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Americana: The Kinks, the Road and the Perfect Riff, by Ray Davies
Virgin Books, £18.99
Wednesday 13 November 2013
Americana's cover displays a haunted-looking Ray Davies staring out from a Union Jack blazer with Stars & Stripes lapels, as if to mime his bittersweet relations with the United States. Now aged 69, he formed the English working-class group The Kinks with his younger brother, Dave, in 1964. Their first hit, "You Really Got Me", built on a perfect riff which catapulted their careers, was Ray's "attempt to write a legitimate blues-jazz track".
Though the Kinks went on to sing of native English scenes and characters in their own accents, they freely acknowledged multiple influences from all over America. Davies has come to spend more time in New Orleans than anywhere apart from the North London of his upbringing, which remains his home base in the UK. The Crescent City was "the starting point of all my musical aspirations," he says: "country music, Cajun, Dixieland, boogie-woogie and soul, trad jazz, skiffle, bebop, rock'n'roll."
The band enjoyed a massively popular coast-to-coast swell of concerts in 1965 at the outset of the "British Invasion" of the US. But to their chagrin, they were banned by the American Federation of Musicians from touring there again until 1969. Drummer Mick Avory put this down to "a mixture of bad management, bad luck and bad behaviour". Some of the latter emanated from the lifelong weakness of both Davies brothers and Avory for mutual ding-dongs, which often erupted into off-stage and on-stage fist fights.
Americana's abrupt flashbacks and fast forwards are interspersed throughout with apposite texts of the author's songs, old and new. Embarked in autumn 1969 on the Kinks' first return to US stadium euphorics, but appalled by the continuing carnage in Vietnam, Davies wrote that the "All-American eagle swoops down from the sky/ All-American napalm blots out the light from the sun/All-American hero, is that the way the West was won?"
The book is simultaneously clouded and illumined by its return visits to the Sunday evening in January 2004 when Davies was strolling with a girlfriend along an unusually deserted Burgundy Street in New Orleans. The couple were viciously mugged. On giving outraged chase, our hero was summarily shot through the leg. His mega-drugged hospitalisation and painfully incomplete recovery prompt introspections, dream transcripts and further songs which expose his transatlantic conflicts at ever deeper levels. On the last page, he reflects that "New Orleans had taught me another lesson. Always trust your dreams and stay in touch with the spirit world. We can't make music without it."
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