Link Wray R.I.P. (?)

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Posted on Tue, Nov. 22, 2005


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.''

Supercharged sound

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 (seventeen years ago) link

yeah this definately isn't an "early passing" type of mourning affair. now's more the time to talk about the influence his life work's had on people who grew up with it (or are just hearing it now).

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 (seventeen years ago) link

There was a real person named Hambone?

k/l (Ken L), Tuesday, 22 November 2005 19:56 (seventeen years ago) link

Live at the Paradiso featured Wray in with a backing duo who'd wind up in Paul Schaeffer's Letterman band. It was a ferocious set, recorded by Richard "Instant Record" Gottehrer, I think. The performance of "Run Chicken Run" was one I copied a lot in garage bands.

George the Animal Steele, Tuesday, 22 November 2005 20:29 (seventeen years ago) link

I'm pretty sure "Climbing a High Wall" was originally on a 1969 Record Factory LP called Yesterday and Today. Hope that helps!

Roy Kasten, Tuesday, 22 November 2005 20:31 (seventeen years ago) link


j b everlovin' r (Jody Beth Rosen), Tuesday, 22 November 2005 22:43 (seventeen years ago) link


Palomino (Palomino), Tuesday, 22 November 2005 23:09 (seventeen years ago) link

Fredericksburg . . . dang.

Rickey Wright (Rrrickey), Tuesday, 22 November 2005 23:43 (seventeen years ago) link

Uh, does Rumble actually have any power chords in it?

Abbadabba Berman (Hurting), Wednesday, 23 November 2005 07:06 (seventeen years ago) link

do any npr personalities actually know what a power chord is?

j b everlovin' r (Jody Beth Rosen), Wednesday, 23 November 2005 07:11 (seventeen years ago) link

Not if it bit them in the ass ... HAHAHAHAHA

Abbadabba Berman (Hurting), Wednesday, 23 November 2005 07:18 (seventeen years ago) link


j b everlovin' r (Jody Beth Rosen), Wednesday, 23 November 2005 08:03 (seventeen years ago) link

I like Link Wray very much.

PJ Miller (PJ Miller 68), Wednesday, 23 November 2005 11:15 (seventeen years ago) link

>> Uh, does Rumble actually have any power chords in it?

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 (seventeen years ago) link

one month passes...
Big tribute show to Link Wray Sun January 15th in Rockville, Maryland, outside Washington D.C.

‘‘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 Call 301-315-2235.

curmudgeon, Thursday, 12 January 2006 17:24 (sixteen years ago) link

four weeks pass...
The Link Wray Tribute was a smashing success. Kind of like a great family reunion .
We are working on the idea of doing it agin next year.
Check out Eddie Angel and the spinout rockand roll tour happening this Feb. ahd March
Eddie will be playing a lot of the music he played at the Link Wray Tribute.
Also expect to see a fantastic CD of Link Wray covers from him comming out this year!

Eddie Angel
Kaiser George
The Hi-Risers
14tues......Cafe 9, New Haven, CT
15 wed.....Midway Cafe, Boston
16 thurs....The Scenic, NYC
17fri......Asbury Lanes, Asbury Park, NJ
18sat....The Mojo, Baltimore
19sun....The Blue Comet, Phila
20mon.....The Iota, Arlington, VA (DC)
22wed....Ale House, Troy, NY
23thurs....The Bug Jar, Rochester, NY
24fri....The Beachland Tavern, Cleveland
25sat....The Dive, Dearborn, MI (Detroit)
26, 27, 28s/m/t....The Oneida Casino, Green Bay, WI
1wed....Lee's Liquor Lounge, Minneapolis, MN (chicago)
3fri.... TBA, Grand Rapids, MI
4sat....Fitzgeralds, Berwyn, IL (chicago)

Melissa Avery, Thursday, 9 February 2006 20:06 (sixteen years ago) link

one month passes...
Awesome Perfect Sound Forever piece...

Excerpted here, and compared to scenes from a Pelecanos novel...

Pete Scholtes (Pete Scholtes), Thursday, 6 April 2006 18:08 (sixteen years ago) link

This was on Wayne Kahn's Right on Rhythm e-mail newsletter:

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: 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 (sixteen years ago) link

Amazing article. My fave Link interview is the one he did with Mark E. Smith in 1993. I wish I still had a copy of that NME issue, the picture of MES with Link is priceless.

The Equator Lounge (Chris Barrus), Friday, 7 April 2006 05:56 (sixteen years ago) link

While we're vaguely on the subject of global politics, how did Link vote in Denmark's Maastricht referendum! "My wife, she voted no, but I voted yes. I thought it'd be good for the music. Shit, why not throw it all in the pot and see what happens! But I don't believe in organised politics, organised religion, organised music, organised anything. I just believe in my Indian, spiritual god and my music. That's sustained me for 64 fuckin' years. You know, I'm an eagle, flying around in the mountains. Money don't rule me, record companies don't rule me. Nothing rules me but my god and my music... and my wife, heh, heh. She rules me.

MES: "You're alright, Link, man.

Pete Scholtes (Pete Scholtes), Friday, 7 April 2006 16:03 (sixteen years ago) link

two years pass...

The late Link's bass player from his days in DC, Chuck Bennett, just died.

curmudgeon, Thursday, 19 February 2009 17:22 (thirteen years ago) link

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 (thirteen years ago) link

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 (thirteen years ago) link

I'm listening to "Be What You Want To" at this very moment.

Trip Maker, Friday, 20 February 2009 21:58 (thirteen years ago) link

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 (thirteen years ago) link

six years pass...





BLANG BLANG dum B-d-d-ling

dew-dew-dew-dew-dew-dew-dew-new-new-new-new duh


five six and (man alive), Monday, 24 August 2015 03:59 (seven years ago) link

four months pass...

it's almost... too... good

niels, Wednesday, 30 December 2015 21:06 (six years ago) link

Holy shit

Amira, Queen of Creativity (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 30 December 2015 23:26 (six years ago) link


xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 30 December 2015 23:56 (six years ago) link

three years pass...

Here's a tale, from the year he passed as well:

For real: @signifyingwolf & I opened for @Link_Wray in Paris 2005.
Rumor was he’d had trouble with the cops & might not make the show.
He arrived radiant, right before set time, gave me a fist bump on the way to the stage, & 1 minute into “Rumble” threw his guitar into the crowd.

— matt sweeney (@theheavyjamz) May 2, 2019

Link Wray stood with both fists above his head watching his unmanned guitar howl feedback and ride over the churning crowd while the hired band vamped to its screams until it was thrown back into his hands, and Rock’s King ripped the last run of “Rumble” and left the building. 👑

— matt sweeney (@theheavyjamz) May 2, 2019

Ned Raggett, Thursday, 2 May 2019 23:27 (three years ago) link

one year passes...

was listening to the '64 swan demos today, really enjoyed the tenderness of this one:
"my alberta"

budo jeru, Friday, 8 May 2020 19:52 (two years ago) link

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