also Formbyesque.
GW: That's fast strum.
GW: The Seventies were perhaps the Kinks' most theatrical period, with concept albums like 'Preservation Acts I and II [RCA, 1973], Soap Opera [RCA, 1975]. Did live performance really change for you when you began assuming stage personae like Flash and Norman the Starmaker?
Davies: It did, yeah. The main problem we had with those shows was that we had to keep the focus on the band and the album we were promoting. Our record company said, 'We're not in the theatre or film business.' So I had to do those shows and still keep the focus on the pit band, basically. I got the idea to incorporate the musicians into the plot as characters, to give them some other reason for being up there on-stage. For example, [keyboardist] John Goslling became the Drunken Vicar. John liked to drink and he liked to play church organs, so it worked brilliantly. It was a bit hard to sell [Kinks drummer] Mick Avory on the idea. But old Mick, once I gave him a schoolboy's uniform to wear, he was like putty in my hands. That was a great band, a great period. It deserves a book of its own.
GW: The same line-up played on 'Muswell Hillbillies' [RCA, 1971].
Davies: Yeah. A golden period, that. Even though the records had varying degrees of success, it was a good, creative time.
GW: Do you have an absolute, all-time favourite era of Kinks history?
Davies: No, I don't. But whenever people ask me to do stuff other than hits, I always end up playing something like 'Here Come the People in Gray' to take me away [from Muswell Hillbillies]. That's a continuing theme in my life--always on the verge of being drawn into living a mediocre life where there's no freedom. No freedom of expression, or whatever. That's who the people in gray are. That's what the Corporation is, in my book, I guess.
GW: What do you remember about writing 'Celluloid Heros' ?
Davies: Well, I didn't realise I was writing it at first. I was just keeping a diary for about a year when I lived in Los Angeles, just off Sunset Boulevard. I was in a relationship; I guess you could call it that. And I just wrote down lots of ideas and stories and things. A year or so later I was back in England, editing a short film documentary I'd shot on tour in America. I said to the film cutter in the editing room, 'What's this stuff made of?' He said, 'celluloid.' And I said, 'I've got the title.' So it was a long song to write. Although actually sitting down and putting it together took me an afternoon.
GW: When you perform it nowadays, you generally leave out a verse or two.
Davies: Yeah, 'cause I'm very conscious that it is a long song. It's one of those songs where the whole thing sets up the last verse. I used the whole song to build up the idea, and then the last few lines are the payoff. It's a different structure from the normal pop song, where you get a catchy riff and then the chorus comes in. I'd written that type of song before. 'Celluloid Heroes' broke that rule, for me, anyway.
GW: Jumping backwards in time, did you know 'Lola'  was going to be a hit as soon as you wrote it?
Davies: Yup. Maybe I shouldn't say this, but on the new album, it's put in its place. The songs around it are really good. I forget which one preceded it and which one follows.
GW: 'Set Me Free' comes before it and 'Come Dancing' comes after.
Davies: I think 'Set Me Free' came out great on the album. It's an unplugged thing and it's played through one of those tiny little Korg practice amps, with brushes on the drums.
GW: The arrangement of 'Apeman' on the new record is really cool-- that ska beat.
Davies: Yeah. The accordion on there adds a new dimension. I love the accordion. I love Cajun music...in moderation.
GW: How would you describe the influence of country music on the Kinks in general and on you in particular?
Davies: Immense. I can't deny it. Although, again, its like music hall. It's not cool to say it, but the influence of country pickers like Chet Atkins was a big one on me. I'm not sure about Dave. One of the great thrills for me was when the Kinks played the new Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and Roy Acuff was at the side of the stage. To me, that was it. That was making it. [laughs] All the early records I owned were basically instrumentals. People like Tal Farlow. He was more of a jazz player, but if you listen to his style, it's got a lot of country in it. When I do my solo shows, we have a little Chet Atkins playing as people are walking out, as well as some Hank Williams at the beginning. To me, Hank is still one of the greatest. When Dave and I were growing up, just rehearsing at home, we used to do all the Hank Williams stuff--in harmony. That would be a party piece for us, to do a Hank Williams song.
GW: Which songs did you do?
Davies: We did a very strange one: 'Mother is Gone.' And 'Will You Be Ready.' Hank was going through a religious period, I guess, when he did an EP that had those tracks on it. [Reciting] 'Will you be ready to go home? Come the day when the world will melt away and Jesus will come to claim his own?' We used to do that in harmony! So it's not so much the pickin' as the mentality that interested us. The homespun quality of it.
GW: Right at the height of the high-gloss early-Eighties, you put out a nice sentimental song, 'Come Dancing.' Were you surprised when it became a hit?
Davies: Clive Davis was! [Davis is chief if Arista Records, the Kinks' label at the time-GW ed.] I just wanted the record to be a little tribute to my sisters, who were big fans of the dance halls. It was inspired by a photograph that my sister showed me of her dancing at the local hop on Saturday night. It's just about her and her husband.
GW: What kind of considerations went into choosing the songs you recorded at Konk studios for inclusion on the new album?
Davies: Very practical considerations, actually. Dave and I are the only people [in the current Kinks line-up] who did these songs in the first place. The other guys didn't know them so well. Because of the limited amount of time we had, it was just a matter of which ones they could pick up the quickest. Except for 'Do You Remember Walter?' which I definitely wanted to record. I think that's one of those cult classics that only real fans know about.
GW: Were you into the ideal of 'Kinks Unplugged?'
Davies: In a sense. The Konk sessions came about because we had just done a documentary with the BBC, [I'm Not Like Everybody Else], and they filmed us in the studio rehearsing. I thought it looked quite good. So I said, why don't we just do this with a few people as an audience in the studio? It worked out okay. We videotaped it as well. But I'm not sure if that will see the light of day.
GW: Your book and your solo shows have been very well-received. You've got a solo album coming out next year. Will there still be a Kinks?
Davies: Well, we're talking six months ahead. So we're still talking. That's good. Really good. We're looking further ahead now than we did in 1965. So it's a good time.
Alan de Perna, Guitar World Magazine, January 1997