Thursday, June 18, 2020

Illinois Welcomes The Kinks! June 20-23, 1965

The Kinks at Kintner Gym Decatur IL June 22, 1965
The Kinks (Mick Avory, Ray Davies, Dave Davies, Peter Quaife) at Kintner Gym, Decatur, Illinois June 22, 1965

The British Invasion was in full swing by June of 1965.  Led by the Beatles, English acts were dominating the U.S. pop charts. The Rolling Stones had begun their first tour of the States earlier in the year and the Kinks were the next in line.  This week, in fact, marks the 55th anniversary of the Kinks’ first American tour.  Somewhat surprisingly, over a quarter of the concerts the group gave on that tour took place in Illinois, mostly downstate.

By the summer of 1965, the Kinks already had three top ten hits in the States and their tour should have been a smash success.  Instead it was marred by a series of small disasters and cancelled dates, exacerbated by poor management and in-fighting among the group.

Thus, their first American tour consisted of just fifteen concerts and four television appearances.  They missed major cities like Baltimore, Boston and Detroit and avoided the South completely.  Yet the band spent four days and nights zig-zagging across Illinois for shows in Peoria, Chicago, Decatur and Springfield.

One of these nights (Decatur) is all but forgotten by chroniclers of the band.  At the same time, a few of these dates would become legendary though not for anything that happened on the stage but instead for the characters the group encountered in downstate Illinois. This includes time spent with a notorious serial killer in Springfield as well as a brush with a “pistol-packing punk driver” in Peoria that Ray Davies would write and sing about for years afterwards.

By the end of the disastrous tour, the Kinks would be banned indefinitely from performing in the United States by the American Federation of Musicians union without explanation.  Ultimately, they would not be allowed to return for another four years making their brief tour in 1965 the only opportunity for American kids to see the group at the height of their early career.

Much has been written about the ill-fated tour, their ban from America and the effect it had on the group’s music. Below we will take a closer look at the four days and nights spent in Illinois.

Sunday June 20, 1965  5 & 9 pm - Exposition Gardens, Peoria

The Kinks headline the show that included several other acts: Paul Petersen (Jeff from the Donna Reed Show), the Hollywood Argyles (billed as Bobby and the Argyles) and the Rivieras.  Also at least one local group, Dave & the Detomics from Morrisonville, performed.  The show was promoted by WSIV radio out of Pekin.

Originally, much of the Midwest portion of the Kinks’ 1965 tour was to be co-headlined with the Moody Blues and included bigger cities such as Indianapolis and Louisville.   At the last minute the Moody Blues were unable to secure the proper working papers and had to cancel, leaving the Kinks to scramble and find new dates and venues.   As a result, the Kinks were a late addition on all of the downstate dates to an already touring package show.

In his book All Day and All Of The Night, Doug Hinman wrote this about the Peoria date, “After two relatively prestigious shows in sophisticated major east-coast cities, they now find themselves deep in the heart of America’s Midwest where attitudes toward long-haired British invaders are far less tolerant.  No one is happy with this 700-capacity booking.  It is not considered a suitable concert venue and the stage is makeshift at best.”  An article in the Decatur Herald a few days after the show mentions that a young fan pulled one of the Kinks off of the stage in Peoria.

The most memorable event of their time spent in Peoria however, at least for Kinks’ front man Ray Davies, had nothing to do with the concert itself.  Instead it was the group's chauffeur that left a lasting impression.  In his 1995 book, X-Ray: The Unauthorized Autobiography, Davies wrote about riding around in a big Ford Thunderbird with a driver that looked like he had stepped out of Jack Kerouac novel, a “punk from your typical b-movie.”  

According to Davies, the driver boasted about having slept with Ann-Margaret as well as having Elvis Presley’s phone number before pulling a gun out of the glove compartment.  Davies writes, “He waved the pistol around menacingly before putting it down on the seat beside him.  Then his mood shifted, he smiled a film-star’s toothy smile and said, ‘Welcome to Illinois, the home of middle America.’”  

Davies would continue to reference this brief encounter at various times throughout his career.  He sang about it in his one-man touring show and it gets mentioned again in his 2003 book Americana.

Monday June 21, 1965  7:30pm - Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place, Chicago

Originally scheduled with the Moody Blues, the Kinks instead shared the stage with the Thunderbirds, the Blue Knights and the Ventrills.  It was Ray Davies’ 21st birthday.  Several attendees presented him with cakes before the show.  

Early in the Kinks’ performance the venue’s power was mysteriously cut and the show stopped temporarily though they were eventually able to continue.  An article in the Springfield newspaper a few days later mentions that the "British group barely escaped with their instruments when crowds charged the stage at their Chicago concert."  

Later, while still in Chicago, a fan (presumably) broke one of the windows on the group’s tour bus in an attempt to get to the group.  In Rob Jovanovic’s God Save The Kinks, Ray Davies is quoted as saying “When I turned 21, I spent it alone in a Sheraton hotel in Chicago.  I was too scared to go out because we had screaming fans outside and there were all these security men with guns.”

Tuesday June 22, 1965  8 pm - Kintner Gymnasium, Decatur

“WDZ Summer Holiday USA” featured the Kinks, Paul Petersen, the Holloywood Argyles and the Rivieras.   Local groups that performed include Randy & the Ramblers from Springfield and Dave & the Detomics from Morrisonville.  The Holidays of Springfield were also mentioned as possibly performing.

On the 180 mile trip from Chicago to Decatur, the Kinks’ bus, presumably still with a broken window, met strong head winds and the driver was forced to travel at a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour.

Two young women, Norma Phegley and Mary Tempel, stayed up most of the night baking Ray Davies an elaborate birthday cake in the shape of a four-leaf clover which the girls then carried 25 blocks to the show with the hopes of presenting it to the band when they arrived.

Dave Bethard of Dave & The Detomics with
Dave Davies in Decatur, Illinois.

Concertgoers were able to get advance tickets from the radio station WDZ but most lined up for hours at the door.  Ticket prices ranged from $2.00 to $3.50.

The local newspapers reported over 2,000 fans enjoyed the show.   The Decatur Herald mentions that the Kinks felt their reception had been "fantastic." The paper's review of the night's music was simply, "The Kinks' music was fast-paced with lyrics lost in the background of electric guitars while others on the bill sang more sedate selections."

Despite being one of the better documented shows on the tour by the local press, several biographies and chronologies of the band somehow missed this concert all together.  In fact, both Hinman and Jovanovic’s books make the false claim that the band had the day off in Chicago before heading to Springfield.

Wednesday, June 23, 1965  8pm - Illinois State Armory, Springfield

Ready for blast
The Kinks once again share the stage with Paul Petersen, the Hollywood Argyles and the Rivieras.  Local groups such as Dave & The Detomics, Randy & the Ramblers and the Holidays performed as well. 

Dick and Dee Dee were also on the bill but they did not play.   The concert was sponsored by the Springfield Jaycees with the proceeds going to their scholarship fund.

Contrary to some reports, the concert was not a last-minute booking.  Advertisements and other promotional articles appear a full week before the show in local newspapers and as a result the concert was well attended by more than 1,200 people.

The State Journal-Register logged this review
Galen Johnson, a guitar player with the Detomics, while reminiscing about the concerts on the website Garage Hangover reports that Ray Davies carved his name into the marble bathroom wall in the basement of the Armory which the Kinks used as a dressing room.  He adds that it remains there today.

As mentioned earlier, the Springfield concert was sponsored by the local Jaycees which is where the story takes a bizarre turn.   The vice-president of the Jaycees at that time and the man that organized the concert was none other than John Wayne Gacy.  Gacy, who would later be known as the Killer Clown, was convicted and executed in 1994 for the murder of at least 33 boys and young men in the Chicago area in the 1970s.

In 1965 however Gacy was an upstanding citizen, married and living in Springfield where he worked as a shoe salesman.   In fact earlier that year the Jaycees named him "Man of the Year" for his work as a community organizer.  When Springfield's mayor requested the Jaycees come up with some summer entertainment for young people, Gacy organized the concert at the Armory.

It had been assumed that Gacy had little or no contact with the Kinks but all of that changed with a bombshell interview that Kinks' bassist Peter Quaife gave to Johnny Black and Mojo magazine in Septermber 2000.  

In the interview Quaife says, "the local promoter that was looking after us turned out to be a real greaseball.  He was polite enough, but a greaseball nonetheless.  After the gig, he invites us back to his house.  Says he's got some people coming round and he's got some booze, so we say, ok."  

"We get there, and the place has an awful, sickly smell about it.  But he's our promoter, so we stay there, drinking, 'til about 3 am.  When we decide to go he gets upset, says can't a couple of us stay?  By now we were beginning to get a bit antsy about this guy, so we took off to the hotel and that was the last we saw of him."  Later in the interview Quaife adds, "We could have ended up as mementoes bricked up in his walls."

Despite the level of detail that Quiafe provides there is good reason to question his recollection of events.   First and foremost, it is likely that the Kinks left Springfield by bus fairly quickly after the show because they had a concert in Denver the next night.   The 900 mile trip would have left the band little time to hang out at Gacy's house.

Giving Quaife the benefit of the doubt, it is possible that the Kinks arrived in Springfield the night before, after the Decatur show, and met up with Gacy then.  Still, there is no evidence that was the case and it seems unlikely.  Also, it is important to remember that Gacy was married and living a fairly normal life at the time so some of Quaife's details simply don't add up.

Unfortunately, Quaife died on June 23, 2010 (the anniversary of the Springfield show and Gacy encounter) so we may never know.  Ray Davies, in his book Americana, neither confirms nor denies the incident saying, "at Peter Quaife's instigation, we almost went to the house of infamous clown-serial killer Wayne Gacy."

Though the Kinks left Illinois after just four days, trouble seemed to follow them for the rest of the tour.  Elsewhere in his book, Davies writes, "The 1965 tour was filled with bad energy."  Later adding, "America just didn't understand the Kinks the first time around.  We got the impression that we unknowingly offended and upset a lot of people.  I'm not sure with whom or with what but there was something strange going down on that tour."

The Kinks would not return to Illinois until Halloween night 1969 when they played a show with The Who at the Kinetic Playground in Chicago.  After the show, Kinks' guitarist Dave Davies seriously injured his hand when he and Keith Moon, the drummer for The Who, attempted to throw a television out of the penthouse window at the Holiday Inn. 

By early 1970, the Kinks were set to return to downstate Illinois as they were one of the first headlining acts to be named on the bill of the Kickapoo Creek outdoor rock concert set to happen on Memorial Day weekend near Heyworth, Illinois.  Perhaps memories of  their 1965 encounters convinced them against it because they were soon removed from the lineup.   Instead the group played two nights in Chicago that weekend.

Were you there?  Did you see the Kinks in Illinois in 1965?  If so, I'd love to hear about it.  Leave a comment below or contact me directly at: