Close Encounters of the Rock Star Kind

Catching up with The Kinks

Muswell Hillbillies album art

When people ask me to name my favorite bands — which is something they often do — the Kinks inevitably rise to the top of the list. Happily then, over the past 40 years or so, I’ve had a series of fleeting personal encounters with the band — some amiable, some awkward.

My first meeting with the band was around the time of the Muswell Hillbillies album. I was attending the University of Miami at the time, and the entertainment editor of the school newspaper set up an interview with them at their hotel on Miami Beach. Being a big fan, I naturally complied.

Ray Davies wasn’t there that day, which was odd considering the fact that he held all the leverage. However, I did meet the rest of the group, which then consisted of Ray’s brother,  guitarist Dave Davies, bassist John Dalton, keyboard player John Gossling and drummer Mick Avory. They were a friendly lot, perhaps partially because they were drinking at an outside bar by the pool all day. Gossling in particular seemed a jolly sort of fellow, but it was Dave Davies who the most informative and who offered the impression that he was the Kinks’ Kommander whenever Ray wasn’t around. In fact, I noted in my story that if ever Ray opted to go out on his own, Dave would be well qualified to take up the slack.

Muswell-Era publicity photo

I’m reminded of this anecdote because a new album entitled Dave Davies Decade has just been released. It spotlights songs from the early ‘70s, around the time of the aforementioned encounter. It affirms the fact that Dave was indeed a capable composer and musician even on his own.

A day or two later, I went to the Kinks’ show. I remember standing backstage with members of Fairport Convention, who were the opening act on the tour. Hoping to meet Ray, we knocked on the door of their dressing room after the show.

A somewhat riled-looking Mick Avory answered.

“Um, we’re here to see Ray,” I sputtered.

“There he is,” Avory responded, pointing him out in the corner of the dressing room. And with that, he slammed the door in my face.

Somewhat shocked and disappointed, we were prepared to leave when suddenly Ray himself stepped out and made his way towards us. “Sorry about that,” he said before engaging us in a captivating conversation revolving around the band’s current activities.

Many years later, I had the opportunity to meet Ray again, this time when I was working as a promotion rep for Capitol Records. I was in Jacksonville, Florida, covering a Capitol band called LeRoux that was the opening act on the then-current Kinks tour. I was in the elevator at the  hotel when I suddenly found myself face to face with Ray and their bassist at the time, the late Jim Rodford. The conversation lasted only for the duration of the elevator ride, but Ray was as gracious as ever, and when I emerged from the lift, I was delighted to have had another encounter with one of my eternal idols.

X-Ray by Ray Davies

Flash forward another 10 years. I was attending a Ray Davies solo show in West Palm Beach Florida. At the time, Ray was promoting his semi-autobiography, X-Ray. I had just lost my job with Capitol that same day, so naturally I wasn’t in the best of spirits. When I told my buddy who was the show’s stage manager about it, he gave me a ticket to the concert to help ease me through my misery.

After the show, a crowd gathered several yards from the backstage entrance, hoping to catch a glimpse of Davies as he made his way to his car. After about 45 minutes or so it became clear that Ray wasn’t going to appear. Suddenly, I heard my name called over a microphone. “Will Lee Zimmerman please come to the backstage door?” I couldn’t believe that I was being summoned! As I made my way to the foot of the stars that led to the venue’s back exit, everyone starred at me incredulously, wondering who this guy was that was suddenly required to report.

My stage manager buddy met me, led me up the stairs and around an interior maze that eventually led to a room where Ray Davies was impatiently waiting. He had his suitcase by his feet and it was obvious he was on his way out and wanting to quickly exit. He greeted me tersely, obviously impatient and anxious to depart. It was clear that John had asked him to hang around as a favor. John went so far as to hand me a poster, which Ray dutifully signed.

However, unlike the previous times that I had met him, Ray seemed in a fairly foul mood. I was told it was his last gig of the tour and that he wanted merely to get on a plane and go home. He gave me a perfunctory “hello,” signed the poster, turned on his heels and headed for the door.

I was disappointed that he was a bit testy, but pleased to get a memento which I still have framed and hanging on my wall. After all, when it comes to musicians, an occasional contentious Kink shouldn’t be all that surprising.




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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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