The Pressures of the Road
Does the Band That Fights Together Stay Together?
"I've seen so many losers and down and out boozers Who are tired of being bought and sold." - The Kinks, "Life On The Road"
The Kinks were hardly a verse into their third encore Tuesday night when the fight began. Lead guitarist Dave Davies walked over to drummer Mick Avory and began to poke at the cymbals. Avory glowered at Davies; Davies glowered back.
Singer Ray Davies, leader of the group that's one of the few survivors of rock's 1964 "British Invasion," came over and led his kid brother away from trouble, but a minute later Dave was at it again. At the end of his guitar solo, standing directly in front of the drummer, he launched a gob of spit that hit Avory right in the face. Avory spat back, and Davies retreated to the other side of the stage, where with the sweep of his arm he knocked over the microphone stand at Avory's side.
That did it. Avory stood up, threw his drumsticks at Dave Davies and stormed off the stage. The rest of the band hesitated, the beat lost, so Ray turned around noticing for the first time that Avory was gone. "I've had it with these boys," he calmly told the crowd.
Despite Ray Davies' desperate effort to carry on, the song fizzled to a halt, and everyone left the stage - except for Dave Davies, who mounted the platform where Avory's drum kit was sitting and assumed the stance of a football punter. With one swing of his leg he booted the entire drum kit off the platform; with another he devastated the remaining microphone stands.
Many in the crowd of 3,000 left Constitution Hall believing it was all planned, that it was just a simple bit of stage violence a la the Who; a disc jockey who wasn't there said as much on the air the next day. But what happened next, backstage, indicated that the Davies-Avory spat wasn't a manifestation of ordinary rock theatrics, but of something else: road fatigue.
"Avory, you're a stinking (deleted), " shouted Dave Davies, a member of the Kinks' road crew holding him by the arms to prevent him from breaking into the dressing room where Avory, 33, sat fuming. "You're a lousy drummer, and I'm not gonna put up with you anymore. I've got more talent in my (deleted) than you've got in your whole (deleted) body."
Nearby, keyboard player John Gosling leaned his head on a woman's shoulder and began to weep. Ray Davies walked by, looking grim; no, he didn't want to talk. Kinks tour manager Ken Jones, however, had a few words before departing for the hotel in one of the group's two rented limousines. "It's the pressures of the road," he said. "We've had a bad day. The equipment truck was three hours late in arriving from Pittsburg, and Dave had a little too much to drink. I wouldn't want you to think that this kind of thing happens all the time, because it doesn't."
Still, sudden flare-ups of temper in concert or in the recording studio are one of rock's occupational hazards - and not just for the Kinks. One of the most vivid scenes in the Beatle's "Let It Be" film came when George Harrison got into a heated argument with Paul McCartney over how a particular song was to be arranged; John and Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac attribute the break-up of their marriage to seven years of nearly constant touring.
But the Kinks' "Go 'Till You Drop" U.S. tour, which began in January and ends today in Tampa, Florida, is a particularly arresting example of the phenomenon known as road fatigue. Everyone from Elton John to Kiss has written songs about the subject, but the Davies brothers and Avory have been performing together for nearly 15 years, have perhaps the most experience trying to cope with the "27 shows, 27 days, 27 cities" routine.
"They've been doing this kind of crazy thing for years," says a Kinks press spokesman. "Their philosophy has always been 'The band that fights together, stays together.' I've seen them push each other around on stage before. It's nothing new."
The Kinks may have learned to kiss and make up - an observer of their Wednesday night show on Long Island reported that Avory and Davies were 'all smiles' with each other - but in some bands the hostility festers during a long tour and group members end up barely tolerating each other. Singer Marty Balin, for example, has on several occasions, both in print and on stage, expressed his dislike for Grace Slick, with whom he shares lead vocals in Jefferson Starship.
In other bands, especially those that aren't superstars and thus can't afford the luxurious, infrequent tours the Rolling Stones, the Who and Led Zeppelin favor, it's the daily grind that wears out the musicians. Savoy Brown, a British blues band that in the early '70's was on the road an average of 250 days a year, often in a supporting role, is probably the best example. In its decade of existence, the group has had more than 30 members.
In circumstances like that, the 'glamour' of the rock musicians life fades quickly, and playing music becomes just another way of making a living - especially for British rockers who come from working class backgrounds. As former Mott the Hoople singer and pianist Ian Hunter, whose book "Reflections of a Rock Star" is perhaps the best written account of the tediousness of life on the road, once said, "I'm just grateful that I don't have to work in a factory like a lot of my less fortunate friends."
With that attitude, which grows more common as rock takes on the trappings of an industry, goes the end of the youthful enthusiasm and naiveté that mark the beginning of a band - and the diminution of the emotional bonds that unite musicians. After a while, it doesn't matter whether a musician likes his colleagues; images and contracts have to be upheld, bills paid and mouths fed, so he swallows his pride and hopes that tomorrow night's gig will be better.
"When you formed a group back in the '60's," says former Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck, whose tiffs with singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ron Wood, now of the Rolling Stones, made the original Jeff Beck Group one of rock's legendary quarreling bands, "the thing was that everyone thought you were brothers and in love and would stick together until the end, and all that. I don't think you can do that sort of thing anymore."
Larry Rohter - Washington Post, 5/8/77