The Kinks played a sizeable part in the 1960s ‘British Invasion’ of America but, unlike their counterparts like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or The Who, the Ray Davies led group would never become the stadium-filling sized household name across the other side of the Atlantic.
On the strength of their music alone, The Kinks should have had no problem with making it to the same level in the States, especially considering that their music captured the spirit of Britain which at the time and even today was of such intrigue to American audiences.
As well as endearing Anglophiles, The Kinks were also notorious for their rollicking rock and roll shows. It gained the band a notorious reputation. Not because they were as loud as The Who or caused as much pandemonium as The Beatles, but because off-stage the crew were a real handful. Their offstage behaviour quickly saw the group banned from the United States.
The Kinks were a hard-drinking band who brought the party to each town they passed by with their wild lifestyle sometimes spilling out on-stage. One such occasion in May 1965, saw an onstage fight occur between the brother of Ray, Dave Davies and drummer Mick Avory. The scuffle left Davies in the hospital and landed Avory in jail. It was part of a long line of misdemeanours.
The tour was a chaotic one, to say the least, poor ticket sales at the start of the tour left promoter Betty Kaye unable to pay the Kinks in cash, as she had originally promised. This understandably pissed the band off immeasurably. So, in retaliation, they delivered a shortened set in at their Reno show and put the near-empty Sacramento crowd to the sword with them having to comically sit through an extended version of ‘You Really Got Me’ for most of the concert.
Things then got even worse when the band decided they would cancel their San Francisco show if they weren’t going to get paid in advance. It was the last straw for the promoter and it saw Kaye fire back by filing 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. That’s exactly what would happen.
There would be one final low point on the tour which occurred backstage before their appearance on The Dick Cavett Show on August 2nd. Ray Davies would recall the incident vividly in his autobiography: “Some guy who said he worked for the TV company walked up 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 just a bunch of Commie wimps’.”
Davies continued: “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.”
The Kinks found themselves on the receiving end of a four-year ban from touring in the States sanctioned by the American Federation of Musicians. The banning severely hampered the band’s career across the pond as once they were allowed to tour again tastes had drastically changed.
Ray Davies vented in 2014: “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.”
In that same 2014 discussion with writer Tom Dunne, the former frontman of The Kinks reflected further on what damage this ban did to their career and legacy: “It was a big pot of honey… an opportunity to take our careers further and we had that denied to us,” which Davies blamed on, ”bad luck, bad management, bad behaviour”.
He then added: “It made me root myself more in Europe, the folk tradition in Britain.” This ban may have been a blessing in disguise as they turned their backs on America and write the beautifully symbiotically British ‘Waterloo Sunset‘ which is one of the most gorgeous songs in existence which is, of course, a love letter to The Kinks’ hometown of London.