Link Wray “Switchblade”


A fine effort, but every song is overshadowed by "Switchblade"

A fine effort, but every song is overshadowed by "Switchblade"

Everyone knows “Rumble”, Jimmy Page plays air guitar to it, Pete Townsend has cited it as an early influence, but how many know “Switchblade”, from Link’s 1980 “Bullshot” Lp? This is equally Badass, maybe more so. My friend McShiva and me played it over and over one night while tripping out of our skulls. You don’t need chemical enhancement to appreciate the power Link Wray creates with the most stunning show of restraint imaginable. He implies shredding through the creative use of sound and space. It’s what he plays and what he doesn’t play. It’s all about tension and release.
Restraint and taste, thankfully, go right out the window with his performance on Robert Gordon’s version of Billy Riley’s “Flyin’ Saucer Rock and Roll” as Link tears it up with reckless abandon.

(Bass and Drums are Rob Stoner and Howie Wyeth, who previously anchored Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue-Ed)

Link, right, with Rob Stoner, Robert Gordon, and Howie Wyeth

Link, right, with Rob Stoner, Robert Gordon, and Jet Thompson

And as long as we’re on the subject, omitting “Rumble” would be downright cruel.
(Link Wray-Guitar, Shorty Horton-Bass, Doug Wray-Drums, Vernon Wray-rhythm guitar)


Fred Lincoln “Link” Wray Jr (May 2, 1929–November 5, 2005) was an American rock and roll guitarist, songwriter and occasional singer.
Wray was noted for pioneering a new sound for electric guitars, as exemplified in his hit 1958 instrumental “Rumble”, by Link Wray and his Ray Men, which pioneered an overdriven, distorted electric guitar sound, and also for having, “invented the power chord, the major modus operandi of modern rock guitarist,” “and in doing so fathering,” or making possible, “punk and heavy rock”.

After discharge from the Army, Wray and his brothers Doug and Vernon Wray, with friends Shorty Horton and Dixie Neal, formed Lucky Wray and the Lazy Pine Wranglers, later known as Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands. They had been playing country music and Western swing for several years when they took a gig as the house band on the daily live TV show Milt Grant’s House Party, a Washington, D.C. version of American Bandstand. The band made their first recordings in 1956 as Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands for Starday Records.

For the TV show, they also backed many performers, from Fats Domino to Ricky Nelson. In 1958, at a live gig of the D.C.-based Milt Grant’s House Party (the regional version of American Bandstand) in Fredericksburg, VA, attempting—at the urging of the local crowd—to work up a cover sound-alike for The Diamonds’ hit, “The Stroll”, they came up with the stately, powerful 12-bar blues instrumental “Rumble”, which they originally called “Oddball”. The song was an instant hit with the live audience, which demanded four repeats that night. Eventually the song came to the attention of record producer Archie Bleyer of Cadence Records, who hated it, particularly after Wray poked holes in his amplifier’s speakers to make the recording sound more like the live version (see “Rocket 88” for Ike Turner’s similar story). Searching for a title that would hit home with radio listeners, Bleyer sought the advice of Phil Everly, who listened and suggested it should be called Rumble, as it had a rough attitude that reminded him of a street gang. Rumble is slang for a “gang fight”.

The menacing sound of “Rumble” (and its title) led to a ban on several radio stations, a rare feat for a song with no lyrics, on the grounds that it glorified juvenile delinquency. Nevertheless it became a huge hit, not only in the United States, but also Great Britain, where it has been cited as an influence on The Kinks and The Who, and Jimmy Page among others. Jimmy Page cites the song in the Davis Guggenheim documentary “It Might Get Loud” and proceeds to play air guitar to the song in the movie. Pete Townshend stated in unpublished liner notes for the 1970 comeback album, “He is the king; if it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I would have never picked up a guitar.” In other liner notes in 1974, Townshend said, of “Rumble”: “I remember being made very uneasy the first time I heard it, and yet excited by the savage guitar sounds.”

Jeff Beck, Duff McKagan, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Bolan, Neil Young and Bob Dylan have all cited Wray as an influence.

Link Wray was named as one of the hundred greatest guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, but still has not yet been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is, however, a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Flyin’ Saucer Rock and Roll

14 thoughts on “Link Wray “Switchblade”

  1. Several years ago I walked in a bar in Long Beach called The Foothill located at the base of Signal Hill. It was the most seedy, red naugahyde tuck & roll, old time Honky Tonk in the Los Angeles area. It had giant portraits on the walls of people like Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn who had reportedly played there fifty years previous. I was there to see Link Wray and he was one of the most scary and mysterious figures visually…and musically that I’ve ever seen. He had a pony-tail all the way down his back and sat in a chair all night, clad in black leather (of course!) sunglasses on, playing what appeared to be a cheap Japanese guitar but choked that thing to death. His wife would walk up on stage periodically and pour a Heineken down his gullet while he was playing some of the most insane…and sane guitar I’ve ever heard…never missed a note. What a night! A few months later a client of mine told me that his mother had died and he had just inherited this club called the Foothill…anyway, this guy was a cop and sold the club for a million dollars to some chumps who opened a Mexican Dance Hall. Changed the name of this historic place (I can’t remeber to what)…it lasted a year, it was torn down and now it’s slum condo-ville. Every time I drive by that place I can still hear the symphony of great nights that took place there. Love that tune Switchblade! Now I gotta go and find a copy of BULLSHOT! One more footnote. I saw Billy Lee Riley at The Eagle Rock Bowling Alley a couple years ago too. He was great! Free bowling all night with your $5.00 paid admission.! Link Wray & Billy Lee Riley R.I.P.

  2. What a story, thanks, you made the post a lot better. I drove downtown Huntington Beach recently and felt the same way about the Golden Bear.

  3. …sorry to be such a pest, but listening to this one more time reminds me of a Bo Diddley song. Mumblin’ Guitar.
    Hey folks , check it out…it’s got a voice you never heard before!
    Except before you were alive and aware of anything…then you’ll remember

  4. I have been trying to find the name of the club where I saw Link Wray and Robert Gordon, one of the most amazing shows ever! – Then I saw your post!!!
    I think I was at that show (not so sober then), a Trio opened up, a bit of rockabilly. Anyways, thanks for the reminder!!! Check out my blog at!

  5. Great story, but that is not my brother Howie Wyeth in the photo. I don’t know who he is. The other three guys are identified correctly as Robert Gordon, Rob Stoner and Link Wray.
    Thank you!

  6. Thanks for stopping by. I’ve fixed the caption. He is now “unidentified dude”. I hope you and your brother are well. He and Stoner made for a fine rhythm section.

  7. Actually, the “unidentified dude” is drummer Anton Fig, who along with Link Wray and Rob Stoner, comprised Robert Gordon’s backing band for his Fresh Fish Special tour in 1978. I photographed them at a little club in Dover, NJ called The Showplace just before they set off for Europe.


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