dave davies heavy metal

The time The Kinks’ Dave Davies invented three music genres with a knife 

Here's how Dave Davies of The Kinks slashed his amp with a razor, accidentally inventing distorted electric guitar, pioneering sounds for heavy metal and punk music.

Some of the best inventions come about thanks to happy accidents. Famously, Coca-Cola began as an attempt by an American Civil War veteran to concoct a morphine-free pain relief tonic. He substituted the drug with leaves from the coca plant and the rest is history.

Smoke detectors, which have been credited with saving millions of lives, were the result of a failed attempt to design a poison gas detector. Physicist Walter Jaeger’s useless machine could only be triggered by the smoke from his cigarette.

And when The Kink’s guitarist Dave Davies took up a blade and went postal on his amplifier, he accidentally created a new genre of music. This fight between Dave and his amplifier would result in the birth of distorted electric guitar, helping create and shape heavy metal and punk music for decades to come.

The outburst came after Dave rowed with his parents – he recalled feeling depressed, saying he could have easily turned the razor on himself rather than the green Elpico amplifier standing before him. Fortunately, the amp found itself the target of his rage. Speaking to The Guardian in 2013 Davies said

“I was very depressed and fooling around with a razor blade. I could easily have slashed my wrists, but I had a little green amplifier, an Elpico, that was sounding crap. I thought, I’ll teach it – and slashed the speaker cone. It changed the sound of my guitar. Then, when I wired that amp up to another, a Vox AC30, it made it a lot, lot louder. That’s how ‘You Really Got Me’ became the first hit record to use distortion, which so many bands have cited as the beginnings of punk and heavy metal.”

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The iconic sound would take the world by storm when The Kinks released You Really Got Me, a track which rescued the band’s fortunes after their first two singles failed to place in the charts. It would go on to reach seventh place in the US Billboard Hot 100, helped propel the band into rock history and continues to be fondly remembered as one of the greatest guitar tracks of all time. 

However, like any good invention, the story of the distorted guitar has many people claiming to be its true author. One apparent claimant is Dave’s brother Ray, the band’s writer and lead vocalist. By his telling, he helped to create the sound – prompting an argument which spilt onto Facebook in 2014 in a public dispute, with Dave accusing his erstwhile bandmate of falsely trying to take credit for the creation.

The Kinks
British pop group The Kinks, circa May 1964. Clockwise, from left: drummer Mick Avory, bassist Pete Quaife (1934 – 2010), guitarist Dave Davies and singer Ray Davies. (Photo by Tom Hustler/Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Posting on social media, Dave said: “My brother is lying. I don’t know why he does this, but it was my Elpico amp that I bought, and out of frustration, I cut the speaker cone up with a razor blade, and I was so shocked and surprised and excited that it worked… I alone created this sound.”

Another persistent myth alleges that Dave never actually played the riff and that Jimmy Page of Yardbirds fame strummed the iconic sound. The claim was repeated in a 2014 BBC documentary, prompting Davies to take to Facebook again to debunk the story – which is also refuted by Jimmy Page himself and The Kink’s producer, Shel Talmy. 

Others still claim the distorted guitar predates Dave’s stroke of fortune and that it can be dated to as far back as the 1930s. Be that the case or not, what can’t be denied is that it was Dave’s attack on the amp which popularised the technique, helped create one of the ’60s coolest songs, and inspired the decades of music which followed.  

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