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Today, I'm here to stick up for poor, maligned Dave Davies, the Kinks guitarist who has long been viewed as the lightweight half of the Davies brothers. It's hard to shine while standing in the shadow of the incandescent songwriting of brother Ray, and Dave's signature crude-as-a-beer-fart guitar work and perpetually adolescent attitude were vastly underrated factors in the Kinks' success. Too many people forget the raw shock value that megahits like "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" packed when they first came out in 1964. Those snarling power chords and ridiculously hormonal solos were pure punk in an "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" era. Davies' guitar sounded like a drunk, horny 15-year-old pitching a temper tantrum. Among those taking notes were Pete Townshend; the existence of Who songs like "My Generation" and "I Can't Explain" is unthinkable without Davies' innovations, and Petey is quick to acknowledge as much.
Yet, Dave Davies was and is much more than a limited thrasher. Think of the lilting, gorgeous fills on "Waterloo Sunset," the cool 'n' bluesy attack of "Victoria," and the music-hall camp of "Alcohol," and you'll discover a well-rounded guitarist who's added much to any task he's taken on, almost always without credit.
Admittedly, Davies has had a spotty and relatively undistinguished solo career—1967's "Death of a Clown" was the only song he wrote that received any airplay on these shores. And so it seemed a bit presumptuous when a two-disc anthology of his solo work, titled Unfinished Business—and largely composed of demos—surfaced a couple of years ago. I tried hard to like the damn thing but ended up selling it to a used-CD store anyway. Dave, if you're reading this, know that I felt guilty as hell about it—it's just that you make a better Kink than a solo guy. The same could be said, of course, for brother Ray. You guys need each other.
Therein lies the proverbial rub. Dave and Ray don't really like each other—never have, probably never will. These guys were prototypes for Oasis' battling Gallagher brothers, kicking each other's asses, both physically and psychologically, years before it was fashionable and doing it with a lot more style. Ray even traded his little brother to a gay concert promoter once in exchange for a house, a tale related in Dave's uproariously seedy, 1996 tell-all autobiography, Kink. The nature of the Davies' relationship is more father-son than brotherly, with Dave continually striving for Ray's approval, only to be reliably humiliated and rebuffed at every turn.
"I saw an interview with Ray the other day," Davies told me at the time of his book's release. "He was talking about me in the past tense. Now, there's no reason for this guy to pretend I don't exist. This has been going on since the second I was born. I just ride with it and get on with what I have to do. I've tried to be his brother, but he's always run away. For instance, on my birthday, I was up in London, and Ray threw a surprise party for me. It was really nice of him to do that. So I went up to him and grabbed hold of him and kissed him on the cheek, and his body just stiffened as if I were going to try to eat him or something. Then he trod on my birthday cake. It was like he really wanted to do something for me, but it irritated him to do it. Look, you work all this out—I've tried and I can't. I'd like to think there's room enough for both of us on this planet, but it's not easy."
Dave can take heart in the fact that he wins, hands down, the "What Have You Done For Us Lately" sweepstakes. There hasn't been a widely released Kinks album in almost 10 years, and Ray has never released a solo album. But last year, Dave Davies' Rock Bottom:Live at the Bottom Line appeared on the shelves, and the ferocity with which the 54-year-old still plays and sings is stunning. The collection of Kinks classics and more-distinguished solo material finds Davy Boy flogging his guitar and singing with all the snot-nosed, adenoidal rebelliousness of his youth. If he performs half as well on Thursday, Feb. 8 at the Coach House, it'll be worth two or three times the exceptionally modest $16.50 cover charge to see one of rock & roll's most influential guitarists strut his stuff.
Another guy I've always rooted for is Levon Helm, former drummer for the Band. His perfect time, deceptively slick chops, impeccable taste, and denim-and-flannel persona have always been ingratiating, and it was Helm's reedy tenor that graced such great Band tuneage as "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Rag Mama Rag" and "Up on Cripple Creek." Unfortunately, Helm's pipes have forever been stilled by a bout with throat cancer, but he continues to tour with a blues-based group called The Barnburners who have been receiving solid reviews for their live shows. The image of the always-enthusiastic Helm behind the traps will forever be a welcome and heartening sight in any setting. He shall be Levon; he shall be a good man.
DAVE DAVIES PLAYS AT THE COACH HOUSE, 33157 CAMINO CAPISTRANO, SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, (949) 496-8930. THURS., FEB. 8, 8 P.M. $16.50; LEVON HELM & THE BARNBURNERS PERFORM AT THE COACH HOUSE, FRI., 8 P.M. $16.50.
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