Guitarist and Kinks founder Dave Davies releases new album
Dave Davies still rocking the hell out of his six-string at Shirley’s Bull Run. Photo by Tory Germann.
By Nick Tsui & Rita Savard
“I was just a crazy kid with a guitar, razor blade and an amp.”
That’s how Dave Davies often chalks up his legendary rock story to the press. But the truth of the matter is, the moment Davies took a single-sided Gillette blade and sliced the speaker cone on a little green Elpico, his signature distorted riff on The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” opened doors for punk, metal and garage rock.
Fifty-years later, the British rocker has traded in his leather boots for Crocs, his rebel yell for meditation and inner peace. But from the first fuzzy strains blasting out of a kicked-up amp at The Bull Run in Shirley, Mass. Thursday, Davies proved he can still churn out power-chord heavy hits that shakedown a room.
“Music is a great way of turning things upside down,” says Davies, sitting comfortably on the floor in front of a couch in The Bull Run’s green room, legs stretched out and sipping a can of Guinness following his sold-out show.
The May 30th gig helped jumpstart Davies’ first tour in nearly a decade to promote his brand new album, I Will Be Me. The 13-track collection has Davies returning to his groundbreaking guitar sound with songwriting that is reflective, progressive and Kinks heavy.
Just four years ago, Davies was scheduled to play a sold-out show on the same stage at The Bull Run but was forced to cancel due to health complications that would eventually bring any aspirations for touring to a halt.
One look around the crowd Thursday night and fans’ euphoric faces indicated Davies’ live performance was well worth the wait.
“All the songs on the new album are characters,” explains Davies. “People that appear in the mind. You can make them do all kinds of things.”
If you think of the albums’ 13 songs as a cast of characters, then they get a whole lot of color thanks to Davies’ creative mind and guest appearances by an eclectic group of musicians including punk group Anti-Flag, alt-country band The Jayhawks, Australian rock act The Art, British blues man Oil Brown, veteran U.K. guitarist Chris Spedding and young stoner band Dead Meadow.
The idea behind the new album, Davies says, all started with a theme: living in the past.
“I imagined this character like me getting thrown out of the house because he can’t afford mortgage payments,” Davies says, leaning in and speaking softly in a thick British brogue, like he’s spilling the secrets of the universe.
“He’s clinging onto his vinyl albums…his retro clothes. He lives in the past because he’s confronted with this world he doesn’t understand. He thinks the solution or comfort is to dwell on the past.”
Then comes the line in Davies’ hard-rocking track aptly named “Living in the Past” — No matter what they do or say, the future is here to stay!
“I use that theme as an undercurrent for a lot of the characters who appear on the album,” he says. “It’s kind of like all of us. We’re trying to understand but we really don’t have a clue. We don’t know anything at all. We’re programmed to pretend everything’s going to be okay. Then when disaster hits we’re so ill equipped — makes life more interesting though.”
Dave Davies circa 1960s. Courtesy photo.
Looking back on Davies own experiences in the past decade, he knows a thing or two about disaster. In 2004, he suffered a stroke that left the legendary guitar player unable to hold a pick between his fingers.
A combination of spiritual meditation, singing and writing songs helped Davies regain his speech and become reacquainted with a six string.
When illness slowed his life down, Davies says he became more connected to his inner strength. The Kinks founder and revolutionary rock guitarist is now your friendly neighborhood guru who organizes his own spiritual Satsang retreats, owns a Hopi Indian talking stick — a branch adorned with ribbon and crystals — and even has psychic friends.
“Before they had psychotherapy, they had these circles of people…a sacred space where you can say anything you want without interference,” says Davies, explaining a talking stick ceremony that involves a group of real people sitting together and opening up about what troubles them while passing around the stick.
Doesn’t matter what you say or do. It’s like Vegas. What happens in the circle, stays in the circle.
“One of the most important things is emotion,” Davies says. “But we keep it guarded and under wraps and end up having to go to therapy.”
For Davies, music has always been the best therapy.
The Kinks Ray Davies, Pete Quaife, Dave Davies and Mick Avory at Ready Steady Go in London.
Make no mistake. At age 66, Dave Davies may be a kinder, gentler more mystical version of the once angst-filled garage rocker, but he still shreds the hell out of a Fender Telecaster. The new songs he performed off I Will Be Me show he’s able to look back on his past and still forge new music that’s relevant.
“Little Green Amp” is a punk homage to Davies’ beginnings, while the track “Cote du Rhone,” which translates to the album title I Will Be Me, peels away the years and has Davies taking a hard look at the world around him now, with a heavy slide guitar backdrop.
It’s the song that resonates with Davies the most.
“It’s the same character living in the past,” he explains. “But he’s moved cities and now he’s in Hollywood watching the chicks, mustering up money to have a good time and there’s surveillance cameras everywhere. He’s always being watched. You have this idea about an optimistic future and you have to maintain those ideas if you can. It’s like a kid trying to open a crate of ideas.”
The jam-packed room at The Bull Run erupted in applause when Davies walked on stage following a solid set by opener Jeff Root.
His backing band, Jonathan Lea, Tom Currier and Teddy Freese of LA-based rock band The Jigsaw Seen truly compliment Davies’ massive guitar sound. But one of the night’s highlights was when a female fan from New Jersey sang a duet with the Kinks founder on “Death of a Clown.”
Yeah, Davies may now be sporting more comfortable shoes but in his black suit and purple button-down, the guy who was often referred to as the best-dressed and best-looking in the Kinks still strikes a chord with the ladies. Several women — longtime fans who discovered Davies’ jagged, blues-driven sound as teens and are now grandparents just like him — left their seats to fulfill an old school-girl crush and bring Davies presents and roses.
Photo by Tory Germann.
Ever the charmer, Davies seemed to know them personally; just like seeing an old friend after many years.
Showing his softer side, Davies explained the song “The Healing Boy” was written about his now one-year-old grandson, Max, who was born just six months after Davies started working on the new album.
“Looking in his face, his energy, he’s like a healer,” Davies says.
Despite media reports that Dave and his brother Ray Davies are locked in an eternal grudge match, Davies says he feels nothing but love for Ray and dedicated the Kinks’ classic “Young and Innocent Days” to Ray. During the set, the band also managed to slip in a cover of Elvis Presley’s “One Night” and other Kinks hits “Living on a Thin Line” and “All Day and All of the Night,” which was played with such ferocity anyone close to the stage felt the vibrations of Davies’ big-amp sound rattle their bones.
With his encore, “Remember The Future” from the new album, Davies, like the rock and roll sage he’s become, gave a dose of great music with a dollop of advice to the audience: “Be yourself, express yourself.”
The final moment of truth came when Davies, whose black suit transformed to a dusty gray after chalking up his fingers all night, banged out his distortion-laden riff on “You Really Got Me.” The same riff that prompted famed musicologist Joe Harrington to say Dave Davies and “The Kinks did a lot to help turn rock and roll into rock.”
A self-described “optimistic realist” Davies says when it comes to great new music “we haven’t really scratched the surface.”
“It’s important to have dreams and imagine great things,” he says.
Peter Buck of R.E.M. once said “The Kinks slipped into rock history through the back door.” This may be true since they were overshadowed by English titans like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who. However, one must sit back and ask themselves: What’s more Rock and Roll, having a ticket through the front or sneaking in the back?
Kinks guitarist Dave Davies’ new album, I Will Be Me, won’t be released until June 4, but the legendary rocker is giving fans the chance to preview the collection online now. All of the album’s 13 tracks currently are streaming at Cleopatra Records’ SoundCloud page.
Nick Tsui eats, sleeps and breathes music. With his acoustic Takamine in tow, over the past eight years he has traveled the country in search of some of the greatest guitar legends of all time including Bo Diddley, Les Paul, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck and BB King — just to name a few. Today, Nick’s guitar is tattooed with the signatures of more than two dozen of his guitar heroes — and since this story, the legendary Dave Davies has been added to the list! Nick lives in Dracut and attended school at UMass Lowell, where he studied psychology. Besides collecting music and interviewing the players, Nick provides food for the music-lovers soul at HOWL, and also writes for The Blues Audience Newsletter. Give him a shout at email@example.com.