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According to amp repairman Russ Fletcher, the Elpico AC-55 was first made by the British company Lee Products around 1956, and it was intended to amplify tape recorders and record players—hence the "Gram" (gramophone) input jack. It put out 10 watts and used six tubes—an EZ80 rectifier, two EL84 power tubes, and an ECC81 PI and two ECC81s in the preamp. “I've seen one or two with ECC83s/12AX7s instead of the ECC81s,” says Fletcher. Reportedly, the fuzz-guitar sound on the Beatles’ "Tax Man" was Paul McCartney playing through an Elpico.
While recording the Kinks’ debut album in 1964, Dave Davies altered the course of guitar history with the help of an Elpico AC-55 amp like this one. Unhappy with the sounds he was getting from it, he slashed his Elpico’s speaker with a razor blade and inadvertently created one of the rawest sounds in early rock, as heard on the classic “You Really Got Me.” Photos courtesy of Russ Fletcher (russhifi.blogspot.com)
“Little Green Amp” refers to the amp that changed rock ’n’ roll
forever. Throughout the song, you also make spoken references to
historically significant songs like Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” and
Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Is there some sort of common thread?
It’s mainly autobiographical, but I tried to make it humorous. There was a record I used to love as a kid—Bobby Darin. [Sings] “Splish, splash, I was taking a bath,” and then [sings] “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” I was just having a bit of fun. There’s also a reference to the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon.” [Sings] “In the summertime….”
The “Little Green Amp” riff sounds like the “You Really Got Me” riff played backwards.
It is exactly that riff backwards.
Did you use the little green amp on that track?
No, I used a little old Peavey Decade—a solid-state amp.
Did you slice its speaker with a razor blade?
No. I just cranked it and used a cheap mic.
What sorts of reactions did you get to that sound back when “You Really Got Me” first came out?
People either loved it or hated it. Some were, like, “What the [expletive] is that shit?” Other people would say, “Wow!” It was mixed feelings, but once the record started to chart and do well, people really took to it. It was quite a revolutionary step, really, in regards to modern music. There was nothing like it. They didn’t have heavy metal or hard rock back then—it was unheard of.
There’s some controversy about who played the solo on that song.
Oh, come on! It’s me that played it—it couldn’t be anybody else. The way that I played that solo, no one on this planet could play it like me. That’s ridiculous.
How did you replicate the “You Really Got Me” sound after that? There weren’t as many amp options back then. Did you go around slashing more speakers?
No, no. After that, in the early ’70s, amplifier manufacturers developed pre-gain. So, in a way, I should have patented it and called it pre-gain. I already knew what it was—basically cranking up and overdriving one amp to boost the input of another amp. It gave a lot of people different notions about amplification. We found that, in that time, people were making amps that had pre-gain and post-gain. Mesa/Boogie—when I heard their amps, I thought they perfected it to a really great degree. I still use Mesa/Boogie amps. They’re great. I love their tone and the way you can really push the pre-gain. It’s not the same, but in principle it’s similar.
Dave Davies pays tribute to the “Little Green Amp” that changed rock ’n’ roll forever at a recent engagement at New York City’s City Winery.
When you played “Little Green Amp” at your recent City Winery gig, your solo differed from the album version. Do you like to improvise solos live?
Yeah, I can only improvise. I only have a little block where I’m supposed to do it, so I just do it for fun. If you keep playing the same old thing all the time, that drives you insane.
But it also increases the risk of something going wrong, doesn’t it?
That’s the whole magic of live music—that’s why we like it.
Davies playing a Strat live with the Kinks in 1974, photo by Greg Papazian
How did you feel about Van Halen’s cover of “You Really Got Me” when it came out
It’s okay. I love it when people copy what I do and what the Kinks do. The Kinks’ recording of “You Really Got Me” sounds like anxious kids who are struggling—like kids fighting the world. The Van Halen version sounds too accomplished—it says, “We know what we’re doing.” It’s still good, but the attitude is totally different.
Would you ever reciprocate and cover a Van Halen song?
Not really—but I like their music. It's good to have different types of music and guitar sounds. The joy of music is the variety. That’s why I like to write about different things using different styles.
Looking back today, how would you describe your contributions to electric guitar?
Oh, I don’t know. I have no idea. I mean, where would any of us be without Les Paul? Where would any of us be without Big Bill Broonzy? Or Muddy Waters? Or John Lee Hooker? Or Chuck Berry, for Christ’s sake? All these things go inside you and you want to emulate or copy them all. I love that. Chuck Berry was one of the biggest influences for me. And rock people from the ’50s and ’60s. And then Les Paul changed the whole idea of recording.