Dave Davies | The Last Mystical Guitar God

prof dave-davies_smAs you get older, I think you get more creative; it’s just in a different kind of way.




prof dave-davies

There was always music coming out of the little brick house the Davies family owned at 6 Denmark Terrace in London. A pre–rock star Dave Davies would listen to his sisters’ collection of jazz and skiffle records while they were out twirling their skirts at the local Palais on Saturday nights. As the young man was burning with the ambition to make the formidable jump from being a guy who listened to music to a guy who actually created music, his sister’s new husband stoked the fires even more by generously gifting him with an electric guitar. The rest, as they say, is history. Young Davies, along with his older brother Ray, ultimately formed one of the most iconic bands in music history, The Kinks.

“My brother-in-law Mike Picker was a guitarist, and he introduced me to the electric guitar,” Davies says, recalling the very beginning of his musical journey. “He was giving lessons to Ray, and he also had a great collection of music.” Now that he had a proper instrument with which to get the sounds he heard out of his head and into the real world, he was adamant about listening to everything he could for inspiration. “Oh, I listened to Fats Domino, Big Bill Broonzy, who did all those great guitar shuffle things. I really loved Duane Eddy; he was a big influence. Eddie Cochran was a big inspiration, and Chuck Berry, of course. They were the reason I’d buy records. It was the guitar players, not the singers.”

Over 50 years later and at an age where many of his contemporaries have resigned themselves to a more languid pace, Davies has released a new live album, Rippin’ Up New York City: Live at the City Winery (Red River Entertainment). The album, featuring Jonathan Lea on guitar, Tom Currier on bass and keyboards, and drummer Dennis Diken of the Smithereens, is a no-fluff, warts-and-all slab of raw rock ’n’ roll that mixes the best of his recent and critically acclaimed solo work, along with beloved Kinks classics. Why a live album after all this time? “The thing is, I was really happy with the band and how we were sounding live,” he says, “so I just wanted to record it and make sure we had it down for posterity’s sake. My son Simon, helped, with the production on it. I’m really fortunate; I’ve got good band mates, good camaraderie, and we just have fun, you know?

prof dave-davies_300_copy_copyHis recent output of studio recordings and his continued devotion to road work is even more impressive considering Davies suffered a stroke back in 2004 that temporarily robbed him of his ability to speak and play guitar. The only remaining repercussion these days is a slow, almost carefully paced speaking pattern, as if he weighs the consequence of each word. When I ask him if ever thought he would still be releasing music after all these years, he pauses before offering a surprising response. “I would have been lucky to do it for a year. I thought it would be more like a vacation, and then I would go get a normal job. There’s no way I thought I’d be doing it for a living.” Bolstered by the reaction to his recent projects, Davies is currently working on new music with his son, Russell, and says, “I’m so inspired. I think when people get a chance to hear it, they’ll be surprised.” Noticeably excited when the talk turns to his new work, he states, “As you get older, I think you get more creative; it’s just in a different kind of way.”

Though the guitarist is lauded by fellow musicians for his innovative playing, it was his experimentation in the studio that cemented his reputation among his peers. Many times, however, trying new things was more an act of having to react to budgetary constraints than a bold expression of artistic brilliance. “The track ‘See My Friend’ is a good example of this,” he relates. “We didn’t have the luxury of getting ethnic instruments, so we tried to recreate the sounds they made in the studio. Some people think that’s a sitar, but it isn’t: I detuned a 12-string that Ray had and integrated it with my heavy guitar. Anything that we heard in our head, we just had to improvise and create it the best we could.”

The one song that is always front-and-center when anyone mentions The Kinks’ impact on rock music is, of course, “You Really Got Me.” Just to set the record straight, I ask if the “slicing the cone” story is true, or just another slick piece of PR fabrication. “Yeah, it’s true. What happened was I used to go to a radio supply shop. They sold vacuum cleaners and stuff, but they also sold valves and tubes for amplifiers. Anyway, I found this great looking little green amplifier, and I paid 10 quid for it. But when I took it home and plugged in, I was so disappointed with how it sounded. It was supposed to sound great, but didn’t at all. So I got out a razor—I had just started shaving at the time—and cut the cone in the amplifier. I was amazed at how it sounded.

“‘You Really Got Me’ was quite a landmark record for us. We knew we had something special with that.” As fate would have it, another band consisting of two brothers had their own hit with their version of the classic song. What does he think of the Van Halen interpretation from their eponymous debut album? “I quite liked it, though I thought the playing to be a bit too accomplished,” he responds. “The actual Kinks record was more about intensity, because we were a bunch of kids just trying our best to communicate this idea. I did an interview with Van Halen’s website about it, actually, but it was rather tongue-in-cheek.”

prof dave-davies_kinksMany Kinks fans are hoping against all hope that The Kinks reunite one last time and bring their legendary marriage of angst and melody to the live concert stage. “It’s not a done deal, and it’s a long shot. I’ll be getting together with Ray around Christmas and I hope to talk to him about it then. Who knows, you know?” And while a new Kinks album coupled with 21st-century recording technology would be amazing, Davies isn’t so sure he agrees with the idea that it would help. “In technology, we’ve lost a sense of trust,” he relates. “Trust is a part of our human nature, part of our place in this world. We need to take a leap of faith and get back to communicating with each other without it, and try keeping the old traditions that work. A lot of Kinks music was about incorporating the old into the new. Some of the old ways are still good. Call me old fashioned. I mean, trees are old. Are they bad?”

In his 1997 autobiography, Kink, Davies spoke openly about his somewhat mystical sense of spirituality and dalliances with the spirit world itself. Risking Davies hanging up on me when I bring this up, he is quite matter-of-fact when he describes it. “I’ve had two experiences, and I guess it started when I was a kid. I had six older sisters who would mess around with sort of paranormal things, and would hold séances.” As a cautionary note, he adds, “They would use Ouija boards, which are quite dangerous. I don’t recommend anyone use them.” Does he still subscribe to the idea of spiritual communication and extraterrestrial visitation? “Well, now I gravitate towards yoga, because it balances the physical and emotional, and brings about balance. I also love astrology. There’s a lot of wisdom that can be found in tarot things, too. It’s all about not making decisions on face value. You have to be intuitive on what the tarot cards are trying to say.”

Despite his unorthodox beliefs, his perspective on life was changed forever by the reappearance of two very important people his life. In 1993, he had the good fortune of meeting up with Sue Sheehan, as well as their daughter Tracy, whom he met for the first time. Davies had been kicked out of school when Sheehan became pregnant, and the two were separated for decades. As he funneled the heartbreak into catharsis, she became his muse for tracks such as “Suzannah’s Still Alive,” “Mindless Child of Motherhood,” and “Funny Face.” Meeting with Sheehan was “very emotional, as you’d expect. It was something that had been missing in my life for a long time. When I met Sue again in 1993,” he continues, “we realized the relationship was completely over. I now live with my girlfriend Rebecca in New Jersey.”

With the frost seemingly melting between Davies and his brother, dangling relationships resolved to satisfaction, and a fulfilling creative life still in progress, what is left for Dave Davies? “We’re touring through November and landing in Los Angeles. Next year, we’ll have even more time logged on the road, and hopefully we’ll make it to St. Louis.”

As we wind down our conversation, Davies sets off on a different tangent away from music, away from endless questions regarding possible reunions and reconciliations. “The consciousness is developing; we’re all still evolving,” he philosophizes. “Maybe we should be more considerate to animals, to other species, rather than the option, which is pretty much us going straight to destroying everything.” Never one to burn a bridge or extinguish the last remaining bit of light in the darkness, he adds, “These are daunting times. But we can make it through them.” | Jim Ousley

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