10 Reasons to Love the Kinks’ Mick Avory
by Patrick Berkery
Had it been Mick Avory, not British session ace Bobby Graham, playing on iconic early Kinks singles like “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night,” and had the group not been barred from touring the U.S. from 1965 to 1969 due to disputes with the American Federation of Musicians, then Avory, the band’s drummer from 1964 to 1984, might enjoy the same universal recognition as British Invasion contemporaries including Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, and Charlie Watts.
He’s certainly worthy of it. After producer Shel Talmy deemed the drummer (initially more of a jazz player with a light touch, by his own admission) ready for studio duty, and when the Kinks finally got back in front of American audiences, Avory showed he could bash with the best of them. And as Ray Davies’ songwriting evolved beyond the garage-y sound of those early sides, Avory’s effortless swing, tasteful chops, and creative touches were crucial in allowing the imaginative storyteller and melody merchant to explore more sophisticated pop song forms.
“I don’t know if Ray’s writing blended into my way of playing or if I blended into the way he was writing,” Avory tells Modern Drummer from his home in England, where he still performs regularly with other former Kinks in a unit called the Kast Off Kinks. “We just developed great empathy for each other’s playing as a unit. If it never got beyond the hard-hitting things, I wouldn’t have been very suitable. But then Ray started writing more subtle stuff, and that suited my style better.”
Despite teases from Ray and his lead-guitarist brother, Dave Davies, the Kinks’ fiftieth anniversary came and went in 2014 without a reunion—something Avory feels he likely wouldn’t be a part of anyway, due to his famously combustible relationship with Dave. “I’ve had email discussions with Dave,” Mick says. “I gather he’d rather just do it with Ray and whoever they can muster to do the rest of the band.”
The milestone anniversary did bring an extensive reissue and compilation campaign, reminding us of Ray Davies’ brilliance as a songwriter, the power of the Kinks as a band, and the artistry of Avory’s drumming—a vastly undervalued commodity of the British Invasion and classic-rock eras. We spoke with Avory about some of his finest moments with the group.
“Ev’rybody’s Gonna Be Happy” (1965)
One of the few early singles to feature Avory, this frantic blast of Mod-ish pop was a result of the Kinks’ touring with Motown singer Kim Weston, whose band featured drummer Uriel Jones. “We watched him every night,” Avory recalls. “He had such a great sense of rhythm and placed the notes nicely.” The influence is evident here as Avory grooves hard and fast in the verses, placing the snare on beat 2 and the “&” of 3 and 4, against washy hi-hats and Pete Quaife’s descending bass line. When he snaps off those quick snare rolls in the choruses, you wonder why Avory wasn’t used by Shel Talmy on all Kinks session dates back then.
“Holiday in Waikiki” (1966)
Avory taps into his jazz roots on this Polynesian-flavored shuffle, which opens and closes with a floor tom pattern similar to Gene Krupa’s tom thumping on “Sing, Sing, Sing”—a lick repurposed from a cover in the band’s early repertoire. “We used to play Slim Harpo’s ‘Got Love If You Want It,’ and that was played on a floor tom with a handkerchief to muffle the sound a bit,” Avory explains. “Ray said, ‘Do something like that,’ and it worked quite well.” Also working well here: Avory snapping off more quick snare rolls without disrupting the song’s infectious bounce.
“Harry Rag” (1967)
A variation on a march pattern Avory learned from a Buddy Rich rudiment book features in the verses of “Harry Rag,” which falls somewhere between a sea shanty and a British music hall track. Avory clearly knew his way around a march, but the part doesn’t sound too polished—it’s definitely got a several-pints-in feel. “The march I’m playing is probably not technically great,” the drummer says, “but it fits the mood of the song. I was just looking for the general feel. We always went on feel.”
“Lazy Old Sun” (1967)
With its guitar drones, trippy brass lines, choral backing, and tumbling toms, “Lazy Old Sun” is about as psychedelic as the Kinks get. Loud shakers dictate the meter as Avory darkens this minor-key treasure by playing the snare with the snares off. “A lot of Ray’s songs [of that era] needed a more gentle treatment, at least something different,” Mick says. “Playing the groove with the snares off gave it that lazy feel.”
“Mindless Child of Motherhood” (1969)
Dave Davies’ occasional songwriting contributions produced some classics, and some odd time signatures. The B-side rocker “Mindless Child of Motherhood” is one of those math-y excursions. Avory is in constant transition throughout, from holding down straight-four double time in the verses to accenting and rolling through measures of seven and eight in the pre-choruses, then tightening it back up for measures of seven and six in the choruses. It all flows seamlessly. “The words and the melody make it seem quite natural,” Avory says. “If you don’t have that, it’s just a long trail of chords, and it can be difficult to see where you’re going with it.”
“Lola” might be the enduring hit from 1970’s “comeback” album, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, but Dave Davies’ “Strangers” is the emotional centerpiece. Avory puts a spacious kick-and-toms pattern to the (mostly) 5/4 tune. The drummer’s primal thud feels like an irregular heartbeat beneath Dave’s pleading vocal, especially when he moves the 1 from the kick to the rack tom for one turn in each of the song’s two choruses. Sparse instrumentation does little to mask a particularly boing-y overtone coming off the rack tom, an imperfection that adds to the track’s ramshackle beauty. “The tension of the skin got a little slack from being smacked so much,” Avory recalls. “Dave was happy with it and I was happy, so we didn’t think about having another go and tuning it up.”
“Here Comes Yet Another Day” (1972)
Horns became more commonplace on Kinks recordings and in the group’s live shows during the early ’70s. And though Avory says they didn’t influence his playing on this R&B-inflected deep cut from Everybody’s in Showbiz—“Ray put the horns on last; they played around us”—it certainly seems their presence inspired a newfound looseness in the rhythm section. Avory drops snares and turns the beat around like he’s Bernard Purdie, and in the second verse he’s rolling around the kit as if he’s Keith Moon. The end result is a great balance of funkiness and recklessness.
Avory puts an especially funky groove to “Sleepwalker” (it bears some resemblance to the beat in a Steve Miller hit from the previous year, “Take the Money and Run”), but no one will confuse his playing here with Zigaboo Modeliste, an observation he doesn’t disagree with. “It certainly doesn’t sound like a black man playing, does it?” Avory says. That self-effacing assessment aside, the feel is fantastic, as Avory grooves with a mash-up of solid backbeat, halting hi-hats, and funky snare fills.
Though Avory didn’t play on “All Day and All of the Night” when it was recorded in 1964, seventeen years later he smacked the hell out of his drums on “Destroyer,” which is basically a metallic reboot of the Kinks’ second top-ten hit. As the band’s sound got louder and more riff oriented in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Avory responded with trashier fills (he delivers a handful of great snare licks here, especially the one in the middle of the third verse) and a bigger sound that was miles removed from the lighter touch of his early days. “We recorded that at the Power Station in New York,” he explains, “in the ambient room, which had a great drum sound. The sound of the room can really affect what you’re doing. When you hear that sound slapping around that big room, you want to cut loose. That’s what I did.”
“Give the People What They Want” (1981)
Avory didn’t merely adapt as the Kinks’ sound was growing harder and heavier, he killed it, delivering some of the best performances of his twenty-year tenure. He opens “Give the People What They Want” with a pummeling 16th-note snare roll, and shows wrist-burning precision as he accents the “Hey! Hey! Hey!” chant on 2, 3, and 4. Stopping his roll cold in the middle of the sixteenth measure, Avory lays into a hi-hat-throttling beat that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Ramones record. He goes back to the 16th notes for the last verse, this time on the hi-hats.