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


TAMPA 2002
Skipper’s Smokehouse

"Skipper's is a great place to see a show. It's near north Tampa. A great restaurant inside and a unique venue outside that holds about 800. Always a lot of talent gets booked there. Link came on at about 10:20. The announcer warned that the show would be loud.  He wore the black leather jacket, sunglasses and sorta stalked around the stage like a man in control of his audience. He seemed to break strings quite a bit, but the guitar tech was always there to hand him a freshly re-strung axe. He seemed to really be having a good time even though it was hot. It had rained earlier in the day and Skipper's Smokehouse is set under a few trees, so the humidity was up. In fact, I was worried the mic would get too much condensation and not work properly.  He would wander over to the left side of the stage where there was a big fan blowing.   During some of the solos, he'd let folks in the crowd pick at the guitar with their fingers. During "Batman", he motioned to the crowd to take the mic-stand. They did and sang "Batman" while he played. He seemed to really enjoy this.  There was a bass player, drummer, and a woman with long hair and leather pants that seemed to help Link with his hair when it got in the way.  She also played some tambourine.   If that woman is his wife, wow, she's much younger than he is.....Go Link!!!!!  He played up 'till the midnight curfew and was really having a great time.  I go to see shows there quite a bit because you get to see great shows for a great price. Link was $15.00!!! I must admit, I had heard the name before and even heard "Rumble", but I was in no way prepared to be BLOWN AWAY!!!  Yes, he is indeed an unsung Rock & Roll icon. Best of it all......he can still jam!!!!!! and still tours and shares his gift."

73-year-old punk shreds strings, eardrums: Saturday, 7/27/02, Tampa, Florida Saturday night at Skipper's Smokehouse we heard an unusual warning before the start of a septuagenarian's performance: "Folks, this is probably going to be the loudest show ever at Skipper's. You may want to use earplugs." This came across not as a pump-you-up intro, but as a sincere caution from a liability-conscious management. A few minutes earlier one of the soundcrew had held a guitar near the monitor, setting off a painful blast of feedback. He moved on to the next check; apparently the guitar passed the test. "I've lived in Denmark for 22 years, it's a great place, the only European country to celebrate July 4th. That's true! "But you see, I've got to come to America to play my fuckin' music!!" With that, Link Wray ripped into 'Rumble.' I thought Iggy Pop was the oldest punk I'd ever see. I'd heard that Link's shows could get rough, but I half expected this to be a see-them-before-they-die pilgrimage. This guy is evil. I'm glad he kept his wrap-arounds on the whole night because I was afraid his pupils are vertical slits (though his tongue's not forked). Early into the second song (Rawhide) he pointed at the guitar, then up. He then asked for the audience to help get the message to the soundboard. Hands went up, fingers pointing UP! The volume was so loud that every note from Link's guitar ended with a chirp of feedback. At one point he stopped the band mid-song and noted that "they're the ones playing Music, I'm just up here making NOISE!" On the way to the show I put in a Robbie Fulks disc and told my girlfriend Debi to listen to this song, because you're going to see some of these people tonight: Roots-rock weirdos Out of their holes they come Dressed up like it's nineteen fifty-one Later that night she told me I was right. The crowd was a trip--diverse even for a Skipper's show. Roots-rock weirdos, bikers, beach bums, few yuppies, even a country fan in a Clint Black T. Their ages stretched across the six decades that Link has been performing. For the opener, local rockabilly act Midnight Ramblers (sounding like Blasters clones at times), there was a little girl dressed as a USF cheerleader on the floor dancing. I saw at least one 60+ dude at the end of the night, but no one as old as the star. Link thrashed for an hour and a half.  Twisted to 11 at all times. You know how most groups throw in slow numbers to catch their breath? None of that ballad shit. No singing for that matter. Since Link lost a lung after the Korean War it's all instrumentals. Except when he pushed the mic stand over to a group of husky RR weirdos for 'Batman.' Not that there's much to sing--but they did a good job of interjecting the BASH!! and OOF!!s. In a testimonial to make Bluto proud he told a story of playing frat houses at Cornell and Colgate. Something about guys that are the doctors and lawyers of today, and not being impressed by a guy named Squirrel defecating. "In the 60s, while the big rock stars were playing stadiums, I was playing frat houses! Them frat boys was screwing and spraying beer and shit TO MY MUSIC!!"

Link had just started into 'Run Chicken Run' when he announced he had broken a string and stopped the song. For the fourth time that night his wife and a roadie helped him swap guitars. For the moment that they towered over him he looked like a frail old man, but once the guitar jack was reinserted Link was plugged in too; the wicked grin returned. Don't know if he lost his train of thought, or didn't think the strings could stand up to the rest of 'Chicken', but it remained unfinished.

His wife stayed close by all night, sometimes directing Link to move across the stage to spend time playing to a different part of the crowd. She played some tambourine, was quick to untangle Link's ponytail from the guitar strap, and frequently offered him a swig of her Heineken, which he never once accepted.

After the show my cousin Raymond commented that he wondered if she was his Yoko Ono, or his John Henry Williams.

At one point I noted that each bass note was causing a resonance in the half-full bottle of water I held; the buzzing bottle tingled my fingertips. In the face of the deafening onslaught from this Satanic elf, I had a few disturbing thoughts. Such as Link clear-cutting a stage with his axe, decapitating spacey jambanders and sensitive singer-songwriters. Dave Mathews--plop. James Taylor--splat.

Skipper's is at the edge of a low-rent residential area--Suitcase City--so it was no surprise that noise ordinances recalled Link's pumpkin abruptly at midnight.  No encores, no autographs, just a few handshakes with the fans in front (I got one!).  Chants of Link! Link! ended with the announcement "Link has left the building."  One thing that surprised me was that at the moment the music stopped, valuable memorabilia like old concert posters and a Rumble LP were thrust into the air, hoping for a signature.  These treasures came from the steamy, sweat-soaked pit at front-and-center stage--I can't imagine how they were protected from the crush during the show.

You've got the story of Pete Townsend learning to play guitar because he heard 'Rumble,' and there's bands like The Cramps, SCOTS, and Dash that liberally borrow from and salute Link Wray, but any rock musician that has ever sneered on stage has to realize that Link did it first. He's the Father of the Rock and Roll Music that Scares Parents. How come he's not in the R and R Hall of Fame?

Oh, did I mention it was LOUD?

Link Wray - Tampa FL 2002