By Jarrod Dicker
New Brunswick, NJ, USA
All images courtesy of davedavies.com
Dave Davies is a guitar legend. His unique sound and classic riffs have long pierced the eardrums of critics and music enthusiasts for nearly 50 years. Now approaching his 63rd birthday, Dave will be releasing a new DVD entitled, “Dave Davies Kronikles: Mystical Journey” with a complimentary European and American tour at selected venues.
Dave Davies has always been the quieter voice in The Kinks. With an often turbulent relationship with his brother Ray, Dave stepped back from the spotlight and had his guitar convey the wisdom and musical supremacy he holds within.
As I approached my interview with Dave, I had compiled a list of around 50 questions to ask him. For obvious reasons, the list was forcibly truncated, although it does show how much there still is to learn about the guitar slinger’s history and life within and around music.
I spoke with the great Dave Davies about his history with The Kinks, his influence in the music spectrum, the upcoming DVD/tour and the possibility of a Kinks reunion with his brother, Ray.
I now present, “A Well Respected Man…”
THIRSTY: As a child, how were you inspired musically?
DD: Band-wise or family-wise?
THIRSTY: Both would be great.
DD: Well…How did it all start? When I was quite a small boy there was always music in the house. Me and Ray were two boys in a family of eight children. We have a total of six older sisters. The girls were always into different types of music and there was always a variety of music present in the house. A range of stuff from Hank Williams, to Doris Day, to Perry Como to god you name it. We were open to all of this music that was constantly surrounding us.
THIRSTY: Interesting. At which particular time in your youth did it become clear that you were going to seriously pursue guitar?
DD: My first real interest in guitar formed when I first heard one of my brother-in-law’s, Mike, play while he was teaching Ray the regiments of the instrument. He had some old film of Big Bill Broonzy playing in some old stingy club. I’ve seen it since; you can see it on YouTube. He’s playing "Hey, Hey." I saw the clip, filmed in black and white complimented by shadows and the sound and his voice and everything. That kind of made me want to get a hold of the guitar. So I learned four or five chords real quickly. You know, I thought I knew it all [laughs].
THIRSTY: And what specific artists of that time influenced you musically?
DD: Johnny Cash was a huge influence. Certain genres like rock music which flaunted Buddy Holly’s guitar were so very inspirational. I adored the Ventures. So at first, when Ray and I began playing with one another, I was on rhythm guitar and Ray was playing lead. Then I learned some licks and we picked up Chet Atkins specific picking style. We heard all these guitar players and pickers really through our brother-in-law, Mike, whom I mentioned before. He had all these old records and film clips. There are so many people. We were listening to all this stuff and we just tried to copy it. I really got into Eddie Cochran and I liked the way he sang, and he looked cool and he’s a very accomplished guitar player as well. So he kind of had the full set; the sound, EVERYTHING. It inspired me to want to learn the rest of what this music thing was all about. There are lots and lots of influences. I’ve really only mentioned a few.
THIRSTY: That’s definitely a well-renowned list. So when The Kinks first eyed success, you were around 18-19. Did you know at that point you, Ray, Pete Quaife and Mick Avory had something serious brewing up? Or was it more of a garage band vibe; a bunch of kids messing around?
DD: Well, we knew we were onto something different because there weren’t that many musicians our age in the neighborhood of north London. All the musicians seemed a bit older, sort of in their early twenties. So the music was still influenced by the Dixieland and modern Jazz genres. In actuality, we were quite adventurous really. It was Pete and I who started to come together at first. Ray was playing guitar with a Blues band; they were called a Blues band, but it was more in the realm of an older generation of Jazz work. Me and Pete did all the clubs. Pete used to fix it with his friends to sneak me in through the back doors because I wasn’t quite old enough to access them yet.
THIRSTY: It seems like a dominating influence on your musical preference and inspirations drew from American Blues and Rock & Roll. How did American music find its way to you across the Atlantic to London?
DD: We used to go to a great shop in the West End of London (SoHo) called Dobell’s. There they had all the good Blues stuff, Buddy Holly and all of those musicians. We wanted to seek out these other guys who were like Sleepy John, Lonnie Johnson and John Lee Hooker. John Lee Hooker was absolutely amazing. Me and Pete used to go there during lunch time and sort through the various records. We kind of integrated the Blues things that we liked from Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson with our own preferences. It was a blend of current popular Rock and Roll, mostly Chuck Berry.
THIRSTY: Chuck Berry was inspirational? His merchandise was available at Dobell‘s at that time?
DD: Oh, indeed, he was inspirational. He had a full set of credentials; great voice, great look, he was kind of European looking. He didn't look like the black Blues guys, he had more of a European presence with the clothes he wore and his guitar sound. I remember a friend of mine, his name was Johnny Burnett of all people, he wasn't THE Johnny Burnett, he just happened to be named Johnny Burnett. His folks had moved over to England from Canada and he brought records with him. The first time he played me “Sweet Little Sixteen” on the Gramophone the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I couldn't believe it. It was a very inspiring time for a young kid to pick up music because there was so much stuff going around at the time.
THIRSTY: Besides the music, what other products of America were appealing to you as an adolescent?
DD: One of my sisters married a Canadian soldier so she used to go back and forth to Ottawa, Canada. She would bring back all her stories about America and we would all listen to them. She would speak of refrigerators and new this and new vacuum cleaners and new gadgets. So we were kind of in awe of everything American in the late '50s. Of course, especially music; there was so much.
THIRSTY: Any respectful Kinks fan knows about the conflicting relationship between Ray and yourself throughout the years. How is your relationship currently?
DD: Well, we're kind of--excuse me between sips of tea--we kind of get along alright at the moment. We get a little bit fair in our ways as we get older. Everything has to be exactly how he wants it. I find it so infuriating after all these years that he still can't give me the space I need to do the creative things I need to do to express myself as an individual. So it's always been like that. Whatever we do, good and bad, he always wants to be in the spotlight. I haven't always wanted to be followed in the spotlight anyway, but he could have given me a little more encouragement and space generally. We were both really fortunate to have had such long and fulfilling careers in The Kinks.
THIRSTY: And now let’s discuss The Kinks third single that debuted in August of 1964…
DD: Oh yes…
THIRSTY: The infamous song, “You Really Got Me.” By far, in my opinion, THE BEST guitar riff of all time. I read that you manipulated your amp in a certain way to achieve the grungy innovative sound present throughout the entire song. Can you explain the method you used to innovate that sound?
DD: The idea came to me when I would listen to John Lee Hooker. I would think to myself, ‘How he was able to get that sound?’ It's more of an edgy sound and some of the Blues players had an edgier sound. So I had this amplifier that I bought at a radio shop and the sound was so pretty and clean. It had two knobs; hand control and volume control. I couldn't get it to do what I wanted it to do. I had the sound in my head and in my heart. This inescapable feeling in me. And this amp wasn't cutting it, so I had this blast of inspiration or whatever; this idea that maybe if I cut the speakers it would sound different. So I got a razor blade and sliced all the way around the speaker, but enough to leave it in tact to the actual frame. When I plugged it in, it had this great rockin' sound and I thought, ‘I'm a little more of an inventor for this time.’ Generations since have been copying it; that sound. When we used to use it at gigs, people used to laugh at me. This silly kid, he had this really silly sound. But when "You Really Got Me" was a hit everyone wanted to know how I got that sound.
THIRSTY: Following the summer 1965 American tour, the American Federation of Musicians banned The Kinks from touring in America for the next three or four years. How did this affect the band, missing crucial American festivals, and how did the ban come about?
DD: I think it was a management chalk up, something in the background. We were not a very professional band. Our managers were a bit green around the ears. The whole thing was so naive and I think we just ruffled a few feathers, important feathers. I don't know, I never did get to the bottom of it, but it was something with the Unions and someone pissed off someone. We didn't realize the Unions were so huge in America, they ran everything. So they brought it down on us for three years…we missed Woodstock and that stuff.
THIRSTY: Are you able to look at that situation in any sort of positive light? A sort of, “Make the best of what’s around” scenario?
DD: I think looking back; it was good in another way because it made us turn inward and self-reliant on each other. Made us turn towards family. Everybody else was trying to get away from their family. It seemed like in my generation, the kids ran from the old people. My mom, dad and sisters were very supportive of our playing and writing. It kind of shaped us in a different way.
THIRSTY: The 1967 album, “Something Else By The Kinks,” included only one song that scored major UK chart success. This song entitled, “Death of a Clown,” was written by you. Did this moment ignite your motivation to go onward with solo work, seeing that your creative content proved to be successful on its own?
DD: I did. One of our managers suggested that I go solo. I felt quite uncomfortable with it because I was so used to being in a family; in a band which was like an extended family. Then going out and touring all over the world, with the fans, that's another part of the family. So I didn't want to be stuck out there on my own. I like the cooperation and camaraderie of being in a group. My heart was in the group really. Ray was very much into analyzing things. Trying to build up his craft, his solo. If I was in the right mood, I'd always write something. The more I thought about it, the worst it got though.
THIRSTY: In 1968, The Kinks released their sixth studio album, “The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.” It failed to conquer sales, however, it was greeted positively by American and European rock critics. Upon returning to America, this being one of the more recent albums, how were you received? Where did you first perform post-ban?
DD: When we came back? I think Boston was the first destination. I always remember Boston Tea Party used to be a great gig. I don’t know if you remember that, I don’t know how old you are Jarrod?
THIRSTY: Not quite old enough to have seen that gig, but I wish I was…
DD: You must be a bit of a historian. So I assume you know of the Tea Party venue?
DD: I remember that we played Boston a lot and New York. This was a different America though; screaming girls at gigs and most noticeably, young people were really uncertain about the future. Kids were getting killed and tortured in the war overseas. A very different America we went back to.
THIRSTY: So after the ban was lifted, and The Kinks returned to the United States, they produced a new album, “Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire).” This album focused on themes around “family” and “childhood.“ I read that your sister, Rosie, was a major influence for the album? Is this accurate?
DD: All of our sisters had a big influence on us growing up. We were privileged for growing up in such a loving and encouraging environment. If you wanted to try something out, you were allowed the space to do it. But I think Rosie’s influence was more on Ray. He was a bit of a difficult kid; I would ignore him most of the time. I think Ray was rather somewhat of a sad kid. I think he was difficult. Rosy was the one, she was the oldest, and she was the one who thought she could shape him differently.
THIRSTY: In November of 1970, my favorite Kinks album released; “Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One.” This album contains the track, “Strangers,” written by you, and is the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard…Can you speak about this track?
DD: Oh thank you, I love that song. The background is that Hank Williams had a great sense a humor. It was a bit morose. I always remember one of his songs, he sang a line [singing] “I’ll never get out of this world alive” [sings]. It was a great Hank Williams tune. Not that you should know, it’s an old great Hank Williams tune. Sorry that wasn’t that great of singing. I hope it improves before my next gig [laughs].
THIRSTY: No, it was perfect Mr. Davies. Please continue…
DD: Well that line was always stuck in my head. That’s how I came out with one of the first lines I strummed out in Strangers, "If I live too long, I’m afraid I’ll die." It was kind of inspired from that funny line in the Hank Williams song. Then I started to write about and old friend of mine at school named George Harris. We were dear friends. Actually, George and I were going to start a band, but he got too heavily into drugs and it kind of pulled us apart. The drug thing was like a three-way affair. He died of a methamphetamine overdose. They found him departed…he was young. I always felt it was going to be me and him. I didn’t think at that age that it was going to be me and Ray. So I really kind of wrote it to him; “Strangers on this road we are on, we are not two we are one“. It was like, what might of been if he hadn’t died so tragically.
THIRSTY: The Kinks have been influential to musicians and groups since their inauguration. Bands such as Van Halen, The Pretenders, the Smashing Pumpkins and many more have covered Kinks songs either live or in studio. Is this complimentary? To hear your music done by other artists?
DD: Not really. I thought it was great in the sense that imitation is the finest form of flattery. The Van Halen version was good; the guitar solo was bit a showoffy, it sounded a bit sort too accomplished. “You Really Got Me” was made by a bunch of kids quickly, because if we hadn’t of done it quickly we would have been thrown out of the studio. It’s a very different attitude when you play the two versions next to each other. I still like Van Halen’s version though.
THIRSTY: Were you ever asked questions surrounding the songs’ authenticity? Meaning did any fans of the 1980’s who hadn’t done their homework ever ask you why you cover Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me?”
DD: [laughs] In the ‘80s, when we were playing big stadiums in America, yes some younger people would come to the show and say why are the guys playing that Van Halen song? [laughs] They didn’t connect the dots who came first. And again, yes, I think Chrissie Hynde (Pretenders) was also very influenced by The Kinks like so many people were. The Violent Femmes and I became very good friends years later.
THIRSTY: In the ‘80s you began you “officially” began your career as a solo artist. What launched this urge to do so?
DD: The thing was, I wanted to make a solo album I was happy with and not one that the record company wanted me to do. And it wasn’t really until the late 1970s that I felt like I wanted to do really it. I felt mentally, inspirationally and emotionally better equipped to write about something I felt was important. And that’s when I started to create the songs that became part of my first self-titled solo album in the early 80s. This is how I evolved as a person and a musician.
THIRSTY: The Kinks were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. How did it feel to finally be recognized as one of the all time best in music?
DD: It was fantastic. I tell you it was a bit funny at first after all these years of not being in "the club" and being pushed aside. It seemed rather strange that all of a sudden we were included in something. In a way, it was nice but I don’t know if I wanted to be here anyway [laughs], you know? So there were mixed feelings really, but it’s always nice to be appreciated.
THIRSTY: The Kinks broke up in 1996. What was the reason behind this breakup? Did you want out?
DD: I thought the band, as it was prior to us breaking up in ‘96, was the best sounding one we've had for years. People were involved. I smelt something was up because Ray started doing his own shows, and he would also do some ten minute acoustic solo before we went on. I was beginning to get pissed off with it. Then sometimes it would go up to twenty minutes. One night I went out into the audience and shouted out while Ray was doing his acoustic thing, "Oh look at me I’m wonderful, oh I’m such a troubled artist. Surely The Kinks deserve a better opening act than this!!” His agent wanted him to do some solo stuff and it was in fact Ray that left the band. Obviously The Kinks can’t exist without both Ray and Dave. He really wanted to do it, I wasn’t going to say he couldn’t. It helped me in a way because I got my stuff together and got a band together and began touring and recording on my own. I think I wrote some really important songs during that period. It was a really important time for me.
THIRSTY: You have a DVD release and tour approaching in early 2010, correct?
DD: I do have a DVD being released in February of 2010 in the States. It will probably coincide with the release in Europe as well. It‘s titled, “Dave Davies Kronikles: Mystical Journey.” It's a DVD that has new music in it and some old key songs like “Death of a Clown.” I’m very excited about this. We will do some key shows around New York and LA around that time in February to promote Mystical Journey.
THIRSTY: So now the final question that is on everyone’s mind; Will we ever see a Kinks reunion, or a Dave and Ray tour anytime soon?
DD: I’ve spoken to Ray various times. The sad thing is that I’d like to do something with him and The Kinks, but Ray wants to control everything. In his heart of hearts, he’d like to own everything. He believes The Kinks is his. He wants to be The Kinks and I think that’s a very selfish way to look upon it. Of course, he’s written amazing songs and we’ve been part of a collaboration, which I think was so important. However, there is something in him that won’t allow me or give me the room to express myself and my ideas. To be fair, I’m sure he would admit that he wouldn’t have a career if it hadn’t been for me. The same way I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for him. We all learned together as musicians and writers. He wants everything and it’s sad. There are some things that we have to mutually agree for this to ever work. The Kinks are not The Kinks without Dave Davies and, of course, they’re not without Ray Davies. So you need Ray and Dave to make it work. There are some very simple things that I’ve asked him to address, but he is always changing his mind. He'll agree to something and then when push comes to shove he’ll change his mind on it. It’s kind of sad that he won’t address these things and these are things that I need. With that said, I’m still sure me and Ray will work on something as The Kinks once again.
THIRSTY: I’m definitely looking forward to that. Thanks for your time Mr. Davies, and good luck with the upcoming DVD and tour.