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Five Reasons Link Wray Should Be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - 2017Born in 1929, Link Wray made some of the most blistering rock 'n' roll of all time. So why isn't he in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame yet?
Initially signed to Cadence Records, Wray -- who was born Fred Lincoln Wray, Jr. -- released his debut single in early 1958. The instrumental "Rumble" was juvenile-delinquent rock 'n' roll of the highest degree and inspired many young fans to pick up a guitar.
Wray then issued a series of fiery instrumental tracks like "Jack the Ripper," "Ace of Spades" and "The Black Widow," all of which had a huge impact of the garage-rock scene that sprouted over the next decade. Even Wray's vocal recordings, such as his raunchy version of "Hidden Charms," were full of chaotic rock 'n' roll.
His influence over time has been far-reaching. The Who's Pete Townshend told Rolling Stone, "If it hadn't been for Link Wray and 'Rumble,' I would have never picked up a guitar." In the guitar documentary, It Might Get Loud, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin recalled "the first time I heard "Rumble," it had so much profound attitude." Others felt the same. “It changed everything," Robbie Robertson said. "Rumble made an indelible mark on the whole evolution of where rock 'n' roll was gonna go.”
But Wray -- who was Native American -- did more than just the instrumental music he's best known for. Check out his self-titled 1971 album of haunting folk blues. Or when he hooked up with rockabilly revivalist Robert Gorden during the punk era. Wray continued to make music until his death from heart failure in 2005.
Below, we outline 5 Reasons Link Wray Should Be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
1. ONE WORD. RUMBLE.
- “Oh, my God. That record was really important," said John Fogerty. "When it hit was a hit on the radio, all the kids were tuned into it -- not just me. Everybody understood: Man, that’s so cool." If you want reason number one why Link Wray belongs in the Rock Hall, crank up this two-and-a-half-minute blast of pure rock 'n' roll. The song has the distinction of being the only instrumental record ever banned for fear it could incite gang violence or be an influence on juvenile delinquency. The nasty, dirty sound Wray achieved on that single was due to a technical advancement of Wray's own design. He jabbed pencils through the speakers, inadvertently creating what would later be known as the "fuzztone" sound. "He was one of the first that really had a tone that pointed the way to the future,” noted MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer.
- 2. HE KEPT IT SIMPLE
- Wray unleashed a mound of killer instrumental recordings during his early years, and unlike many other rockers, he never capsized into schmaltz with any tender love ballads or pop-friendly songs. When he would take the vocal on a record, the results were as raw as his guitar tone. In the late '70s, Wray teamed up with rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon for recordings and live performances, which were as vibrant as any of the younger bands that were dishing out similar raw energy at the time. Everything from garage rock to punk to heavy metal owes Wray a round or two.
- 3. THERE’S MORE TO HIM THAN MEETS THE EAR
- Link's early recordings set the standard and template he'd follow throughout his career, but that doesn't mean he didn't occasionally surprise fans. In 1971, after some years away, Wray returned with a self-titled album unlike anything he had done before -- a mix of folk, country, gospel, soul and swampy blues that was just as much of its time as those early records were of theirs. "Juke Box Mama" was a bluesy stomp; "God Out West" merged fuzztone guitar with gospel. The album's highlight, "Fire and Brimstone" is the kind of song everyone from Johnny Cash to Nick Cave would have loved to call theirs.
- 4. THAT LOOK
From the very start, Link Wray never molded himself as a matinee idol or pop star. He almost looked like a criminal, or at the very least someone you didn't want to mess with. That look would develop into iconic black leather, shades and a switchblade-style presentation before long.
5. LAUNDRY LIST OF ACHIEVEMENTS
Wray was the first Native American rock star. He was named one of the Top 50 greatest guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone. His influences can be found running through Jimmy Page and Neil Young to Pete Townshend and Bruce Springsteen. He is credited with inventing, or at least discovering, guitar distortion, as well as the power chord. And he's been featured in the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the Native American Indian "Up Where We Belong" exhibits in Washington, D.C., New York City and Canada.
Link Wray won’t be joining the Rock Hall in 2014LINK WRAY, EARLY ROCK GUITAR HERO, WON'T JOING THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME IN 2014
by Sam McDonald, HAMPTON ROADS DAILY PRESS
Influential guitarist Link Wray -- who spent his teen years in Portsmouth -- wasn't among the six artists selected for induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. The list of honorees, which went public late Monday, includes Kiss, Nirvana, Hall and Oates, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Gabriel and Cat Stevens.
Wray was among 16 artists on the ballot for possible induction. It was Wray's first time being named to the ballot.
"He didn't make it, but I feel honored he was mentioned," said Beth Wray Webb, Link Wray's daughter, who lives in Carrollton. Webb feels that momentum is shifting in her father's favor. "I believe this is just the start of it, so I feel good," she said. "I believe he'll be in there eventually."
Link Wray produced just two Top 40 hits -- "Rumble" in 1958 and "Raw-Hide" in 1959 -- but those gritty guitar instrumentals have been credited with sparking rock 'n' roll's fascination with guitar distortion. A native of Dunn, N.C., Wray died in 2005 in Denmark.
Greg Laxton, a Florida fan who runs LinkWray.com, said he was disappointed and a little confused.
"The guy invented rock 'n' roll guitar," Laxton said. "He influenced countless people around the world ... I don't know if I blame anybody. I commend the nominating committee for recognizing his importance. It's unfortunate that the voters didn't see what the nominating committee saw ... I'm curious as to what reason there is not to put him in. He made guitar the prominent weapon of rock 'n' roll. He was way ahead of his time. Maybe one day the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will catch up with him."
Link Wray Rumbles On - 2013LINK WRAY, DUNN NATIVE AND ROCK GUITAR GIANT, RUMBLES ON
by David Menconi, Raleigh News-Observer
The latest batch of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees has plenty of chart-topping household names, including Kiss, Nirvana and Linda Ronstadt. But possibly the most influential name on the 16-act ballot is a more obscure figure: Dunn native Link Wray, the most important guitar player you’ve never heard of.
Much of his influence stems from a single song, “Rumble,” a 1958 hit that has turned up in everything from “The Sopranos” to Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” Two-and-a-half minutes of hoodlum menace, “Rumble” is a deceptively simple instrumental with a strolling drumbeat and Wray’s dirty-sounding guitar.
Wray was also a low-brow fashion trendsetter, using stage outfits and guitars ordered out of a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. But what lingers most is the distinctively raw tone of his power chords. To get his sound, Wray used a pencil to poke holes in his amplifier speakers.
It’s a sound and a vibe lots of other guitar players have spent their careers trying to duplicate, including Dan Auerbach of Black Keys and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. A memorable scene of the 2009 movie “It Might Get Loud” shows Page playing air guitar along to “Rumble” and calling it a personal turning point.
“So-called gifted guitarists always talk about how Link played so simply,” said John Custer, a producer whose credits include the Grammy-nominated metal band Corrosion of Conformity. “But I think it’s hilarious that none of them can come anywhere near Wray’s sonic presence, vibe or much-imitated cool. He is inimitable.”
Wray, who died of heart problems in 2005 at age 76, was born Frederick Lincoln Wray Jr. in Dunn in 1929. Legend has it that he was introduced to his destiny at age 8, courtesy of an African-American circus guitarist known as Hambone, who showed the young man guitar basics and a few tricks.
“Daddy always gave Hambone credit until the day he died,” said Beth Wray, his oldest daughter.
During Wray’s early teenage years, his family moved to Portsmouth, Va., when his father got a job at the shipyards. Wray was three-quarters Shawnee Indian and later told an interviewer that racial tension had made life in Dunn “one big hell.”
Still, Beth Wray said her father was always proud of his roots in Dunn. He paid tribute to his childhood stomping grounds with “Black River Swamp,” a 1971 song inspired by an actual body of water near Dunn:
I can hear them bullfrogs croaking
In the blackness of the night
Calling me back to my childhood
Down here in Black River Swamp ...
Once in Virginia, Wray began playing in bands with his brothers and also backing up country acts passing through the area. A military stint during the Korean War interrupted Wray’s career with dire results, even though he never saw combat. Wray contracted tuberculosis and spent more than a year hospitalized, eventually losing a lung.
By then, he was living in Washington, D.C., and was married to the first of his four wives. After recovering, he resumed playing music up and down the East Coast. Young Beth, who was born in 1954, would sometimes get onstage as a child to dance to the music.
AN IMPROVISED HIT
One night onstage in Fredericksburg, Va., the master of ceremonies asked Wray’s band to play “a stroll.” Nonplussed, Wray said he didn’t know any. But his drummer brother Doug started playing a deliberate backbeat, Link improvised some chords and solos, and “Rumble” was born – although the original title was “Oddball.” The crowd went wild, demanding that the band play it repeatedly.
Retitled “Rumble” for its evocation of gang violence in the popular 1957 musical “West Side Story,” the recorded version went to No. 16 in 1958. Wray went on to have a few more chart hits, including 1959’s “Rawhide” and 1963’s “Jack The Ripper.” But “Rumble” would remain his calling card and credo for the rest of his career.
“He wouldn’t let nobody tell him how to play,” said daughter Beth. “When he was trying to make ‘Jack The Ripper,’ I remember him coming home talking about how the producers wanted to put an orchestra behind it. After hearing that one, I can’t imagine. But he played everything his way and lived that, too. He played music the way he wanted and continued rocking and rolling through the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, up until the day he died.”
In the late 1970s, Wray hit the charts for the last time with rockabilly singer Robert Gordon on “Red Hot.” That was around the time Wray met his fourth wife, Olive, with whom he moved to Denmark in the mid-1980s. He did not return to America for more than a decade, staying and playing in Europe.
In his absence stateside, Wray grew nothing but cooler as a series of movies kept his music in the air. Along with “Pulp Fiction,” “Independence Day” and Robert Rodriguez’s “Desperado” were among the films to make prominent use of his songs. Ray resumed touring the U.S. and returned a hero, frequently playing in America until his death in November 2005.
"HEINEKEN AND VITAMIN C"
Rick Miller, guitarist of popular Chapel Hill roots-rock band Southern Culture on the Skids, shared bills with Wray a number of times. He got a chance to ask Wray “how you did it” (eliciting the priceless answer, “Heineken and vitamin-C”), and to compare notes on the cheap guitars they both played.
Then there was the New York City show the Skids closed by playing one of Wray’s more obscure tunes, “Turnpike USA.”
“I look over and Link’s on the side of the stage in his black leather, fist pumping,” Miller said. “That was cool, one of my all-time heroes watching me play one of his songs and digging it. Then he comes up afterward, grabs me and says, ‘That last song was AWESOME! Was it one of yours?’ ‘Link,’ I said, ‘that’s one of yours!’ ‘(Expletive) me, it shoulda been a hit!’”
In recent years, local officials have tried to raise awareness of Wray’s connection to Dunn, a town of about 9,500 between Raleigh and Fayetteville. Dunn declared his birthday, May 2, to be “Link Wray Day” in 2011 and debuted a music festival bearing his name in 2013. Band of Tribes, a band led by Wray’s grandson, played the festival last year and will do so again in 2014.
There’s also a movement to move his body from where it’s buried in Denmark back to Dunn, which Beth Wray hopes will happen.
“Dunn is where he belongs,” she said. “I just hope and pray that happens.”
"BY HOOK OR BY CROOK"
Meanwhile, the Hall of Fame also seems like a fitting place for Wray. There’s been a grassroots movement to get him in for years, including a Facebook page called “Induct Link Wray in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” (with the tagline, “This page should not have to exist!”).
Wray made the final ballot for the first time this year, for the class to be inducted in 2014. As part of the voting process, there’s an online “fan ballot” at rollingstone.com where the public can vote. Those results will be taken into account for the top five vote-getters.
But it doesn’t look like Wray will get any help from the fan vote (which closes Dec. 10). At last report, he was well out of the top five with less than one-tenth the votes of Kiss at No. 1. Ultimately, whether or not Wray gets into the Hall of Fame will be up to its board of directors.
“I think he’ll get in, by hook or by crook,” said Parke Puterbaugh, a music critic from Greensboro who writes biographies for the hall’s inductees. “Someone connected with the nominating board obviously recognizes what a significant contributor he was to the early rock ’n’ roll sound. The hall’s done a good job taking care of a lot of the early rock and R&B guys. I don’t know how he’s slipped past the radar this long.”
Miller is more blunt, saying it’s “a disgrace” Wray isn’t already in the hall.
“He should’ve been in on the very first vote,” Miller said. “He was The Guy as far as rock ’n’ roll guitar goes, and nobody else even comes close. All I can say is if it were up to musicians, he’d be in there.”
“Hall” Hopes for Rock and Roll Dad - 2013SUFFOLK NEWS HERALD - NOVEMBER 4, 2013.
- Matthew Ward
If you’re unfamiliar with the name Link Wray, you’ve almost definitely heard what his pioneering guitar work gave rise to. If you listen to rock on the radio, you probably hear it every day.Beth Webb’s father was one of those seminal guitarists who did things no one had done before, at least not on a record.
His particular gift to the world: the power chord. It was a revolution on 1958’s “Rumble,” long before Kurt Cobain, Neil Young, Pete Townsend or anyone else of that general ilk pressed two fingers to a fret board. “Pete Townsend said if it wasn’t for Link Wray, he wouldn’t have picked up a guitar,” according to Webb.
Today, Wray’s 59-year-old daughter lives a quiet life in Carrollton with husband Tommy Webb. But when the eldest of eight was born in Portsmouth, her life was a little less quiet. Beth Webb was only about 3 weeks old when Fred Lincoln “Link” Wray Jr. carted the family off to D.C. to pursue his rock ‘n’ roll dreams.
In Portsmouth, he “drove a cab and played music — western swing,” Webb said. But he wanted a different sound, so they decided to move. “The south wasn’t ready for rock. He wouldn’t let anybody tell him how to play rock and roll.”
During a half-century career, touring all the time, through a divorce in about 1965 — according to his daughter — and even after following a new woman to Denmark to live in the 1980s, Wray accumulated a string of accolades. He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Southern Legends Hall of Fame and was named one of history’s 100 greatest guitarists by Rolling Stone. A Shawnee Indian, Wray was also inducted into the Native American Music Hall of Fame and featured in a National Museum of the Native American exhibit.
His music is heard in television and film, including “Pulp Fiction,” “Independence Day,” “Desperado” and “The Sopranos.” Recently, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced Wray as one of 16 nominees for its 2014 class. Ironically, he’s competing against several beneficiaries of his guitar trailblazing, including Nirvana, Deep Purple, Kiss and NWA — all of them contemporary purveyors of the power chord. Cat Stevens, Linda Ronstadt and Peter Gabriel are also among those in the running with the former Portsmouth cabbie.
Inviting fans to vote for his inclusion in the rock pantheon at www.rockhall.com, Webb says her father is more deserving than many other nominees for his reverberating influence on rock and its subgenres, including metal and punk. Webb says her father’s life was his music. After contracting tuberculosis in the Korean War and losing a lung, Wray had been told by a doctor that he’d never play guitar and sing again, his daughter said. She believes his Native American blood “gave him the will and the strength to keep on going. He rock-and-rolled all the way up until he died.”
Beth Webb said the last time she saw her father alive, she had traveled to San Diego in July 1997 with her son, Chris Webb, to see him perform. When she approached him from the audience, “a bouncer got between us,” she said. “I said, ‘Daddy, tell this fool who I am!’ He said, ‘Beth, is that you?’ He took his guitar strap off with his name on it and gave it to Chris.” Chris Webb, himself a musician, treasures the gift from his grandfather, his mother said.
It was the first time Webb had seen her father in about a decade, she said, adding, “But he (had) called me a couple of times.” Webb said her aging rocker father was “tickled pink” by the fleeting reunion.
Wray died of heart failure in Denmark, where he is buried, on Nov. 5, 2005.
“I always idolized my dad; I was always Daddy’s little girl,” Webb said. “He was always there for me, (even) when he wasn’t there, if that makes sense.”
Rock and Roll Pioneers - 2012
LINK WRAY AND THE RAY MEN - Rock and Roll Pioneers –
by Greg Laxton
2012 Pinup America Magazine
Although he received the lion’s share of the accolades, guitar legend Link Wray was actually powered by three cogs in one machine. Brothers Vernon and Doug Wray were instrumental (pun intended) in helping to make Link Wray what he became – the founding father of rock and roll guitar.
Garage, punk rock, grunge, heavy metal, rock guitar in general…they can all trace their roots to Link Wray.
The Wray Brothers came from humble beginnings in Dunn, North Carolina. Sons of half-Shawnee street preachers, the brothers had a hard life. The first decade of their life was spent in poverty. Link put it best when he said, “Elvis came from welfare, I came from below welfare.”
Vernon Aubrey Wray was born January 7, 1924. Fred Lincoln “Link” Wray came along May 2, 1929. Rounding out the trio was brother Douglas Leon, born Independence Day, 1933.
The family lived near the local fairgrounds in Dunn. When Link was 8, he scrounged up brother Vernon’s guitar and was sitting on the family porch trying to hammer out a few rudimentary chords. A traveling African American carny worker who went by the name of “Hambone” happened by and taught Link the sound of the blues. When Hambone began to play some bottleneck slide guitar, Link knew then what he wanted to do.
In 1942, the family headed North to the shipyards of Portsmouth Virginia where Link’s daddy had found work. The beginnings of the Ray Men came to be when the brothers form a band and played Western Swing – or as Link put it, “rock and roll before it was rock and roll.” In the Navy town of Portsmouth, there seemed to be a bar or club on every corner, providing plenty of opportunities for work.
The band consisted of brothers Vernon on vocals and rhythm guitar, Link on lead guitar, Doug pounding the skins and “cousin” Brantley “Shorty” Horton playing doghouse bass. For a short time, Dixie Neal played pedal steel. Dixie’s brother was Jack Neal of Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps.
Band names changed according to the venues they played… Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Gang… Lucky Wray and the Lazy Pine Wranglers and a couple more. (“Lucky” was Vernon, who had picked up his moniker from his success at the local card tables).
Always the entrepreneur, Vernon held the first taxi license in Portsmouth. Vernon and Link drove a cab during the day – nights were spent honing their craft.
In 1953, the brothers were invited to play as part of a tribute show in Montgomery Alabama. It was there they saw Curtis Gordon perform, and the girls going wild. Curtis wasn’t playing country, he wasn’t playing the blues…Link and Vernon concluded “there’s something happening here.” The boys arrived home and continued to experiment recording some new sounds.
The band, minus Dixie, headed to Washington DC in 1955. During that time, the DC area was a hotbed of country music. They shared the stage with the likes of Roy Clark, the Jaguars (featuring a young rocker named Charlie Daniels), Marvin Rainwater, Patsy Cline and many more all throughout Washington DC and Southern Maryland.
1956 saw the first rumblings of the brothers on wax, with rockabilly and country sides from Lucky on Starday Records, and Link’s first vinyl etchings on Kay, a record company run by Ben Adelman who was the owner of Empire Studios in Washington. Link’s first record was was a split EP featuring two early rockabilly recordings by Link – “Johnny Bom Bonny” and “I Sez Baby”. These records were released when the band was in DC, but the recordings came from those home recording sessions in Portsmouth in 1953!
The band’s career was interrupted when Link and Doug came down with tuberculosis and were placed in a TB hospital in Maryland. Link had picked up the disease during his stint in the Army during the Korean War. He passed it along to Doug.
With Link and Doug in the hospital with TB, Vernon struck out as a teen idol, landing a recording contract with Cameo Records. He was renamed Ray Vernon by the powers-that-be and molded as a pop singer in the Pat Boone / Perry Como vein. From here on, family and friends refer to Vernon as “Ray.”
Doug would fully recover from his bout with TB. Link’s condition was far more serious. His odds were not good. Link recalls, “I was coughing up blood in the death house. They were waiting for me to die”. When doctors concluded the only way to save his life was surgery, the family rallied and everyone prayed. Link pulled through, but his bout with TB cost him a lung. The docs told him to stick to playing a guitar and forget about singing. Link told ‘em “it will take a higher power than you to tell me that.”
Link was able to get a medical pass from the hospital to play guitar on brother Vernon’s Cameo sessions. This resulted in Vernon’s hit “Evil Angel” and “Remember You’re Mine” (alternately released with the flip side “I’ll Take Tomorrow Today” in 1957). Pat Boone took “Remember You’re Mine” to greater success a short time later.
Link worked tirelessly to build up his health and singing voice while also refocusing on his guitar work. Link’s experimental guitar sound became the anchor of the band, now rechristened “Link Wray and the Ray Men.” Matched with Doug’s heavy drumming and Vernon’s production work, the brothers found that “something new” they first recalled back at that Hank Sr. tribute concert.
Like many bands in DC, Link and the Ray Men were taken under the wing of Milt Grant. Milt was the host of “The Milt Grant Show,” a record hop broadcast daily after school on WTTG-TV in Washington. The Ray Men were regulars, later becoming the house band and performing countless times on the show. Vernon hosted when Milt was out of town, and later had “The Ray Vernon Show,” weeknights at 7:30.
Link struck gold - a gold record - with the instrumental “Rumble”. The legend of “Rumble” is a curious one. Link himself has told varied stories of how “Rumble” came about. The most popular may be the story of Link and the Ray Men backing up The Diamonds at a Milt Grant Record Hop. According to Link, Milt asked the band to play the Diamonds hit “The Stroll”. Link told Grant, “I don’t know no stroll.” Brother Doug started hammering a stroll beat and Link has said it was then that his “Jesus God” zapped “Rumble” into his head. On impulse, Vernon mic’d the amps. The kids went wild and they played the song four times that night.
As legendary as that story is, historical records reveal the record hop was held on July 12, 1957. No mention of The Diamonds appearance can be found in any available advertisements for the Record Hop that night. Perhaps a bit more accurate is the story Link told to a UK magazine in 1978 –
“I was doing all these record hops for the kids with my brother doing most of the singing. One night in Fredericksburg Virginia a few of the kids got together and decided to do a little fighting. I started playing these notes as sort of a joke but the kids came up to me afterword and said, ‘Hey I like that sound, play it again.’”
“So I started playing and developing it until it sounded pretty good. The kids started asking for it because they liked it, so I went into the studio and recorded it. “
“Actually my brother was recording for Cameo Records at the time so at the end of one of his sessions I just went in and recorded two songs, “The Rumble” and a flip side “The Swag” – it cost 57 dollars.”
This timeline would mean that “Rumble” was recorded at the end of Vernon’s Cameo session for the rockabilly rave-up “I’m Countin’ On You” and the flip “Terry (You’re Askin’ Too Much).
The working title of the tune was “Oddball.” The fellas were always experimenting - pencil holes were punched in the tweeters of Link’s amp, in an effort to duplicate that “dirty sound” they got on stage with the mic’d amplifiers that night in Fredericksburg. This historical session marked the first recording of intentional distortion in rock and roll. He didn’t know it then, but with “Rumble”, Link Wray invented the “power chord” - the key element popular in many styles of rock and roll.
Grant shopped the demo recording to Archie Bleyer of Cadence Records. He hated it, but his teenage daughter loved it. The song was renamed “Rumble” as Archie’s daughter said it reminded her of West Side Story.
Rumble – an instrumental - was banned in Boston and New York for being “too suggestive,” and for fear that it would incite teenage gangs to fight. Dick Clark wouldn’t mention the title of the song when the band played it on American Bandstand. (You can’t get much more “rock and roll” than that!)
Fearful that Link and the Ray Men would corrupt the morals of American youth, Archie Bleyer was done with them after “Rumble.” They moved on to a major label deal with Epic Records resulting in the now classic “Link Wray and the Wraymen” LP. Vernon continued to work with the Ray Men, but having opened a recording studio few years earlier, he moved “behind the scenes” as the band’s manager and producer of their recordings.
The band had a chart hit with “Rawhide,” but Link tired of Epic’s efforts to clean him up and put him in a Duane Eddy mold. Link said at one point Mitch Miller put him in front of a 40 piece orchestra – it took him half an hour to find his guitar. So the Ray Men walked away.
The brothers then formed one of the first “do it yourself” record labels – Rumble Records – in 1961. Vernon moved his recording studio from Washington DC down to his spread off Livington Road in Accokeek Maryland in December 1962. First stop was in the basement of Vernon's home.
Some of the Ray Men’s most prolific work happened in the mid 1960’s at Vernon’s home in Southern PG County. At the end of each night’s gig in and around Washington, the band regrouped in Accokeek and recorded until daybreak.
All of Link’s classic songs were recorded there. While the band was on the road, Vernon was fast becoming the “Sam Phillips of DC,” as too many musicians to count spent time with the tape running in Accokeek.
Too busy (and too loud!) for his wife Evelyn, Vernon moved the studio across the street in a building that housed Wray’s Market (always the entrepreneur...). Finally and most famously, the studio ended up in an outbuilding on the property and was christened "Wray's Shack 3 Tracks".
From the mid 1960’s to 1970, Link Wray was a regular at many clubs, fire houses, high schools and other functions in and around St. Mary’s, Charles and Calvert Counties. In one such interview Link has mentioned the “Two Thieves Club, down by the water”. (If anyone remembers this place, please get in touch!)
In 1970, the brothers were “rediscovered” and each signed to a 3 record deal with Polydor. For reasons yet to be determined, the only contract honored was Link’s, resulting in his “back to the roots” critically acclaimed LP, “Link Wray.” This record, like everything else, was a family affair with Doug playing drums as well as some acoustic guitar. Vernon handled the recording, back-up vocals and some rhythm guitar work.
"The Shack" was a busy place. The last recordings in Accokeek saw major label interest - Mordecai Jones and Link's solo debut on Polydor Records, as well as the UK issued "Beans and Fatback", studio outtakes of the “Link Wray” LP.
In 1972, Link and Vernon headed west to Tucson to “mellow out” and become one with the earth. Brother Doug stayed behind and continued cutting chops at his successful barbershop in Waldorf MD, while still playing gigs at local clubs. He passed away in 1984.
Realizing what a special place “The Shack” was, Vernon had chopped off the back wall and took it with him to Arizona as a talisman of sorts. He used the wall to reconstruct The Shack and then continued his production work with Tucson musicians. He also wrote jingles for local businesses and released his final two recordings – “Superstar At My House” and “Wasted.” Now incredibly rare, these recordings command top dollar among collectors. Vernon also pursued an acting career, landing parts in “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and four episodes of “Gunsmoke”. He passed away in 1979.
After completing his contract with Polydor, Link hooked up with another DC musician, rockabilly singer Robert Gordon in 1977. This resulted in two major label LPs, “Robert Gordon with Link Wray” and “Fresh Fish Special” as well as world tours. Photographers missed one of the best moments in rock and roll history when both Bob Dylan and punk rocker Sid Vicious met Link backstage at a UK gig to pay homage.
In 1979, Link struck out on his own and never looked back. Shortly thereafter, Link moved to Denmark. He returned to the states for a tour in 1985. Link eventually relocated permanently to Denmark where he continued to record and sporadically tour overseas. He would not come back to the states for a dozen years.
Throughout the 90’s, Link Wray found new fans with his music being featured in such big budget movies as Desperado, Independence Day, Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys, This Boy’s Life and others.
1997 saw Link return to American soil with the release of a new studio LP, a club tour and a return to national TV, with appearance on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” almost 40 years after playing “Rumble” on “American Bandstand.”
The beginning of the 21st Century saw the release of “Barbed Wire,” Link’s last LP - and one of the most interesting of his career. It featured “Link unplugged” – several cuts of just Link’s vocals and an acoustic guitar – half a century after the TB doctor told him he’d never sing again.
Link continued to return to the states every year or so for the remainder of his life, playing his “wild rock and roll.” He toured until the end, playing 40 dates in the states in 2005. He passed away at 76 in November of that year.
Though the main players in this story have passed, interest in Link Wray and the Ray Men is stronger than ever.
Link has been recognized as one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists” by Rolling Stone magazine. Guitar Player magazine cited “Rumble” as one of the Top 50 “guitar sounds” of all time.
Link and the Ray Men have been inducted into the following Halls of Fame – the Washington Area Music Association, Southern Legends and the Native American Music Hall of Fame. There is a petition drive underway to get Link inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2009, Link and the Ray Men’s “Rumble” was added to the National Recording Registry by the National Recording Preservation Board, housed in the Library of Congress.
In 2010, brother Link was a featured artist in "Up Where We Belong" - an exhibit housed in the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of the Native American Indian in Washington, DC. This exhibit featured an ultra rare video featuring a performance of the original Ray Men - Link, Doug, Shorty and Vernon - that has not been seen since it was first broadcast over half a century ago on American Bandstand. This exhibit is currently on display in New York.
2011 brought the re-release of Vernon’s final work “Wasted.” As with the original issue, it’s limited to 1000 vinyl LPs.
Link and the Ray Men have influenced the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Pete Townshend and thousands of guitarists the world over. Neil Young has said if he could travel back in time to see one band it would be Link Wray and the Ray Men.
More recently, a highlight of the award winning documentary “It Might Get Loud” features Jimmy Page citing Link as an influence as he spins a 45 of “Rumble” and turns back into a 16 year old kid playing air guitar in his music room.
What does the future hold for Link Wray and the Ray Men? A documentary is currently in production and a movie is rumored to happen. Long lost recordings have been unearthed, and may be released in the not too distant future. Link Wray and the Ray Men just keep rumblin’ on!
100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time - 2012FROM ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE
from the intro -
They built their own guitars, stabbed speaker cones with pencils, shattered instruments and eardrums - all in search of new ways to make the guitar cry, scream, whisper, shout and moan.
Link's entry -
Wray is the man behind the most important D chord in history. You can hear that chord in all its raunchy magnificence on the epochal 1958 instrumental "Rumble." By stabbing his amplifier's speaker cone with a pencil, Wray created the overdriven rock-guitar sound taken up by Townshend, Hendrix and others. Essential recording: "Rumble," Rumble! The Best of Link Wray (1993) (Rhino Records)
Link Wray’s Border Blues - 2005LINK WRAY'S BORDER BLUES - WAS THE GUITAR LEGEND THE TARGET OF RACIAL PROFILING?
This article was received in our eMail. I've been unable to confirm this news, posted here for your information.
Link Wray's Border Blues Was the surf guitar legend the target of racial profiling? by Kliph Nesteroff Jul, 14 2005
Surf rock legend Link Wray was to perform live at the unlikely venue known as The Yale Hotel this past Sunday. When I first saw the one lone poster slapped to a pole with electrical tape at the last minute, I figured it was nothing more than some mediocre Link Wray cover band. I reasoned if it truly were Link Wray, I would have known about it far in advance, and it wouldn’t be at Vancouver’s number one "greasy-white-guys-with-mid-life-crises-trying-to-play-the-blues" bar.
When I discovered that Wray really was playing Sunday night, perhaps for his final time in Canada, I was shocked. I did not know then I would be shocked beyond belief over the course of the next two days.
The show was scheduled at the unconventional time of 4 PM, and the bar was packed with socially awkward nerds who shouldn't be consuming alcohol, as well as many veteran Vancouver musicians--not the least of which was local late ‘70s rock star Teen Angel. The Wraymen’s opening act was a Toronto rocker named Derek Miller who was late coming on and quick getting off. At seven o’clock he was back on the stage under a spotlight, and all expected this to be Link Wray’s introduction.
Instead, we listened to him announce, "Link isn't here yet. He's... um... just... down the street. Hang tight." This explanation didn't hold much weight with those near the stage, as an uncomfortable fear emoted from Miller's eyes. People in the back joked that the 76-year-old star was probably entertaining himself with lap dances at the Cecil Hotel next door. The crowd may not have been so jovial had it known that at that very moment, Link Wray was being both stripped naked and physically assaulted by Canadian border guards.
Five hours after the doors had opened, an announcement was finally made. For reasons not totally made clear, Link Wray’s drummer was being detained and would not be allowed into Canada. The rest of the Wraymen had arrived in Vancouver, but were in no mood to perform.
In case you didn’t know, Link Wray is Native American, and arguably his culture's greatest and most famous rock star. The show was co-sponsored by Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network, and APTN’s Delores Smith, who helped organise the event, has little doubt the incident was racially motivated. The fact that such an atrocity came from the hands of Canadian government officials should come as little surprise to Vancouverites who have witnessed anti-Native brutality from Vancouver police, and last week's Westcoast Warrior bust as orchestrated by the RCMP on the Burrard Bridge.
The show was rescheduled for Monday and free vouchers issued, but anyone who returned was greeted by news of the show's outright cancellation. Link Wray was suffering from several bruises and lacerations, which rendered him rather immobile. While waiting in line Sunday for my voucher, Derek Miller took to the stage again, playing “Rumble” and some other Link Wray standards. As I waited, I realised I had ironically come full circle. Link Wray was nowhere to be seen, and I was at the Yale Hotel... listening to a Link Wray cover band.
Link Wray - Patron Saint - 2004LINK WRAY PATRON SAINT - WITH A STYLE EQUAL PARTS CAVEMAN AND BLUESMAN, LINK WRAY FORGED ONE OF THE MOST WILDEST, IDENTIFIABLE SOUNDS EVER.
GUITAR PLAYER MAGAZINE, JUNE 2004
If you adore the sound of a violently distorted rock guitar, then give thanks to a 50's era thug who invented that feral roar through attitude, invention and pure dumb luck. In 1958, Link Wray stepped onstage at a Fredericsburg Virginia arena and tried to figure out how to address the kids' request for a stroll (a popular line dance of the time, performed to a slow, swinging groove).
"I just made up something on the spot, because I didn't know any stroll tunes," says the guitarist, who improvised the instrumental that was to become "Rumble" with one of the most brutal two0chord intros to ever blast out of an amp.
But it wasn't just Wray's ingenuity under fire that drove the dancers crazy at deejay Milt Grant's record hop, it was also the strange and primitive sound of his guitar - a tone that was accidentally produced by Vernon Wray's naive attempt at being a soundman.
"Because ther3e was no vocal on this song, my brother thought we should spotlight the guitar," remembers Wray. "So he took the vocal mic and put it in front of my amp, which just distorted the heck out of the small P.A. speakers."
Grant - who was well aware of the burgeoning power of rock and roll, and who was also a savvy evaluator of audience reactions - quickly brought Wray and his band into Washington DC's U.S. Recorders (US Recording Studio) . This was yet another mistake that ultimately paid dividends.
"That place wasn't even a music studio," says Wray. "It was used by politicians to record their speeches, and the engineer had never recorded a band before. For example when he miked the kick drum, he put the microphone behind the drum by my brother's foot (another Wray sibling, Doug, was the band's drummer). But that's how we got that knockin' bass drum sound."
Replicating the street-punk growl that sent shivers down the spines of the record hoppers required a little creative destruction, as Wray's 1953 Gibson Les Paul and puny Premier amp weren't up to the task at hand.
"When I tried to remember the sound that made those kids scream, I missed the distortion right away," says Wray. "The sound was too clean - at the gig, the amps were jumping up and down, burning up with sound. Vernon asked, 'What are we going to do about it?' I said, 'I'm gonna mess with the amp so it's fucking up like it was at the live show.' So I took a pencil and punched holes in each of the Premier's two 10" speakers. Vernon said, 'You're just screwing up your amplifier!' But I said, 'Who cars as long as we get the sound, man?'
"I left the amp's single 15 " speaker untouched, and then I put one mic on each of the distorting speakers and one mic on the clean 15"/ It took three takes to get the sound I wanted, because everything was mixed down to a one track Grundig recorder. I stood in front of the drums and pointed my amp toward the opposite wall, Shorty (Horton, Wray's standup bassist) stood to my left. We taped a mic to the internal soundpost of the bass through a hole that was kicked into the instrument during a bar fight. Vernon was sitting behind the drums, and we recorded his acoustic guitar with a single boom mic. After the first take, I asked for the kick drum to be louder. The second take was okay, but I wanted to do another one. The third take sounded so damn good that I said, 'I ain't messing with it anymore!' I think Milt paid like $57 for the whole session."
But the record that prompted Pete Townshend to famously state, "If it hadn't been for Link Wray and 'Rumble,' I would never have picked up a guitar," almost didn't get released. The angle who rescued the instrumental from obscurity was the 17 year old daughter of Cadence Records owner Archie Bleyer, who grabbed the platter out of a pile of her father's acetates while looking for something to play at a birthday party. The teenager loved the tune, enthused over how it reminded her of the gang scenes in West Side Story, and inspired her dad to rename the song "Rumble" (the works original title is long forgotten). (actually, the working title was "Oddball") The success of the record was phenomenal, reaching number 16 on the national charts and selling more than million copies - even as Wray and Bleyer were attacked for prompting teenage gang warfare with the track.
But while the runaway success of "Rumble" put Wray on the map, it didn't line his pickets. "Bleyer stole everything," he says. "I was just a nobody.
Those in the know, however, are well aware that, while Wray may not be a People-esque star presence, he is absolutely the inventor of the power chord, as well as the musical bridge between early black blues cats cranking up their tiny amps and '60's white boys winging distorted riffs through Fenders and Marshalls. Forget about Clapton, Page, Hendrix and Beck directly interpreting the blues into the roar that was blues rock - and, from there, into rock, heavy metal, punk, grunge, thrash, and nu-metal - because Wray's singles in the last '50s prove that he is the blueprint for the rebellion, swagger and sound the birthed all that is holy about modern rock guitar.
No one would have seen this coming from Wray's more than humble sojourn as a poverty-stricken, half-Shawnee Indian youth in Dunn, North Carolina. Born May 2, 1929, Wray was introduced to the blues at eight years old by a traveling guitarist named Hambone who gave the lad impromptu lessons on the Wray's porch. Originally, it was Hambone's slide playing that entranced Wray and prompted his decision to become a professional musician.
Young white musicians in the early '50s had few career options, however, and Wray and his brothers took the only path that seemed available - playing western swing and country tunes as Lucky Wray and the Lazy Pine Wranglers, and alter, Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands. (The band was named after Vernon, whose "Lucky" appellation was due to his uncanny gambling fortunes.) After returning from the Korean Wary - and losing a lung due to tuberculosis, a state-of-=affairs that forced Link to concentrate on his guitar while brother Vernon handled all the vocals - Wray and his band started experimenting with "big beat" music, and giggled around the Washington D.C. area. "Rumble" and Wray's million-selling follow-up hit "Rawhide" dripped into his life in 1958 and 1959, respectively, but Wray's rebel spirit and artistic integrity impelled him to leave the music industry and move back to his family's five acre farm in Accokeek, Maryland, when subsequent records stalled and the business people sought to clean up his image. At one point, he was reduced to playing "Claire de Lune" and "Danny Boy" with a 62 piece orchestra.
Back on the farm, Wray's father converted a chicken coop into a recording studio, and the Wray brothers established WRAY'S SHACK 3 TRACKS - a seminal homegrown commercial facility. The Wrays were also very early into the artist-controlled label imprint, forming Rumble Records to release Link's 1961 smash "Jack the Ripper" (which was featured in Robert Rodriguez's Desperado and the '80's remake of the film Breathless) and other projects. In the '70s, Wray produced a critically acclaimed but poor selling solo album, Link Wray, and performed with rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon. In 1978, the under-appreciated rock and roll icon moved to Denmark, married Olive Povsen, had a son, and lived the life of a cult artist.
THE FLAME THAT NEVER DIES
But the Link Wray story doesn't stop there, as the eternal punk is hardly comfortable with the concept of fading away into myth. In 1997, he released Shadowman - a frightening showcase of off-the-cuff guitar power that should humble young guns a third his age - and he continues to record and tour to this day. And seeing the man live is almost a religious experience. At 75, he still wears the leather, still prowls the stage like a thug, and still plays loud and proud.
"I have a guardian angel that you can't see, but I can feel him," reveals Wray about his incredible energy and longevity. "God is my main strength, and he just guides me. I'm like an eagle. I fly wherever the wind takes me."
SLINKY review - Where Y’at? magazine - 2003Is there anything else that we really need to say about guitar mauler Link Wray? Quentin Tarantino has nearly made him a household name in the soundtrack realm, while Pete Townsend and Jimmy Page have pledged their undying allegiance over the years, so now even classic rock fans have to begrudgingly give him their due (there could always be more, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame might be nice, considering his all-encompassing influence on every garage band from the late fifties through the present day…). But at some point you have to get back to the essence of the matter. And the essence of this matter are rough Washington D.C. joints like the 1009 Club and Benny’s Rebel Room, stomping grounds where Link and his band the Wraymen crafted and cranked out a soundtrack of tough instrumentals to accompany the booze and brawls.
By the time he signed with Epic Records, Wray had already scored that elusive hit with 1958’s starkly menacing “Rumble,” which sounded like the prelude music to a gang war. The majority of things he’d do in the coming years would have the same power-chord heavy brand of raunch stamped upon them somewhere, but Wray was rarely derivative. His guitar playing was absolutely destructive; he attacked and mangled the strings more than he actually played them and there are plenty of fine examples laid out over this excellent sixty-six track collection, from the Indian-themed “Comanche” to the brakeless rockin’ of “Rawhide.” But if it was his guitar mauling that gave him his well-deserved notoriety, he took the same approach to the rare vocal number. Two of the finest moments of his career are a re-working of Jimmy Reed’s “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” and Ray Charles’ “Mary Ann,” both included here in their original, as well as alternate, versions. The Cramps’ Lux Interior seems to have used “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” as a spring board for his entire sound, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mick Jagger studied the record as well. The instrumental backing is just as ferocious and the guitar solos, are, of course, completely over the top.
Fine Line Catches Fire - 2003
The Fine Line Music Cafe in downtown Minneapolis would have been smokin' Monday with the guitar wailing of Link Wray, but the warm-up band got things hot a little early.
The Jet City Fix was playing its encore when it set off a pyrotechnic display that started the club's ceiling on fire about 7:15 p.m., fire officials said.
The crowd of about 120 was scooted out and the fire was extinguished within 15 minutes. Nobody was injured, and the fire was contained to the Fine Line, but the club sustained extensive water damage.
Members of the The Jet City Fix never told club owner Dario Anselmo that they would be shooting anything off during their set, Anselmo said. The band played a show at Luther's Blues bar in Madison, Wis., on Sunday and was yelled at by the owner after it did the same thing, Anselmo said.
Anselmo said Fine Line management had reviewed safety procedures with the staff Monday in response to the deaths of 21 people who were killed earlier in the day in a crowded Chicago club.
"What happened in Chicago was an anomaly," he said. "We make sure we're not over capacity and check to see if all exits are unlocked."
The capacity of the Fine Line Music Cafe is 720. The club opened in 1987 in the 100-year-old Consortium Building at 318 1st Av. N. in the Warehouse District. The fire caused an estimated $100,000 damage, but Anselmo hopes to reopen in a month.
"I'm shocked, but happy everybody got out," he said while looking at his business. "This could have hurt a lot of people. We would have never allowed the band to do something like this. I hope they don't play again."
Larry Lysaght and his wife, Linda, were sitting in the club's second floor waiting for food when they saw a small fire in the ceiling. It looked like it was part of the show, he said.
"It took awhile to figure it out, but we still didn't believe what was happening," he said. "Somebody from the staff was trying to put it out, but then they started to holler at people to get out."
David Wolfe, lead singer and guitarist for the Vibro Champs, was also upstairs when his friend pointed to the flames falling from the ceiling. They were making their way down the stairs within seconds, but he said he could feel the fire at the back of his head.
"It was just amazing," he said. "The staff did a wonderful job of getting everybody out. It's sad to see this happen to such a great club."
The local rockabilly band was supposed to play after Wray, the 74-year-old musician best known for the 1958 whammy bar guitar-filled instrumental classic "Rumble." Wolfe was disappointed he wasn't going to get the chance to play with his hero.
"And none of our equipment was insured," he said.
The sprinkler system activated and all the patrons were out of the club before the Fire Department arrived, said fire spokeswoman Kristi Rollwagen.
Jet City Fix of Seattle is scheduled to open for Wray for the next month. But on Monday night the band was pretty shaken up, Anselmo said.
Said Lysaght: "It was like 'Smoke on the Water,' revisited. It's too bad. They were nice kids and played a tight set."
Barbed Wire Review - 2002by Micheal Paley
Link Wray has a new album out, so there should be dancing in the streets, a general feeling of celebration, and a slew of new songs hitting the airwaves. Right?...right? Okay. That’s not going to happen, but at the very least his latest album should get some positive publicity in the music press.
Now aged 71, Link Wray is not likely to ever become a commercial success, but he will go down in rock’n’roll history as an original guitar hero. A pioneer in fuzz tone and power chord rock, Wray was an enormous influence on artists as diverse as Pete Townsend, Neil Young and John Lennon.
There’s been lot of Link lately: Norton Records, of course, has been a leader in re-releasing Wray’s oeuvre from the Swan era and making the public more aware of his music. Key Wray tunes can be heard in movies like “Pulp Fiction” and “Johnny Suede.” 1997 saw the release of two albums: the live Walking Down a Street Called Love and the studio Shadowman. And even Rhino has recently released a compilation of the best of his early years. But unfortunately, even though he has been recognized as an innovator, he still primarily possesses cult status, and excepting college radio stations, gets no airplay.
Barbed Wire is Link Wray’s latest release, but curiously, the music is anything but new. With the exception of two live cuts recorded in 1997, the whole album was recorded in 1995. In and of itself that is not a negative, but prior to opening the CD one gets the feeling that Barbed Wire is a newly recorded album rather than a compilation of previously unreleased tracks Wray had recorded for Ace Records several years ago.
Barbed Wire is a mixed bag, but in no way an unworthy release for a man of Wray’s reputation. More restrained than 1997’s Shadowman, Wray even goes unplugged on several numbers, which is a treat considering he has rarely been heard playing the acoustic guitar since his seminal Polydor years of the early 1970s. The true surprise of the album is a rich and beautiful acoustic rendering of the old Elvis Presley song “Home is Where the Heart Is” - culled from the Kid Galahad soundtrack for those who remember Presley’s Hollywood period. Wray has, in the past, covered several Presley tunes - and on this album presents his own versions of no less than four of them. “Tiger Man” and “Jailhouse Rock” in particular are high energy aural workouts - rather demented actually - and bear little resemblance to the Presley renditions.
Standout tracks include the original instrumentals “Julie Baby” (most likely written with his wife Olive Julie in mind) and “Hard Rock,” while possibly his greatest new composition is “Spider Man,” also an instrumental, delivered in an uncharacteristically smooth and tremolo-laden fashion.
Barbed Wire does have its share of disappointments: the title track among them. “Barbed Wire” is well played, but is nothing more than a remake of Wray’s sixties rave-up “Run Chicken Run.” The instrumental acoustic version of the old Romberg-Hammerstein classic “Lover Come Back to Me” sounds more like a home demo and could have benefited from the rich layering given to “Home is Where the Heart Is.” The quality of the performance does, however, make one wonder what Wray could do with a full-length album in the unplugged format.
And of course, just what we need - another version of “Rumble.” It is true that Wray’s reputation will probably always be based on that one ominous cut from 1958 (and the closest thing Wray has ever had to a hit), but for some reason innumerable remakes have appeared in the Link Wray oeuvre over the years, none matching the intensity and spontaneity of the original Cadence release (he came the closest on his 1974 The Link Wray Rumble album). This time around we are presented with a live version from a 1997 performance. It is not exactly revelatory, but it is a better recording and performance than what was presented on the 1997 Walking Down a Street Called Love album (actually, there are two versions on that release).
Barbed Wire is unlikely to win Link Wray any new converts, and in this writer’s opinion nothing Wray will do is likely to top the five brilliant albums he recorded for Polydor and Virgin between 1971 and 1974 (which stand as the pinnacle of his career as a creative artist), but it certainly is a worthwhile effort from a man who helped define a whole genre of rock’n’roll. At any rate, one need not simply be a Link Wray fan to appreciate the fun and energy of this pioneer’s latest release. Just be sure to turn it up!
BARBED WIRE review - Goldmine MagazineHis 70th birthday passed him by a while back. Yet, Link Wray remains an unregenerate rocker clad in black leather, his hair still worn defiantly long and his sledgehammer guitar histrionics cutting just as deep of a hard-rock incision as back in 1958, when his stroll accessible instrumental "Rumble" unleashed the concept of power chords on an unsuspecting nation.
Now living in Denmark with his manager wife (thought he tours our shores now and then), Wray's incendiary fretwork is as maniac and crunch as ever on BARBED WIRE, a compendium of 1995 studio sides and a pair of 1997 live efforts (a revival of his signature "Rumble" and a tough vocal treatment of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire"). The distortion levels are as stratospheric as Wray's fret speed on the scorching instrumentals "Julie Baby", "Barbed Wire", and "Spider Man", though a few surprising acoustic selections are interspersed - the introspective "Home Is Where The Heart Is", a slyly titled "Hard Rock" that's anything but, and a faithful reading of Elvis Presley's tremulous ballad "Young and Beautiful" - that stand in stark contrast to the heavily amplified pyrotechnics.
Presley remains sky-high on Wray's pantheon of cover sources: He also tackles "Tiger Man" and the ever-popular "Jailhouse Rock" on this collection, unleashing a functional vocal attack that's remarkable for a guy with one lung (he lost the other to tuberculosis well before he went pro with his axe). If they're still picking at all, most of his contemporaries have turned their volume knobs way down by now. Wray keeps blasting out hard rock riffs like a man possessed: His music is keeping him young.
Guitar Godhead - 1998INTERVIEW BY STEVE ROESNER FROM THE FEBRUARY 13, 1998 ISSUE OF GOLDMINE MAGAZINE
If there is one man left standing whom hardcore rock and roll fans ought to salute, or at least tip their hats to, that man is Link Wray. And if there's a guitar player remaining out there before whom aspiring rock guitarists should kneel and bow down - and many, unashamedly, have - that man is also Link Wray.
And this is true even among Generation X rock and rollers. Richie Lee of the band Acetone, recently signed to Neil Young's Vapor Records, was heard to comment, "We all agree that Link Wray is it, if there was anything like this one overriding influence."
Wray only had one Top 20 hit in his career, and it happened 40 years ago, but it was a monster. It also happened to have been an instrumental, and its name was RUMBLE. Wray's guitar playing on that one record was so powerful, so tenacious, edgy and unforgettable that its impact has reverberated down though the ages of the rock world ever since.
Link Wray created the power chord, and it was good. And as the awesome, supercharged intensity of "Rumble" echoed in the minds and imaginations of disconnected male youth for years afterwards, Link Wray's sound begat determined rockers by the hundreds and by the thousands.
Just as in the world of comedy, there would never have been an Eddie Murphy had there not first been a Richard Pryor, without Link Wray most likely there would not have been a Pete Townsend. Or, at least, not the Pete Townsend that imagined and then realized a band called The Who. (Townsend wrote the liner notes for Link's 1974 Polydor LP, THE LINK WRAY RUMBLE)
Furthermore, it is heartening to know that Link Wray never went away after he was first heard from in a musical context. He just moved to Europe, where he's been living happily for nearly the past two decades. In 1997, partly in support of his album SHADOWMAN (recorded a couple of years back, but now out on Hip-O Records in the states), Link returned here for a nationwide club tour on which fans young and old(er) hailed him for his sonic genius and went nuts for his performances. He's due back in early 1998 for more shows at the House of the Blues clubs in various cities and other venues.
Closing in on age 70, there seems to be no stopping the phenomenal Link Wray. While trendy punk rockers half his age have already burned out and hung it up, too jaded and tired to move on to the next phase, Link Wray, the burning flame, carries the rock and roll torch and takes it to a new generation. Godhead.
Born Frederick Lincoln Wray (named for his father, though he was the second son) May 2, 1929 in Dunn, North Carolina, Link and his brothers (Vernon, the older, rhythm guitar and vocals and Doug, the younger, drums) formed their first band while World War II was still going on. Do the math, as they say. Link Wray has been playing in bands over 50 years.
Later adding a cousin, Shorty Horton, on bass, they played a mixture of country and rockabilly until Link was required to serve his country in the Korean War. He returned in the mid-1950's and he and his brothers moved up to the Washington, DC area to continue with the music.
Link's continued good health and energy in the 1990's is all the more miraculous for the fact that he survived a serious bout of tuberculosis in the fifties, was hospitalized for a year and a half to have one of his lungs removed. He has lived most of his life with the remaining lung and it never seems to have set him back.
What it did do was make singing less of a priority, and caused him to concentrate that much harder on his guitar playing. The results are on numerous recordings, which came out on a plethora of labels, that have materialized over the past four decades.
In addition to the excellent SHADOWMAN, there is no shortage of Link Wray music available today on CD. As good a place to start as any is by picking up RUMBLE! THE BEST OF LINK WRAY, a 1993 Rhino collection of 20 tracks that begins with the guitarist's most renowned tune from 1958. It has a bunch of his 1960s recordings and a few things from the seventies.
Once you get hooked (and chances are good that you will, if you aren't already), further suggested Link listening leads us to the "Missing Links" series on Norton Records , four volumes that take the faithful through the early work of the brothers, billed as Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands (Lucky was brother Vern, who later took the stage name of Ray Vernon), then Link Wray and the Wraymen, and various other recordings done under band names like the Spiders, and the Fender Benders. (When the Beatles and other British Invasion bands started making noise, Link and his brothers tried to stay as competitive as they could.)
Speaking of the Beatles, also of no small interest to Link Wray fanatics are the many recordings he did for the Swan label, and Norton has also collected those (63 tracks in all) on a double CD titled MR. GUITAR. (Some of these, like "Run Chicken Run", "Deuces Wild" and "Batman Theme" are also on the single disc Rhino compilation.
For the hardcore fan, Norton has the "Link Wray Jukebox Series" available on seven-inch vinyl 45s, 10 of his Swan A sides backed with something equally delectable.
In the 1970s, Link made a couple of albums with neo-rockabilly singer Robert Gordon and, basically, has been doing something musically his entire life.
The following interview with Link Wray took place over the phone on November 15, 1997, just as he had completed his US tour. The previous evening, a Friday night, Link had wrapped up a two-night stand at a club in Atlanta, where worshipful fans had gathered to see him do his "git-tar" (as he says it) thing, before he was scheduled to fly back to Denmark with his young wife Olive, who was accompanying him on tour. They have a teenage son.
For more information on Link Wray and his recordings, one could track down a copy of Goldmine issue 292 from October 4, 1991. This was a "Goldmine Goes Guitars" issue that featured a story-tribute written by guitar player and Link Wray disciple Cub Koda.
(The interviewer questions are in capital letters)
HAVE YOU ALWAYS FELT A STRONG IDENTIFICATION WITH YOUR NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE?
I wasn't born on a reservation, you know. I was born to a little Shawnee lady, that was my momma. And my dad was in the Army. My mother was born in North Carolina, about four miles from Dunn. Dunn is about 30 miles from Raleigh. She was Shawnee, and my dad was a war hero in the first World War. And he was half-breed Shawnee. His momma was brought up by the Chippewas. The Chippewa Nation captured her mother, and I think killed her dad, and took her and raised her. And this here white guy, name of Florentine Van Edgar - I think he was from Holland - came and married her. This was in the 1800s, during the uprising of the James Gang and the Daltons and everyone. And (Van Edgar) was like a farmer. And my dad was born to the Shawnee mother, and this Van Edgar guy. And because they were hidin' the James Gang, and the Daltons and the Youngers, he had to change his name - this is my granddad - from Van Edgar to Wray, to escape the Pinkertons. Those assholes, you know? They were railroad cops. To escape bein' hunted down by them, my granddaddy just changed his name. And that's how I got the name Wray. My mom brought me up not mixin' with anybody, even though we lived around Cherokees. When I was 13, we moved to Portsmouth, Virginia.
BOTH YOUR PARENTS WERE PREACHERS?
Yeah, street preachers, exactly right...My momma, she'd get out on the streets of Dunn and Benson and Raleigh and Lillington, and preach to the blacks, who was drinkin' and not livin' the good life. They was killin' each other, knifing''' each other, gettin' drunk - you know, low morals. She preached to them, and preached to the poor whites (too). The poor white people was livin' right beside of 'em, you know? They were downtrodden people too. Even though, in the South, the blacks and whites don't mix. She was still preachin' to all of 'em, to try to live a better life. And she was crippled, my mother was a cripple lady. She had to wear braces since she was 16 years old. She was walkin' home from school one day and (some kid) stuck a knee in her back, and broke my mother's back. And she was a cripple all of her live (thereafter), until she passed away. But even though she had a weak body, she had a strong spirit. And that's the way she raised us boys.
HOW EARLY ON DID YOU AND YOUR BROTHERS GET SOME INSTRUMENTS AND START PLAYING MUSIC TOGETHER?
Oh, well, I'll put it to you this way: I started off playin' guitar at eight years old, (thanks to) an old black man called Hambone, right? This was in Dunn, North Carolina. Well, when I was 12 or 13 years old, my daddy got a job in the Portsmouth Navy Yard, you know. And we moved from Dunn to Portsmouth, right? And then my brother Doug, who played drums on "Rumble" and all the other hit records, he was still too young. And I started sittin' in with bands in Portsmouth, Virginia, learnin' how to play the guitar, you know? And finally we got in a five-piece jazz combo with my brother Ray (aka Vernon). He played drums and I played guitar, and we had sax, horns and piano. Traditional jazz, you know what I mean? And then I got bored, quit that, and went to a 40-piece band, like a Tommy Dorsey band, where I played guitar with them. I was the only one in the band who couldn't read music. And then that got boring to me. Then me and my brothers opened up (with) a thing, what was called "western swing." Elvis hadn't appeared on the market. It was only (at that time) country music, and jazz and pop music. There was no rock and roll.
But there was western swing, with Hank Locklin and Pee Wee King, and all of those cats, you know? Down in Nashville and Memphis, doin' the western swing stuff. I got into (it) and I started playin' western swing in Portsmouth, Virginia. And while I was livin' (there), my brother Ray got friends with the sister of Hank Williams. Her name was Irene. And she invited us to Hank's memorial, when he passed away (in '53). So we went down there, and played the western swing in Mobile, in respect of Hank Williams. It was like a wake, you know? All over Mobile, I mean all the country stars, like Ernest Tubb, Jim Reeves, Little Jimmy Dickens...That's where I met Curtis Gordon. And Curtis Gordon jumped up on stage with me, and started jamming on the old country songs like "Tennessee Waltz" and stuff like that, jammin' 'em up, you know? Like Elvis did (later) on "Mystery Train" and "That's Alright Mama." But Curtis was doin' it in 1953. He was jamming with me and my brother Doug, and my brother Ray, and Shorty on bass, in '53 in Mobile. And that's where I got the first glimpse of the kids screaming and hollering over this beat my brother Doug was doing. He was doin' this her real D.J. Fontana kind of beat behind Curtis Gordon doing the old country songs with a rockabilly type of feeling. You know what I mean?
But then it was called western swing. We did that, and then we played all over Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia, backing up the country and western stars - people like Lash LaRue, Roy Rogers, Gabby Hates, and all those people that'd come to town, right? They'd shoot up their guns, and we'd play the music while they were out there on stage. This was at the fairgrounds. Then in 1955 I moved from Portsmouth to Washington DC. That's where I broke down with tuberculosis, because I was in the Korean War. And I went right into the hospital, and my brother Doug got to play with Jimmy Dean - (Link sings in a low voice) "Big Bad John." You know that guy?
Jimmy Dean. My brother Doug got a job playin' the drums with Jimmy Dean. Roy Clark was the lead guitar player. This was in 1955 and '56, when I was in the hospital. And then Elvis came, and was on the Jimmy Dean Show (on TV, out of DC), because Jimmy Dean was the number one country star in Washington, DC. He had a (local) daily program on channel 7 in Washington, DC. And Doug was playin' drums behind Jimmy. While I was in the hospital, I was watchin' television, The Jimmy Dean Show, with my brother Doug playin', and in walks Elvis, as a guest on the show. And he did some singing with Jimmy Dean. And then he went and did a live gig, I think, with Scotty and Bill - I don't think D.J. was with them then - on a boat, like a riverboat, in Washington DC. And then, when I came out of the hospital in 1957, I got back with Doug and Shorty and Ray, and started doing record hops with (local deejay) Milt Grant. He was a deejay on channel 5. And I started doin' these here record hops, all over about a 125 mile radius from Washington - all over Virginia, Maryland...Buddy Dean was over in Baltimore, doin' the same thing as Milt Grant was in Washington. And Dick Clark was doing it nationwide (out of Philadelphia) - you know, kids dancin' on the show, and they'd play records. And the big rock stars would come on the television show. And that's how "Rumble" was born. One night in Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1957 - about 125 miles from Washington (actually about 65 miles - webmaster's note) in this here hot rod building, which was about 5000 kids dancing while we were playing this music, Milt Grant got up on stage and said, "Play a stroll." And I said, "I don't know a stroll." My brother Doug said, "I know the beat to a stroll." And he started playin' the "Rumble" beat. And then God zapped "Rumble" right in my head, and I started playin' "Rumble." And it was a four million seller for me (in the studio version). When I say "God zapped 'Rumble in my head" I mean, I'm not religious, but I'm really spiritual from my Shawnee momma. She loved every minute of my music.
SPEAKING OF ELVIS, DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE ELVIS STORY?
(Thinks a moment)....mmmmm, no, not really. Because I didn't really (get to) be that much friends with Elvis. You know, I just met him occasionally. My brother Doug introduced me to him. But, ah, I got a Colonel Tom Parker story.
He was in vaudeville, right? And this was the rumor that was goin' around Nashville and Memphis, when I was travelin' there. That Colonel Tom Parker, before he had Elvis, or any of the country stars that he was managing, even before he did that, he was doing vaudeville. And it was called "Colonel Tom Parker and his Dancing Chickens," you know? He had a hot plate under the chickens, and the chickens would jump all over the hot plate. But I didn't know Elvis that much. I loved his music, because he opened the door for people like me, and rock and roll. He sort of like opened the door for everybody.
YOU'RE SOMEWHAT LIKE CHUCK BERRY AND BO DIDDLEY, IN THAT YOU EMERGED AS A ROCK AND ROLL STAR AT A RELATIVELY ADVANCED AGE.
I was 30 when "Rumble" was born, because, like I told you, I was in the hospital. I mean, if you were 30 years old in '58 or '57, you was over the hill! Because Elvis was what (when he began)? 19 or 20 years old. So I was like sort of an old guy when "Rumble" came out. You know what I mean?
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT OF YOURSELF AS BEING A SIMILAR TYPE ARTIST TO CHUCK BERRY OR BO DIDDLEY?
No, not really, because, you know, (even though) Chuck was playin' rockabilly, the standard Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard - they were all doin' rock and roll. When "Rumble" came out, it wasn't rock and roll at all. It was like pre-heavy metal, you know? I was stickin' holes in my speakers to get my fuzz-tone. I was searchin' for sounds, because I had a lung taken out. I couldn't sing. I couldn't do the Elvis, I couldn't do the Jerry Lee Lewis, I couldn't do the Chuck Berry and the Little Richard...I couldn't do all that shit, even though I wanted to. If I'd had two lungs, and I was healthy, man, I'd have been boppin' along with the rest of 'em, you know? There would have been no "Rumble." So I just put all my heart and soul into my git-tar, and searchin' for sounds. Because I knew I could never play like Chet Atkins, even though I tried to. And I couldn't play like Les Paul, and I couldn't play like Grady Martin, Hank Garland, Tal Farlow and Johnny Smith, Barney Kessel, and all the really great guitar players. I could never play like them. And so I said, "Okay, if I can't play like them, I'll play like me, and search for sounds." Like I said, I punched holes in my speakers to get the distortion with "Rumble." And I bought an old off-brand guitar called a Danelectro. Sixty dollars. It was in a guitar magazine. I bought four of 'em. Now they cost like thousands of dollars for those guitars.
DID YOU INVENT FUZZ-TONE?
I think I did, with the holes in the speakers, right? Because nobody'd thought if it. Ha ha ha ha ha! I didn't even think if it. I was just tryin' to get a distortion, you know? When I made "Rumble" up that night in '57, my brother Ray took the vocal mike and put it to my amplifier. And these little mikes, it was shaking all over, rattling all over, because I had my guitar amp turned all the way up to 10, you know? And when I went to the studio to record it, it was too clean. And I couldn't get that distortion. So I said, "We'll take the heads off the speakers and I'll punch holes in the speakers, and get that distortion." So, I guess I did sort of like invent the fuzz-tone. (laughs) Accidentally. Well, no, it was deliberately.
Back in those days, I didn't know they were going to make the boxes, right? I didn't know they were gonna later on make the fuzz boxes and everything.
AMONG THE BUNCH OF GUITAR PLAYERS YOU MENTIONED, IS ANY ONE OF THOSE YOUR FAVORITE?
I tell ya, I like Tal Farlow, Grady Martin - Grady Martin, he played behind Red Foley. He (also) had a jazz group, and he was one of the fastest guitar players I ever heard in my life. And Tal Farlow, I mean, when I heard him, I just couldn't keep up with his guitar playing. You know? It was so fast, when he did "Tea For Two" (for example). Then I briefly met, and heard, Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant. You know those cats? Oh, man! I mean, they were out of this world. I love all those cats, but I never could play like 'em. I admire 'em, because I admired what they did. And I get scared when I hear Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West play, man. It's so unique, the way they do it. Speedy West playin' his thumb pick, right? And this is on the steel. He plays faster on the steel than most lead guitar players can, you know?
DID YOU LISTEN TO A LOT OF BLUES ARTISTS IN THE LATE '40S AND EARLY '50S?
Ah, not really. I loved the Jimmy Reed stuff, but I got it off Elvis. I heard "Baby What You Want Me To Do" and "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby (but) I heard Elvis do it first. And then Jimmy Reed came out with these hits. And I started listenin' to Jimmy Reed after he had these hits. And then John Lee Hooker, and ...uh, what's the name of the guy? I recorded one of his songs - (Link drops to a lowdown voice) "I'm a tail dragger" - I forgot his name now (Willie Dixon - ed). But, anyhow, after I got listenin' to all these guys, then I started pickin' up on it, you know?
DID YOU REGARD YOUR BROTHER VERNON AS THE STUDIO GENIUS, AND THEREFORE JUST LET HIM PRODUCE YOUR (EARLY) RECORDS?
No, I produced my own records. He produced other people. He produced Ronnie Dove. But he never produced me. He just played rhythm guitar on "Rumble." I did my own stuff. I created my own sound, and I produced my own stuff. But Ray was a good, ah, assistant to me. I'd say, "Ray, hook up this here to my amplifier," and he'd say, "Aw, you're crazy. What're ya doin' that for? Like, why are you punchin' holes in speakers, Link? You're insane, you know? Why are you puttin' outdoor speakers to your amplifier?" He didn't understand (that) I was tryin' to create my sound, you know? But, I mean, I didn't know how to do all that. I knew how to play, but I wasn't a good technician. So, he was a good technician. He helped me get my sounds for me.
YOUR ORIGINAL RECORDING OF RUMBLE MIGHT SOUND TAME TO SOME PEOPLE TODAY, BUT YOUR GUITAR PLAYING ACTUALLY UPSET A LOT OF PEOPLE BACK THEN.
Yeah, because it related to gang fights. Because of the title. And it was a menacing type (record) for those days. They'd say, "Link is not Jerry Lee Lewis, he's not Elvis, he's not Chuck Berry." These deejays were tryin' to put a handle on me, what to call me. They didn't know what to call me back in those days. So I think one of the journalists in a big paper, or Dick Clark or somebody, said, "Well, Link Wray is just another James Dean with a guitar." Because I wore leather jackets, and everybody else wore fancy suits, you know? They was wearin' ties, and bowties and tuxedos and really lookin' fancy, but I was comin' out in shades and leather and long hair. And I looked really, completely weird, you know? Back in those days, that was unheard of. So, they didn't know what to call me.
SOME PEOPLE MIGHT FORGET THIS NOW, BUT BACK THEN PEOPLE REALLY BELIEVED THAT ROCK AND ROLL COULD CORRUPT THE MORALS OF YOUNG PEOPLE, ISN'T THAT RIGHT?
Well, that's the churches. You know the old sayin', they call it "the Devil's music." And the Devil sure as hell didn't give me "Rumble" man. It was God. I mean, I'm very spiritual. I came out of the death house, when the doctors told me I was gonna die, right? And I got a 14 year-old son (named Oliver Christian) with my wife Olive Julie in Denmark, you know? Well, when Oliver was around six years old - and I always try to teach him like my mother taught me - I'd say, "Who we love, Oliver?" He says, "Jesus God." You know? And he says, "Daddy, does God love rock and roll?" I said, "Well Oliver, I was sick, and the Devil tried to kill me in the death house, and tried to destroy me, and the doctors took out my lung. And then God took me out of the death house and gave me 'Rumble'." I said, "Don't you think God loves rock and roll?" And he says, "Oh, yeah! God loves rock and roll - he gave you 'Rumble'." (laughter) When he was six years old he told me that. That was really lovely. But that's the truth! I mean, that was just pure truth. I heard Johnny Cash say, in an interview on European television, "I'm not religious, but I'm very spiritual. And, as far as I'm concerned, God gave me rock and roll - He gave me my music. So, it's not the Devil's music." He didn't mention my name, but I guess he's heard it, and saw the way I say it - I don't know if he did or not. But he was speaking the words I usually speak. This is what Johnny Cash was sayin' on European (broadcast) about two years ago. And I been sayin' this ever since "Rumble," you know? About how God gave me rock and roll.
WAS THE REASON "RUMBLE" WAS BANNED (FROM THE AIRWAVES) IN NEW YORK AND OTHER CITIES AROUND THE COUNTRY -
That was because of the gang fights.
IT REALLY WAS?
And Archie Bleyer's daughter, Archie Bleyer who had Cadence Records, it was his daughter naming (it). She named the instrumental "Rumble." You know, from the gang fights in West Side Story. And so the song was (linked) to the gang fights. So they banned it from New York, they banned it in Boston, they also banned it in Detroit. And then Jocko, a disc jockey in Jersey who used to wear a space outfit - just on a radio show he was wearin' a space outfit! Nobody could see him, but he was still wearin' this here space outfit and it looked cool, you know? 'Cause he had so many journalists, and artists, and people comin' to see him on his radio show. And he played "Rumble" every 10, 15 minutes. Until he was pumpin' it into New York City. (Link breaks into a Wolfman Jack kind of voice, impersonating Jocko): "It's banned in New York City, but Jocko's gonna play "Rumble!" And he played the shit out of it. And it was like #1 in New York, #1 in Boston, it was #1 in Detroit - all places it got banned it was still #1.
MILT GRANT WAS ACTUALLY YOUR MANAGER AT ONE TIME?
No, he was my brother Ray's manager. Ray was on record before I was. He was on Cameo-Parkway. Bernie Lowe owned the label. The only other artist (then on Cameo) was Charlie Gracie. This was 1957. In fact, I was still in the VA hospital and I had to get a leave. I had to ask for a leave to go to Philadelphia to record with my brother. I hadn't even come out of the hospital then. I was still in. And I went to Philadelphia on a train, to record with my brother Ray on the Cameo-Parkway label. And it was in a basement of Bernie Lowe's house. They had no studios back in those days. All the studios was in radio stations ... So, Bernie had his studio on the basement of his house. And this here guy who wrote "Teddy Bear" for Elvis wrote this here song for my brother Ray to do on Cameo, called "Remember You're Mine." So we went in there with the Ray Charles Singers, and a drummer and bass. Bernie had it all set up. and we went in and recorded it, right? And about a week or two weeks later, Pat Boone comes out on Decca Records with the very same arrangement - with the way I played on the guitar and the whole thing. Only it was with Pat Boone singin' and not Ray, on Decca Records, "Remember You're Mine." And, of course, Pat Boone had the big hit on it. (NOTE: Boone cut his version at Radio Recorders in Hollywood on June 17, 1957, with Billy Vaughn arranging and conducting. It actually came out on Dot Records, for whom Boone did all his recordings in the 1950s. Label owner Randy Wood produced it, and Bernie Lowe got a co-writing credit on the tune. It was a Top 10 pop hit).
WHAT WAS THE WASHINGTON, DC MUSIC SCENE LIKE IN THE LATE 1950S?
It was country. It was all country. Jimmy Dean was the "King of Country" in Washington, DC. He had a daily show on channel 7, and of course you had the little country bands all over there. And Ben Adelman had this little studio in Washington, DC (True Tone on Georgia Avenue). He recorded Patsy Cline, he recorded Jimmy Dean, and Roy Clark - they were locals, you know at that time. And Dick (Dickie) Williams, the brother of Bob Williams, who wrote "Tennessee Waltz." In fact, I played on a 1955 recording with Dick Williams in that little Ben Adelman studio, called "Robber." And Steve Sholes bought it and put it out on RCA Victor in 1955, just before Elvis went on RCA. He was still on Sun then. And I got a letter from Steve Sholes, remarking how good the git-tar sounded on this here record called "Robber." And then later, in 1959, this here Ben Adelman studio, he sold it to a guy called Ed Green. And that's where "Rawhide" was born. The same studio where Patsy Cline did recordings, and Jimmy Dean and all the country stars down in Washington, DC when Ben Adelman had it. And then Ed Green bought it, right? And I cut "Dixie Doodle" and "Rawhide" in that little studio. And (the single) was a million-seller for me, on Epic Records.
DID IT EVER TROUBLE YOU THAT YOU WERE FORCED TO SHARE WRITER'S CREDIT, ON YOUR EARLY SONGS LIKE "RUMBLE" WITH MILT GRANT?
Well, they just stole it. I mean, I hate to bad mouth my brother (Ray), but I didn't know anything about the recording business. My brother took "Rumble" and (published) it in my Dad's name. He put it in my Dad's name instead of mine. My Dad (couldn't) even play a guitar.
OKAY, THAT'S WHERE THE CREDIT "F.L. WRAY, SR." (CAME FROM)?
"F.L. Wray, Sr." My brother Ray could control my dad. To keep the control, he took it completely away from me, you know?" I hate to bad mouth my brother, but that's the truth of it. He put it in my Dad's name, takin' it away from me in 1957. And then Milt Grant took half the writer's (share), because Milt Grant had this big (radio) show, and Link Wray was a nobody. You know, who was Link Wray in 1957, with this here little instrumental? It didn't even have a name, until Archie Bleyer's daughter named it. I was like a nobody there in Washington, DC doin' these little record hops on (Grant's) show. So he had the power to just take it - take half the writer's. And then him and Ray shared publishing. So me and Doug got shit, off the publishing or the writer's. It was shared by my brother Ray and Milt Grant. And I just got (screwed) there, you know? 'Cause I didn't know the business.
DID YOU KNOW GENE VINCENT PERSONALLY?
No. But in 1948 and '49, he came and was sitting in, and listening to us play, when we were doin' live country music on this here radio station in Norfolk. And the disc jockey (there) was the guy who wrote "Be Bop A Lula" (with Vincent), Sheriff Tex Davis. And he was just hangin' around there, you know? But I didn't personally know Gene, no.
WHEN YOU WERE STARTING OUT, DID YOU SEE YOURSELF BECOMING MORE OF A COUNTRY ARTIST, LIKE HANK WILLIAMS?
You mean in Portsmouth?
YEAH, REALLY EARLY ON.
No. not really. Not really. I never thought I'd reach that limit. No, I was still learning how to play. I was just happy to be on the stage playin' behind the B-movie western stars! You know, like Roy Rogers and Lash LaRue. I was just happy to be playin'. I didn't ever think about bein' a country star. I never thought I'd reach that high a level. I never even dreamed of it. Even until I made "Rumble," I mean, Link Wray, I was just a gut-tar player, playin' behind my brother. He was the star. And I was just a git-tar player playin' behind him, and Doug was a drummer. God kept that secret from me, right? When God gave me "Rumble" that night in '57, God kept it completely a secret and zapped it in my head. And here's this little three chord instrumental that any git-tar player can play, right? He just zapped it in my head. I had no idea that it was gonna be a big, huge hit. I was on Buddy Dean's show in Baltimore with "Rumble" and he said, "Link, how does it feel to have a hit?" I said, "Tell me what a hit is, and then I'll tell ya!" And he laughed so hard, he fell off the chair, you know? I was so ignorant of the business. He was laughin' - he was a real nice guy, Buddy Dean.
AFTER THE END OF THE 1960S, DID YOU CONTINUE TO WORK IN THE STUDIO WITH YOUR BROTHERS?
Uh...when President Kennedy got shot, right? I did "Jack the Ripper" in 1960 and put it out. I thought it was gonna be mine and Ray and Doug's label, and I ended up again gettin' screwed. It was Milt Grant and Ray's label! Right? Called Vermillion. "Ver", Vernon Wray and "million" Milt Grant. "Jack the Ripper" was on that label, and I thought it was ours. You know, I trusted my brother Ray, 'cause I still didn't know the business in 1960 and '63. So (Link Wray music) came out on Vermillion Records until 1963. Swan Records bought it and put it out, and ("Ripper") was a million seller for me in 1963. And then the President got shot, and the whole Elvis-Chuck Berry-Link Wray-Jerry Lee Lewis type 'o music died, with President Kennedy. You know? And then, when the music arose again, it arose with the Beatles and the British rock and roll, and (later) FM stations...and the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead, and Frank Zappa and Quicksilver Messenger Service, and all those guys started risin' up again with the American type music.
AMONG THE ROCK GUITAR PLAYERS WHO'VE MADE IT BIG OVER THE PAST 20 TO 25 YEARS, WHOSE STYLE DO YOU REALLY LIKE?
I like all of 'em! I mean, I like Pete Townsend. Pete Townsend's a genius, right? He became a superstar. (laughs) He said Link Wray gave him his start, but anyhow he just took it and became rich over it. And David Gilmore, Eric Clapton, you know, I could sit here and name 'em...I dedicated a song, not to Dickey Betts, but to the other Allman Brother that died...
Yeah, I dedicated a song to him, off of one of my Polydor albums. (The song was "I Got to Ramble" from THE LINK WRAY RUMBLE - ed) Because I liked the way he played "Layla" with Eric Clapton, and I liked the way the Allman Brothers played. They played for 30 minutes, one song! I mean, just keep goin'. And I'm goin' , "Wow!" Because I'm a git-tar player, and I can understand that king of (philosophy): "Keep right on playin'" You know? Like Cipollina (John, the late Quicksilver guitarist), and Nick Gravantes (and) Quicksilver Messenger Service, all those cats, man. I mean, I loved every minute of it. Even though I wasn't up there doin' it, because I didn't want to play to the LSD crowd, right?
And so I just (dug it). Even though I was listening to them on the radio, I was never goin' out playin' to that audience, 'cause, you know, I don't mess around with any kind of drugs. Like I told you, I'm very spiritual. I drink Heineken, I drink beer, you know? So what I did, when that type of music, with the LSD audience and everything arose and started bein' popular, I just started playin' in this redneck club down in Maryland, called the Two Thieves Club. Down by the waterfront, you know? And I was playin' down in this club, playin' CCR and Elvis and (roots rock). And that's what I was doin' until Polydor...Actually it wasn't Polydor. The Beatles wanted me on Apple Records. And so they sent this here representative from New York City down to talk to me, (to see) if I'd record for Apple Records. I said, "Well I guess, you know..." (The rep) says, "Aw, the Beatles love Link Wray. They want Link Wray on their Apple label." So, they talked me into it, anyhow. After hours, after I got through playin' my redneck club, then I can go into the studio and do a little bit of recording. And I thought I was recording for Apple Records. But between the time I was recording and it got all mixed down, then some producer out of New York City goes up to my brother Ray, and all of a sudden I'm not on Apple Records. I'm on Polydor Records. You know, I still think there was money involved there. I don't know how. But anyhow, I just told my brother Ray, I said, "Well, you're not gonna cheat me this time. The songs this time's gonna be called "Link Wray." So that's when I signed up wit BMI, on the Polydor stuff. That's the first time that I put my foot down and said, "Okay, my writing is gonna be called "Link Wray" from now on." Even though they still stole the publishing from me. At least I got my writer's.
SO, THAT MATERIAL THAT YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE RECORDING FOR APPLE, THAT ENDED UP COMING OUT ON POLYDOR?
Polydor, yeah. I thought it was gonna be on Apple Records, and there was a lotta money involved there, you know. My brothers, and these producers and everything, you know? And, of course, they kept the money. And Polydor put it out. And the Neville Brothers recorded two of the songs off of that album (Link Wray, 1971). I think it was "Falling Rain" and "Fire and Brimstone." The Neville Brothers, I never met 'em, but a journalist, like you, in Denmark said," Link, do you know the Neville Brothers recorded your song?" I said, "No!" So this here journalist sent me this tape...
I IMAGINE CREEDENCE CLEARWATER (LINK COVERED CCR'S "RUN THROUGH THE JUNGLE" ON SHADOWMAN) WAS A BAND THAT YOU LIKED.
Oh! They were fuckin' great man. I love John Fogerty. He got cheated out of his money too, you know? I heard that Fantasy Records took it and just kept it. They didn't give him shit. I heard, for a long time, Fogerty wouldn't even sing his songs. He got the same shaft that I did, you know? I recorded "Runnin' Through the Jungle" because I love CCR so much. I just thought they were great. I thought John Fogerty was a genius with a tar-tar on those songs. Oh, man, it was great.
WHEN DID YOU BECOME AWARE THAT PETE TOWNSEND AND OTHER BRITISH ROCKERS IDOLIZED YOU?
When I met him in '71, when I was on Polydor Records. I was over at Polydor Records and Pete Townsend was doing some overdubbing on "Live at Leeds" at the Record Plant, you know? And he told my brother Ray, he said, "I wanna meet Link Wray - I'm a true fan of Link Wray." So Ray comes over and gets me, right? And I go over there, and the place is jammed and packed with journalists, like you, and photographers, Rolling Stone, everybody was there, you know? At (the) Record Plant. And I walk in, shook hands with Pete: "Hi, Link Wray, I'm glad to meetcha." You know? And all of a sudden, somebody jumps in and grabs me from behind, and just picks me up and starts whirlin' me around hollerin' "Rumble!" just as loud as he could. And finally he let me down, and I almost fell when he let me go. And I turn around, and the guy didn't have a stitch of clothes on - he's completely naked. That was Keith Moon. That was amazing. I was a little embarrassed, but I said, "Okay, this is the way it is now? Is this the new type of rock and roll?" You know? Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! 'Cause it surely wasn't that way in the Elvis days, you know? When (Presley) couldn't even shake his hips. And now they're takin' their clothes off. So I sez, "Is this the way rock and roll is today?" And Pete Townsend's laughin' his ass off. It was a great night. I mean, I had a real good time talkin' to these people.
WHAT HAS YOUR MUSIC CAREER BEEN LIKE SINCE YOU MOVED TO EUROPE?
Oh, it's great! I'm very happy, man. I live very happily on a farm in Denmark. I play all the time. But just no bookers would bring me back to America. I couldn't get (US bookings until recently), because I wasn't on these here big labels. You know, I wasn't on Polydor anymore, or CBS. So the bookers wouldn't bring me back over here. Not until "Rumble" and "Ace of Spades" and "Jack the Ripper" started hittin' the charts (again). I mean, started hittin' the movies - Pulp Fiction, Independence Day...Well, in 1988, I did a CD for a little label out of London called Ace Records. And on this here CD there was three songs: one called "Viva Zapata", and "Hotel Loneliness", and "Don't Leave Me." And they ended up in the Johnny Suede movie in 1988, but it didn't make it. It was like a hit in France, I think. It was a hit all over Europe, but it wasn't a big bang like Pulp Fiction and Independence Day and Desperado. It wasn't that big.
WHAT KIND OF DIET SHOULD A ROCK AND ROLLER EAT TO STAY YOUNG AND ENERGETIC, LIKE YOURSELF?
Believe in God. Get a guardian angel, like I got. I got a guardian angel that protects me. Of course, I'm a vegetarian, too. I got common sense with it. I take 4000 Vitamin C (milligrams) every day, I take Vitamin E, I take all the Vitamin Bs, I take zinc. I just go into the health food stores and buy all the vitamin tablets. I eat eggs, omelets, and I drink milk, but I don't eat meat. 'Cause I think meat gives you cancer. I really do. Just once in a while, I got into a burger King and get a fish sandwich. I eat a lotta potato chips, 'cause it's good for my throat, so I can sing. Plus, potato chips has got a lot of fiber in it. And you need fiber, right? If you don't (have fiber) you get colon cancer. I eat a lotta popcorn...I guess, if you want to say, I eat a lotta junk food. That's what I live on: junk food and vitamins. I'm 68 years old, and I'm still rumbling you know?
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A VEGETARIAN?
All my life. Never ate no meat.
REALLY? YOU NEVER HAD ANY PROBLEM FINDING SUBSTITUTES FOR MEAT IN YOUR DIET?
No, no, I never worried about it. I mean, I was raised poor. (laughs) Hey, man, I went for days and days in North Carolina without (any) food. No shoes (either). Me and my mother would go to bed crying, you know? Praying, "God, please help us with food." I mean, there were plenty of times I went to bed hungry. No food at all. I'd go to school, and when the kids went to the place to eat, I had to go outside and set in the swing, until dinner time was up. Until lunch time was over. 'Cause I didn't have no food to eat. And this one little girl in school, she was totally in love with me. So she'd come out and give me a peanut butter sandwich that she'd had, that her mom and dad gave her. She'd divide her peanut butter sandwiches with me. Otherwise, when I'd come home at night, there was no food at all. My daddy was a war hero, but he was like a casualty. He couldn't go out and work and everything. So we were very, very, very, very poor.
So I didn't worry about diet, I just worried about survival. I was a vegetarian, not touching any meat, but I would eat eggs. And I would drink milk, when I could get a hold if it. And eat bread, and pinto beans, and navy beans, and black-eyed peas, and turnip greens, and collard greens - every time I'd get a hold of stuff like that, I'd eat it.
PEOPLE WOULD ASSUME, ESPECIALLY PEOPLE WHO'VE SEEN YOU PLAY IN 1997, THAT YOU BELIEVE "YOU'RE NEVER TOO OLD TO ROCK AND ROLL", RIGHT?
Never. Never! I'm 68. I say to the audience, I make a little joke, I do an Elvis tune (that goes): "You're so young and beautiful, and I'm so fucking old!" And then I go into "Run Chicken Run". And they just laugh and start jumpin' up and down. I'm old, right? But I still got my black hair, and I'm still skinny, and I can jump around on stage, you know? In fact, I fell off the stage in San Francisco (webmaster's note - at Bimbo's 365 Club) I was running (along the edge), and all of a sudden, there was no more stage! And I fell into the monitor pit and hurt my leg. But it's okay now. I played the House of Blues in LA and I had to finish off (the show) sittin' on a stool. They had to carry me off stage. But the kids went wild - 18, 19, 20 year old kids, bangin' on the stage (shouting), "We love you Link!" I played two nights in Atlanta and it was sold out. I went to the edge of the stage, and let (this) kid bang on my guitar, and he started bitin' it like Jimi Hendrix with his teeth. A 19 year old fan. I was in church (at that moment) - I was just next to God then. That's the way I think about these kids. I'm very happy to come over to America and play to these beautiful young kids who come out to see me. When they come out with love like that, with rock and roll, I'm just close to God then, man. These here young kids, in these young bands, they come out and have me carve my name on their git-tar with a knife or a pen, or a pencil. Sometimes they pull out a switchblade knife, and I have to carve "Link Wray" in the tars-tars, you know? Ha, ha, ha, ha! And sometimes they just want me to do it with a pencil, you know? These little rock and roll bands. They all play Link Wray music. And all over America now, ever since I been comin' (back over) to America, these little bands has been comin' out, with the bangin' on the stage, and really with the (true) rock and roll spirit. To me, that's like bein' in church. You know what I mean? The rock and roll spirit, man, to me it's just like bein' in church.
Rock of Ages - 1997FROM GUITAR PLAYER MAGAZINE - NOVEMBER 1997
Be warned: Link Wray is back and he's kicking serious butt. But the man whose late-50's / early-60s trash-guitar instrumentals "Rumble" and "Raw-Hide" are pillars of the rock guitar pantheon wasn't so sure a comeback was in the works.
"I didn't know if I'd be accepted by the American kids again," shrugs the 68-year-old legend. "I live on a secluded island in Denmark, where I'm just a husband and a dad. But when I come back out on the road, I'm Link Wray, man!"
Link's latest, Shadowman (Ace), boasts a hearty mix of croaking vocal covers and trademark instrumental raunch. Not a polished singer, Link nonetheless tributes Hank William's "I Can't Help It" with a stark, wrenching beauty nearly as potent as his white knuckle guitar work. But nothing Wray sings matches the feral intensity of his slashing take on CCR's "Run Through The Jungle" or the twisting fury of his original "Timewarp/Brain Damage," which resurrects the timeless two fisted riff from "Raw-Hide." Psychotic whammy moans underscore "Night Prowler" while warm, quavering walls of feedback breathe life into "Heartbreak Hotel."
Having retired his most famous white, SG-shaped '62 Gibson Les Paul, Wray tracked most of Shadowman with Screamin' Red, a pawnshop prize he scored in 1964 and has since beefed up with a custom neck and the Gibson tuners. He runs Red through a Marshall JCM900 with a matching 4x12 cabinet and a blackface Fender Twin; an MXR Dynacomp sustainer and Ibanez Soundtank Delay pedals add pulsing tremolo and psychobilly slapback to Link's live versions of the Batman theme and Elvis oldies. His backup guitar is a Harley-Davidson commemorative Fender Strat with a semi-hollow aluminum body.
As for the issue of age, Wray insists it's still the music that matters, and his music is only as old as his audience. "When I launch into 'Run Chicken Run'," he grins broadly, "and those kids start bangin' on the front of the stage yellin' 'Run, Link Wray, run!", it's the spirit of rock and roll, man. And I tell you this - they don't give a shit how old I am!" -Gregory Isola
Link Between A Rock And A Spiritual Place - 1996
Forty-off years ago, Link wray was in a military hospital with tuberculosis, "coughing up blood with every breath." Then he saw his brother Dough playing drums for Elvis Presley on the hospital's television set and became convinced he had to rock and roll.
Wray (born Fred Lincoln Wray Junior) lost his left lung to the disease before gaining an honorable discharge. Unable to sing, he punched holes in the speakers of his guitar amplifier with a pencil and introduced the world to the sound of the fuzz tone guitar.
At the start of his first Australian tour yesterday - "I was supposed to come out with Bill Haley, but the money people wouldn't bring me" - he's showing few signs of slowing down.
Still dressed in head to toe leathers, the sprightly 67-year old created of classic rock tunes such as RAWHIDE, RUMBLE, JACK THE RIPPER and an early version of the Batman theme bellows: "I'm coin' great. Ah'm looking' at sunshine - I love Australia."
Although they were instrumentals, both RUMBLE - an aural stimulation of a bar brawl - and JACK THE RIPPER were banned by American radio stations when they were released.
"They connected the RUMBLE sound with the gang fights, which was all you would read about in the newspapers in 1958'" Wray said. "It's crazy 'cause I'm not a rough and tumble guy."
He pauses, "Well, I act like a maniac when I play my guitar, but I'm just a nice guy off stage."
Wray has influenced just about everyone who has played electric guitar. Pete Townsend said The Who would not have existed without him. Pal McCartney had a copy of RUMBLE taped to his first record player, and Bob Dylan became a devoted fan after paying $2 to see him in 1958.
Wray even recalls the Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious turning up at a concert at London's Music Machine. "He was screamin' "Play Rumble, Link, play Rumble!"
A living legend then? "Well, I just feel like any old f--k playing rock and roll," he says cheerfully. "I played for two hours last night and I'm gonna keep goin' until God calls me up."
Despite his wild man image, Wray, who is part North American Indian, describes himself as "very spiritual."
"I didn't try to get into that hippie scene," he said of his low profile during the late 1960's and 1970's. "They'd all be stoned on LSD and I'm very spiritual and never messed with no kinda drugs."
Recently, Wray's son asked him if God loved rock and roll. I said, "hell, of course he does. He gave me RUMBLE and JACK THE RIPPER."
Link Wray plays at Sydney's Metro tonight, before shows in Melbourne, Adelaide and Newcastle.
Rumble On - 1993
LINK WRYA IS THE MAN WHO INVENTED DISTORTION BY SAWING A HOLE IN HIS SPEAKERS WAY BACK IN THE EARLY FIFTIES. HIS WILD PRIMAL GUITAR CLASSICS INFLUENCED EVERYONE FROM DYLAN, THE WHO AND HENDRIX TO THE FALL, THE CRAMPS AND GALLON DRUNK. CATHI UNSWORTH SWAPS TALES WITH THE MAN. PHOTO BY STEVE GULLICK.
FROM MELODY MAKER - JULY 10, 1993
The slight, lively-looking man sitting before me, wearing a black leather jacket and shoulder length raven hair, gives little indication of being 64 years old. He punctuates his conversation with wild cackles and an undimmed glee as he recalls his half century of vital services to rock 'n' roll.
Yet Link Wray will be the first to admit that he's barely scraped a living from rock 'n' roll.
Despite the worldwide success of his first hit, "Rumble", in 1958, he suffered a major falling-out with his record company, who refused to release the country material Link and the Ray Men were intending to follow it up with.
He signed to Epic in 1959, and despite chalking up more seminal notches with "Rawhide" and "Comanche", he walked out on the company in 1960 to form his own label, Vermillion. (actually Milt Grant and Vernon Wray's label - RUMBLE RECORDS came later)
With little cash to spare, Link set about achieving the effects it now takes a full stack of FX to create - recording "Jack The Ripper" on a hotel staircase to achieve the right echo. using the floor as a bass drum and a tin full of nails as cymbals.
He remember how the recordings made at his Shack Three Tracks had the noise of distant bullfrogs chirping away on them!
"Yeah, how I can just walk into a record shop and buy a fuzzbox, but when I was doing rock 'n' roll there was none of that. So I had to create my own distortion, my own fuzzbox, right? I couldn't buy it 'cos it wasn't there! And I couldn't sing (Link lost one lung in the Korean War and was told by doctors that he would never sing or play guitar again) so I just concentrated on my guitar."
Link, who is half Shawnee Indian, was first taught to play the guitar by a black blues man called Hambone, when he was eight years old. The emotional impact his music has stems from these beginnings.
"I was brought up on the blues, the painful music," he recalls.
"When I was growing up, when I was 10 years old, I see a guy slashing his wife to pieces against a wall, my mother drags me into the house, puts blankets against my windows and says keep quiet 'cos the police are gonna be here. See, I came from that sorta life." "When that old blues guy played his guitar I was like, "Wow! This is it!". And I got into it 'cos I was never gonna be educated."
Along his path, he got to see sides of the Fifties rock 'n' roll boom that are often forgotten in nostalgic looks back.
"Elvis was the big band in rock 'n' roll, he opened the door for everybody. 'Cos it was a racist time then. I used to travel with a lot of these acts, doin' rock 'n' roll shows, and these black guys would be so tired, yet the couldn't go into a hotel, they couldn't even go into a restaurant. And I wouldn't eat in a restaurant, 'cos they couldn't get in."
"So I had to order sandwiches and we'd go back in the car and eat them. The restaurants would let me in, they'd just look at me as a stupid-looking white guy. This went on right until the Martin Luther King thing."
And, if nowadays stage-diving is dangerous enough for us to have a debate about, consider a typical Link gig in Washington, DC 30 years ago.
"I used to play a knifer club in DC," he smiles, "and one time I came in and the bouncer was standing on the door with a .45, and he stuck it in my stomach and said 'Are you scared, Link?' and I said 'Shoot, no, I've been dead already, shoot me motherfucker, shoot!' and he went 'Ha, Ha, Ha!' It was good!"
"And some guy came in shouting 'Link Wray thinks he's Elvis!', and when I took an intermission he was lyin' out in the gutter where the gangsmen had kicked the shit outta him 'cos he said that about me! Ha ha!"
"Different gangs used to come in, and when I was playing they would be knifing each other - 'Hey Link! Play "Run Chicken Run" while I knife this guy!' I even got shot at outside the club once, 'cos they thought I was this gangsman called Bunny Staples."
"But," he shrugs philosophically, "that's the way it is in America."
Having survived all this and more, Link ahs just put out his first LP for Creation Records, "Indian Child." He's still thrilled by the continuing intrigue his music holds for each new generation.
"I don't mind that it's been a bumpy road," he says. "If it gets too smooth, you get fat and sassy and lose your soul. It takes all the pain to keep it going. I just believe in my music, and getting on with life."
Rock Guitar Never Sounded The Same - 1993FROM RECORD COLLECTOR MAGAZINE - 1993
ROCK AND ROLL GUITAR PLAYING NEVER SOUNDED THE SAME AFTER LINK WRAY'S RUMBLE. MARK PAYTRESS SHAKES THAT HAND, AND REPORTS ON WRAY'S IMPRESSIVE RETURN TO FORM.
Rock'n'roll's chief weapon was, and probably remains, the electric guitar. Chuck Berry provided its signature tune, Scotty Moore took a few classic potshots, Cocran added showmanship, and Duane Eddy introducted sophistication. Link Wray, meanwhile, used his six strings to encapsulate rock's two fingered salute to the rest of the world. Dangerously infuential,he's something of a Velvet Underground of the instrumental world.
Link Wray is 64 this year. And he's back with a new album, "Indian Child", his first proper studio recording since the late 70's. It's on Creation Records, the label that introduced the world to the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and a whole host of top indie acts - probably his most apporpriate home since he stopped releasing his own records in the late 60's. John Peel played his classic "Rumble" insturmental at a Wiija Records concert recently and caused a right old stir amongst the young audience.
"I never had no place, man," Wray insists. Anyone from Pete Townshend to your kid cousin who insists on setting the amplifier on the MAX setting may disagree: it's tempting to think of Wray as the Godfather of Grunge: "OK, if you say so." Throughout this interview, Wrya shows an imperviousness to rock's tendency to measure itself in terms of records released; to catetorize, to limit. If the Beatles and the vocal group bandwagon knocked insturmentalists sideways back in 1964, Link insists it never bothered him. The history books state that he "retired" in 1965.
"I just resorted back to small labels, run by my brothers, and carried on playing universities," he says. History also recalls that Wray made a comeback in 1971 when Polydor signed him for a one-off deal, although as Ace's "Growling Guitar" reissue revealed a few yers back, the man continued to record in his own converted chicken-shack during the late 60's, committing some of the most fiery electric guitar excursions ever heard onto tape. One track, "Climbing a High Wall", sits alongside Lou Reed's work on "I Heard Her Call My Name" as a prime excercise in uncontrolled guitar abandon.
Surely, one is compelled to ask, he'd been listening to power trios like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream? "No, I hadn't," he says, without a whiff of dishonesty in his warm Southern drawl. "My brother Ray bought that wah-wah pedal for me. It was OK; it was just something different. I didn't keep it very long. I got bored with it and threw it away."
That one-take monster of a recording was, to Link's mind, a way of trying a ne wpiece of equipment out. He never expected it to appear on disc; neigher, as it turns out, did he expect "Rumble", or for that matter, his latest album, to create much of an impresson. Wray, somewhat unique in the rock world, is a man blissfully unaware of his duties as a public figure. He's live in Denmark for the past decade or so, only got to hear about Nirvana recently when a journalist mentioned that one of that band's riffs was remarkably similar to hiw own, and has an apporach to his "career" that would send Chaos Theory experts into apoplexy.
Unlike some fo the perfunctory recording he released through Ace during the 80's, I suggested that "Indian Child" sounds as if the guitar growler had been fired by an urgent desire to leave his indelivle mark again. "No, not really," he shrugs, his long black hair a throwback to his Shawnee Indian origins. "I love my wife Olive and she encouraged me. She can think commerically, while I never care about commericalism."
"Even when 'Rumble' was out, my btothers used to tell me to be like the rest of the stars. I thought, 'Fuck this shit, man, I just wanna be me. The kids live the music, they don't give a shit about me.' 'Oh, that's not ture, Link. They care about what you look like. You gotta have a certain image.' I said, 'Fuck the image man.'"
Leather-jacketed and with a full head of hair, there's an endearing naturalism to Link Wray's current wizened, outlaw demeanor. Rumours of his past 'madness' or 'intransigence' prove unfounded, though his nonchalance towards the industry, coupled with a matter-of-fact attitude towards his own work, is genuine. In a medium that excels at translating rebellion into dollars, it's unsurpriding that such a disposition could be classed as mand. Link si restless, unpredictable, genial and often animated (several times he's up off his chair, illustraing how split-level doors work, or how Presely socked-it-to-'em) but not mad.
"I would have been happy with Ace Records," insists Wray, before circumstances alerted him to Sony Denmark, A&R man Kim Hyttel. "I did a session in Denmark with an underground group called Black Sun," Link says, "which Kim produced. They were fans of mine and asked if I'd come and do some sessions with them. This was back in '89. I did six guitar tracks, and during a lunch break, Kim asked me if I wanted to be on CBS Records. I didn't get a chance to answer him: Olive just said 'Yes!' She wants to see me in the charts again, you know."
Far from any burning artistic desire to return to seious studio activity, Link's "Indian Child" album, a well rounded resurrection on a par with Roy Orbision's late-80's revival, was actually kciked into action by his wife's enthusiasm. This is entirely fitting with Link's reluctance to decorate himself with the badge marked 'Inspired Genuis', thought such circumstances almost demand that tag. TWray has no creative urge to satisty in order to make the album, but he turns in something hugely impressive nevertheless.
His trong sense of personal himility makes more sense when we start talking about the antecedents for Wray's deranged playing:
What is it about your guitar sound - and that's what people remember most - which still connects all these years later?
I don't know. It's God zapping me here (points to head), y'know.
But what gave you that specific sound?
Are you sure?
Yeah, I'm positive. When "Rumble" came out, I just got out of the death house. I just had a lung out; I was dying, coughing up blood. The doctor cut my lung out, sewed me back up, and said that I'll never play music again. He told me, "You'll just have to settle with God for the rest of your life." I said, "Go fuck yourself, man. My God'll tell me if I can't play music no more." I came right out and made 'Rumble.'
But the sound, Link...
It came from God. Zap.
Anyone who's heard the strident, ear trembling chords of Link's classic "Rumble", and its lapse into fretboard cacophony midway through the song will know we're not talking "When A Child Is Born" or even "Jesus Christ Superstar" here. "I'm very spiritual," he says. "I'm a Shawnee Indian, right. Not organised religion, church-wise. I mean, Jesus was really an outcast in his own time, y'know."
Link's Jesus, his muse, is aeons away from the popular perception - that of the kidly, venerable social worker. Which is why Wrya's God-given guitar sound doesn't quite tally with smartly-dressed Sunday mornings.
"If they make harmonium music, then that's their way of doing it," smiles Wray. "I have my own way of doing it. I dont' know how thy got God zapping into them. I know how God zapped into Elvis. He was on the Louisiana Hayride and all these country musicians started running around him. And then all the kids started coming."
Bullshot Review - 1980
ROLLING STONE SEPTEMBER 9, 1980
The first I knew of Link Wray was in 1971 when I read in ROLLING STONE that Peter Townsend though Wray was the greatest thing since sex (or something) because of two singles he'd released in the Fifties, "Rumble" and "Rawhide".
At the time, I considered it a moral obligation to buy a record a month by an artist I'd never heard on the radio, so I ran right out and grabbed his Polydor album, LINK WRAY. Recorded in a chicken shack on a three-track machine, the LP was interestingly eccentric country rock, but I sure didn't hear what knocked out Townsend. The next time I was aware of Wray, he was backing Robert Gordon on two albums that didn't kill me either.
I'd just about given up on the guy when I put BULLSHOT on my turntable. Behold! Loud, deceptively simple, snarling guitar! Rock and roll capable of stirring my hormones when I can't wake up on the morning!
The resurrected Wray does a version of "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" that can make you forget Bob Dylan's ever existed. He's even considerate enough to include a remake of "Rawhide", so we can hear what Townsend heard. Backed by a murderous band that wasn't recorded in a chicken shack, Link Wray cooks with gas on the other cuts too. I just wish he'd released BULLSHOT in 1971 when I was peeling potatoes to pay for my records.
Rockabilly Light on Blackout City - 1978ROBERT GORDON SHINES SOME ROCKABILLY LIGHT ON BLACKOUT CITY
JOE SASFY, UNICORN TIMES, SEPTEMBER 1977. FROM THE WASHINGTON AREA UNICORN TIMES. THIS ARTICLE COVERED ROBERT AND LINK AT CBGB'S. ONLY THE LINK PARAGRAPHS ARE BELOW.
...What Gordon has done best on this album (Robert Gordon with Link Wray) is team up with classic crunch guitarist, Link Wray, to forge a grand tour of the rockin', boppin', and cryin' of 50s Southern rock. The union with Link Wray (reportedly consummated in rockabilly heaven with Gene Vincent reciting the requisite vows of eternal boppin') was a brilliant stroke of musical casting by producer Richard Gottehrer and, interestingly enough, represents a return home for Gordon.
...It was at Glen Echo Park in 1961 that he saw Link's cutting guitar style.
...When Robert told producer Gottehrer about Link, Gottehrer brought him in from San Francisco. Link gave Robert a listen and said, "hey man, that's early Elvis." The album took about four days to record.
...Wray is particularly effective on "Flyin' Saucers Rock and Roll" where he rips an outrageous and violent lead right out of the Scotty Moore guitar primer.
...The album holds large promise for Gordon's future and for his continuing collaboration with Link Wray (Wray's return is as welcome as Gordon's debut.)
Rumbling Into Town - 1978RUMBLING INTO TOWN - A LINK WITH A PAST
FROM THE SEPTEMBER 1978 ISSUE OF DC ROCK PAPER THE UNICORN TIMES
LINK WRAY, seminal 50s guitarist and longtime Maryland resident, will return to the Washington area to play two nights at the PsycheDelly (was located in Bethesda, MD and is long since closed). Wray, best known for his instrumental hit "Rumble," developed a heavy-tones guitar style that drew on the country and blues styles he grew up with while foreshadowing the heavy metal sounds of the Sixties.
Recently, he as been appearing in New York City with Robert Gordon an excellent 50s vocal stylist whose star is in ascendance. Wray will appear for two shows (8:30 and 11 pm) on the 2nd and 3rd with his own band. Reservations are encouraged. (654-6611). The PsycheDelly is located at 4846 Cordell Avenue in Bethesda.
Rumbling Man - 1978RUMBLING MAN
DAVID LAWSON MEETS THE MAN WHO INSPIRED PETE TOWNSEND AND JOHN LENNON. FROM INTERNATIONAL MUSICIAN AND RECORDING WORLD - APRIL 1978
One of the most fascinating aspects of the music business if the way in which stars can be made overnight and legends abound. In 1958 an American guitar picker went into a studio and cut an instrumental which elevated him to near legendary status - the record was "Rumble", the guitarist Link Wray.
The sound, built around a heavy riff, was raw and menacing, it sold one and a half million copies and inspired thousands of young guitarists including Pete Townshend and John Lennon.
Now, twenty years later on, after a checquered career Link is back on the road and sharing the limelight with American rock and roll singer Robert Gordon.
Despite his many years in the business, Link is still keen to talk about his early days when he first picked up a guitar. "I've been playing guitar since I was about eight years old, I was taught by an old black man who showed me how to play bottleneck."
"I progressed from playing blues to jazz, I played jazz with a five-piece jazz band and with a forty-piece, that was up until I was about 14 or 15 years old, around North Carolina and Virginia. Then I started playing country and me and my brothers played Wild West shows, clubs, live radio shows before going into the Army to do my service."
"After coming out of the Army I moved to Washington and met a DJ named Milt Grant and started doing record hops with him. These were for four or five thousand kids, and, around this time, Presley was doing his thing. He was very big in the charts along with Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, so I went into the studio and made a record called 'Rumble'."
Link started out with an old acoustic guitar and first played an amplified instrument when he was a teenager playing in the jazz bands. This was an acoustic guitar with a pick up stuck inside it which he played until 1949 when he bought his first Gibson.
"I've had several different types of guitars, I've had the Gibson the I got Gibson to make me a guitar. I drew my hand on a piece of paper and sent it to the Gibson people to make, but someone stole it."
"I played Supro guitars, the very first Danelectro guitar and also had the very first white Firebird, and a Fender Jaguar but that also got stolen. My main guitars are Gibson, I play a 1959 Les Paul SG Gibson and that is my favorite."
His first influences were the old Negro blues players but when he took up the electric instrument he began listening to Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Tal Farlowe and many of the early jazz giants.
Link was also experimenting with the various types of early amplifiers, Standell and Gibson were popular at this time, although he preferred an old Premier. He explained that these early amps were only 35 to 40 watts maximum, so he used to hook up three or four of them together to get the kind of sound he wanted, although there were some modifications!
Link said: "The Premiere amplifier I had, had two tweeters and a big 15 inch speaker in the bottom, it was also one of the first amps with vibrato. I punched pencil holes in the tweeter and then put a microphone on that one, as well as a microphone on the other speaker. This meant I got a clear sound on one, and a fuzzy sound on the other. The set up had a lot of highs and lows, so I could get any sound I wanted out of it."
The origin of 'Rumble' and its subsequent recording history is in itself a piece of rock and roll history. Link said: "During the Korean War I got a lung taken out, which meant I couldn't do any singing."
"I was doing all these record hops for the kids with my brother doing most of the singing. One night in Fredericksburg Virginia, a few of the kids got together and decided to do a little fighting."
"I started out playing these notes as a sort of a joke, but the kids came up to me afterwards and said, 'Hey I like that sound, play it again'."
"So I started playing and developing it until it started to sound pretty good. The kids started asking for it because they liked it, so I decided to go into the studio and record it."
"Actually, my brother was recording for Cameo Records at the time and so at the end of one of his sessions I just went in and cut two songs, "The Rumble" and a flip side "The Swag" - it cost just 57 dollars."
"Nowadays in the studios they try to give it the limiters and all that bullshit, but with 'Rumble' we just turned up the volume until everything was on red and did it on one track in just three takes."
'Rumble' stayed in the American charts for 14 weeks and Link had considerable success with a number of follow ups in the late Fifties / early Sixties. In fact he has an interesting tale about his last big hit 'Jack the Ripper'. It came out at the same time as the first release of the Beatles 'She Loves You' which sold a mere 800 copies compared to the near million-selling 'Jack the Ripper.'
However, the Beatles were still to make their first public appearance in the USA, and when they eventually did, all their records, including a re-released 'She Loves You' were massive hits.
With the music scene changing, and the British Invasion well and truly underway, Link decided to take a break from the business and in 1965 went to work on the family farm in Maryland.
Although no longer touring, Link nevertheless maintained an interest in recording and built himself a small three-track studio at the farm which he and his brothers used frequently.
He had played with his brothers Doug and Vernon from the early days and in fact collaborated with Vernon to produce a hit by Bunker Hill called 'Hide and Go Seek' which became a much sought after soul record in the Sixties in Britain.
Link said of these recordings: "We have had our own studio since the days of 'Rumble' and 'Rawhide' moving all round the Washington area. Then we bought the farm in Maryland and rigged up a studio in the basement."
"The recordings were like a lot of bootlegs you hear now things like
" Good Rockin' Tonight " , (an album released in 1973) a lot of that stuff was cut in the basement."
"However, the music was disturbing my brother's wife so we moved all the stuff out of the basement into a shack at the back of the house. It used to be a chicken coop, so we cleaned it out and made it a studio."
"We had a three-track Ampex in there and we used to just cut right off the head of the thing, we didn't go through no mixing board, limiters, Dolbies, none of that stuff."
"In fact on one of the album tracks we recorded you can hear the frogs right in the middle of the song. While the music is going on you can hear the frogs croaking, the dogs howling and everything else, it was hilarious."
On many of these sessions, Link was using a home made guitar. "I bought the body of it in Nashville, and this kid in Tucson put the neck on it, I used the keys off my Firebird and it had homemade pickups on it with a booster, once again made by this kid."
Link first teamed up with Robert Gordon a couple of years ago. "His producer / manager called me in San Francisco and asked me if I wanted to get involved with Robert. I came and heard him sing, and I thought he sounded like the early Elvis. I'm from the South and that kind of stuff is my roots and my background, so I thought 'swell'."
"I write a lot of songs and Robert used three of mine on his first album. The kind of songs I write depend on where I am at the time, for my country songs I used to go to Nashville for the DJ's conventions once a year. While I'm down there I'll get a buzz and start writing country songs, but usually I'll go out into the wild blue yonder and write anything."
He has tremendous respect for modern guitarists and tries to keep up to date with what is happening on the music scene. "I listen to them all, Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, they are all great guitarists. I think they all have their own style and I respect each one of them just like back in the old days when I liked Les Paul for his style, and Chet Atkins for his. Each one of them had their own feel and I could really get into it."
Although Link doesn't use any effects apart from vibrato he say's he is aware of what is going on in the music business and is constantly learning.
"I am always learning, I think when you get too old to learn you might as well quit, but I believe you are never too old to learn."
Rock and Roll Continuum - 1978FROM GIG MAGAZINE - JULY 1977
ROBERT GORDON AND LINK WRAY TEAM UP
Link Wray has been around. He's been playing guitar professionally since the late forties and has seen all the greats of rock and roll come and go. His brash, angry guitar style, best known via his 1958 instrumental hit "Rumble," profoundly influenced many young guitarists during the sixties - on both sides of the Atlantic. To this day, he remains Pete Townsend's favorite musician. When he talks about rock 'n roll, he knows whereof he speaks.
Robert Gordon wasn't even born when Wray started playing professionally, but when producer Richard Gotteher told Wray he found a kid who could sing link Vincent, Wray decided it was worth a trip from San Francisco to New York to hear him out. He liked what he heard. Liked it so much, in fact, that he joined Gordon's backing band and lent his legendary guitar prowess to the recording of Gordon's newly released debut LP, ROBERT GORDON WITH LINK WRAY.
Gordon, whose only prior recording experience was on last year's LIVE AT CBGB'S anthology as lead singer with Tuff Darts (a group he now feels was wrong for him and "too cynical"), has drastically altered his musical direction since going solo. His repertoire now consists of music inspired by the rock 'n roll of the fifties - Elvis, Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins, more obscure rockabilly artists and Wray himself - sung in a powerful voice which ranges effortlessly from an Elvis-like bellow to a falsetto.
"I genuinely love this kind of music," says Gordon, when asked if he fears being typed as an "oldies" act. "Gene Vincent is my idol and there just aren't any new people I can relate to vocally. Sure, there's a danger of being called that, but once people realize that I'm sincere, that I'm completely serious about what I'm doing, they'll start appreciating the music because it's great music."
Out of date? Or maybe Gordon's just reflecting the times. Wray thinks so, "I've been to see all the New York bands," he says, "and what they're doing seems to me like what the Beatles were doing fifteen years ago, taking the music of the past and updating it with their own feel and emotions. A few days ago I went to see the Ramones and really enjoyed them. I thought, "Hey, they're playing "The Rumble" with words.
Link Up - 1975LINK UP - Geoff Brown
At the weekend, after seven days in London, Link Wray headed back home for California. He'd been in Britain talking with Virgin Records, who're interested in signing the guitarist - singer whose name is a cornerstone in rock's own folk history.
Link Wray and RUMBLE. He's never likely to break free of the immediate association of name and title and it probably doesn't bother him too much. Nothing else seems to overly worry this satisfied man though you sense he is embarrassed by the steady stream of sixties rock heroes who admit a debt to him.
By now, Link is back in his home, on a trailer park 50 miles outside San Francisco with his 27 year old wife (his third) and two children. It'll be three anytime. He has five other kids from his first two marriages.
He hands a picture arose the restaurant table in his London hotel. It's a shot of his wife and kids outside their trailer. He nods at the photo. "That's my real manager right there."
He isn't joking. "She wants me to play music. I told her once, I was just kidding - I told her I was thinking of quittin' and gettin' a job." She says "You do an' I'll leave your ass. 'Cos she knows that's what I wanna be. She's behind me the whole way."
ink grew up in North Carolina. His family were poor - "we didn't have electric lights until I was 13." He began playing guitar when he was eight, picking up licks from a circus minstrel named Hambone. He played churches with his family. (Ma Wray preached), quit school at 16 and played in bands of all sorts. One he talks about was 40-pieces big, and played a milky style of jazz.
After the Forces ("...didn't play. I was in medics. Didn't have a chance to.")he started in at music again. His brothers, Doug and Vernon were in bands too and had combos of their own from time to time. They played mostly in Norfolk Virginia, moved to Washington DC until Link was laid low with tuberculosis, a legacy from the Services.
As fit again as he was every likely to be, Wray astounded doctors by playing guitar and singing (they reckoned he'd never pick again) until he started doing recording sessions, ultimately making his way on to wax under his own name after zonking the kids at a Milt Grant Record d Hoop in Fredericksburg, Virginia. "We gave the record player a rest," says Link.
The result of a spontaneous riff was RUMBLE and Cadence, the label run by Archie Bleyer, was finally persuaded to go with the records. It was Wray's first hit and also the first of his many run ins with record companies. There is no love lost between Wray and the executive.
Sporadic hits followed. RAWHIDE, JACK THE RIPPER, but between the moodily chunky of earthy rock came (unknown) discs, most being the result of a manipulating record label boss and an unsympathetic producer. Wray gave up recording and was seduced back into the studio by Steve Verocca, cut a few albums with Polydor, (the last LINK WRAY RUMBLE was a West Coast smash in America but stiffed o the East Coast).
Over the years he continued to play live and thinks it's the life blood of rock generally and specifically of his music. At present, he gigs with ex Copperhead drummer Dave Weber, who has been with Wray for a year, and bassist Les Lizama, a Wray sideman for six months.
He's due to play support to Joe Walsh on his return to the States. Meantime he's enjoyed a paid holiday, broken up by a few business meetings with Branson's company.
"Damn right. They paid my way over here, set me up here," he grins. Virgin Records, a year or so back, put out a Wray album called BEANS AND FATBACK. Link wasn't too pleased about that.
"That was a bootleg. Scrap tapes. Bad stuff. Time Magazine came down in 1971 when I did the Shack thing and Bill Bender of Time Magazine came down to do an article on The Shack (a primitive three track chicken coop of a studio). Someone suggested they turn on the tape "as a joke." The session was caught and afterwards his producer sold the tapes to Virgin.
"I'm a little older and a little wiser now. I'll never have another record producer, man."
"I just got tired of the bullshit from record companies so I put out my own label," says Wray, talking about the years he avoided "the fat record company executives."
"I put out my own albums, distributed them to record shops and just worked locally."
When he got back into recording for larger concerns, Wray says he was assured by "folks" that it had all changed at the top.
"Y' know, stock room boys were now presidents, you had FM radio who really believe in music, they're fans not deejays, longhairs running things. I thought "hey' maybe it's true".
"It's like a fighter, being a musician. It don't take much to pull you back in."
On stage Wray likes the simple trio. "If you're goinna play rock and roll music per se, then a trio is good for it. Mine's basic raunchy rock and roll music. That's it."
And that, partly, is why he's not going to have producers messing around with his music anymore. "Cos nobody understands my music the way I do, right? RUMBLE I produced myself and that was the biggest hit I had. RAWHIDE' I did myself and JACK THE ROPPER, ACE OF SPADES...the only flop things I did mostly when my producer told me how to do 'em."
Wray, as a fiery rock musician, had lasted the course well. A lot practically, all in fact, of his contemporaries gave up the struggle long ago. "I don't consider my music, my career, as how much money I make, 'cos I starved a long time. I play music because I love music. It's my life, whether I make money with it or whether I don't make money with it."
Link's neolithic rock is based on the bare bones of music even to the extent of eschewing modern studios with 32 tracks offered for endless embellishment.
"I figure on using what you have to use. I use as least tracks as I can. If I'm working on a 16 track and if I'm only gonna use five tracks, what do I need it all for?"
He pauses and snorts a laugh. "But three tracks is hard." (which he did on the Shack album. "I did a lotta overdubbing which means a lotta revolution and when you do a lot of revolution you get a lot of hiss, a lotta things that shouldn't be there. I mean let's face it if you had another track in there in that thing you'd be stupid not to use it, right?"
"But eight tracks is probably all I'd ever use. I use three pieces, I sing and I'd probably overdub another guitar. Sure wouldn't need 16 tracks for that."
Nevertheless, if he signs with Virgin and comes to Britain to record, as would seem likely, he has eyes for Trident Studios because records cut there by The Who, Free and Elton John are in his collection and impress him.
Wray, cited as an early influence on today's rock Goliaths (Townshend, Dylan and Lennon), listened in his formative years to hank Williams, George Barnes, Les Paul, Chet Atkins "but there was no idols back in my days, when I was growing you. You had real Top 40, Bing Crosby, and you had people like Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams and you had race music." He listened to that a lot, along with country and then jazz "people like Johnny Smith, Tal Farlowe, Wes Montgomery."
He learned any of his early guitar moves by watching piano players. "I got a lotta my licks with this hand (strums and imaginary guitar with his right hand) from them.
"One time. like the first band I ever played with, I paid 'em ten dollars to let me play. It was a group in Virginia and all these ideas I had in my head I wanted to play 'em with somebody else."
Only one has to look at Wray's face to know there's indian blood in his ancestry. His grandmother on his ma's side was a Shawnee and the topicality of Indian Benefit Concert (the Bill Graham, Neil Young, Bob Dylan epic being the most recent stellar occasion) led to the subject.
"I wish I could do something to help but...City Hall, man, how you gonna fight City Hall? They tried at Wounded Knee and lost, right?"
Link Wray likens challenging to city Hall to living with a corporate record company and he's faced it with the quitet resilience of a sage American Indian. Now, however, he's ready to take up the war lance again. Watch out for your scalps.
Missing Link Found - 1975MISSING LINK FOUND! Todd Tolces
BELMONT CALIFORNIA - Link Wray sat back on the plush couch of his ultra suburban home and mused over a strange incident that took place many years ago. He was doing a show back East with Ronnie Dove (when he was producing) and famed American Actor Lee Marvin. At one point in the set Link was tearing off a breakneck "chicken" riff on his guitar and for no apparent reason, Marvin came running up on stage screaming "gimme that guitar, gimme that guitar."
Link, in the middle of a pretty heavy number himself, and rather bewildered in the face of the wild-eyed Marvin, reluctantly handed over his guitar. After some five or ten minutes of what looked like a very thorough guitar inspection - in front of the audience mind you - Lee Marvin looked from the guitar and irrefutably charged, "Boy, ain't no chicken in here!"
At 45, Link Wray has unquestionably faced, weathered and conquered more bizarre trips in the music industry than perhaps anyone. He's seen it all. And some of this has stuck permanently.
One day at the New York Record Plant, Link walked in to do some sessions and bumped into The Who, who, unbeknownst to him, pretty much considered him their spiritual godfather. So it was quite a shock to see Pete Townshend practically fall to his knees in reverence while Keith Moon carried Link around the studio screaming, "that's him, that's him! This is the guy, RUMBLE, RUMBLE!!"
RUMBLE was the biggest hit of 1958. It sold more than 4,000,000 copies and received one of the three awards BMI gave out that year to outstanding artists. The other two went to Elvis. Still, perhaps the biggest award was knowing that Elvis wasn't invincible. Link received that coveted award for knowing that his record bounced Elvis off the charts. For $59, which was the recording cost. It was a small price to pay.
"Elvis used to be a great lead guitarist," Link attested. "We did a lot of shows together back in the old days. I fact, if Colonel Parker didn't grab ahold of him when he did, Elvis would probably still be wearing black leather and shades, just like me!"
"He shook the world, man. He was so powerful, but I guess I knew him pretty well. He's just a nice ol' country boy like me. Nice RICH country boy."
Link's next hit was RAWHIDE. It wasn't as big as RUMBLE, but easily as much fun. JACK THE RIPPER followed third down the line in '63 on the Swan label. At this point, we find Lord Sutch drooling at the seams.
Frustrated with the music scene, shams, rip offs and the basic ugliness of musical bureaucracy Link "quit the biz" after JACK THE RIPPER was released. He didn't record again for another eight years. In the meantime he gigged solidly throughout the mid Atlantic states in Maryland, and in Washington DC.
While he was gigging through DC, Link was living on his brother's farm in Accokeek, Maryland. It was a neat little place with chickens running around and Link tinkering with super street machines in his spare time. A small studio had been set up on the farm known as THE SHACK and Link's first Polydor album, finally released in 1971, was recorded entirely in it's confines. It took him all of one hour to record the entire LP.
It is safe to say that Link spent a bit more time on is subsequent two LPs from Polydor. The most recent one called LINK WRAY RUMBLE features an updated and overwhelmingly powerful version of RUMBLE as well at a battery of other Link Wray greats including SHE'S THAT KIND OF WOMAN, which brought the entire King's Castle down in Lake Tahoe a few weeks ago. The new album features San Frnacisco's best session men; Rick Steiger on drums, Mark Jordan on piano, Tom Rudley on bass, the Tower of Power horns, the percussion section from Azteca, Dorothy Morrison from Van Morrison's old Caledonia Should Express, doing backup voices and Boz Scaggs on 2nd lead guitar and backup voices.
For those who can't remember as far back as 1958, an interesting faces of Link Wray would be the acknowledgements he has received, either verbal or musical, for his contribution to music in general. For instance the intro to the Beatle's classic I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND is merely the identical intro to RUMBLE, though much quicker.
And then, the Bob Dylan incident.
"Bob came to see me at the Gaslight in New York not too long ago," Link cracked a familiar ear to ear grin and re-adjusted his pillows, "and he said to me, 'Link I was sitting' in the front row when you and Buddy Holly were at Duluth Minnesota and you're as great now as you were then.'
And I said shit man, you're a giant compared to me. Why, I'm just a pebble on the beach compared to you. He said 'don't say that Link, why you're a giant like me."
The Who have openly given praise to Link time and time again. Pete Townshend credits Link with the birth of electrical feedback guitar playing. The sustained feedback chord clusters, as much of The Who's sound as anything, has been credited to Link, that "chicken" style of guitar playing which Lee Marvin found so confusion. Pete even penned the liner notes of Link's recent RUMBLE album with nothing but the highest praise.
"I really love Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and The Stones. An' I don't care if they say I'm responsible for that tune or not. Just knowing that they did make it makes me feel real good. Of course Pete Townshend and John Lennon always gave me credit for what I did, Pete just took some of my sounds actually and went wit his own style. He took that heavy breathing on the string and the violent sound and just wrote his tunes around it. He made it so much greater that what I've ever done with it. I can't help but feel proud. It's like havin' a baby, man!"
Link's current touring band consists of Link on guitar, Les Lizama on bass and David Weber (formerly with John Cipollina's Copperhead) on drums.
"Music is like food because there's all different kinds. You get ham or beef, meat and potatoes, salad, dessert and lots more. But music is an art too, and ti's all beautiful, each in its own way."
Link Wray Opened Up The Guitar - 1975LINK WRAY OPENED UP THE GUITAR TO DISTORTION, AND PETE TOWNSEND LISTENED
BY FRANK SIMPSON, HIT PARADER MAGAZINE, 1971
Rock'n'roll confrontation, 1959: Link Wray with his hit "Rawhide," a rough little instrumental that was a million seller for Epic Records in New York to record his follow up, meeting with Mitch Miller, who was then THE record producer, famous for getting Tony Bennett to sing Hank Williams' songs and putting French horns behind Guy Mitchell and making all that pre rock money.
Lincoln Wray had produced his own record, just as he did his first million seller (now, of course, golden oldie) "Rumble" for Archie Bleyer's Cadence label.
But Mitch Miller had his ideas about Link Wray. One suggestion was for Link to do "Claire de Lune" with 42 musicians - a whole symphony orchestra and all of those "fog horns" which Link's mild description of the Mitch Miller French horn musical trademark.
And then he saw a musician reading, actually reading a magazine while playing. Link decided that the studio was not for him and he'd better get back to North Carolina (actually Maryland ) After all, it had happened before - people were always trying to mess with him in the studios, trying to impose their ideas on his simple rock 'n' roll.
Simple recording ideas - another Link Wray hit was "Jack the Ripper" which was put together in a house-cum-studio with some important bits taped in the toilet.
Link didn't feel at home in elegant studios - "That session with Mitch Miller," he recalls. "Took me near half an hour to find my guitar."
Link Wray is back recording and has his first album in 12 years out on Polydor, "Link Wray." He recorded it himself in his own studio, "Wray's Shack Three Track," which gives you some idea of Link's ideas about putting music down.
Three tracks, says Link, is sufficient to get your music down. "You get these studios with 16 tracks and 24 tracks and you get drunk with power. You start adding more and more to what you have and in the end it's becoming mechanical music, head music, all planned out."
"The feeling comes first. Feeling is the secret not some jumped up sound. I reckon that the days of the 24 track studios are over and there's going to be a return to simplicity."
"Wray's Shack Three Tracks" started when Link's father started building a chicken coop and a porch on the house and then a room on the porch and then another room until it was all connected. So Link's brother Vernon Wray, who is called Ray Vernon, moved his three track recorder into one of the rooms and they were in business. For a while Link didn't have a drum kit installed and says he just had to "stomp real hard" on the floor. "It was no problem because all we wanted was time," says Link.
Link was playing the local bars around the studio in Accokeek Maryland - the family had moved there from Portsmouth Virginia (by way of D.C.) and soon intent to transport everything, via flat bed truck to Tucson, Arizona. His brother Ray was managing the band and recording people like Ronnie Dove in the studio and also doing a little private recording, getting Link together. Soon they had a backlog of around 125 tunes.
Admits Link: "It's different working in the Shack. We just sit down, start the tape and play what we want. If it's good it's good and if it's bad it's bad. But there's no electronics - just the real nitty gritty. Honest music. When I'd be working in the studios in New York it'd be like working in a cathedral."
Link Wray has his place in rock history.
He reckons that he was the first one to open up the guitar to distortion, getting on the record scene just after the twanging Duane Eddy. There is a quote from Pete Townshend, leader of the Who: "If I had never heard "Rumble" I never would have picked up the guitar."
The Who would like to return the compliment by picking up Link Wray and working with him on a tour. Link is all for this because he's had it playing in the bars. "I'm never going to play in a club again, making music for the drunk rednecks who only care about picking someone up." This is one of the reasons for the move out to the desert in Arizona - "getting back to the earth and cleaning our heads out."
Link Wray reckons he utilized a home made wah wah pedal long before it was invented, making it via a rubber hose that went from the speaker to his mouth. They get a fuzz tone - again long before groups like the Yardbirds made it fashionable - he put pincer holes through his poor speakers.
A gravelly sound was obtained by playing really loud and taking the head of his drum and playing the other side.
He also ran into the most peculiar kind of censorship in those days when "Rumble" was banned in several cities as being conducive to all that teenage rioting. It was just the title that offended because "Rumble", like "Jack the Ripper," which also ran into the same kind of trouble, was an instrumental.
Link Wray's Polydor album has him singing however - something, he says, he wanted to get into back in the 1950's. He considers that instrumentals "can't last" which is surprising considering his "Rumble" and "Rawhide" are still prized by students of early rock.
Spoon Bread - 1970
Link Wray has to do things his own way, even if it means secluding himself in an old chicken shack in Accokek (sic), Maryland, to write music. Every time Link had a million-seller, "Rumble" in 1954 and "Rawhide" in 1959, someone in power wanted to tell him what to do, how to sing and how to play. So he ran away to Wray's Shack Three Track, where he and his brothers created "The Sound."
SPOON BREAD - STRAIGHT FROM THE WRAY FAMILY KITCHEN
FROM THE BOOK COOL COOKING, COMPLETE WITH BIOGRAPHICAL ERRORS AS PRINTED IN THE BOOK.
Sometimes it got so noisy in the rickety old shanty they had to put the speakers for Link's guitar outside in the yard in order to hear themselves sing. For a while they had no drums, so they just stomped hard on the floor for the bass drum and rattled a can of nails for the snare.
The sound that emerged from the shack, after 12 years, is in Link and his family's new album and is as unique as the recording studio they used to make it. Link's shack family includes: Billy Hodges, piano, organ; Bobby Howard, mandolin, piano; Doug Wray and Steve Verroca, drums and percussion. Link does most of the playing on dobro, lead guitar, bass and sings most of the vocals.
A family favorite is Spoon Bread - but you don't need a shanty or a strange group of talented musicians to whip up this ticky-tacky favorite.
2 cups boiling water 1 1/4 cups enriched cornmeal 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt 2 tablespoons of butter 2 cups of milk 3 eggs 3 teaspoons of baking powder
Stir the boiling water into the combination of cornmeal, salt and butter. Then slowly stir in the milk. Beat the eggs lightly and stir into the mixture. Add the baking powder to make a spongy, light mix. Pour into a buttered 1 1/2 quart baking dish and bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve with ham and bacon, or sausage for breakfast or dinner. Leftover spoon bread is great reheated and served with syrup.
Brother Can You Spare A Hit? 1959FROM ROCK AND ROLL SONGS MAGAZINE
Most everyone is familiar with the hit song "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" Well, we just replaced the word "dime" with the word "hit", and we find ourselves with a very appropriate title for the Link Wray story.
Of course, the hit we're talking about is that rockin' barnshaker "Raw-Hide" and the brothers that come into the story are Ray Vernon (Link's older brother) who acts as his manager and was also a part of the group The Wraymen, and Doug Wray (Link's younger brother) also wtih The Wraymen and so, from time to time they shout out "Brother Can You Spare a Hit?" and sure enough, they came up with the winners.
Ray scored several recording successes as a single on the Cameo label, and now Link has himself the "Raw-Hide" rocker on Epic. Next thing for sure, we'll be hearing from Doug.
Link and The Wraymen got their big break a little over a year ago when they recorded a tune called "Rumble," which sold well over a million copies. As a result, they were requested to appear on many of the nation's leading T.V. shows, including Dick Clark's American Bandstand and his Saturday Night Show. The Wraymen are also in constant demand for personal appearances at theatres, dances and clubs all across the country.
Now for some personal data about Link, the "Rawhide" rocker. He was born in Dunn North Carolina on May 2, 1933 (May 2, 1929) and moved to Portsmouth Virginia at the age of seven. Link, with brothers Ray and Doug, started wroking dances, parties and civic events while still in their early teens. Uncle Sam interrupted Link's career with a two year stint in the Army, but immediately upon his discharge he headed for the Washington area and made the club circuit while getting the act back into shape.
Recording dates followed, and a new star was born. When asked "Brother Can You Spare a Hit?" of course, the answer was "yes" - and there's lots more where "Raw-Hide" came from.
When he isn't playing, singing or composing, one of Link Wray's favorite pastimes is horseback riding. "A ride thru the country side is very relaxing," says Link.