Americana: The Kinks, the Riff, the Road -- The Story By Ray Davies Sterling Publishing, 320 pp., $24.95
While the sounds coming from the British Invasion bands were mostly distinct -- the Beatles didn't sound like the Yardbirds who didn't sound like Herman's Hermits who didn't sound like the Zombies -- one thing they all likely had in common was a love for American music and a bit of trepidation once they finally reached these shores.
As vocalist/guitarist and main songwriter for the Kinks, Ray Davies has been one of the movement's most intelligent and astute observers... and he'll be the first to tell you so.
So while his last bio, 1994's X-Ray, covered the wider scope of his personal history and the Kinks' career, Americana focuses more on Davies's experiences in the U.S., particularly while touring in the '70s and '80s, as well as the Kinks' unlikely MTV-era comeback.
Unfortunately, the memoir is something of a mixed bag. Kinks fans will, of course, enjoy the stories from the road and colorful characters in the group's orbit. But Davies's observations kind of veer all over the place from the factual to the fanciful -- often wrapped in bluster and ego. For example, battling brother Dave Davies might have his own idea of which brother "invented" the riff to "You Really Got Me," arguably the most famous in rock history.
And if Ray Davies gets any sheer enjoyment from being a rock legend, popular performer or influential songwriter, you might not know it from the artistic temperament and sturm und drang in these pages.
One area that diehard fans would hope this book would clear up, though, remains just as fuzzy as it always was. It has to do with the purported "ban" on the Kinks performing in the U.S. from 1965 to 69, which served to stall their career momentum.
Nobody -- even Davies -- seems to recall or remember what was behind this "ban" or who it came from, whether officially or unofficially.
Sometimes it is a shadow performers' union or the American Federation of Musicians, or a cabal or promoters, or immigration officials. Yet no one has ever turned up documents to prove said "ban" ever existed, and oddly, no movement emanated from the band's management to work at lifting it during a crucial time for rock music. Davies does note that he signed some paper (which he didn't read) and the barring was magically lifted.
Davies himself wasn't shedding any light on it in my 2001 interview with him, and even now in the book he says, "Today, it's not entirely clear to me what happened."
Review continues on the next page.
Some of Americana's most riveting chapters, though, have nothing to do with the music of the Kinks but with Davies's relationship with New Orleans, a city that enchanted him and where he moved for a period of time in the early part of this century.
It's also where, in 2004, he was famously shot in the leg at point-blank range when Davies and his girlfriend were robbed on the street one night and he pursued the thief. The stay in hospitals and his physical recovery gave him time to reflect on his feelings about the U.S., and brings the book full circle.
What hasn't come full circle, though, is the Kinks themselves. Broken up since 1996, the Davies brothers have each recently given conflicting (and backbiting) interviews about any potential last hurrah record, tour or even one-off performance. They've already missed the 50th anniversary, which has proven good live work for the Rolling Stones, Beach Boys and Eric Clapton.
Dave is in the midst of a U.S. club run, and Ray continues one-off solo shows based on his "Storyteller" tours of the '90s (which also inspired the VH-1 show). So fans will have to wait to see if the volatile siblings can come together one more time. And they may be so tired, tired of waiting...
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