In his precocious youth, Dave Davies may have been a handful for his mum and pa, but his curiosity and mischievousness helped land him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The same kid who used to shimmy to the top of open door frames and jump down on unsuspecting visitors was stubborn and impatient, convinced there always were better ways of doing things. Pity the poor 10-watt amplifier that just wasn’t giving the 15-year-old the sound he wanted on a rainy morning in 1963 at his parents’ home in Muswell Hill, England.
“I started to experiment with it,” Davies said recently from his hotel room on New York’s Central Park West. “I was an inquisitive kid. I always wanted to know how things work, not knowing whether you’re supposed to do it or not do it. I got so fed up with this little amplifier, that I just fed it into a bigger amplifier, not knowing whether it would work.”
When he turned it on, a shock passed through his body, hurling him across his bedroom.
“My mum came into the room, because all the lights had fused in the house, and she found me in a little bundle on the floor,” Davies said, chuckling. “Some of the best moments come out by accident, and mine was a near-death experience.”
Rather than get the message, that perhaps he wasn’t cut out to be an electrician, Davies went right back to work. After plugging, unplugging and switching chords, he slashed the amplifier’s speaker cone with a razor blade. He finally got what he wanted: a crackling, distorted guitar sound.
A year later, Davies’ method of madness paid off, constructing the notorious, always-imitated-but-never-duplicated guitar riffs on the Kinks’ first worldwide hit, “You Really Got Me.”
At the time, the United States was in the initial throes of the British Invasion, ushered in by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, groups that were influenced by the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and blues greats. No one, though, was playing hard, guitar-driven rock. Amid Bobby Vinton’s “Mr. Lonely,” Lorne Greene’s “Ringo” and Gene Pitney’s “I’m Gonna Be Strong,” there it was – in the Top 10 – “You Really Got Me,” a harbinger of heavier things to come.
“I think it was the first heavy guitar riff record,” Davies said, “because it has a sound, power and aggression, and there wasn’t anything like it then.”
The Kinks were enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, earning their spot with its influential power chords, wry wit, pointed satire, innovative concept albums and durability.
Because he was the lead singer and main songwriter, Ray Davies understandably was the group’s frontman. Diehard Kinks fans know better: Dave Davies, too, played a vital role in shaping the band and its music. His guitar and lyrical contributions and solo work finally are highlighted in a sweeping, overdue compilation, “Unfinished Business: Dave Davies Kronikles, 1963/1998” (Velvel/Meta Media), released Jan. 12.
The first of the two-disc set contains some of Dave Davies’ best Kinks moments, including “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night,” “Wait Till the Summer Comes Along,” “Rock & Roll Cities” and “Living On a Thin Line.” The second disc features cuts from his 1980 solo album, “AFL1-3603,” and the follow-up, “Glamour.” Because of licensing problems, he was unable to use original recordings of his better-known songs, such as “Suzannah’s Still Alive,” “Love Gets You” and “Death of a Clown.” For this compilation, he recorded new versions at a friend’s home studio in North Hollywood, Calif. The disc ends with live versions of “Strangers,” “Gallon of Gas/You’re Looking Fine” and “Lincoln County,” all recorded at The Bottom Line in New York during Davies’ acclaimed 1997 tour.
Relaxed and looking much younger than 52, Davies is proud of his career, with and without the Kinks.
“A lot of the hard-core Kinks fans really get it. They get the interplay and the collaborative tone between me and Ray,” he said. “People can say ‘He did that, and he did this,’ but as long as the music sounds great, it doesn’t matter.
“I learned, luckily, early on that you have to work toward an objective, and you’re not always standing in the light when you’re doing it, that you’re going to be in the background making something else work. When you see a good idea, you want to feed it, not extinguish it. The creative process is difficult enough. I’ve always been very supportive of Ray’s work, and luckily, I think we’ve helped each other as people.
“That’s why it was important to me personally to make my own little statement on ‘Unfinished Business,’ that this is my involvement with the Kinks, that the writing and the solo albums are an ongoing thing.”
Oddly enough, it was Dave, not Ray, who stumbled onto a solo career in 1967.
“I had come up with a song called ‘Death of a Clown’ and we went into the studio,” he said. “I can’t remember what Kinks album we were working on (actually, it was ‘Something Else By The Kinks’). We worked through it and put the vocal down. It was really Robert Wace, one of our first managers, who suggested we do that as a solo single. It was his idea, and it hit the spot. It was a big hit for me in the U.K. and all over Europe.
“I was quite surprised when management and the record company wanted me to make an album. I thought it was quite daunting. There were a couple of tunes I liked – ‘Suzannah’s Still Alive,’ ‘Lincoln County’ – but it had to feel right, and it didn’t feel right. I did a few songs in a demo studio and I knocked out three or four songs, and one of them was ‘Creeping Jean,’ and I started to get very depressed about the whole idea. One of the last songs I recorded then was ‘I’m Crying,’ so you can tell what frame of mind I was in.”
Davies held off doing a solo album till 1980. After “AFL1-3603” and “Glamour” (both on RCA), Davies landed on Warner in 1982.
“I remember when I was recording ‘Chosen People’ that year, there was a general feeling at the time that I was a bit crazy,” he said. “I was as sane as I’ve ever felt. When I really felt like I was going crazy was in the early ’70s, when almost every night I was having a nervous breakdown, trying to keep my mind, head, brain and body in control. Here I felt I finally had embarked on a spiritual path, and people thought I was losing my mind.”
Davies’ solo career took a backseat in the mid-1980s when the Kinks enjoyed a radio resurgence with “Come Dancing,” “Don’t Forget to Dance” and “Do It Again.” Then, as the Kinks slowed down and went off on a variety of side projects, Davies got up the nerve in 1997 for his first-ever solo tour, opening at The Bottom Line.
“I was really nervous, because New York’s always been a big city for the Kinks,” he said. “I didn’t want to disappoint any of the Kinks fans, but I thought the Dave Davies fans would be okay with it. I was thinking, ‘Are people going to look at me funny for singing ‘You Really Got Me?’ I wanted to include Kinks songs that were important, because the Kinks have been a great part of my life. I wanted to try some new stuff out and do stuff from my solo albums, mix it up. I was relieved when I didn’t get booed off the stage.”
Granted, Davies enjoys the side projects – among other things, he’s working on an animated film with one of his sons – but the door remains open for the Kinks.
“I enjoyed being part of the band, it’s like being in a family,” he said. “I really liked that vibe of us against the world; it wasn’t just about you, it was the group and you had your own ideas.
“It would be nice to get together again, but nothing has been planned. I’d like to make another Kinks album, but Ray’s busy doing his things and I’m having a great time doing my things, but you never know, anything can happen.”
BWF (before we forget): You really got Dave Davies on the Web @ www.davedavies.com.
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