The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's most glaring omission


Asbury Lanes


Hello fellow Rumblers! I am delighted to report that Link passed through New Jersey this past weekend and both looked and sounded fantastic. His 2005 New Jersey appearance occurred, as it has often in years past, in a town rich with rock and roll history, Asbury Park. 

My friends, I’ve seen some crazy stuff come down in Asbury Park over the years; decades ago I witnessed a very drunk Alice Cooper pick up a hammer and go bezerk in a small oceanside club. More recently I enjoyed watching Leslie West  throw a fellow musician off a stage... he complained the stage lights reflecting off his shaven head were blinding him! But what came down in the first couple hours of Saturday morning, May the seventh, inside and outside The Asbury Lanes is probably some of the most mind boggling phenomena to ever occur at the Jersey shore.

 I phoned The Asbury Lanes early Friday afternoon to verify that Link and company were still expected for Friday night’s show and the guy at the other end of the line responded “Link’s already here!” Apparently Link, bandmates and family made it up the Eastern seaboard from Georgia in good time and were fired up and ready to begin the Northeastern leg of the 2005 tour. And that’s all I needed to get fired up myself and prepared for the long ride down the Garden State Parkway to the temporary home of the magic we call “Rumble”.

In case it’s not obvious, Asbury Lanes is a bowling alley. And note the present tense of the verb; this is not some old bowling alley that closed down and was converted into a rock club. It’s a working bowling alley, you know, balls, pins, striped shoes and cheap beer. There’s a makeshift plywood stage centered approximately where lane 10 is, or should be, and old black and white movies, such as Brando’s “Wild One”, play continuously on a screen located directly behind the stage. Some patrons concentrate their attention at the billiards table while yet others hang out at the bar (Budweisers were three bucks, which is a pretty good price in NJ on a Friday or Saturday night.) And what fascinated me was that all this and more goes on as the bands go about their business up on the plywood stage. There’s a wonderful circus-like vibe to the whole thing.

 Counting Link there were four bands scheduled. At 15 bucks admission, how could you possibly do better on a Friday night? I arrived at Asbury Lanes approximately 9:00PM (Doors opened at 8), relieved to discover I had missed no music whatsoever i.e., the opening act (The Allen Oldies Band) was still setting up. It was only minutes, though, after purchasing an ice cold Bud and my initial investigation of this unique venue that The Allen Oldies Band opened up the show. Their name says it all, 60s AM radio hits. When was the last time you heard “Hang On Snoopy” done live? Not exactly my cup of tea but they were fun, even funny, and you really couldn’t dislike them. About 10:00 The Brimstones were  up (Bear in mind folks are still bowling and doing just about anything else people do for entertainment on a Friday night.) The Brimstones are a young, garage/surf band. Think reverb drenched Fender guitar tones and an old Farfisa “Compact” organ. Cool, if you like bands like The Cramps and Los Straitjackets (And who doesn’t?), but, like I said, they’re young... I suspect in time they’ll mature a great deal. About 11:00 The Sonny Kenn Band hit the stage. Sonny’s certainly much younger than Link but he’s no spring chicken. A veteran of the Jersey shore circuit, he’s worked with everyone down here, Southside Johnny, Springsteen, and countless others. This is an extremely polished blues rock outfit and the guy just wails on his white Strat . He told a story about discovering a yellow labeled 45 RPM record as a child entitled “Rawhide” by you know who and spoke of the tremendous influence it had on him as a young guitar player, and then proceeded to play some of the Rawhide solo for us.

About midnight the anticipation of Link’s arrival really started to settle in on the crowd. Most of the bowling and extraneous activities came to a close. Everything was perfect except for one thing... I wasn’t wearing bowling shoes and felt uncomfortable walking out onto the hardwood floor wearing my street gear. Well who the hell plans on stuff like that when going to a rock show! No problem though,  I was so happy to see Link again, it really didn’t matter where I stood or sat or against what or whom I leaned. And the next thing I knew, Link and Julie were coming through the crowd (And I mean Crowd with a capital C at this point) and getting on stage. 

 Link looked great, very healthy, and was clearly pleased to see such a good turnout. After a few brief comments introducing Olive Julie (wife), Oliver (son) and the band (whom he addresses with nicknames such as ”Mr. Spock” and “Mr. Rock”!) it was wam bam, thank you mam, and, straight into what rock guitarists all over the world know simply as “D-D-E”, that’s right, “Rumble”. And let me tell you, after not hearing it done live for over two years it sure sounded good!  And where there’s Rumble, Rawhide can’t be far behind! Funny thing, Link’s three biggest hits were, in both sales and chronological order, Rumble, Rawhide and Jack The Ripper. Pretty much every show starts with a blistering Rumble going right into Rawhide, but you never know where he’ll place Jack The Ripper, could be just about anywhere in the setlist, and sometimes he even does it more than once! So of course we heard Jack The Ripper as well. Link did a lot of his classic instrumentals, such as Batman, Branded and Ace Of Spades, just to name a few, but the one that really put goosebumps down my back was Comanche (from Link’s original album on the Epic label); Link and the band totally locked up on it and Link’s new Sunburst Strat just sounded great. After a few comments about Asbury Park and Bruce Springsteen Link did a smoldering rendition of Fire. Written by Springsteen, “The Boss” visited Link and Robert Gordon in ‘78 while they were recording the song in New York City and layed down the piano parts, the final version appearing on the album Fresh Fish Special. We also heard a great version of The Sweeper, an instrumental that dates back to the Swan Records years, and a rather peculiar (understatement) performance of the Elvis classic, “Mystery Train”. Link interrupted the song’s performance several times because he felt the band was rushing through it and he demonstrated, both for the benefit of the band and the audience, the correct rhythm of the song by playing it solo on his guitar. Very few artists could pull something like this off, but Link’s sincerity and commitment to Elvis and the song kept the audience riveted and somehow made the whole thing work. After it was all over Link joked about it and said something like, “I guess that one needs more practice!”.

By 2:00 AM not only were Link’s amps making some rather unusual high pitched squealing noises, protesting against being worked so long and hard, but one leg of the house PA system had been destroyed as well! The loudspeakers on stage right were going on and off and on and off. Yea, Link and his new buddies definitely melted a few solder joints Friday night... if Jerry Lee Lewis is “the Killer” then  Link is “The Destroyer”!

 As the show came to a close and Link said his farewells to his New Jersey friends, Oliver (son) grabbed a mike and declared “My Dad’s Birthday was Monday, he’s 76, and he’s STILL rocking!” You can imagine the ruckus that ensued after that, bowling pins were falling down and nobody was rolling!

 As everyone filed out into the misty, cool early morning air making comments like “God, my ears are ringing!” and “That was unbelievable.”, I made a mad dash to my VW where I had hidden one of my very rare, circa early 70s Link albums, “Mordicai Jones”. I ran back as fast as I could ( no parking lot, car was parked down the street from the venue) but by the time I reentered Asbury Lanes, Link was nowhere in sight. I hung around the front door for a while and some guy (may have been an Asbury Lanes employee but I don’t know) smiled at me and took the album out of my hands. He disappeared into a small room, not much bigger than a coat closet (may have been a coat closet for all I know, or a room where shoes or balls were stored), and didn’t reappear for some time. At one point I peered through a drawn curtain that made it difficult to look directly into this room and observed Link and Julie, seated, maybe on a bench or something, just talking amongst themselves. Eventually the guy (never said one word to me the whole time) returned my “Mordicai Jones” to me, enhanced with the unmistakable Link Wray signature. I walked back to my car and headed for The Parkway, wondering if the extra time required for the autograph may have been attributable to Link’s enjoying all the wonderful photographs of the Wray farm, Accokeek Maryland, contained on the covers of “Mordicai Jones.”

 And that’s it for Link’s 2005 attack on the Jersey coastline. As always, the night passed much too quickly. Next stop on “The Mystery Train”, for me anyway, is New York City, Tuesday, May 10. I hope this train keeps rumbling down the tracks for many years yet to come.
Link Wray - Asbury Park 2005