HOW A 10-WATT AMP GAVE BIRTH TO HEAVY METAL
DAVE DAVIES OF
THE KINKS BLASTED INTO ROCK HISTORY
WITH HIS TEEN-AGE EXPERIMENT
By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch
July 6, 1999
It was a simple thing, really. But when teen-ager Dave Davies mutilated his little green amp searching for just that guitar tone, he not only blasted The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" into rock history, he also changed the music forever.
The 16-year-old gave the song an in-your-face energy that foreshadowed punk and metal. And nobody was more surprised than Davies by what he calls that "distorted, jagged roar."
The amplifier, a 10-watt Elpico bought from a neighborhood radio shop for 6 pounds ($16.80 in 1963 dollars), "just didn't have any kind of tone that I liked," Davies said recently from a tour stop in Atlanta.
"So in desperation, really, I got a razor blade and cut the cone. I was so surprised by this great sound that came out.
"I felt more like an inventor than a musician. And once we had a hit with it, everybody started asking me, 'How'd you get that sound?' But it was out of a moment of frustration."
And that moment helped spark a career for the now 52-year-old Davies that has spanned more than 36 years, from The Ravens, which singer/songwriter brother Ray Davies joined, through The Kinks to the Dave Davies Kink Kronikles, which comes to the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill on Wednesday.
The tour is in support of Davies' most recent CD, a double-disc affair with the ungainly title "Dave Davies: Unfinished Business (Dave Davies Kronikles, 1963-1998)." (Serious fans should seek out the English version, which has many more songs.)
Davies, who last visited St. Louis with The Kinks in 1993, has been playing clubs round the world for much of the past two years, really the first time he's been a front man.
"I used to do a bit of a set in between Kinks sets in the '80s," he said, bringing up the decade when The Kinks stopped regularly at the Fox Theatre here, and Davies released three solo albums.
"But The Kinks were touring very heavily then, and I didn't really have time to do my own."
Davies is excited about playing clubs, which he prefers to stadiums and arenas.
"Yeah, I think those places become very wearing after a while, with the big black limousines and all of that," he said. "It had a very cold and unemotional kind of vibe. (In the clubs) you have contact and intimacy with the audience, and I get a kick out of that communication."
In addition to songs from Davies' solo albums, the show features tunes made famous by The Kinks, written both by Ray ("All Day and All of the Night") and Dave ("Death of a Clown," "Living on a Thin Line"), but all featuring Dave's muscular guitar.
"I'm just having a really great time," Dave said. "The arrangements are different, I've changed the structure, and it's a chance to do some new songs, like 'Unfinished Business' and 'Fortis Green,' which is about my childhood. I get a chance to mix it up."
That childhood, in the London suburb of Muswell Hill, exposed the Davies brothers to all kinds of music, courtesy of six older sisters who played lots of records.
"I grew up listening to everybody," he said. "From Perry Como to Hank Williams to Fats Domino.
"Little Richard was fantastic. I always tried to emulate his singing," Davies said, laughing, "which was impossible."
For the youngest Davies, however, the main man was American rockabilly artist Eddie Cochran ("Summertime Blues," "C'mon Everybody").
"Eddie Cochran was much bigger in England that in the U.S.," Davies said. "He was a big hero growing up. I thought he was much cooler than Elvis. Elvis had a bit of a feminine side, he was a bit glossy, whereas Eddie was like a guy. I just admired him."
Davies also is a big fan of St. Louis' Chuck Berry, for whom the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill is named. They first met about 10 years ago when they bumped into each other at an airport, recognized each other and talked for about 15 minutes.
For guitar influences, Davies cites Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy, the Ventures and, especially, Big Bill Broonzy. Broonzy, a country and Chicago-blues artist responsible for standards such as "All By Myself" and "Key to the Highway," recorded for four decades until his death in 1958.
Davies said there are some fans at his club shows who are as familiar with "Mean Disposition" from his third 1980s LP, "Chosen People," as they are with "Death of a Clown."
"Which is really interesting, because 'Chosen People' was a flop when it came out," he said. "Some really interesting people are coming, and new fans. It's quite a mixture an interesting time."
Davies also has been pleased with fan reaction to his spiritual journey, which he outlined in his autobiography, "Kink," an unvarnished account of his musical and personal life.
Once known as "Dave the Rave" for his off-stage excesses as well as his guitar technique, he has turned in recent years to a mixture of Eastern religion and philosophy, astrology, mysticism and UFO hunting, a grocery list of "isms" that really doesn't do justice to his beliefs.
In the book, he writes unselfconsciously about the day in 1982 when what he calls five distinct "intelligences" first revealed themselves to him. He could hear their voices; he could feel them, and smell them.
In writing the book, he says now, "I was concerned about talking about these events, these otherworldly things. But I made the right decision. It's helped other people who have been encouraged to e-mail me and write out their own experiences."
Davies said he is thankful that his fans have been so tolerant of his beliefs.
"Genuine fans want to know how you feel and what you think and how you're doing," he said. "They're interested in your creativity, and they're not judgmental."
Now Davies children are getting into music: Daniel, 18; Russell, 20; and Simon, 27, a drummer in Mash who plays on some of the tracks on dad's anthology. And Christian, 26, runs the Web sites for both his father and for Mash.
An older and wiser Davies wasn't so sure he wanted his kids to get into music and get involved in the sex and drugs that seem to come with the rock 'n' roll.
"When Simon was around 20 and wanted to get into music, I thought, 'Oh, no,' but you have to encourage your kids to do what they want to do," Davies said.
"As my mother gave me 7 pounds to put down on my first guitar as way for me to express myself, you follow by example."
Regarding The Kinks: The band has been on an extended hiatus, even while most of its catalog is being remastered and rereleased by Castle records in England and Velvel in the United States. But Davies does not sound very optimistic about a resumption. He has his solo career, and Ray is involved in a one-man "Storyteller" tour as well as other projects.
"We're both involved in quite a lot of things," Dave said, "but it's not out of the question."
In any event, the legacy is secure.
"If music is good, I think it stays around," Davies said. "It might not be on MTV every five minutes, but it stays around."
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