Face To Face with Kinks Bass Aces John Dalton and Jim Rodford

May 3, 2016

From the powerful bass tone on 1964’s “You Really Got Me” to their last album, 1993’s Phobia [Columbia], smart low end has always been an important ingredient of the Kinks sound. And though Pete Quaife (1943–2010) rightly gets credit for jumpstarting the Kinks bass chair on their first seven albums, John Dalton and Jim Rodford logged the most time with the legendary British band led by Ray and Dave Davies.

Jim Rodford
Dalton, who got the gig when Quaife broke his leg in a 1966 car accident, is known for bass lines that are big, burly, and extroverted, like the former coal laborer himself. When Quaife returned but quit for good in early ’69, Dalton stayed on, pushing the band forward on classic albums like that year’s Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) [Castle/Reprise], Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One [1970, Reprise], Muswell Hillbillies [1971, JVC/Victor], and Sleepwalker [1977, Arista]. Andy Pyle, Dalton’s successor, lasted only one album. Dalton filled in on tour until Jim Rodford, introverted and physically diminutive, brought an artier, more reserved style to the band’s final phase, including 1979’s Low Budget [Velvel] and their last big hit, “Come Dancing,” from State of Confusion [1983, Velvel].

The Kinks officially disbanded in 1996, but Dalton and Rodford still play the repertoire in the Kast Off Kinks, the band formed in 1994 by Dalton, ex-Kinks keyboardist John Gosling, and longtime Kinks drummer Mick Avory. In fact, when Dalton temporarily retired from the Kast Off Kinks in 2008, Rodford replaced him—but Dalton returned when Rodford hit the road with the reformed Zombies.

Five decades after Quaife parted ways with the Davies brothers, we asked Dalton, 72, and Rodford, 74, about being in the band.

What bass did you use when you joined the band in 1966, John?

JD I didn’t have a guitar, so the band told me I could use Pete’s bass. He had a Danelectro, and it was the awfulest sound I’d ever heard. It was so trebly. I said, “No, I can’t play with that.” So, they had to rush out and get a Fender Precision that I could play. I used a different bass, a Rickenbacker, only on Preservation Act 1 and Preservation Act 2 (both on Velvel, 1973 and 1974). There were some bits that needed a strange sound, something a bit more trebly, like you’d get on a Rick.

What bass do you play these days?

JD An early ’70s Precision. There’s hardly any lacquer left on it because I play hard, but it has nice action. When I go on an airline, I try to explain that it’s irreplaceable. I mean, anyone can go out and buy a new Precision, but it’s nothing like the ’60s or early ’70s ones.

Did you use a pick?

JD I always use a heavy pick because I still play like I’m a builder. I like to push things along.

Has your string preference changed over the years?

JD For a long time, I’d use Fender strings. Now I use Rotosound wire-wound [Piano String Design 99] strings all the time.

The years between 1966 and 1971—from Face to Face [Pye], the first record you played on, to Muswell Hillbillies—are widely considered the band’s golden period. Do you agree?

JD Well, I recently read that Dave Davies thinks Arthur was one of the best albums we ever made. As a live band, the early ’70s represented the best the Kinks ever played. The band was really tight, and Dave, especially, was really playing well.

Why did you leave the band after the sessions for Sleepwalker?

JD I’d just had enough of the band, and except for Ray and Dave, who had their songwriting royalties, and Mick, we weren’t getting the money we deserved. When I joined the band, I made the terrible sin of not signing anything, which would have made me a quarter of the company. I left the Kinks without a penny to my name. Nothing. I was bitter for a while, but I’ve got a great legacy with the Kinks. I feel really privileged to have been in the band, and I’m having a great time playing with the Kast Off Kinks.

John Gosling, Mick Avory, John Dalton, Dave Davies, Ray Davies
When did you decide playing music could be a viable career, Jim?

JR When the Beatles started happening in 1963, I and a lot of other musicians decided to turn professional. By this time, I had got a Fender Jazz Bass and one of the early Vox amps. I was in the Mike Cotton Sound [whose brass section toured and recorded with the Kinks in the early ’70s], and that’s when I first met the band.

But you didn’t join them until 1978, when Andy Pyle left.

JR I got a phone call from them, saying, “We’ve got an American tour coming up—are you free?” After my first month, Ray just stopped me on the street one day and said, “Do you want to make it permanent?”

When you joined, the band’s popularity was at a low point, but thanks to the Low Budget album, the Kinks were suddenly playing arenas.

JR Yes, everything changed very quickly, practically overnight. The band was great, and the crowds were picking up on it. That’s what made One for the Road [Arista] probably the biggest live album we ever had.

How did you approach playing those hits from the ’60s and early ’70s?

JR My intention was to stick as closely as possible to what Pete and John had done—as a fan, I wouldn’t want to hear those songs played any differently.

In the studio, was your bass recorded direct, miked, or both?

JR Both. I like to mix the rawness of the live sound with a good, steady, accurate direct sound.

What equipment did you use on Low Budget?

JR An Ampeg 8x10 with an SVT head that Andy Pyle had been using. It’s been around since the early ’60s, and I think it was owned by the Kinks. I still use it on the American tours with the Zombies. I was also playing my Fender Mustang, which I used all the time onstage.

Do you use a pick?

JR I always use a pick, and one that has a reasonable amount of give to it.

What about your strings?

JR Heavy gauge. When I was in the Mike Cotton Sound, we did a lot of gigs with the Who, and John Entwistle told me to try Rotosounds. What a sound! They endorsed me right through my Kinks time, and then I went with GHS Boomers. Now I play Status strings.

Of all the Kinks albums you played on, what’s your favorite?

JR Low Budget, I suppose, because it represents my first recordings with the band, and it did so well.

What did you use on “Come Dancing”?

JR I had been using a Fender Mustang, and I’d just gotten a German bass amp, a Dynacord. It didn’t really take off in America, but it was a very good, efficient 18" combo amp with an external speaker.

What bass are you playing these days?

JR A headless Status, my “magic wand.” The graphite through-neck plays like a dream, and without a headstock, it’s very light and balances perfectly.

If Ray and Dave approached you about doing a tour and a new album, would you be up for it?

JR Oh, yeah! I wouldn’t mind if it was me or John or another bass player. I’ve had a great time with the band, and whatever they want to do, I’ll be pleased if it’s successful.

INFO

LISTEN

John Dalton The Kinks, Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of The British Empire) [1969, Castle/Reprise]

Jim Rodford The Kinks, Low Budget [1979, Velvel]; the Zombies, Still Got That Hunger [2015, The End]

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