In our ongoing series, Gibson.com salutes the careers of some lauded Gibson guitar greats. This time, it’s the master of the proto-metal ‘60s riff and straight-talking London guitar legend, Dave Davies of The Kinks
Who is he?
While brother Ray, two and half years Dave’s senior, honed his storytelling and songwriting skills at art college – just like contemporaries Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, Pink Floyd and more – Dave went straight into music. Indeed, it was Dave and bassist Pete Quaife who formed The Ravens, the precursor to Ray Davies joining and the band becoming The Kinks.
Early Kinks smashes were riotous for the time. Britain’s “beat pop” was still relatively serene (musically, at least) in 1964 and Dave’s power-chording on “You Really Got Me” was seen by many as the dawn of hard rock. Behind the riffs, there was also the riotous relationship between Dave and Ray – their sibling rivalry makes the punch-ups of Noel and Liam Gallagher or Don and Phil Everly look like a flower-waving love-in.
Indeed, the brothers’ volatile chemistry has often overshadowed The Kinks’ spectacular catalog of recordings. Fists and venomous words have been regularly thrown back and forth, and their disdain for each other seems to preclude any permanent Kinks reunion. Dave says he loves Ray, but “I just can't stand to be with him. About an hour with Ray's my limit, so it would be a very short reunion.” That was in 2009, since when they’ve only managed the odd song together on-stage.
No matter! Dave has had his own personal traumas, including a stroke that resulted in him having to relearn the guitar, but he’s nothing if not determined. Having just celebrated his 70th birthday, he’s about to release Open Road, a new album with his son Russ Davies. A documentary movie about the mercurial Dave Davies, Strangers, is out soon too.
It’s unfair, really, but much of Dave’s early acclaim came from that opening salvo of “You Really Got Me.” It was first written on piano by Ray, but Dave later made the sound revolutionary by electrifying the song and slashing his amp speaker’s cone for D.I.Y. fuzz.
In 2014 Dave wrote on his Facebook, “As I have stated in interviews and print since 1964... I was alone at home in the front room of 6 Denmark Terrace in Muswell Hill North London when I got angry because I was upset about being separated from my girlfriend. I slashed the speaker cone with a razor blade IN A FIT OF RAGE. Ray was not with me. I was alone in my ANGER. It had nothing to do with a fight with my brother.”
If Dave Davies has sometimes sounded tetchy, it’s understandable. For years, other rumours persisted that it was Jimmy Page, then a session player, who played the “You Really Got Me” solo, even though Page himself denied it. Dave says, “It’s me that played it, it couldn’t be anybody else. The way that I played that solo, no one on this planet could play it like me. That’s ridiculous!”
Just one song, so many arguments...!
Dave Davies’s influence on The Kinks was immense. He wrote memorable hits for the Kinks like “Strangers,” “Living on a Thin Line,” and “Death of a Clown.”” He added crunch and edge to notionally acoustic songs (see “Tired of Waiting”, “Victoria”, “Sleepwalker”), wildly spitting solos that impressed fans Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards and more, and his own solo album show just how he “owns” The Kinks’ sound just as much as Ray. Dave was also a prime mover in establishing the set-up for band’s own Konk studios in a former biscuit factory. It’s still regarded as one of the greatest spec’d London studios, with the Stone Roses, the Bee Gees, Paul Weller, Elvis Costello, Adele, Jane’s Addiction and even Madonna are among Konk’s diverse clientèle.
As for Dave’s own place in The Kinks sound, Dave says, “Ray has a very firm idea about what he wants to do, and I try to accommodate him as best I can, but I think in certain areas, on certain songs, there's a lot more collaboration than people realize.
“I think a rock 'n' roll record should start off being a song and should end up being a song. I think that everything around it should be complementary to it, or help it to evolve, rather than get in its way. I've always tried to keep that in mind as a guitar player. It's the song that's important, and the individual parts add to it.”
Dave Davies and Gibson Guitars
He’s played hundreds of makes and models, but Davies was first best known for playing a Gibson Flying V. In early ‘60s “pop” circles, the V was a rare spot and his embracing of Gibson’s radical design was hugely influential, even if he only bought the V because another guitar (originally destined for The Beatles’ George Harrison) he’d just acquired got stolen in transit to the U.S.A. Davies has also played many Les Pauls (Standards, Deluxes, P-90 Goldtops, Artisans) and L-5 and L-6 models too.
In recent times, Dave has become a firm fan of a truly under-appreciated model, the Gibson Nighthawk. After a visit to Gibson Nashville HQ, he came away with a new Goldtop and a 20th Anniversary Nighthawk which he describes as “a sort of a mixture of a Fender and a Gibson. It’s really loud and punchy and I love it.
“I’d rather use one guitar that gets different tones than keeping picking up guitars. I know a guy who invited me around to his studio in L.A, and he had about 150 guitars, all perfectly in tune. He has the room specially air conditioned. I thought, that’s going a bit far! I’m just happy if I have one good one.”
When it comes to guitars, the Gibson Nighthawk certainly is a “good one”. With an AAA-grade maple top, mini humbucker, single coil, full-sized angled humbucker, push pull knobs and 5-way switching, the Nighthawk is packed with sonic possibilities. Davies says, “I can get great sustain out of the pickups. It’s very bright, but I’m able to get that muddy, sort of bluesy tone as well. I think it’s truly an underrated guitar.”
Live, Dave leans on a Gibson Songwriter Deluxe EC cutaway acoustic. “It’s beautiful to use on stage. It handles really well.”
Want more? Here’s Dave talking at Gibson’s New York showroom in 2014, explaining getting that Flying V back in ‘64, Gibson Goldtops, what he thought of Van Halen’s version of “You Really Got Me”, recording “Waterloo Sunset”, “Lola” and much more...
The Kinks’ glory days are well-served by compilations, of course. 2014’s The Anthology 1964-1971 is jam-packed with hits. Hidden Treasures (2011) is a superb anthology concentrating on Dave, both his contributions to The Kinks and solo recordings. And there are numerous on-off gems from The Kinks’ post-hits era: the 1994 live version of “I’m Not Like Anybody Else” – a Kinks b-side made famous by The Sopranos – sees Dave soloing his heart out like a London Neil Young, while “Stormy Sky” has some of the sweetest Goldtop playing by Dave. Indeed, its parent album, 1977’s Sleepwalker, is a Dave Davies-centric Kinks klassik! His last solo album is 2015’s live Rippin’ Up New York City and Dave has a new album with his son Russ Davies coming out March 31 called Open Road on which Dave played the Gibson Nighthawk. You catch Dave again on a U.S. tour from April 6, 2017.
Dave Davies photos: Rebecca G. Wilson