Dave Davies of The Kinks on “Lola,” Inventing Distortion, and Over 50 Years In Music | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Dave Davies of The Kinks on “Lola,” Inventing Distortion, and Over 50 Years In Music

Six Sisters and Stardom

Dec 17, 2020 The Kinks
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On December 18th, just in time for the holidays, music fans can get the kinks out of their system after a long many months in quarantine-hibernation and get their hands on a copy of the new 50th anniversary reissue of the record Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One, from British band The Kinks. The band, which rose to popularity in the ’60s alongside the British Invasion with hits like “You Really Got Me,” was later banned from playing in America in the middle of the decade. But in 1970, with the release of Lola Versus Powerman and its hit single, “Lola,” the band was back to regain their reputation as one of the globe’s hottest acts. We caught up with lead guitarist and co-founder of The Kinks, Dave Davies, 73, who is the younger brother of the group’s frontman, Ray Davies, to ask him about his early days in music, what it was like to collaborate with his kin, and what he remembers from The Kinks’ glory years.

Jake Uitti (Under the Radar): When did you first find music in a significant way as a young person?

Dave Davies: You know, well, I think it was when—me and Ray grew up in a house, [it was] a working-class family and there were a lot of kids. We had six older siblings, all girls, six sisters. And they were always—I was the baby of the family and they brought a lot of music into the house. So, there was music everywhere in the house when me and Ray were little. And every weekend, every Saturday night, my family would have parties. Everybody played piano or they brought their own music in. My dad played banjo, my sisters played piano. It was a very musical family. But I seriously started an interest in playing music when I heard—my brother-in-law introduced me to Django Reinhardt and Big Bill Broonzy, a blues guitar player, and Eddie Cochran. And, of course, a bit later, Chuck Berry was a big influence. So, there was lots of music growing up.

What was it about the guitar that particularly interested you, what about it made you go, “Wow!”?

I think first thing, I tried to learn violin, which was okay, but I didn’t like it. And then I took up tenor sax. But I realized you can’t be yourself with an instrument like that, so I tried to practice the guitar. I liked—it sounded a bit like the way that you can communicate with other people. You can hang and play and I found that really turned me on. The fact that I could play in front of people, I found that very exciting, the interaction.

You became something of an experimenter with the guitar. What inspired your interest in tinkering with early distortion techniques?

Oh yeah! Well, my brother-in-law, Mike Picker, he was a guitar player and he was a bit interested in electronics and amplifiers. And he built, actually, guitar pickups, which I helped him with. But he was always messing around with stuff and vales and all kinds of electrical equipment. One time I put a small Elpico amplifier, which was only 10 watts, and I was looking for some sort of sound. Mostly, guitar sounds in those days would run clean and smooth sounding. And I needed—I created a sound with a little Elpico amp where I cut the speakers up with a razor blade, not even knowing what would happen. When I plugged in, it came out this writhing, distorted sound. So, that’s how my first efforts in distortion came about.

What was it like for you to work so closely with your brother?

Well, it was family. You know, we learned guitar at about the same time. But Ray was more into, like, picking and classical-type playing. I wanted to be Eddie Cochran, I wanted to play a wild rock ‘n’ roll guitar. So, we’re both kind of—we’d play with each other on guitar and it just grew from playing and interchanging ideas over and over.

What was it like for you when The Kinks were banned in the States in the mid-60s by the American Federation of Musicians?

Well, yeah. It was very disappointing. Because we were naïve and our management was quite naïve as well. We didn’t really understand things like the musicians’ union. And we weren’t always, you know, behaving [well]. The Beatles and The Stones had actually much more PR-guided approaches. We weren’t. We were scruffy kids playing on TV. The [ban] wasn’t very good for us. We couldn’t travel to America or play in America ‘til ’69, I think. That’s when we started to really work a lot on our career with the American audience.

After that, Lola Versus Powerman came out in 1970. Do you have a favorite memory making that record? What do you think about when you hear it again these days?

I’ve been listening to it quite a lot because Ray and I, we’ve done little snippets of interviews that are on the box set of the new [reissue] album. We’re talking about “Strangers” and how did we get ideas and this and that, so that’s on the new box set! We also included old demos and old mixes and it’s an interesting project. It’s quite amazing hearing all the material again. I didn’t realize—because we had a big influence because we were going back to the States again. So, obviously, the music was—we were embarking on a new phase of our careers, really. It was very different from the ’60s singles, making singles all the time. We were getting more into conceptual ideas, which were interesting.

Can you talk about that a little more, what kind of ideas?

Well, I think it grew out of the fact that—well, Lola Versus Powerman grew out of what was going on in our lives at the time. We had been management and record companies and publishers, so it was kind of like a concept in a way about what was going on in our environment. Studios we’ve never worked in before, going to America again. So, it was an important transitional period in our careers anyway. So, it was an important time for us. Coming out of the ’60s and the newness of the ’70s and new ideas and touring again was a big thing for us.

What do you think about when you hear the song “Lola” again now?

It’s great! I love it! I’ve always loved that song. I think Ray wanted to try and create a single type track and I think it worked really well. It’s got country influences and I think it’s a fun track. But it’s also about growing up and experimenting with ideas and trying to find a sexual identity when you’re young apart of trying to find your identity in the world as a musician and a player and just growing up. It was a lot of—growing up in the music business. iIt’s very intense, very.

What do you love most about music?

I think it’s the fact that it can connect with people in a really instant and effective way. The music is about emotions and how people feel. So, I love to be able to find—I think when I first started playing in front of people and what it did to other people and the way it felt and the response, that’s what I think is most interesting. How it can affect people’s minds and emotions just by playing and singing. That really, really was a big thing for me.

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