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The Kinks Brothers’ Feud: Who Started It?

Michael Putland, Getty Images
Michael Putland, Getty Images

It’s been speculated that, in their heart of hearts, every rock star is an attention-seeker. If it’s true, you could easily multiply the effect several times over for Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks. The brothers were the youngest in a household of 10, and all the older kids were girls. It’s easy to imagine Ray, number seven, and Dave, number eight, always seeking attention from the older members of the family, but finding a different quality of attention from each other. And that’s always been the best and worst things about the pair.

Despite the dream-come-true story of the Kinks, four school friends who’d become stars before they were men in 1964, the Davies brothers had already lived through their own nightmares. Frontman Ray had experienced the thrill of being gifted his first guitar by sister Rene – who dropped dead suddenly later the same night. Guitarist Dave had got his underage girlfriend pregnant when they were 15, and both sets of parents conspired to keep the couple apart. He didn’t meet his daughter until she was in her 30s.

And those emotional bruises had physical accompaniment. Dave recalled a childhood mock fight, when he hit Ray, who fell to the floor, seemingly unconscious. As Dave leaned over to see if his brother was all right, Ray battered him. “It’s symbolic,” Dave said. “I felt the pleasure that I’d knocked him over, then concern that I’d hurt him. But all he wanted was to get back at me.”

They didn’t keep it to themselves either. In 1965, Dave started a fight onstage with drummer Mick Avory, who responded by knocking him out using a cymbal stand. That, and similar episodes, contributed to a four-year ban from playing in the U.S. – and those four years, the era of the British Invasion, were the ones that really mattered. It blew a hole in the Kinks’ career that took decades to repair.

Producer Shel Talmy told the Biography Channel about having to leave them to it when they kicked off: “I’d call a coffee break, the rest of us would go and have a cigarette, and when they were done we’d come back and start over.”

The pace of work was a contributing factor to Ray’s nervous breakdown in 1966. Recalling the “conveyor belt” life he was being forced to live, he said, “I was a zombie. I’d been on the go from when we first made it till then.”

Six years later, the frontman attempted suicide by popping pills during a show, unable to deal with his wife  leaving him. They’d been married in 1964, and Dave had done his best to ruin the day by becoming too drunk to carry out his best-man duties. (Compare that to the moment in 1997 when Ray smashed Dave’s 50th-birthday cake.)

Both men always presented themselves as fiercely creative and fiercely independent – and not as two sides of the same coin. “I was the serious deep-thinking musician,” Ray told the Biography Channel. “He was this crazed kid playing these amazing guitar riffs.” “I’m not like anybody else, and I’m especially not like my brother.” Dave added: “And vice-versa. The tension was important – until it went out of control.”

It still doesn’t seem to be under control. Reunion rumblings have been heard for several years now, after the brothers experienced separate epiphanies in 2004, eight years after the Kinks had split. Ray was shot during a street robbery, and Dave suffered a stroke that left him unable to play for some time.

In 2013, they met at Ray’s home and wrote a couple of songs in the kitchen. But later, an old argument over the guitar sound on signature track “You Really Got Me” reignited. Ray said it had been his idea to cut slashes in the speaker cone of Dave’s amp to generate the effect, while Dave insisted his brother hadn’t even been there. “It’s so irritating,” the guitarist said. “He wrote the riff and the song, but it’s my interpretation of the sound. Maybe he doesn’t like the fact that I created a really important guitar sound.”

Another fight erupted when Ray seemingly suggested that he could perform a Kinks show without Dave, although he reacted to his brother’s anger by insisting, “If we do a Kinks show, we’re the Kinks. Ray stands on the right of the stage and Dave stands on the left. … My brother is very intelligent. He’s a good writer.”

They performed together again in December 2015, when Ray made a guest appearance at Dave’s solo show in London. The video makes fascinating viewing – there’s already warmth tempered by tension as Ray makes a cutting joke about his brother’s band. The energy changes as they run through the song. Then they touch, rather than shake, hands. Ray leaves the stage while Dave thanks the crowd without referring to what’s just happened. Although he later tweeted that he’d “had a blast.”

Watch Ray and Dave Davies Perform ‘You Really Got Me’ in 2015

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Yet there’s so much evidence of what Dave has called their “motherly protection” of each other. He moved into Ray’s home while recovering from his stroke and reported “it was good, for a while,” adding, “He’s quite a good cook.” That was decades after he’d taken Ray on holiday to Europe to help him get over his suicide attempt. (It’s worth noting that Ray, believing he was about to die, had kissed Dave’s cheek onstage as one of the “final acts” of his life.)

Even earlier, reports about Avory’s assault on Dave – which left the guitarist needing 16 stitches – said that Ray had stood onstage in shock, crying, “My little brother! He’s killed my little brother!”

But there also remains the tension, and the siblings have both argued that it can never be removed. “All Kinks music has grown out of family, love and emotion,” noted Dave.  “Dave has his problems with me sometimes, but that’s inevitable,” said Ray. “I’m not an easy person to work with.”

The pondering poet and the gregarious guitarist each have opposing feelings about their own achievements. “My work is better than I am – I just don’t live up to it,” Ray once said. “I’d love to be as good as ‘Waterloo Sunset’.” “Ray could have been more generous with my creative input and help,” noted Dave.

Who started it? It clearly doesn’t matter. What matters is who will finish it, before the opportunity is gone.

See the Kinks in the Top 100 Albums of the ’60s

Next: Top 10 Kinks Songs

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