Mick Avory took my coat as I walked in to his London home saying,”This is a nice coat, be careful – it might get nicked before you leave!”
I was in London for the first time last Christmas. To my surprise, I ended up lounging with the Kinks drummer and his beautiful girlfriend at his longtime home in London. I was shocked at how down to earth and welcoming he was.
We sat around throwing back champagne on his couch while he recanted old stories: like rehearsing with the Rolling Stones, who wanted him as their drummer before their fame and notoriety. Brian Jones apparently was a bit of a snob and after some begging by Mick Jagger, Avory declined joining the band, as his working class roots didn’t meld well with the posh sensibilities of the Stones. I caught up with Mick through email this month to learn more about the swinging Sixties and his trip to the U.S. with the Kinks.
PKM: You were asked to rehearse with the Rolling Stones at The Bricklayers Arms pub in London during the summer of 1962. How did you get along with them?
MICK: Initially, I spoke to Mick Jagger, who was friendly enough – between his prancing around. The person I spoke to the most was Ian Stewart, pianist with the band at the time, who told me that the R&B music they were playing was going to be big and they would be laughing all the way to the bank before too long. Subsequently, that seemed to be the case for the others in the band- but not for him.
Brian Jones looked a bit aloof and called himself “Elmore Jones” – Elmore James was a blues artist that Brian deluded himself into thinking he was similar too. I never saw a resemblance as Elmore James was black as coal and “Elmore Jones” was almost an albino.
PKM: In my eyes, the Kinks had an element of early punk rock – especially with the slashing of the amps and songs like, “You Really Got Me.” Did you consider yourself rebellious at the time?
MICK: I think that reputation came about after Dave invented that aggressive guitar sound on “You Really Got Me.” Later bands picked up on it, along with fighting on stage, etc. That added to the punk image. But all that changed later, when the music and the band became more mellow.
PKM: Who taught you how to play drums?
MICK: I started playing drums at thirteen in a skiffle band and battled on by myself for three years before taking lessons with a jazz drummer called Chris Hewitt. His daughter came to see one of our shows last year and told me he was still alive, but if I wanted to see him to not leave it too long as he was 97.
PKM: When you put the ad in the Melody Maker looking for an R&B band, did you have in mind the look and personality of the people you wanted?
MICK: Well, all the bands I had played with prior to the Kinks were fairly ordinary, regular guys, so I think I thought they would be the same. I certainly got that wrong!
PKM: Was your motivation for starting a band simply to make good music or were you hoping to get girls from joining up with the Davies brothers?
MICK: It came to the point where I wanted to play drums full time and after the encounter with the Stones, I thought I would join an R&B band, like them. I advertised myself seeking an R&B band and a posh manager asked me along to an audition. As regarding girls, the music always came first and the girls second. Mind you, a quite close second in the end.
PKM: I heard that you called your bedroom in the Kinks house, “Whore’s Hovel.” I imagine you were the most popular with the ladies considering your movie star looks and tall stature. Would you say that was true?
MICK: YEAH!!! The house was fun for awhile, but for me, the wrong people were coming around, particularly some of Dave’s friends. They were coming around out of their heads, messing things up and thus the hovel became whore-less.
PKM: You had a famous battle with Dave Davies. I think the hardest part of continuing in a band are the personalities. Can you remember any happy moments around Dave?
MICK: Yes, it can be difficult getting along all the time in a band – particularly when you’re the stranger in the band. But after sorting out our differences, Dave and I actually became quite close for awhile.
MICK: I still play with the ’60s All-Stars when I’m available, but I didn’t play with From The Jam in the end.
PKM: What musical projects are you currently working on? Still playing with Kast Off Kinks?
MICK: Yes. The Kast Off Kinks are still busy playing theaters up and across the country – nothing else really.
PKM: There was a rumor going around the Internet that the Kinks were reforming for a tour. Could that ever happen?
MICK: The possible (or impossible) reunion with the Kinks… I suppose to the outside world, they think we all call a meeting at a round table and work something out. No! Not in our world! The reunion has been spoken and emailed about on and off over many years, during which time we let Pete Quaife die, leaving one less original member to do it with. (Although to be fair, he was very ill and on a dialysis machine twice a day for years and wouldn’t have been able to do it.) But Ray in the end did come up with a good solution. He thought we should do an evolution of the Kinks and introduce to the stage past members of the band in chronological order as we play the songs that they had originally played on. Dave however seemed to think that they should do a reunion with the band as it was when they packed up in 1996, only with his son on drums instead of the drummer they had at the time. Which, with all due respect, I didn’t think is what audiences would expect. I, on the other hand, was supposed to make a cameo appearance, and may receive a session fee for my trouble. So I said I didn’t like his terms and conditions and if we couldn’t all do it like friends, then we shouldn’t do it. So it didn’t happen and never will.
PKM: What was your favorite moment from your time with the Kinks?
MICK: Even given it was quite volatile with the Kinks, the high points were quite special. One moment was when we played a concert in San Bernardino. Our plan was to go on stage and play Waterloo Sunset as the sun was setting, but there was a problem. The promoter, Bill Graham, ordered us to go on stage at a certain time, but we were having none of it. We started an argument with Bill over how we wanted to wait until the sun was beginning to set, which infuriated him and he erupted. We just kept it going the appropriate length of time and then went on to play, “Waterloo Sunset,” to hundreds of thousands of people as the sun was setting.
PKM: Which song is the most fun to play drums on?
MICK: The one that is the most fun to play changes as time goes on. It’s also usually one I don’t play very often. At the moment, it’s, “Better Things,” except it makes my hand ache, which isn’t much fun.
PKM: What bands or musicians influenced you to make music?
MICK: There have been many influences over the years. I used to listen to professional drummers, that played the music I was playing at the time. I started with skiffle, Lonnie Donegan, etc… Played the Shadows stuff mixed with early rock n’ roll, then I played quiet jazzy stuff in a hotel. In the jazz field, my main influences were Shelly Manne, Joe Morello, Art Blakey, and Grady Tate. From the Sixties onward? People like Bobby Elliot, Bobby Graham, Clem Cattini, Levon Helm, and Richie Hayward.
PKM:I recently watched the Kinks musical, Sunny Afternoon, while in London. It was wildly entertaining and the musicians were very talented. Did you see it?
MICK: Yes, I went twice and was very impressed by the actors/ musicians performances. I met Adam Sopp, the guy that played me, and thanked him for making me look good. As it was near the end of his run, I asked him what he had lined up next and he said, “Nothing. I just want to relax and be myself for awhile.” I replied, “I know, being Mick Avory is not all it’s cracked up to be.”
PKM: In the musical, during your trip to the U.S. with the Kinks, there was an incident with a bus driver showing off his gun to the horror of the band. Did that really happen?
MICK: I have a vague recollection of an incident with a gun and a bus driver on our USA tour in 1965. I think it was something to do with Pete Quaife – who brought a gun back with him to the U.K.
PKM:What musical hero were you able to meet after you became successful?
MICK: I met Shelly Manne at his club the Manne Hole in L.A. and Joe Morello at the Hollywood Bowl. I went to a Dean Martin session and met Hal Blaine, the session drummer. In 1972, our record company, Warner Brothers, got us tickets to see Elvis at The L.A. Forum. After the show, we went down to meet him and he came over to me and said, “GET OUT OF MY F—ING WAY!”
PKM: Haha!!! Was it more of an honor to be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the U.K. Hall of Fame?
MICK: It was more of an honor to receive the Hall of Fame award in America, as we got to play respective songs with other inductees and guests including: Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Carol King, Paul Simon, the Who, and Bruce Springsteen. It was quite a blast! Plus we received an award each, not like the U.K. where we got one award for the whole band, which Dave took.