Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week, Lee meets a well respected man, Ray Davies.
The ups and downs of trying to get backstage were played out in three different encounters with one of my all-time heroes, Ray Davies, the erstwhile leader of one England's great Rock bands, the Kinks.
As a songwriter, he ranks up there with Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Bob Dylan and Pete Townshend as one of Rock's most astute visionaries and cultural commentators, with songs such as "You Really Got Me," "All of the Day and All of the Night," "Waterloo Sunset," "A Well Respected Man" and dozens of other indelible classics credited to his catalogue. Despite a reputation as a somewhat quirky character, he was a showbiz original, given to extravagant behavior onstage and a shy, somewhat guarded personality when out of the spotlight -- a sentimental sort of man in his more private moments.
During my first encounter with the Kinks -- via a group interview by the outdoor bar at the Newport hotel -- Davies wasn't even present, being that he was holed up by himself and taking in some "me time" on Miami Beach. Nevertheless, his bandmates were most amiable and outgoing, not surprising considering the fact they felt free to imbibe, being positioned by the bar. The next night I brought a couple of pals to their concert at the Hollywood Sportatorium where we were granted backstage passes and an ideal vantage point from which to watch the show. Afterwards we made our way to the band's dressing room and knocked on the door.
Drummer Mick Avory opened it and sized up the would-be interlopers. Hoping to find the same good-natured bunch I had mingled with at the bar the day before, I was dismayed by the curt greeting he gave us.
"So what do you want?" Avory sneered. "Uh, we're here to see Ray," I responded. "Well, you've seen him, haven't ya?" Avory growled, motioning to Ray sitting idly in the dressing room. Before we had a chance to muster a reply, he slammed the door, leaving us to linger in the foyer.
We were about to walk away and consider ourselves shunned, when the door opened again and Ray Davies slid ever so shyly out of the dressing room. "Sorry about that," he muttered and for the next ten minutes he graciously mingled and engaged in casual conversation. A true gentleman, if ever there was one.
That thought would persist whenever Davies crossed my mind, although it would be another ten years before I'd meet up with him again. In the early '80s, a band that I was promoting while with Capitol, an instantly forgettable combo called LeRoux, happened to be opening for the Kinks in Jacksonville. By that time, at least half the band had shifted personnel, but a chance encounter in the hotel elevator with Ray and diminutive bassist Jim Rodford player provided an opportunity for a quick and casual conversation, Davies was as unassuming as ever, and it was wonderful simply being in his presence for the duration of an elevator ride.
My last rendezvous with Ray took place in the mid '90s following a solo show at the Carefree Theater in West Palm Beach. I had been laid off from my job that same day and I was feeling miserable -- not sure if I should go to the concert or stay home and sulk. My buddy Dan convinced me it would be good for my spirits to take the drive up and sure enough, it was a fantastic performance. Afterwards, we joined a couple hundred people outside the theater in hopes of a quick meet and greet.
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After about 45 minutes or so, we were about to give up, when suddenly the show's promoter appeared at the top of stairs that led to the backstage entry. "Is Lee Zimmerman here?" he called out. It happened that I did know the promoter and he knew me, but I still couldn't believe I was being singled out for an individual audience. After making my way through the crowd and several murmurs of "Who the hell is he?", I was beckoned up the stairs and then led through a twisting series of corridors to an open area where Ray was waiting impatiently.
It seems that someone, perhaps my friend, had told the promoter about my unfortunate plight and the promoter, in turn, had asked Ray if he wouldn't mind meeting me for a quick hello.
Ray was clearly tired and cranky and ready to leave, as this was the final show of his tour. Yet somehow, due to his own kindness or the perhaps the imploring of the promoter, he agreed to stick around just long enough for a quick hello.
Someone thrust a poster into his hands and he dutifully signed it, mumbling something along the lines of "Okay, nice to see you, kid, gotta go," and then he was off, scurrying down the hallway to catch his car. I lingered, watching him depart, amazed at my good fortune. I felt like one of those precious Make a Wish kids, but in this case, happily, I'm fortunate that I'm still here to tell the tale.