Cause I’m a Muswell Hillbilly boy
But my heart lies in old West Virginia
Never seen New Orleans, Oklahoma, Tennessee
Still I dream of the Black Hills that I ain’t never seen
Ray Davies 1971
America was a dream for Ray Davies. Like many post war British kids his leisure time was filled with images and sounds from the new world. At the pictures on a Saturday to the records on the juke box and the radiogram and eventually on television, America represented all we could imagine and everything we couldn’t get.
For Ray it provided the music which inspired him and which he would adapt and change and, finally, sell back. Eventually, along with his fellow band mates, he’d go to America and experience much of this, though not before he discovered the downside of the dream. Who knows how big The Kinks could have been on the other side of the Atlantic had it not been for their early repatriation and awkward brushes with US law. As it transpired they were banned from appearing in America for 5 of their most creative years: 1964 to 1969. At one point, and without too much of a stretch of the imagination they were one of three British groups fighting for chart supremacy. The other two were, of course, The Beatles and The Stones and it is still difficult to overestimate the influence and reach of both these bands in America.
For Ray Davies the American dream was going to have to wait a few more years. Eventually Ray toured, recorded and lived in America. All of that and the little boy who was a Muswell Hillbilly from his head to his toes explains why he has returned to the dream on his latest album. Recorded with the Jayhawks, Americana is Ray’s own attempt to make sense of that long, strange love affair he’s had with Uncle Sam.
On this week’s Another Country join me in conversation with Ray Davies as he talks about the songs from the album and his own memories and influences in Americana. For me it was one of the greatest joys I have had to sit down with someone I consider to be one of, if not the best, British songwriter of all time. It’s a fascinating listen littered with great songs old and new.
As an appetiser we have a mini celebration of Canada Day. Tom Russell has just released an album of songs written by the great Canadian duo Ian and Sylvia. You’ll hear some of that and the original recordings too. Keeping the tributes going, another Canadian, Catherine MacLellan has just released her own tribute to her late father Gene MacLellan – the man who wrote the Anne Murray and Elvis classic, ‘Snowbird.’ We’ll play Catherine and Gene as we celebrate the brilliant roots music we’ve enjoyed from Canada over the years.
There’s much more too. For all of that you’ll need to join me from five past eight this Tuesday on BBC Radio Scotland. It all starts at five past nine.