Americana: The Kinks, the Riff, the Road: The Story

Ray Davies

Ray Davies tries to make sense of his long love-hate relationship with America, the country that both inspired and frustrated him.

Americana: The Kinks, the Riff, the Road: The Story

Publisher: Sterling.
Length: 320 pages
Author: Ray Davies
Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2013-10
Reprinted with permission from Chapter 5 of Americana: The Kinks, the Riff, the Road: The Story by Ray Davies. Published by Sterling. © 2013 Sterling. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reprinted, reproduced, posted on another website, or distributed by any means without the written permission of the publisher.

The Fillmore East was the first Kinks gig on our return to New York City in October of 1969. When we got to town, there was a mass of interviews to do—a press conference was organised with mainly college newspapers, including Rolling Stone and Creem magazines, all of them wanting to know what it was like for us to be returning to America, where we had been banned. The “ban” had actually made us seem “cool,” since many students were critical of American politics at that time.

I was amazed at how organised rock music had become. The American musical scene had certainly changed, and we were taken aback by our own almost naive attempts to conform to the new rock industry that had evolved since our previous American tour. Bill Graham, the promoter of the Fillmore, was one of the pioneers in launching the American music revolution. Since we’d been away we missed this renaissance, which included Woodstock, Monterey Pop, and other big festivals.

The Fillmore itself was situated in New York’s East Village, where the hippie culture had fully emerged. People wore caftans and beads, and were smoking pot openly on the street and back stage at the venue. We were ushered back stage by huge security guards—unlike the out-of-shape “bouncers” we were accustomed to in the UK—and they insisted that we show our backstage passes no matter who we were. Our needs were taken care of by the Fillmore staff and, without going into too much detail, I mean all our needs were taken care of—ironing shirts, getting refreshments, running errands—which was unheard of at concerts in the UK. There was catering— not sweaty, dried-up cheese-and-Spam rolls like those we would have been given in England, but an enticing array of Asian cuisine and exotic nibbles. Rock and roll had turned into a mini industry in our time away from the United States, but the whole thing had become slightly decadent; as Grenville said, “It’s like an empire in decline.”

There seemed to be a parallel between the imperialistic qualities of the British Empire and the American “empire” that was under assault in Asia. Moral standards hadn’t exactly dropped, they were just there for everybody to see and ignore. Excess ruled, and I was grateful that our dressing-room door had a lock on it. Backstage personnel assisted Ken Jones with equipment; in the UK, he sometimes had to load up the van single-handedly. Onstage we were confronted with freaky light shows and stage monitors so that we could actually hear what we were playing. This was the first time we had ever encountered this new technological phenomenon. On all our other tours, including our recent trips into Europe, we had just used PA and front-of-house systems. There were no such extravagances as stage monitors. It was a completely new learning curve for us as musicians, and it made our performance during sound check seem more amateurish and tentative than usual.

It was the “prodigals’” return, the second coming, but our performance was below par. Unused to the sophisticated stage equipment, we must have sounded like a bunch of skiffle players in the back room of a pub. Our management in all their wisdom had done an endorsement deal with an amplifier company that had an unpronounceable name. We had made our name and reputation using small VOX amplifiers—which had worked successfully all over the world—but in America, for some reason, everything had to be bigger. It was also a time when amplifiers were stacked behind the musicians, but we didn’t have the luxury of doing production rehearsals before a tour. We’d literally come straight off the stage of a small provincial theatre in England, only to be thrown into the deep end with a technology that we were totally unfamiliar and unconfident with.

We were promoting our new album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), and the Fillmore was to be a tastemaker event that would set the tone for the rest of the U.S. dates. But anyone who witnessed the Kinks’ concerts at that time was astounded by the contradictions in our performance. Foppish, almost effeminate behaviour in some songs and brutal, brute force in some of the harder rock songs.

We shared the bill with two other acts that typified the extremes in our own stage performances: Spirit, a jazz-rock fusion band who punctuated their set by playing long guitar solos that went down a storm with the mainly stoned audience at the Fillmore, and the extravagantly named Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. The Kinks were familiar with the Bonzos, led by Vivian Stanshall, who had pop hits in the UK with songs like “I’m the Urban Spaceman,” and they’d attained some cult following in America, which is why I think they were on the bill with us at the Fillmore on our return show. The Bonzos were popular because of their eccentric English wit and the outrageous stage antics carried out by the band members, which included Vivian, “Legs” Larry Smith, and Neil Innes.

There were two shows a night, and after the first show I was disturbed to see a punch-up going on near the Bonzo’s dressing room between two of the Bonzos. In what seemed like a girlish spat, they stood in the corridor throwing punches and swearing at one another, dressed in their full stage attire... This scene was in total contrast to the sombre, laid-back vibe of Spirit, who appeared to do everything in a completely meditative state. I don’t know what sort of food they were eating or what vitamins they were on, if any, but they must have had superefficient concentration because when we passed in the corridor back stage, my friendly greeting of “Hi” was met with glazed stares and unblinking eyes as they walked past. Maybe intense focus was a new ingredient in rock and roll.

The Bonzos played brilliantly and got laughs and applause in admiration of their musical prowess. However, they were far from being a joke band; they were all very accomplished musicians. Spirit seemed like the soundtrack to a nation in turmoil; relentlessly unflinching, complete tunnel vision. From back stage it sounded like the audience gave an exhausted but collective “Yeah, man” at the end of each song. Fists punched the air in acknowledgment, and stagehands nodded in approval, while groupies and friends of the band hovered piously at the side of the stage. Spirit was the epitome of power and psychedelic progressive rock, and they were very influential in their own way. The band made extensive use of amplified gizmos, and while it may have seemed a total mismatch to have Spirit on with the Kinks at the time, the combination of “You Really Got Me” and Spirit’s instrumental sound effects may have been an influence on Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin, who had opened for Spirit a year earlier.

After a short intermission it was time for the Kinks to make their American return. Bill Graham walked onstage and made a speech about how we’d been “away too long” and the time had come for us to return. He paused and then said, “Please welcome to the stage the Kinks.” As we walked onstage I tried to thank Bill for the introduction, but the charismatic promoter walked straight past me, his eyes wide open and staring. He must have either been focused on something important like the next event in his busy calendar or what the box-office gross would be or recovering from something he’d eaten back stage. He stood at the side of the stage while we played our first few songs, and then he turned and disappeared with a bunch of minders. It struck me that in the new upper echelons of “Rock-and-Roll” America, even promoters had bodyguards.

The Kinks’ set was tentative at first, but then it evolved into something more confident and substantial as we took the audience through a journey of what we had been doing for the past four years. Hard-core fans got it immediately, whereas newcomers to our music looked on warily. Eventually they were won over by the hits we played from the British Invasion days; we then played a few songs from our new album, Arthur. The songs that had a more cutting rock edge to them and more complex structures were received with nods of approval, as if they were progressive enough to warrant an airing at the Fillmore. At the end of the show it was clear that we had made our mark—that we had taken our music somewhere since we first arrived in America years earlier, and, more than anything else, we had evolved.

Iconic rock legend Ray Davies inspired generations of musicians—from the Who, the Clash, and the Ramones to Black Sabbath—as lead singer and songwriter of the Kinks. The band's string of top ten international hits include “You Really Got Me”, “All Day and All of the Night”, “Till the End of the Day”, “Come Dancing”, and of course, “Lola”. In 1990, the Kinks were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Davies has also acted, directed, and produced shows for theater and television. Since the Kinks disbanded he has embarked on a solo career and continues to tour and record. Davies was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2004, and in 2012, his performance of the Kinks song “Waterloo Sunset” was a highlight of the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. On his most recent album, See My Friends (2011), he collaborated with such artists as Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, and Jon Bon Jovi.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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