|One of the true pioneers of rock, the American guitarist Link Wray, whose music and style very much resembled the title of his greatest hit “Rumble”, has died, 76 years old.|
Link Wray earned the nickname ”The Godfather of The Power Chord” because he is considered the inventor of the hard, distorted riffs, which is the basis of almost all forms of guitar based rock.
Nevertheless, Link Wray is far from a name which has the same degree of recognition as Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, the one and only Elvis Presley or other fathers of rock.
May 2, 1929 Fredrick Lincoln Wray was born in Dunn in the southern state of North Carolina. He grew up in a home which was marked by a piety for God and modesty, as well as his father’s traumas from World War 1.
It was from his mother, who was a native Indian from the Shawnee tribe, which Link Wray, as the kid was called, got his characteristic looks and toughness, and through his life he stuck to his religion.
Thanks to his toughness he survived tuberculosis, and even though he lost one of his lungs and could not sing for a long period of time, he did not abandon music. Link Wray played country with his 2 brothers in a local band, and had already as a teenager made so called bottleneck-guitar his speciality.
Later he developed his own playing style by letting a chord soar up and down the guitar strings which resulted in a true thunder roar. It is this style which nearly all guitarists of heavy rock have embraced.
In 1958 he wrote and recorded the instrumental “Rumble” which became a big hit and later ended up among the classics of rock, even though in the beginning the song was banned by many American radio stations because it supposedly lead to gang violence.
Legend has it that Link Wray in order to get the proper reverb and hard sound drilled a screwdriver through the studio speakers. His image as a tough guy in a leatherjacket made him a sort of James Dean of rock, a model for many American teenagers on the edge of the law.
And a stylistic icon for people such as Johnny Cash, who began donning black clothes like Link Wray and became ”The Man In Black”, even though many fans still claim that Wray was ”The Real Man In Black”.
Man in Black or not, Link Wray became a stylistic role model for many of the British rock musicians which had their breakthroughs in the beginning of the 60s. Especially for Pete Townsend from The Who who later said: “He is the king. If it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble’ I would never have picked up a guitar”.
Link Wray continued to work with his group Link Wray and His Ray Man, which Neil Young has said the following about: “If I could go back in time and see just one band, it would be Link Wray and His Ray Men”. Nonetheless, the maestro also had to earn a living as a session guitarist, playing for such people as Rick Nelson, Fats Domino and Buddy Holly.
However, in the mid-60s he had had enough of big record labels and the music business which Link Wray never regained confidence in. He started his own company and recorded in a hen house back home in Maryland.
Despite of the many words of praise from the greatest names of rock, Link Wray never gained a foothold, and it was only in 1977, when he began playing with the singer Robert Gordon that he returned to the stage.
LIVED IN COPENHAGEN
It was, however, only for a sort remark. Because Link Wray kept his scepticism of the music business and for a long period of time he quit touring. From 1977 to 1984 he lived in Copenhagen on and off, partly inspired by his good friend, the American guitarist Billy Cross, with whom Link Wray had often performed. In Denmark he had also been on stage with Bruce Springsteen in 1988 at “Parken” in Copenhagen, recorded with Sort Sol on the album “Flow My Firetear” and had released the album “Indian Child”.
In Denmark he married Olive Julie Povlsen, and had a son Oliver Christian. The family has since lived in Denmark without any wishes of public attention. However, the career got a boost back home in the US when 3 of Link Wray’s songs ended up on the soundtrack to the popular movie “Pulp Fiction”.
BURIED IN SILENCE
Only one year ago Link Wray toured the US with his leatherjacket and greased up hair where an enthusiastic reviewer noted:
“Link Wray burned through tonight with all that defiance, laughter, love and power he has in him. A legend, just as sure as Crazy Horse, a natural force like a tornado, a prophet which gently howls through the dust, up towards the sun about the celebrations and triumphs yet to come. I saw Link Wray, I saw America.”
Link Wray does not howl towards the sun any longer, but hopefully he has made himself at home among the other gods of rock in heaven. Link Wray has according to his own wishes been buried in silence at Christians Kirke at Christianshavn in Copenhagen.