Ray Davies

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Ray Davies Pencil Portrait
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Last update : 18/7/15

2004 could well have marked both the apogee and finale to the professional career of Ray Davies. Awarded a CBE in the New Year’s Honours List, January was barely a few days old when the singer-songwriter was shot and wounded in the leg by a mugger in the French quarter of New Orleans. Reacting instinctively, but with little forethought, Davies gave chase to a gunman who had jumped out of a passing car demanding his female partner’s purse. As one of the men turned and fired, the musician was hit in the right thigh, collapsing on the sidewalk. Recovering in hospital, the former lead singer with The Kinks was informed that the bullet had passed cleanly through his leg.

It could all have been much worse, yet in another sense, the incident represented little more than another entry in an already colourful career.

Much of this colour has come from his succession of female relationships, yet running consistently parallel with these romances has been the perennial feud with his brother Dave. As millions are well aware, the enmity between the Kinks’ Ray and Dave Davies is unparalleled. The two have been at each other’s throats for decades, physically fighting onstage, in the studio and basically anywhere they’ve been forced to co-exist; Ray once famously stabbing Dave in the chest with a fork for stealing one of his chips in a restaurant. The issues can therefore be extremely trivial or emotionally far more profound. Dave believes that Ray has never given him enough credit for his contributions to the band and remains a hateful, pretentious narcissist. His elder brother is less frank about the subject; generally saying in interviews only that he wishes they could get along and perhaps even reform. In 2010, when Kinks’ bassist Pete Quaife died, Dave resisted overtures from his brother to perform with him at the funeral. All of this, is par for the course. The reality is that millions of siblings are constantly at war with one another. Yet why should this be so, and what can be done to stem the vitriolic flow that rips families apart?

Relationship counsellors often advocate creating boundaries around which the healing process can begin; the source of the feud remaining strictly off limits for a predetermined period of time. Siblings are advised to be simply themselves, to focus on reconnecting, and rebuilding the relationship, and to keep the subject of the feud off the table. As the value of the relationship to each other acquires fresh importance, the central issue can be re-examined, ably supported by this newly discovered middle ground.

Unfortunately, rivalries and sibling resentment within rock bands are much harder to handle, due in no small part to the ever present contractual demands placed upon musicians. The never ending cycle of recording sessions, promotional appearances and touring, creates an environment in which boundaries are impossible to establish. If that prick to your right onstage, insists on fingering arpeggios instead of hammering slashed power chords, this sense of irritation can never abate. By the end of an arduous tour, such ‘perceived betrayal’ of a songwriter’s original artistic vision can amount to deliberate sabotage. Paranoia clearly knows no bounds. The Davies brothers have reportedly had a hard time getting along since early childhood, and in 1996, Ray reportedly ruined his younger brother’s 50th birthday party by jumping on top of the cake to declare his own genius. Since then, Dave has publicly declared his brother “an asshole” and has compared him to toxic poison. They haven’t performed together since the cake incident.

The notion of disintegrating band relationships is a well-worn cliché, yet all great musical acts enjoy honeymoon periods where the common goal for success outstrips any other individual needs and desires. In the case of The Kinks, they clearly remain the exception to the rule. Less than a year on from their first UK number one, they had subconsciously sabotaged success on a much grander scale. As Gavin Edwards so succinctly puts it in his 2006 book, ‘Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed:’

Some things went well on the Kinks’ first American tour, in the summer of 1965: the band discovered the pleasures of pizza, malted milkshakes, and buxom groupies. But the band was in turmoil; earlier that year, guitarist Dave Davies and drummer Mick Avory had a fight onstage in Wales, which started with Davies spitting at Avory and ended with Avory hitting Davies over the head with the pedal to his high-hat cymbal. So none of the Kinks were speaking to each other, and on any given night, the band’s management wasn’t sure how the Kinks would behave: whether they would do a full show, or come to blows, or treat the audience to a 45-minute version of “You Really Got Me” (as the band’s road manager says they did on one evening, although a roadie insists they didn’t play the song for the entire show).

Although singer Ray Davies has called tales of the Kinks’ American misbehavior “character assassination, [a] plot to destroy us,” sources close to the band confirm that they found trouble wherever they went, at least some of it of their own making. The band skipped a show in Sacramento, Ray Davies punched a union official who kept insinuating that England was already as good as Communist, and they appeared on a Dick Clark special for NBC without paying their mandatory dues to the American Federation of Television and Recording Artists. The upshot was the Federation blacklisted them–although they never gave a specific reason as to why–and the Kinks could not return to the States for over four years. Years later, Davies mused, “In many respects, that ridiculous ban took away the best years of the Kinks’ career when the original band was performing at its peak.”

[UK tour programme from March ’64, where The Kinks would be a last minute addition to the roster of stars.]


Recommended listening

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968)

“To be played intimately amongst friends” : Ray Davies in conversation with Alan Yentob, 2010

Recommended viewing

Ray Davies - Imaginary Man (BBC Tv) 2010

“It’s such a fucked up city (London), they’ve got all this crap around- look at it …. it means lots of different things to me, sometimes that’s what songwriting is, it’s not the detail, it’s the impression….”

As the creative powerhouse behind hugely influential band The Kinks, Ray Davies was responsible for writing some of the best-loved songs of the 60s, including pop classics ‘You Really Got Me,’ ‘Tired of Waiting For You,’ ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion,’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and ‘Waterloo Sunset.’

Alan Yentob meets Davies, a unique talent who describes with rare candour his troubled relationship with fame and the vicissitudes of his career. They also discuss a new album of Klassic Kinks Kollaborations which is near completion and features musical luminaries such as Bruce Springsteen, Mumford and Sons and Metallica.


I taped the programme. One of these days, Ray may appear really animated about a subject under discussion, and I don’t want to miss that moment!!

Recommended reading

Ray Davies - A Complicated Life (Johnny Rogan) 2015

Neil Spencer’s review of “A complicated life” in “The Observer” was less than effusive, blithely informing his readers that Rogan had recounted ‘the familiar tale of Ray’s ascent from shaggy degenerate (the young Kinks were just as mad, bad and dangerous as the Stones) to national treasure with much detail but little verve.’

He went onto add : For all the interviews of band members, associates, lovers and wives, Rogan’s real subject, Davies himself, remains frustratingly out of focus. The measured, affectionate testimony of Ray’s first wife, Rasa, from a Lithuanian Catholic family, and deemed “a stateless, refugee bride” by the north London press, is the nearest we get. Everyone attests to the singer’s notorious meanness (“He makes Rod Stewart look like a philanthropist,” snipes producer Shel Talmy), to his unpredictable mood swings, lapses into depression, outbursts of fury and sly sleights of hand. “We called him The Manipulator,” says backing singer Shirlie Roden. Yet even those burned speak of their respect and love for Davies, of his charm and talent. And he has stayed true to his art, kept creating and performing. Rogan is unwilling or unable to locate the blithe, sometimes acerbic spirit behind those classic songs. His warts-and-all portrait ends up being mostly just warts. The great Muswell Hillbilly deserves better.

And there you have it, three simple words – ‘the great Muswell Hillbilly,’ Spencer’s understandable betrayal of true objectivity where a key musical influence is concerned. This book runs for 700+ pages, and more than five decades of self-centered beaviour. Just how much slack can you cut anyone? Davies emerges from Rogan’s biography as a man who has consistently found himself more fascinating than anything or anyone else, but not a man prone to venal behaviour. The biggest problem with the book – from a personal perspective – is that it’s wearying, a tale of familial dysfunction and wasted chances, of tiresome manipulations and endless machinations. Forget your bookmark, dip in anywhere and there’s an overwhelming sense of déjà vu as the truculent Davies brothers contine their emotional odyssey from one decade to another. Approximately forty Davies compositions will endure – an infinitely greater number than any fledgling songwriter can dare dream about – but slim pickings for fifty years of squabbles and botched opportunities.




The Kinks