R and B Roots of The Kinks


The R&B Roots of The Kinks


  The Kinks are now considered something of a British Institution, and Godfathers of Britpop. There's even a musical about them. But until their classic hit, “You Really Got Me” changed both their fortunes and their style, they were, like many of their contemporaries, part of the great British R&B boom. During that short period they produced some fine, original, British R&B, which has since been eclipsed by their formidable catalogue of hits, but which is still worthy of attention. So let's take a look at the R&B Roots of The Kinks.

Ray Davies and younger brother Dave had been playing together as a duo, and then in a fledgling band often going by the name of the Ray Davies Quartet, with school-friends Pete Quaife on bass and John Start on drums, playing old Shadows and Ventures instrumentals and Rock'n'Roll standards. "Ray was very into blues & R&B, Sonny Boy Williamson & Big Bill Broonzy" remembers drummer John Start.

When Ray went off to college he began to explore London's R&B scene, meeting up with Alexis Korner and Giorgio Gomelsky, and briefly joining bands like The Dave Hunt R&B Band and Hamilton King's Blues Messengers. Meanwhile his younger brother Dave was playing in a trio with Start and Quaife, as The Ramrods. When the Blues Messengers began to break up, Ray threw his lot in with Dave, saying "I'd gone away to college and played in clubs... and there was this crazed kid with really big hair playing these amazing licks and he was terrific. I thought, 'I must get in on this!'”

Ray, like almost every other young and aspiring muso at the time was heavily influenced by the Beatles, saying “I remember I was at art college when I watched the Beatles doing “Love Me Do” on TV and thought, ‘That's great. I know I can do that. I owe them a tremendous debt.” Admittedly some of The Kinks early recordings show a conscious attempt to emulate The Beatles, but you can find strong R&B influences at play there too. After being the Boll-Weevils and The Ravens, the group finally settled on their name, and acquired a new drummer in ex-Rolling Stone Mick Avory.

  Debut Single, Feb. 1964: “Long Tall Sally.” Already a staple of The Beatles repertoire, here it's taken at a steady, almost rigid pace with some rather hyperactive drumming which doesn't seem to know whether to stop or go. There are Beatleish "oohs" in the background and a lively harmonica solo from Ray, though it's not particularly striking. But the gem is on the B side. “I Took My Baby Home” owes a debt if not to the Beatles, then to Bert Berns, and his song “Twist & Shout.” Ray contributes a rousing middle eight section where he praises his amour's 'piledriver kisses,' and he also adds some very strong, bluesy harp. It comes to a bit of a Beatley end, but it's an enormously catchy little rocker which, fortunately for posterity, gets repeated when they bring out their first LP.


2nd Single, April 1964: “You Still Want Me” coupled with “You Do Something To Me.” Both sides seem to be trying to capture the Mersey Sound, and they're pleasant enough without being greatly engaging. But a change is gonna come!


  3rd Single, August 1964: “You Really Got Me.” This one rocketed to No. 1 in the UK charts, and is also included on the band's debut LP, so we'll return to it in detail later. But there's a treat on the B side. “It's All Right” kicks off with a heavy drumbeat, and though it's little more than a one-chord piano vamp with some blueswailing harp, it's pretty powerful stuff . Ray throws in an unexpected Long Tall Sally-ish bridge, before returning to the verse, and it's a prime example of homegrown UK R&B.
4th Single, October 1964: “All Day And All Of The Night” repeats the formula and the success of “You Really Got Me,” but once again there's a little corker on the flip side. “I Gotta Move “(no relation to songs by Elmore James or Mississippi Fred McDowell) is an excellent laid-back, riff based song, featuring some lovely high-end bass work from Pete Quaife. Ray sings "All my life I had the Blues," and delivers the line with such a sense of world-weary ennui that you might easily think he meant it. The rhythm's insistent, the dynamics are strong, and a key change kicks things up a notch on the last verse. Page is rumoured to have played acoustic on this one, and more about him later too.



October 1964: DEBUT LP: “KINKS.”

"That first album - we had a week to do it. I don't know how we managed," said Dave. (Quit whingeing, Davies, the Beatles made their first LP in twelve hours! - Sarky Stevie)

Trk.1: “Beautiful Delilah.” Dave sings this Chuck Berry cover enthusiastically if not necessarily all that well, but the lead guitar is almost certainly by Jimmy Page. One of the give-aways is the tone changing effect on the chorus, rather like a wishy-washy wah-wah, a feature that Page used on other sessions, such as "Don't Think Twice" by The Fairies, and also again on track 3 of this LP.

The effect was most famously used on Dave Berry's "The Crying Game," which made No. 5 in 1964, confirmed by Jimmy's website. Exactly how he did it I can't say, but it's a Pagey 'tell' that turns up several times in his early career.

Trk. 2: “So Mystifying.” It's Page's tricky guitar intro which announces his presence on this track. “Bum bum, dum dum deee, a twiddly-diddly” it goes, and it's the twiddles which are the give-away on this one, as that kind of flourish definitely wasn't part of Dave's style. Written (inadvertently I'm sure!) to the same tempo and chord sequence as the Stones hit, Bobby Womack's “Its All Over Now,” it's in a very identifiable R&B mold, and Ray sounds more than a little Jagger-ish here

Trk. 3: “I Just Can't Go To Sleep” is a Beatles-influenced pop song with the tell-tale Page tone-manipulation on the middle eight. Pleasant but not remarkable.

Trk. 4: “Long Tall Shorty.” Though not a patch on the Graham Bond Organisation's blockbuster version, this is quite well handled. After a reasonable facsimile of the guitar intro, Dave sings again on this Abramson-Covay composition, with Ray's harp accentuations coming in like the horn section on Tommy Tucker's original.

Trk. 5: “I Took My Baby Home.” A repeat of the little gem from the B side of their first single

Trk. 6: “I'm A Lover Not A Fighter.” Dave takes the vocals and someone supplies a minimal Scotty Moore-type guitar solo on this cover of Lazy Lester's rockabilly-style cut for Excello. Uptempo and brimming over with energy.

Trk. 7: “You Really Got Me.” It's often suggested, or even assumed, that Jimmy Page played lead on this and other early singles by the band, and both Wikipedia and Rolling Stone still cling to this notion. But despite Page's uncredited presence on the album, the knuckle-cracking guitar break on this massive hit was well within young Dave Davies's capabilities, and his style is plainly very different from Jimmy's slick session work. Ray's claim that his little brother played "all the solos on all our records" is very likely accurate, and it does Dave - a fine guitarist in his own right - a great disservice that this rumour has been perpetuated for so long.

Page himself admitted “I wasn't on ‘”You Really Got Me,” but I did play on the Kinks' records. That's all I'm going to say about it." Why Pagey was so cagey about giving more details is a mystery, as it's reasonably obvious what he played on this LP.

The song was allegedly inspired by American saxman Jimmy Giuffre's song, “The Train and the River.” Ray said, “I wanted it to be a jazz-type tune because that's what I liked at the time. It's written originally around a sax line. Dave ended up playing the sax line in fuzz guitar and it took the song a step further. … I wanted it to be a blues song, like a Leadbelly or a Broonzy song.”

Meanwhile Dave cites his influences as the Kingsmen's "Louie, Louie" and "Tequila," by the Champs. Separated from his pregnant childhood sweetheart by outraged parents, he recalled: "I was very depressed and fooling around with a razor blade. I could easily have slashed my wrists, but I had a little green amplifier, an Elpico, that was sounding crap. I thought, "I'll teach it" – and slashed the speaker cone. It changed the sound of my guitar. Then, when I wired that amp up to another, a Vox AC30, it made it a lot, lot louder. That's how 'You Really Got Me' became the first hit record to use distortion."

Legend tells that producer Shel Talmy wasn't keen on Dave's distortion, and wanted to record a slower version, but the group threatened to withhold publishing rights if the beatier cut wasn't used. Talmy went on to record The Who, including their classic track “My Generation,” so he evidently soon adapted to over-driven sounds!


Side Two

Trk.1: “Cadillac.” Ray leads a very appealing cover of the Bo Diddley song, and blows a tasty harp solo too. Nicely done, lads!

Trk. 2: “Bald Headed Woman.” This is an old chain gang work song, adapted and recorded by Odetta on her 1959 Vanguard album "My Eyes Have Seen." Here it's 're-written' by The Kinks and Who producer Shel Talmy, probably so that he could get some songwriting royalties. It's an interesting experiment but it doesn't doesn't really come off. Jon Lord is credited with organ, and Perry Ford contributes some Nicky-Hopkins style piano, but even the expanded line-up, and key and tempo changes, don't disguise its overall drabness and lack of conviction.

Talmy persuaded The Who record it as well, and the real Mr Hopkins, who'd played beautifully on The Who's debut album, enlivens that one a little. but still nothing can completely save it. Then, like a bad penny, the darn song turns up again on the B side of the Talmy-produced cover of “I Just Can't Go To Sleep” by The Sneekers, which also had Jimmy Page playing on it, confirmed by both his sound and his website. Sadly, he doesn't save it either.

Trk. 3: “Revenge.” A monumentally monotonous instrumental credited to Ray Davies & manager Larry Page. Biographer Johnny Rogan states that Page had been tutoring Ray on the importance of simple, straightforward guitar riffs as a blueprint for chart success. “Revenge” then presumably served as some kind of prototype for many of the musical ideas that were to follow. But are they really singing 'Aye-Aye, Yippy' in the background? Recorded as a single by the Larry Page Orchestra in '65 and The Ray McVay Sound, but never a great hit.

Trk. 4: “Too Much Monkey Business.” Ray, double- tracked, sings this tongue-twisting Chuck Berry number, rather the slacker's anthem of the sixties, and beloved of both Mersey Sound beat groups and hip R'n'B bands in the UK. Somebody - and it could easily be Dave- throws in couple of Berry-ish guitar solos, a creditable effort.

Trk. 5: “I've Been Driving On Bald Mountain.” A very eclectic and unusual choice, again from Dave, this time an 8-bar Blues, with acoustic 12-string provided by Page. Once again it's taken from Odetta's 1959 album "My Eyes Have Seen," though it miraculously gets credited 'Trad. Arr. Talmy' here. Speeded up a little from the original and translated into the chunka-chunka that's becoming the standard Kinks R&B rhythm.

Trk. 6: “Stop Your Sobbing.” The rather Spartan treatment the song is given here undersells it considerably. A beautiful cover version by Kinky Konsort Chrissie Hynde, a debut single for her band The Pretenders, gave it back the power and emotion it had always merited, and reached 34 in the charts in 1979. She also recorded a haunting version of Ray's demo-only "I Go To Sleep," previously given to Brumbeat band The Applejacks, but without chart success, and took it to a very deserving Number 7.

Trk. 7: “Got Love If You Want It.” The jewel in the crown of this album for Blues lovers, this is very successfully and sensitively handled. Ray sings passably like Slim Harpo, and the band keep their dampers well down until the Yardbirds-style "rave-up" section. Session drummer Bobby Graham is usually credited with most of the album, and the understated rhythms that later develop into total Moonacy here are a tasty piece of work, but there's a corking live version from The Beat Room that turns up on Blues at the BBC every so often which suggests that Mick Avory could cope with it well enough. A lovely example of the band's ability to handle "dynamics," this shows just how effective they could be as a straight R&B group.



EP November 1964, “KINKSIZE SESSION”

Trk.1: “Louie Louie.” The Kingsmen's classic garage cover of Richard Berry & The Pharaohs' R&B hit plainly had a strong effect on both the Davies brothers, with Dave citing it as an influence on “You Really Got Me,” so it was inconceivable that they shouldn't attempt their own version. Ray puts an unusual inflection of the first 'Louie,' and Dave's distorted guitar solo is very similar to the Kingsmen's own. At the end, it's four strikes and they're out!

Trk.2: “I Gotta Go Now.” This opens with laid back drums and a bluesy guitar riff, rather like "It's All Right" cooled down and played backwards. Ray coos the vocals almost like a lullaby, and brings it in with a catchy chorus. It's lifted by a brief middle eight which takes the intensity up into high gear before it settles back to the verse and fades out on the drum beat. Both unusual and striking.

Trk. 3: “I've Got That Feeling,” is a somewhat mournful ditty, but moves away from the Beatley sound of previous offerings and begins to establish a Kinks Sound. Still, there's more R&B to follow.

Trk. 4: “Things Are Getting Better” is similar in structure to both Bo Diddley's “Cadillac,” and Rufus Thomas's 1964 recording “Jump Back,” more recently known as the Lavazza Coffee Advert song. Though it's largely forgotten now, it was a great favourite with British R&B bands in the 60s and was covered by The Spencer Davis Group and Zoot Money's Big Roll Band. Like both numbers, the verse here is punctuated by the infectiously constant repetition of the title line, and Ray throws in a bluesy harmonica solo. There's a genuinely celebratory feel to this one, and it's quite uplifting.


Eventually, in response to suggestions that The Kinks were a “Stones copy band,” (long hair, noisy music, outrageous behaviour, etc.) Ray Davies felt compelled to tell the people at Melody Maker: "We're not doing a Stones, and we don't play R&B. That's best left to people like Muddy Waters, who know what it's all about."

Wise words, but in spite of his assertions, the second album, “Kinda Kinks,” featured his version of Martha & The Vandellas' “Dancing In The Street” and Dave's rendition of "Naggin' Woman," first released in 1962 as "Naggin'" by Jimmy Anderson on the Excello label. The album, although they had two weeks to record it, sounds even more rushed than the first one, and neither track is particularly worthy of recommendation, but it's hard to argue that those songs aren't Rhythm & Blues!

Even the third LP, “The Kink Kontroversy,” featured a rousing and very electric take on “Milk Cow Blues.”  It's credited to Sleepy John Estes but bears little similarity to his recording, and is far more likely based on the 1960 B-side from Ricky Nelson, which in turn credits Kokomo Arnold as composer, but bears very little similarity to his version, either.  Just to cover all bases, Google will tell you the Kinks' version was written by Mississippi Fred McDowell, but whatever it's provenance, this seems to have been the band's final foray into Bluesy territory.

From the fourth LP onwards, Ray Davies' reflections on England's eccentricities would account for the band's total output, and their time as an R&B band faded into history. You can still get their early recordings on the “Remastered” triple CD – a new copy might set you back £100 or more, but there are still a good few used ones doing the rounds for around a tenner, and well worth it. Enjoy!



© Stevie King 2017 for the British Blues Archive.