He’s really got it
By Sergio Ariza
Dave Davies had just bought a 10-watt green Elpico amplifier and was crazy to try it with his Harmony Meteor with DeArmond pickups. When he got home, he plugged the guitar into the amp and could see that it was not bad, especially given that it had only cost him six pounds. But it was not the sound he was looking for, so he looked around the living room of his parents' house, where there was only an old radiogram and a Vox AC 30. He took out a screwdriver and began to connect the devices to each other. He picked up the guitar again and turned on all the equipment, and when the first chord rang out, he heard the wildest roar of his life. Despite almost electrocuting himself Dave tried changing the configuration; this time there was a roar but no electrocution. Even so the younger Davies was not satisfied and he took a razor blade that was there and cracked the cone of his Elpico to create a distorted and exciting sound. Now he just needed to put it to good use. A few days later his brother Ray taught him a song called You Really Got Me, and when Dave heard it he plugged in his Meteor connected to the Elpico and the riff of two chords appeared that was going to revolutionize the world of rock forever...
David Russell Gordon Davies was born on February 3, 1947 in London in a family with nine other members, his parents, six older sisters and Ray, the only male, who had been born three years before. His birth was a hard blow for Ray who was the spoiled child in a house full of women. It was the beginning of a long love/hate relationship. Years later Dave would joke, "Ray was only happy the first three years of his life."
But the brothers found a connection in music. Both practiced in the living room at home and liked the same things, the blues - Dave was a Big Bill Broonzy fan - and rock & roll - Dave's favorite was Eddie Cochran - although the performance that most marked him was that of Duane Eddy. But that was all they had in common: Ray was lonely and taciturn, an observer, while Dave was outgoing and wild, a personality that was reflected when playing his Harmony. When he was 15 years old, he got his high school girlfriend pregnant and was expelled from school. Despite their intention to marry, the families separated them. The ghost of Sue, (his girlfriend's name), would haunt him all his life.
In 1962 the Davies brothers formed a band with Ray's friend, Pete Quaife, on bass. After attracting the attention of producer Shel Talmy, he got them a contract with Pye in 1964, and it was at that moment when they signed Mick Avory as a drummer and adopted the name of The Kinks, (representing something scandalous, right on the edge of the acceptability). From the first moment they would honor this name. After two singles with little repercussion and, with the threat of being sacked hanging over them, the Davies brothers’ produced You Really Got Me - a song by Ray with the sound of Dave. The fact is that it became an incredible success, reaching number one in the United Kingdom and seven in the US, and, more importantly, in one of the greatest landmarks in the history of rock & roll, being seen as a antecedent of both Heavy and Punk. On that single Dave ‘exploded definitively’ and delivered one of the most frantic and exciting solos of all time. There was a rumor that it was Jimmy Page who played it, but whoever listens attentively to the Kinks knows that it is 100% Dave Davies. Soon the brothers improved the formula with another mythical riff, All Day And All Of The Night; and four years later the Doors would get another success by copying it for their Hello, I Love You.
The Kinks had made it, they were one of the leading bands of the 'British Invasion' and, more importantly, had a sound of their own, from the distorted sound of Dave's Meteor. But he was not a romantic and with the first money he had he began to buy other guitars in 1965, such as models like an Epiphone Casino, a Fender Electric XII and a 12-string Vox Phantom XII. With the former he would record much of the band's second album, Kinda Kinks, including their third single, Tired Of Waiting For You, another magnificent Ray song that had evolved from an instrumental ballad influenced by Chet Atkins. Dave was in charge of giving him the 'Kink sound' with those 'power chords', the brand of the house.
That same year would also come the magnificent Set Me Free and See My Friends, a song with which the Kinks were ahead of the Beatles in adapting oriental sounds to Western music. Harrison would take note of Dave’s guitar that sounded like a sitar and would get one that same year. Coincidentally another of the guitars that he got that year, a Gretsch Jet Firebird, was made especially for the Beatle but after being rejected by him, it became Dave’s. Of course, it would not last long and served as an omen for all the disasters that awaited them on their US tour, as the guitar was lost on this trip. In fact, he would buy the most iconic guitar of his career, a Flying V, in America. The only other good thing about that tour for Dave was that he had the opportunity to meet James Burton. From that moment everything that could go wrong, did, and it ended with the Kinks being banned from playing in the US for four years, one of the facts that would mark their career and distance them in popularity from the other three main bands of the British Invasion, the Beatles, Stones and Who (a group that debuted that year, copying without embarrassment the Kink sound with I Can't Explain).
Ray would give the following explanation for the ban:"the reason why they banned us was a mixture of bad decisions, bad administration, bad luck and bad behavior". It is true that the Kinks were not little angels; and to the continuous fraternal fights, fights with other members of the band were added. During one of them Mick Avory was about to kill Dave after the drummer threw the hi-hat at him during one of their concerts...
But musically they were reaching new heights, Til The End Of The Day was a return to the sound You Really Got Me, with Dave giving a nod at Burton on the solo, but then came A Well Respected Man, with Ray reaching maturity as a composer by pulling influences from British Music Hall and sharpening his pen with his satirical lyrics. This would be confirmed in 1966, the year of Sunny Afternoon and Face To Face, the first of an incredible streak of six consecutive masterpieces. The year opened with Dedicated Follower of Fashion, in which Ray threw darts at the pompous followers of fashion, including his brother Dave, and this would not be the only provocation towards him, as Dandy also seems inspired by the younger brother. The fact is that Ray was in a creative fever and the Kinks would reach the top of the British charts again with Sunny Afternoon, whose B-side is one of the songs that best defines them, I'm Not Like Everybody Else, sung by Dave. Of course Ray’s B-sides alone could be on any other group's Greatest Hits.
1967 brought their second consecutive masterpiece, Something Else by The Kinks, and the jewel in the crown, Waterloo Sunset, a perfect work in which music and lyrics go hand in hand to create something unique. Despite being a work by Ray the final result benefited from several key collaborations, the most important being the wonderful guitar work of one of the most undervalued guitarists in history, Dave Davies. His mythical Flying V is passed through a delay effect while the younger Davies plays with the melody of the song to finish off this gem, which Ray himself affirmed "the song could not exist without the wonderful guitar part of my brother, when this sounds something magical happens." And this was Dave’s year, thanks to Death Of A Clown, a very initmate and very personal song in which he talked about his inner demons. One of the members of the Swingin London's trio of enfant terribles, along with Brian Jones and Keith Moon, begins to wonder if there will be more in life than sex, drugs and rock & roll. The song, in spite of the fact that it was recorded by the Kinks, was released under the name of Dave alone and reached third position in the British charts. The success led to the release of a new solo single, Susannah's Still Alive, in which he once again demonstrates his ability to compose incredible riffs; but it did not repeat the success.
This is something that can be applied to the group; as they get more sophisticated their success began to dissipate. 1968 brought the great masterpiece of the group that was, in turn, its biggest commercial failure. That is The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, a counter-current album. Here Dave uses a Telecaster and one of the guitars he fondly remembers, a Guild Starfire. It is also the album which best exemplifies his style of this period, totally at the service of the song, coloring Ray's gigantic compositions. At the peak of psychedelia, the 'jams' and experimentation, the Kinks bring nostalgia and allow themselves to be impregnated by the days of childhood and the memories of a country England on the way to extinction. Obviously the Kinks are not like anybody else.
Outside of the great festivals of the time, Ray had more time to create ambitious projects such as Arthur's (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), a concept album that was to serve as the soundtrack for a television series based on the same story. In the end the series was never made but the album is another of the Kinks' great works and served to show that Dave continued to improve as a guitarist. It may be on the album of the classic period in which he stands the most, be it the riff and the solo of Victoria, his great work on Mr. Churchill Says, the riff mark of the house of Brainwashed or the solo on the bridge of Australia (one of the few times that the Kinks have gotten into something like a jam).
In 1970 the ban ended and they found the path of success again thanks to Lola, a great song by Ray about a transvestite. The album that includes it is another marvel and Dave shines on songs like Powerman, Tops Of The Pops and Rats, written by him. Although, undoubtedly, Dave's best moment on that album is Strangers, the best song that has come out of his pen. The following year the Kinks would close their classical period with Musswell Hillbillies, another look at the past with a strange approach to Americana music that served to demonstrate Dave’s skill with the slide and bring the country touch to Musswell Hillbilly.
From here, Ray introduced the group to their phase of theater projects and rock operas that ended in 1977 with the publication of Sleepwalker and a return to a more rock sound, based on Dave's guitar (this is one of his favorite albums for a reason) that in these times used to be a Les Paul. The great songs would continue arriving, mainly from Ray but without forgetting Dave's gems like Living In A Thin Line, until their definitive separation in 1994.
Almost from that moment on people have been speculating about a possible reunion between these two brothers, in which it seems clear that love and hate touch each other. Dave had to be in the shadow of Ray's tremendous compositional talent, but no one should underestimate his incredible contribution to the Kink legacy. It's not just that his sound, as Jimi Hendrix recognized, changed the history of rock, it's that you cannot understand Waterloo Sunset without his guitar, Village Green without his harmonies or Lola Vs Powerman without Strangers. The Kinks are the Kinks because Dave is not Ray, and Ray is not like Dave, and neither of them is like anybody else.