Brawls and Bans: The History of the Kinks’ Struggles in America
The satire of Ray Davies’ lyrics paired with brother Dave Davies' gritty guitar riffs made the Kinks one of the most innovative bands of the British Invasion. Yet the group never approached the success of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Even the Dave Clark Five, the Hollies and Herman’s Hermits had more Top 10 hits than the Kinks.
Members place the blame on a powerful musicians union's 1965 denial of permits to perform in the U.S., a ban that lasted four years. “In many respects," frontman Ray Davies said. "That ridiculous ban took away the best years of the Kinks’ career when the original band was performing at its peak.” By the time the group was allowed to return in 1969, “the Woodstock generation had arrived and the Kinks were almost forgotten.”
"We Hated the Sight of Each Other"
Of course, the Kinks had already earned the reputation as a hard-drinking and brawling road band. An onstage fight in May 1965 between Dave Davies and drummer Mick Avory left Davies in the hospital and landed Avory in jail.
They'd scored hits like ‘You Really Got Me,’ ‘All Day and All of the Night’ and ‘Tired of Waiting for You,’ yet the disagreements continued as the Kinks embarked on their first tour of America. “The band was in disarray,” Avory recalled in ‘Ray Davies: Not Like Everybody Else.’ “Everything was going pear-shaped. We shouldn’t have actually gone.”
The Davies brothers were at each other's throat, too. In 1966, Dave Davies told the New Musical Express, “About a year ago we hated the sight of each other. We would fly into a temper at the slightest provocation. I suppose, in a way, it was only natural when we spent so much time together.”
Disappointing ticket sales at the start of the tour left promoter Betty Kaye unable to pay the Kinks in cash, as they’d agreed. Enraged, the band retaliated with a shortened set in Reno; the sparse crowd in Sacramento heard an extended jam of ‘You Really Got Me’ for most of the concert.
When the Kinks backed out of their concert at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, Kaye filed a formal complaint with the American Federation of Musicians. The union had the power to withhold work permits for British musicians if they misbehaved on stage or refused to perform without good reason.
Things got worse. The tour’s low light occurred in Los Angeles on July 2. The Kinks were backstage for a taping of 'Where the Action Is,' Dick Clark’s afternoon TV show.
“Some guy who said he worked for the TV company walked up and accused us of being late,” Ray Davies wrote in his autobiography ‘X-Ray.’ “Then he started making anti-British comments. Things like ‘Just because the Beatles did it, every mop-topped, spotty-faced limey juvenile thinks he can come over here and make a career for himself. You’re just a bunch of Commie wimps. When the Russians take over Britain, don’t expect us to come over and save you this time. The Kinks, huh? Well, once I file my report on you guys, you’ll never work in the U.S.A. again. You’re gonna find out just how powerful America is, you limey bastard!’ The rest is a blur. However, I do recall being pushed and swinging a punch and being punched back.”
Following the tour, the American Federation of Musicians refused to issue the Kinks permits to perform in the U.S. It would be four years before the Kinks were allowed to return. Without the ability to promote their music on tour in America, the Kinks lost their commercial momentum.
We asked the American Federation of Musicians why it issued that prolonged ban but the union refused to comment.
“The reason we got banned was a mixture of bad agency, bad management, bad luck, and bad behavior,” Davies explained at a book signing last year. “So we deserved everything we got. But it got lifted four years later. We literally signed a confession -- it was a confessional. We didn’t even read it.”
"A Blessing in Disguise"
Though the Kinks were able to return to the States in 1969, musical tastes had changed. American groups like Sly and the Family Stone and Creedence Clearwater Revival ruled the charts as the country was racked with protests against the Vietnam War. A promotion man at Reprise Records saw the opportunity to link the Kinks' latest studio effort with this new era, correctly predicting that it could rejuvenate their lagging career.
“'[The Kinks Are] The Village Green [Preservation Society]' was an anti-war album and there were many anti-war activists in America, particularly among young college students,” Davies recalled in ‘X-Ray.’ “Somehow this uncommercial record could spark off something in the American psyche. In a strange way, things were looking up. We were not selling records, but we had become a cult band. Perhaps the ban had been a blessing in disguise.”
By 1970, the Kinks' ‘Lola’ had become a No. 9 hit. Davies subsequently rented a small apartment on Hollywood Boulevard; the nearby Walk of Fame inspired him to write ‘Celluloid Heroes.’
“God bless America. The place is great," Davies added. "The real Americans are fine people. But the undercurrent of corruption that I experienced on my first tour there never went away."