He's Not Like Everybody Else

God Save Ray Davies

The role call is staggering: Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Pete Townshend, Marriott/Lane, each an influential songwriter in how own right. Standing among them as peer, however, is Raymond Douglas Davies, perhaps the quintessential British rock songwriter. He is truly one of a kind. Davie's seminal work in the Kinks chronicled the working class, a celebration of the joys and melancholy of day-to-day living.

From "Well Respected Man" to "Dead End Street," "Autumn Almanac" to "Shangri-La", Davies was a magnificent observer of British life. Never comfortable in the spotlight or hanging out with his rock peers at such "in" London clubs as the Ad Lib and the Speakeasy, Davies, in the 60's, spent most of his time in his cozy semi-detached home in London, busy working on the next Kinks klassic.

The fall of 1995 saw the U.S. publication of X-Ray (The Overlook Press), an autobiography of sorts from Davies. Juxtapositioning the narrative of a teenage reporter (the young Ray Davies) interviewing a rock star in his golden years (the old Ray Davies) with an intriguing sci-fi flair, X-Ray is an hilarious, and often brutally honest, account of Davie's childhood and his glory years with the Kinks, who are still going strong more than 30 years on.

To promote the book, in an unprecendented move delighting all Kinks fans, Davies hit the road for an intimate solo tour in America and Europe where he mixed select readings from X-Ray, with a generous overview of the Kink's vast catalog, including the airing of many seldom performed gems like "Two Sisters", "Dead End Street", "Village Green", "Set Me Free", "See My Friends", "I Go To Sleep", "Tired of Waiting For You", "The Money- Go-Round" and "Harry Rag," sprinkled with several splendid new songs like "Animal", "Julie Finkle" and "To the Bone."

Goldmine spoke to Ray Davies in October 1995 during his American solo tour. He offered andid and thoughful observations on topics ranging from the aborted first recording of "You Really Got Me" to a prospective CD-ROM release of The Village Green Preservation Society, one of the Kink's best-loved albums of the 60's.

How long did it take for you to write X-Ray?
In 1988 Viking asked me to do it. I was living in Ireland when they asked me to write the book but I refused at first because I didn't want to just write an autobiography about myself; it's just facts and figures. I came up with the idea of me as a young person meeting me as an old person, which allowed me to step back and look at myself objectively and the band, as well, more objectively. I found that in the interviews that I'd done before I always phoned up the next day and I asked the press person to cut bits out. So I adopted a journalistic style in pulling bits I might cut out.

Was it difficult writing the book?
It was difficult at first but I wrote a two-page treatment. I didn't want to write the book they wanted. I pitched an idea to them. I always kept that handy when I lost the thread. I'd pick it up and put it down when I was on tour or in the studio. Then I'd come back to it and read those two pages and get back into the swing of it. It was good for me to have that discipline.

When you had the finished copy of the book in your hands, did you have the same feeling as completing a great song?
I was looking for those typos (laughs). It was like holding that first record and seeing your name on it. I still get that with the records. This was different because this book suddenly came to life. I didn't decide to finish it until the beginning of last year (1994). They said they wanted it out at a certain time and I suddenly got into it then and did it.

Not too long ago you were questioning whether you'd come back to America again. Why?
What, a couple of years ago?
Well, I felt I'd lost touch with America and the people. The first experience we had in America hit me quite hard. We never really knew what it was about [the Kinks were bannded from America for a few years in the late 60's due to a union problem they encountered while performing here]. The first time we toured America was a catastrophe. I think that stayed with me for a long time. Being banned hit us at a crucial time in our career, all our special years when we had all those hits and we couldn't get back here.

I thought our last album we did [Phobia] was good, but it was misconceived by the record company. The Kinks are a rock band and it's very hard to put the songs in that context. They wanted songs in it that were more my sort of songs. I think they wanted a solo record, quite frankly. But you can't compromise a rock band. You've got to go in there and make a rock record. So I think it fell between two different styles and as I was the producer and I had to come over here and play the tapes for the president of the company and all that, I felt I was working too hard. It should be fun.

I knew that they picked the wrong singles and everything. It was just a disaster. I thought maybe this was it and I should never come back here again. I didn't follow my instincts and my instincts were when I first signed with Sony it was wrong, and I got out quick. I wish we could have gone in there a different way. We went in there with blazing guns and everyone ran in there sort of shouting out and stomping around as if it were going to be the next big thing and I just wanted to make a record. There's a tendency now in the music biz to decide how you're going to market a record before you hear it.

Is that good?
No. You can only hype something when you know what the strength is. The problem with the Kinks is that we have been hyped the wrong way at the wrong time. The way we did it was we had to re-establish our fan base and all that. It can't be manufactured by a marketing person. I think that had a kickback to me after that tour here and I broke my foot and I still had a couple of broken toes and all that shit. I did a bit of damage inside me, I think, and I felt like quitting for awhile.

I went back and did some teaching. I taught songwriting, but you can't teach songwriting. I taught it in England. That went good. I've done that for three years now. I did one before I came over here. It's Eastern Arts, in East Anglia, and there's one in Devon where they do writers' courses there and they do another one in Yorkshire. I did these in East Anglia and it was very good. You get interesting people there, some famous people who come there just to mix with other writers.

Tell us about some of the new songs you performed in your solo show. "Animal" and "Juile Finkel" come to mind. Are these songs for a solo album or for the Kinks?
After the last record company experience I had I'm not positioning them anywhere. I just play the songs until they become songs. A couple of them tonight were stronger than they were last night. I thought of other things to put in them now when we get a chance to rehearse next. That's the way we did "You Really Got Me." We had different arrangements of that and the recorded version of that which went out and beame a hit was after like six months to a year of playing it live.

What was wrong with the first version of "You Really Got Me"?
Ah, it was Phil Spector. Echo and everything. My voice was gravelly and it was all wrong.

What new songs that you played tonight will be on To The Bone, the next Kinks album?
Only "To The Bone" was written for the album and there's another song we've written that's gonna be on it. It's gonna be a double album over here. [Note: To The Bone was released as a single album in England last year.

Your American solo tour has been a very emotional moment for the fans. What's it been like for you to delve into some of your lesser known but equally important songs like "Autumn Almanac" and "Village Green"??
I mean, "Autumn Almanac" is very odd. It's not a rock'n'roll record. It's about gardening (laughs). You can't have a more ordinary occupation than that.

Eating roast beef on a Sunday.....
And sorting out the leaves that fall in the autumn and sweeping them into the sack. It's about that. Also the hump-backed man I spoke about really existed and when I became really successful he came and did my garden for me.

I heard you produced "You Really Got Me" when Shel Talmy was out of the room?
Well, Shel was around. To be fair to Shel and to do him credit, he produced the worst version and the best version so he's gotta be doing something right. "Dead End Street" was produced by him but he wasn't there. But that was the contract. Sometimes a producer is good as catalyst to get people to do things. I think he was effective for the time. I wouldn't listen to him now although I'd respect his opinion. It was a different thing producing then; now you've got to be part of the band.

You wrote a lot of you classic Kinks songs in your semi-detached home. Was there some tangible magic in that home?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. The thing about finishing the book, you asked me earlier about X-Ray and I realized it was about my family. That's why I dedicated it to my family. I don't think I could've written all those songs without them. It was a crucial part of me. It's not a coincidence that I start my book off ... see, the character in my book, the 19-year-old journalist, is me. All the things I wrote about in the book which people think is a novel and I've made up are true. Every dark thing about the kid listening to people outside and the thing with the electricity plug, all that stuff in the early pages, the dreams and the biting your teeth and falling asleep and slightly having insomnia when you're a kid, all that stuff's true. And it was easier for me to approach that by writing in that style.

It's interesting that this kid, if you read the book, he talks about his family that was dissolved and taken apart. And that's because I feel that my family is finished. It's gone. Coming from a big family and then having a band and that's it. I don't have anybody anymore 'cause my sisters were much older than I. My parents are dead, my sisters had gone away. They just had different lives. It's all part of me and I wanted it to be a kind of tribute to my family that really grew up in post-war Britain and experienced that millions of other families did.

What did your family think when you would mention them in songs, or even title songs after them, like "Arthur?"
I did a song called "Rosie Won't You Please Come Home", which is about when my sister went to Australia. And "Come Dancing". Gwen is the sister in "Come Dancing". She's very close to me now. She's the only one who is still close to me. The big thrill for me is that she read the book. She was one of the first people to buy it. She phoned me up and told me she liked it. So whatever any critic said to me I knew she'd be my worst critic. We went to a little church school up the road and she was there before me. She's seven years older than me. But they remembered her because she was really clever. Gwen was the closest, she was seven years older than me.

I lived with Rosie. I called Rosie "Mum" until I was five years old. She came back to England and she said that and I couldn't believe that. Maybe that had a lot to do with the way my relationship with Dave was formed because I've never really had a brother relationship with him. I always thought that my nephew, Terry, who is Rose's son, he's only a year younger than I - I felt like he was my brother.

Did Dave read the book?
I think he's read it. He's read bits. [Ex-Kinks drummer Mick] Avory's read the book. I made Avory read it.

In X-Ray you reveal that Mick had some pretty peculiar sexual peccadilloes.
He's a star, he's a star (laughs). He's one of the great unsung heroes of the rock world. He comes into Konk (studios) and signs my pay check.

What did Mick think of the book?
I don't know what he thinks of the book. I made him look at certain sections that involve him and asked him if it was accurate. He said, "Well, I'd like you to change little bits", because it was such trivial stuff, but most of it was okay with him.

Was it therapeutic writing X-Ray?
It wasn't therapeutic. It's only the fact that after I finished what I was writing and it made me realize certain things.

In your solo show there's a lot of pent-up sexual innuendo around Mick Avory. Was that a long-standing joke between you two?
Well, Mick, he's straight. I remember when he was getting married. I went out for a drink with him and got him drunk and we went to a Greek restaurant in London and I said "Mick, this is your last opportunity, go off and turn gay." But he tried, he tried. But he just couldn't succumb to it. Now I think maybe he's having second thoughts but he's got a lovely daughter now.

Mick, as I called him in the book, I recognized him being a lonely person like me. It's not sexual innuendo. It's like people drifting, it's nothing to do with sexuality, it's people lost. Friendship is more important than anything. Mick Avory, really, in all my years when I was going up and down and being crazy and having these fights with Dave, he remained my friend in the band. He's still my friend. He's the only person in the world I would allow to sign checks on my behalf. He looks after my gas bills and everything while I'm away. I let him have carte blanche because I know I can trust him. And it takes a special person and it goes beyond sexuality. It's a strange indefinable thing that friendship has that cannot be touched. References to sex taint that sort of relationship. It's asexual and I'm not condoning that but it's something that's beyond that.

I was reading an interesting quote by Pete Townshend where he compliments you by saying he'd never be the writer that you became and he also talked about how the Who and the Kinks never got much credit in light of the Stones and the Beatles. Did you ever feel the light should have shown more on the Kinks?
No, I think justifiably the Beatles got the credit they deserved, and the Stones, for the most part. I just felt that they were led by their promotion machine a bit too much and I think deep down John Lennon and people like that would have preferred to have mixed with us a bit more. I think it was the elitist attitude that their advisors took more than the bands. I think the Rolling Stones are friendlier now to me than they were then. It's easy to say that we were all buddies.

You told a story tonight about an incident with John Lennon at a show where the Kinks were part of the bill.[In his show, Davies described Lennon checking out the Kinks from the wings, putting on an air of superiority until he saw how well the band was going over. Afterwards, Lennon offered to write a song for the Kinks.]
Maybe he felt intimidated by us. We were the new young band in town and he was sizing us up. I always think of him being like the older boy at school. They always give you a hard time when you go there.

Didn't Lennon love your song "Wonderboy"?
Yeah, in my book I talk about the time he was in a club and was playing it. That's nice. It wasn't a big hit. I think he liked my work. I stayed at an apartment close to him in New York. It's an odd thing, this sort of rivalry that goes on in your lives. I used to see him in New York walking down the street with Yoko. I uesed to just wave. Then one day I was going off on a tour and I ran past 72nd Street by the Dakota and I was off jogging and I saw Yoko standing there alone and she had a kind of weird smile on her face. I'd never seen here without him before. Then I went on the tour and four days later he was dead. It's kind of weird.

I was in Paris doing an interview and they were playing records and asking me to make comments on the records and they played [Lennon's] "Starting Over" and I said, "I think it's a good record. I'm glad he's having success. It's not as good as the stuff he's done on his own."

And he said, "Don't you think it's as good?"

And I said "Not particularly."

And the guy said - it's a French journalist - "Oh, that's interesting because he got shot this morning. He's dead."

I felt really pissed off that he did it in that way. So I went with the people who I was with to Notre Dame and I lit a candle for him. It was the only thing I could do in the circumstances. It was a big sense of loss. You know sometimes the rivals are closer to you in life than the friends.

It seems a lot of the major traumas in your life had to do with your finances, contractual obligations and complications. You've always been hesitant to market yourself.
I think the thing that scared originally is that I thought it was wonderful. I just wanted to get "You Really Got Me" as a number one so I could get lots of friends and get recognition for the song, the band and make my girlfriend happy. It ended up that I was dealing with a market that revered volume. Volume became all important. Again, I keep going back to the book but I react against the volume. I reacted against that. I think I decided to become non-commercial. I actually believed in my stupid naive way that my friends would still be there. But when the volume falls apart, it's not a good business ethic to do that. You find that people want to buy something and be involved with something that's on a roll. I didn't really understand that business ethic and people love to be hyped.

As I said before, I only want to hype something I think is finished and ready. Otherwise I'd be saying that this is the first theatre novel tour by a rock musician. I'm not doing that until I think it's right. Sometimes I fall behind the race with that. But it's just that reaction I had. I understand the realities of business but I try my darndest to let it not influence me. But the things that fire me up to write about, I started a musical based on a big financial corporation. Finance fires me up, the power plays fire me up. Wall Street makes me interested because money is power is sex.

X-Ray finishes off in 1973. Are you planning a sequel?
I finished it then for a good reason. I felt writing about the development was very important, the genesis of the band and all that, and then I realized that first curve, that bunch of songs I wrote, was about that first time finding myself. Rites of passage and all that and developing into what can loosley be called an adult and then finishing it. And it all ended at that time. I thought it was an ideal time to end at the White City concert where I nearly died afterwards. It all seemed kind of symmetrical to me. And also going back to a journalistic thing, it would be the sort of thing in England particularly because I know we came back here in the '80s. It was the most interesting time for us, the '80' here.

It was just incredible. It was a different thing. In England I thought if a journalist came in, a tabloid journalist, that's what they'd write about. I combined that with my own sense that the songs related to a certain period. Then I wrote different songs after '73; I became a different person, really.

Many artists feel that success is the panacea to all their problems and insecurities. But success in itself doesn't change anything. Did you feel that way as well?
See, I was really lucky. I had a kind of troubled childhood. I ended up going to, it's not a home, really. How can I explain it? I went to classes a couple times a week for a year or two. I had a one-on-one tutorial with somebody. This wonderful person explained to me that you probably will never get over your insecurities. And I was really young when I was told that. I got a slight advantage from that because I always remembered what she said. She was very convincing. She justified what she said. She was an extraordinary incisive person. I think when I became an adult I still kept thinking I'm not gonna grow up.

That's why the book is firmly rooted with a 19-year-old. I think that's about as developed as I've got. Maturity comes. You learn how to order food differently, you order the right wines, you know how to talk to people. But the basic matter that makes you as a person, certainly in my case, doesn't change that much from that time. It's all downhill after that (laughs).

There's a Kinks site on the Internet and one heated discussion surrounds whether the band ever did an acid-inspired album in the '60s. In the midst of the height of psychedelia the band did an earthy, idio- syncratic album, The Village Green Preservation Society. It seems the Kinks were always operating against the times.
I think there were elements of acid-type, not music, I suppose, it's more the intellectualizing of it than the actual application of it. It's a stubborness, I suppose, and the sort of people I'm with, we get bored easily. It a fashion comes along we get bored with it after a day. The original band was so good. It's very rare that you can find friends that you've made in adulthood as close as the friends you had at school. You get this intuitive thing going with bands that went to school. I think we actually laughed at all the fashion things. Even when, not so much with the Beatles but the Rolling Stomes did certain things, I would go, "For fuck's sake, get real!" (laughs).

We were just interested in doing our little songs. Mick wanted to be a jazz drummer but he was happy to play my music because he felt we were on our own cause, our own campaign. It's a bad business ethic, as I said, but in a strange way it helped us. Because we were on such shitty deals we put ourselves on 40 pounds a week, which was then, for a rock star, a hundred dollars a week. We got that right up until the 80's, I think. If there was any profit at the end we'd distribute it. I didn't drive so I didn't need cars and Mick had a Morris Minor or something. Dave had a Jag, alright. He had to have that. First time I saw him driving we were scrumping. Scrumping is when you steal apples from a farm. We were scrumping apples on a farm and we got away and he was driving a tractor. He was about 12.

I've heard you are planning on releasing a CD-ROM for the Village Green Preservation Society record.
Well, I think it's the only format I've yet discovered that could possibly not be prohibitively expensive for me to do. As a movie it would be too expensive. I thought about doing it as an outdoor rock event and taking it 'round but it's so much money and logistically it would be impossible to do without hit singles and things. It'd be a hit show. Maybe I'll write a few more things and adapt them to become hit singles.

Can you understand why many Kinks fans cite that as their favorite record by the group?
Yeah. Well, you see, think about the I wrote it. I didn't think I'd ever come back to America again. In many ways my career was over. We were having hit singles but in Europe and the rest of the world and a few here, but the sales were going down. I thought, well, why not write something about things you truly care about? I wrote this song about friendship, "Do You Remember Walter?" It's about a real friend that exists. To me that was all important. I wanted a record that would not necessarily get airplay but would be played for friends and at parties - just play the record like playing a demo. (laughing) And I achieved that and it didn't get any airplay at all. It became a cult record as a result.

What's interesting is I think the whole indie scene in Britain started out of a similar wish or desire to undersell. It became a sales ploy to sell things. I was in a very highly vamped, high profile band when I made Village Green Preservation Society, which is a reaction against things. Now it's becoming fashionable to make those sort of records, to actually sell lots of records. You can do that more in England. There's a whole movement over here of low-fi music that you can buy on seven inch records, new bands starting out. It's the same sort of attitude. Now there are more people doing it.

When the Kinks were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame you spoke of how rock'n'roll had become respectable and said, "What a bummer..."
I was skeptical of it. I remember the night. I got to the Hall of Fame dinner and saw what a big schmoozing event it was and went back to my room. I ordered sandwhiches in my room. A guy who was with me, Kenny Laguna, he's a really nice guy, he came up to my room and talked me into going back down. It all kind of resolved itself. Mick dragged me up onstage. He had a terrible suit on, this terrible tuxedo.

Was it good to see [original Kinks bassist] Pete Quaife again?
Yeah, yeah. Kinda good. Anyway, I walked onstage and the people there, the first to shake your hand was Clive Davis [president of Arista Records, for which the Kinks recorded for several years] and Allen Klien [the notorious one-time business manager for the Beatles and Rolling Stones, among others.] Can you cope with it? (laughs)

Do you have a different feeling about it now after playing at the opening of the museum in Cleveland?
I went there and it was under some pressure because we'd just played this show at the Edinburg Festival, which is a theatre festival. Suddenly I got away from rock'n'roll. I just had to do a good show. And there were theatre people coming to judge the show, not necessarily Kinks fans. And I really got a good reaction from them. Then suddenly two days later I found myself on a plane to Cleveland. It was completely different from what I'd been doing, a different mindset entirely. But I went on there and I actually felt really pleased to be there because everybody from Steve Cropper to Aretha was there. All those people were great.

Did you have a chance to check out the museum?
Yeah, the next day I did. They're still pulling it together. It's a wonderful building. But they haven't got the exhibition together yet. You can only see so much of Pete Townsend's suit or Keith Moon's outfit and Elvis Presley's Las Vegas gear. What we're going to build there is a front room with my piano in it, my parents piano. I'm trying to track down the green amp but I don't think I'll ever find that.

Maybe it vaporized
No, someone stole it.

Do you think your songwriting process is different now than the way you used to write in the early days?
I think a big mistake is you become academic about all these things, analyze things. That's why I trust my subconscious. I don't say that in the show for effect. I really think it is smarter than I am. My subconscious tells me lots of things, dreams and instinctive things.

Are you a good judge of your material?
I am before I go into the studio with it. You get into the studio and you hype yourself just to get through the session and you think things are better than what they are or worse than what they are. Usually I think they're worse. The only true judge is to judge a song just on piano or guitar or whatever. That's why it's interesting developing these songs this way, these new songs.

The new songs are changing each show?
They're not changing, I'm not doing radical changes. But I'm finding out which bits are consistently good (laughing) and which bits are consistently bad and when I get the next chance to sit down I'll change them.

In your book, you speak about being obsessed with the movie Charley Varrick. Do you still struggle with remaining independent?
I think that commerce dictates art. It always has done. You go back to Rembrandt, he painted those pictures because he got commissioned. I think an artist needs a commission. In many respects an artist needs something to say 'fuck them' to. Only Bach can write for God totally. Bach wrote for the glory of God. Maybe you'll get the isolated guys like Van Gogh. In the modern world you have to write for a corporation and ultimately there's always one out there for you. The great thing about being a maverick is that I think of myself now as a recording artist [who is] like an independent filmmaker. I'm not tied to a studio but if I have a project I'd like to get finance from several different sources and make the movie and put it out on the independent circuit.

I think that's going to apply more and more in rock music because the artist who has got a home for all his records is very lucky. Bruce Springsteen is very lucky to be at Columbia. He'll be there longer than the people running the company. Warners are like that, they're good to some artists. The Kinks just got off to a bad start and we inevitably end up in this torn situation where we're between the strength of the artist and the people providing the finance.

Which record label is releasing the next Kinks album, To The Bone, in the U.S.?
I'd love to have my own label but quite honestly there's so much adminstration involved in it. I had Konk in the 1970's. I had one of the first independent labels of this modern era, I suppose. We did really well but I found the admin impossible. And to be an artist as well you just can't cope with it. But now I think we've got it knocked. I think I can cope with it. I've got advisors around that can deal with things.

In X-Ray, you speak of being secretive about "Waterloo Sunset." Why?
It started as a real personal song. Writing that was like your question earlier about writing the book and what did I feel when I finished it. I knew I'd done my best work. It was a good piece of work when I finished the song, not when I made the record. I wanted to keep it inside me, keep it for me. It's a very selfish thing and also very stupid, lack of business sense. That's why I took my time making it and I gradually let it out in small bursts because everybody had to like it in the band. Avory had to like it, Quaife, Dave had to like it. In the end everybody thought it was great.

Were you happy with it as a record?
Well, you can always change things. I'd pump up the bass a bit (laughs).

Ken Sharp
Goldmine Magazine - March 1, 1996
[Home Page][Articles Listing]