By Dennis McLellan
Los Angeles Times
Link Wray, the rock guitar pioneer who gave birth to the aggressively primal sound known as the power chord on his 1958 instrumental hit ``Rumble'' and influenced two generations of rock guitarists, has died. He was 76.
Mr. Wray died Nov. 5 at his home in Copenhagen, Denmark, his family reported on his Web site. Although no cause of death was given, his wife, Olive, and son, Oliver, wrote that the North Carolina native's heart was ``getting tired.''
On stage, the rebel Mr. Wray never tired of wielding his ax.
``He just loved playing,'' said Michael Molenda, editor-in-chief of Guitar Player magazine, who saw Mr. Wray perform in July at Slim's in San Francisco.
``He was certainly a young soul, very gracious, kind of like a punk to the end,'' Molenda told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. ``He wasn't like a guy who was 76 years old. He was like a 19-year-old in a 76-year-old body.''
Robert Hilburn, the Times' pop music critic, said Monday that Mr. Wray ``was one of the key figures who helped establish the guitar as the instrument of choice in rock.''
Mr. Wray, Hilburn said, ``was someone who turned the sensuality and mystery of the blues into a supercharged sound that was both eerie and anxious. His key works were powered by a force and, even at times, a brutality that encouraged generations of musicians to explore the extreme boundaries of human emotion and sonic possibility.''
Indeed, the legendary three-chord riff that Mr. Wray used in ``Rumble,'' his signature tune and biggest seller, has reverberated through the decades.
``Without the power chord, punk rock and heavy metal would not exist,'' Dan Del Fiorentino, historian for the Museum of Making Music, in Carlsbad, told the Times on Monday.
Countless musicians, including Jimmy Page, Bruce Springsteen and Jeff Beck, are said to have been influenced by Mr. Wray.
Del Fiorentino said the raunchy sound of Mr. Wray's guitar in ``Rumble'' represented a different attitude in rock music. ``It added more of a zing, more of a delinquency, if you will, to rock 'n' roll.''
And Mr. Wray, the 1950s performer, personified his sound.
``Who else in rock and roll had a leather jacket and was smoking cigarettes, with sunglasses on in the middle of the night? That was him,'' said Del Fiorentino.
Citing the impact of ``Rumble,'' Molenda wondered what it must have been like ``to hear that big, distorted, evil ferocious chord for the first time.''
Sexy and aggressive
``Fifties rock was pretty clean, and you've got this guy -- he's got a leather jacket, he looks scary -- and all of a sudden he plays this loud chord that practically tears your eyebrows off your face,'' Molenda said. ``It was extremely sexy and aggressive, and it kind of paved the way for the next level of rock and roll.''
Mr. Wray's legendary sound originated at a record hop hosted by a local DJ in Fredericksburg, Va.
Making it up
In an interview with Guitar Player in June, Mr. Wray said that when the kids at the hop asked him to play a ``stroll,'' a popular, slow line dance, ``I just made up something on the spot, because I didn't know any stroll tune.''
And because there was no vocal on the song, Mr. Wray's brother Vernon thought they should spotlight the guitar.
``So he took the mike and put it in front of my amp, which just distorted the heck out of the small PA speakers,'' Mr. Wray recalled.
The young crowd went wild for the sound. When it was recorded and named ``Rumble,'' the instrumental reached No. 16 on the national charts and sold more than 1 million copies -- that after being attacked for promoting teen gang warfare and being banned from the airwaves in Boston and elsewhere. But, as Mr. Wray later said, that ``just made it sell more.''
Half Shawnee Indian, Mr. Wray was born in Dunn, N.C., in 1929. At age 8, a traveling guitarist named Hambone introduced him to the blues, giving him lessons on his front porch. He served four years in the Army, and during the Korean War contracted tuberculosis, which required the removal of one of his lungs.
Mr. Wray followed up the success of ``Rumble'' with the more modest hits ``Rawhide'' (1959) and ``Jack the Ripper'' (1963). Among his other songs are ``Black Widow,'' ``Big City After Dark,'' ``Run Chicken Run'' and ``Switchblade.'' In recent years, his music has been featured in movies such as ``Pulp Fiction,'' ``Independence Day'' and ``Desperado.''
Mr. Wray moved to Denmark in 1978 into a house on an island where Hans Christian Andersen once lived.
========In addition, his last two albums were excellent.
― George the Animal Steele, Tuesday, 22 November 2005 18:53 (8 years ago) Permalink
ok random question but does anyone know offhand what album "Climbing Up a High Wall" is from??it's on the Rumble comp, but i've forgotten where it originally appeared and can't get much info on it.
i've got all of the Missing Links series and yes it's divine.
i'm looking for Beans and Fatback on soulseek right now.
― jointchief, Tuesday, 22 November 2005 19:53 (8 years ago) Permalink
― k/l (Ken L), Tuesday, 22 November 2005 19:56 (8 years ago) Permalink
― George the Animal Steele, Tuesday, 22 November 2005 20:29 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Roy Kasten, Tuesday, 22 November 2005 20:31 (8 years ago) Permalink
― j b everlovin' r (Jody Beth Rosen), Tuesday, 22 November 2005 22:43 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Palomino (Palomino), Tuesday, 22 November 2005 23:09 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Rickey Wright (Rrrickey), Tuesday, 22 November 2005 23:43 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Abbadabba Berman (Hurting), Wednesday, 23 November 2005 07:06 (8 years ago) Permalink
― j b everlovin' r (Jody Beth Rosen), Wednesday, 23 November 2005 07:11 (8 years ago) Permalink
― Abbadabba Berman (Hurting), Wednesday, 23 November 2005 07:18 (8 years ago) Permalink
― j b everlovin' r (Jody Beth Rosen), Wednesday, 23 November 2005 08:03 (8 years ago) Permalink
― PJ Miller (PJ Miller 68), Wednesday, 23 November 2005 11:15 (8 years ago) Permalink
Yeah, I was a bit confused by that, and also the "legendary three chord riff" thing, that would be "two chord riff" surely? There are at least 4 chords in the whole track anyway - D, E, A, B(7?)
― Colonel Poo (Colonel Poo), Wednesday, 23 November 2005 11:27 (8 years ago) Permalink
‘‘The Wray family is going to do ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken,’” he says. ‘‘And Chris Webb, Link’s grandson, will be getting up with the Wraymen.”
Well, not quite. All three Wray bothers have passed away, but Link Wray’s sidemen Ricky Mitchell, Ed Cynar and Johnny Sneed will be there, plus Robert Gordon, Eddie Angel, Billy Hancock and Joe Stanley.
There’s even a version of Jack Casady & the Triumphs featuring Casady, Ron McDonald, Sneed and Stanley.
The Triumphs opened for Wray long ago at D.C. clubs like the Cellar Door, until Casady and his bandmate Jorma Kaukonen headed for the West Coast to found a band called Jefferson Airplane. Lee points out that it has been 45 years since any kind of Triumphs reunion has taken place.
‘‘It’ll be good loud instrumental rock and roll, built on the Link Wray tradition,” he says.
Sheets of sound
Exactly what that tradition is may not be easy to explain, but it sure is fun. Lee’s co-producer Melissa Avery says ‘‘He invented that style of electric guitar music ... not fancy or jazz-oriented, but a more dirty sound. He actually took his amp and poked holes in it.
‘‘They say he was the originator of the power chord,” she adds. ‘‘And he influenced every guitar player who came after him.”
With his 1958 instrumental hit ‘‘Rumble,” Wray burst on the national scene — and not totally in a good way.
‘‘You gotta remember,” says Laxton, ‘‘in 1958, it was Pat Boone and ‘Lollipop, Lollipop.’ [This was a] nasty, raunchy guitar sound, something totally different.”
Indeed, he adds, when the song first came out, it was banned in some areas.
‘‘They said it would incite teenage gang violence,” he chuckles, still finding it hard to believe. ‘‘It was an instrumental!”
But what an instrumental — it still sounds cool.
‘‘The thing about him,” says Anton Fig, who played with Wray in the late ’70s, ‘‘he was an incredible driving force when he played: such commitment and power! Offstage, he kept up a sunny disposition, but he was really intense onstage.”
Fig replaced Wray’s drummer when he ‘‘went off to the Dylan gig,” and he has a nice gig himself these days, drumming for David Letterman’s Late Night Band. He’s a solo artist, too, with a CD called ‘‘Figments,” but he’ll be at the tribute on Sunday.
‘‘Link’s playing was just ... sheets of sound,” says Fig. ‘‘It had a whole sonic realm. And he was very open, very encouraging to me; he never restricted me at all. He made me feel good about myself, which is a great gift.”
The gift for lightness ran counter to his music.
‘‘For years, people just saw that dark, brooding image of him,” says Lee, ‘‘but he was the sweetest guy. A funny kind of guy – unsophisticated, a hillbilly — but a gentleman.
‘‘It’s been a long time since anyone’s seen him play, but we owe him a big debt.”
A debt they’ll try to pay back on Link Wray Day, performing the music local crowds always loved.
‘‘He’s starting to be a lot more appreciated,” says Laxton. ‘‘He’s getting the respect in death he never really got when he was alive.”
A tribute concert in honor of Link Wray will be held Sunday, 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., at El Boqueron II, 1330 Gude Drive, Rockville. Tickets are $25, $20 in advance at www.dc-rock-and-roll.org. Call 301-315-2235.
― curmudgeon, Thursday, 12 January 2006 17:24 (8 years ago) Permalink
SPINOUT RECORDS ROCK-N-ROLL PACKAGE TOUR Featuring some of our faves:Eddie AngelKaiser GeorgeThe Hi-Risersfebruary:14tues......Cafe 9, New Haven, CT15 wed.....Midway Cafe, Boston16 thurs....The Scenic, NYC17fri......Asbury Lanes, Asbury Park, NJ18sat....The Mojo, Baltimore19sun....The Blue Comet, Phila20mon.....The Iota, Arlington, VA (DC)22wed....Ale House, Troy, NY23thurs....The Bug Jar, Rochester, NY24fri....The Beachland Tavern, Cleveland25sat....The Dive, Dearborn, MI (Detroit)26, 27, 28s/m/t....The Oneida Casino, Green Bay, WIMarch:1wed....Lee's Liquor Lounge, Minneapolis, MN2thurs....off (chicago)3fri.... TBA, Grand Rapids, MI4sat....Fitzgeralds, Berwyn, IL (chicago)
― Melissa Avery, Thursday, 9 February 2006 20:06 (8 years ago) Permalink
Excerpted here, and compared to scenes from a Pelecanos novel...http://blogs.citypages.com/pscholtes/2006/04/link_wray_the_m.asp
― Pete Scholtes (Pete Scholtes), Thursday, 6 April 2006 18:08 (8 years ago) Permalink
Link Wray's Raymen, reunited at the tribute to Link in January, are seeking a vocalist and/or a lead guitar player/vocalist to join the group. The guitar player is needed primarily to back the vocals. Most of the instrumental presentations will be handled by current group members. The intent of this endeavor is to perform Link's music, both instrumentals and vocals, to preserve his distinctive sound and innovations for his many fans. Ideally, these musicians should themselves be Link fans and familiar with his music and style. The current group is composed of two of Link's Raymen, a drummer who played with Link many times, and Link's grandson, Chris Webb. The repertoire will be limited to material that Link released and the songs that he usually performed live. Rehearsals are normally in the Falls Church, VA area. Anyone interested in discussing this opportunity should contact Ed Cynar either by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at: (703) 532-1076. Also, anyone having knowledge of the whereabouts of former Rayman Chuck Bennett (Charles Avery), is urged to make contact.Chuck was an extraordinary vocalist and showman, and one of the hardest working musicians I have known. The last we heard many years ago was that he was driving a cab in Alexandria. I have been unable to find him or any helpful leads. The other thing is that if we cannot locate Chuck, we are seriously looking for a vocalist who can handle Link's songs, and for a guitar player who can fit in and who can back the vocals in Link's style. We have the instrumentals pretty much covered, but the vocals (and there are some great songs of Link's that we want to include, like Fire, Goodtime Joe, Super 88, etc.) are a problem for us. Our objective is to present Link's music as closely as possible to the way he played it, not merely to play another "interpretation" as most bands do. If you know of anyone who has the ability and might be interested in getting involved with this endeavor, we would appreciate it if you could pass on my contact information or let us know.
― curmudgeon (Steve K), Friday, 7 April 2006 00:59 (8 years ago) Permalink
― The Equator Lounge (Chris Barrus), Friday, 7 April 2006 05:56 (8 years ago) Permalink
MES: "You're alright, Link, man.
― Pete Scholtes (Pete Scholtes), Friday, 7 April 2006 16:03 (8 years ago) Permalink
The late Link's bass player from his days in DC, Chuck Bennett, just died.
― curmudgeon, Thursday, 19 February 2009 17:22 (5 years ago) Permalink
As Chuck Bennett, his stage name, Mr. Avery had been a singer and bass player with Link Wray and the Raymen, a hard-rocking Washington band of the 1950s and 1960s known for the menacing sound it produced on "Rumble" and "Jack the Ripper," songs that influenced hard rock, grunge and punk.
"Chuck had an unbelievable voice and an unbelievable amount of energy, kind of like James Brown," musician Elwood Brown recalled. "He'd glide across the floor, down on his knees; he had great moves."
― curmudgeon, Thursday, 19 February 2009 17:23 (5 years ago) Permalink
I'm Chuck Bennett's daughter...did you know my dad, curmudgeon, or just because he played with Link?
― stephenye, Friday, 20 February 2009 21:33 (5 years ago) Permalink
I'm listening to "Be What You Want To" at this very moment.
― Trip Maker, Friday, 20 February 2009 21:58 (5 years ago) Permalink
x-post. Sorry I never knew your dad. Read the obit and I thought he deserved some attention.
― curmudgeon, Saturday, 21 February 2009 05:54 (5 years ago) Permalink