Ray Davies's American Journey Had Its Share of Kinks

Photo by Craig Hlavaty
Ray Davies at SXSW 2010
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.

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Jake Rawls
Jake Rawls

The ban ensured they'll never be as popular as their fellow British Invaders. But go back and listen to "Arthur" and tell me it doesn't belong in the same conversation with the best Beatles or Stones albums. Arguably the best record of the 60s, in my opinion.


I loved it when the TV show "How I Met Your Mother" used "Victoria" throughout one episode.

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