1965. North America was in the grips of “Beatlemania”, and loving all things British. So, hot on the heels of the Fab Four and the Rolling Stones, the Kinks set out to conquer the “new world.” They set foot in the U.S. on this day 57 years back, preparing for a tour they figured would elevate them to the level of the other two bands.
It could have worked perhaps, it should have worked perhaps. While they didn’t have quite the writing or playing creativity of the Beatles, it could be argued they were as talented as the Stones and as talented as pretty much any American band of the day. At the time, they’d rolled off three-straight top 10 hits in the States, “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night” and “Tired of Waiting For You.” As Far Out put it, “they should have had no problem…their music at the time captured the spirit of Britain which at the time…was of such intrigue to American audiences.” But as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men…whether or not the Kinks should have been a giant hit in the States, fact is they weren’t. Certainly nowhere near the level of the Beatles or Stones, or even later acts like the Yardbirds. Turns out they were their own worst enemies.
The Kinks didn’t get along that well together. They did drink and party a lot together, and the combination wasn’t a winner. Earlier in ’65, at a show in Cardiff, Wales, only minutes into the show, guitarist Dave Davies said something to drummer Mick Avory that he took offence too; more words were exchanged then Davies kicked over Avory’s entire drum kit. The drummer retaliated by clubbing Davies with a hi-hat stand, knocking him unconscious. Avory fled, and later ended up in a Welsh jail, trying to convince the police it was all part of their stage show! And you thought the Sex Pistols were the original Brit punk bad boys…They had to cancel their next nine British shows after that, just as “Tired of Waiting For You’ was going to #1 there.
So fast-forward about six weeks or so and they land in New York, preparing for a TV appearance the following day; for reasons unclear their arrival was about a week later than expected and they’d had to cancel shows in places like New Hampshire and even New York City itself.
That TV show went alright, and over the next four weeks they’d play 11 concerts, sometimes opening for others (like a July 3 appearance at the Hollywood Bowl with the Byrds and Beach Boys), sometimes as a headliner, often with Dobie Gray opening for them. But they canceled four more shows, including the only Canadian date scheduled, in Vancouver. And not all of the shows went smoothly. In one show they cut their set to just 20 minutes after agreeing to play 40 because they only got paid half their fee in advance.
That was bad, but it got worse. One of , or maybe both of two appearances during the tour landed them in musical purgatory.
On June 28, they were slated to appear on a TV show called Shivaree, run by Dick Cavett. Singer Ray Davies remembers “some guy who said he works for the TV company walked up to me and accused us of being late. 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 a bunch of commies!’” As he put it, “punches were thrown.” Someone from the TV crew complained.
Add in a San Francisco concert they blew off because the promoter wouldn’t pay them in full ahead of time and him complaining, and they had troubles. Turns out even musicians have to follow rules. In the U.S. and Canada, the American Federation of Musicians is a union which more or less governs live performances. They have the right to “withold work permits for British musicians if they misbehaved on stage, or refused to perform without a good reason.” With the Davies Brothers and co. checking off both those boxes, the AFM did just that – refused them work permits in North America for four years. As Ray Davies years later rued, “that ridiculous ban too away the best years of the Kinks career when the original band was performing at its peak.”
Eventually he negotiated a truce with the AFM, and they let the Kinks return midway through 1969. On October 17 that year, they performed at the famous Filmore East in New York, opening for Spirit, and would play 27 shows by December 8, including ones at the Whisky A Go-go in L.A. and their first Canadian appearances, in Toronto on Dec. 6. However, they were touring for Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), an album that even their fans at home couldn’t warm up much too and the shows weren’t sell-outs nor especially well-reviewed. The “British Invasion” had pretty much departed by then, or at least left itself to the next generation of acts like Led Zeppelin and the Who. The Kinks would have some success in the ’70s and ’80s here, but never lived upto what many considered their potential was.
Was Ray Davies mad about that? Well, yes. But he also says being banned from the U.S. for four years “made me root myself more in Europe, the folk tradition of Britain,” which in the end might be the thing they’re most beloved for.