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)
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.