Link Wray

Rock’n’roll musician Link Wray reigns supreme as one of the best, most important, influential and innovative guitarists to emerge from the 50s. Wray was the creator of the power-chord and was one of the first musicians to experiment with both distortion and the burning fuzz-tone guitar sound in his instrumental recordings; his harsh and raw, yet potent and effective simple guitar style inspired such rock music genres as heavy metal, punk, thrash, and alternative rock. Link primarily recorded instrumentals during his peak years in the 50s and 60s, but also did some singing as well in his distinctively rough’n’growly voice.

He was born as Fred Lincoln Wray, Jr. on March 2, 1929 in Dunn, North Carolina. He was the second son of Fred and Lillian Mae and was three quarters Shawnee Indian. Wray was taught at age eight how to play guitar from a black man named Hambone. Link served as an Army medic during the Korean war and contracted tuberculosis during his tour of duty (he lost a lung to the disease in 1956). Wray played guitar in a band with his brothers Doug and Vernon following his stint in the Army. They performed country and western music at local clubs in Virginia. The entire Wray family moved to Washington, DC in 1955. In 1957 Wray formed a new rock’n’roll band called Link Wray and the Raymen. Link scored his greatest and most vital hit in 1958 with the extremely intense and moody instrumental classic “Rumble,” which went to #16 on the Billboard charts and sold over a million copies. Wray’s follow-up tunes “Rawhide” and “Jack the Ripper” likewise did well. Alas, such latter excellent and exciting hard-rocking instrumentals as “Dixie-Doodle,” “Run Chicken Run,” “Deuces Wild,” and “Ace of Spades” all failed to crack the pop charts. However, Wray nonetheless amassed a huge and loyal worldwide cult following.

In the late 70s Link recorded two albums for and toured with rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon. His songs have been featured on the soundtracks to such films as “Riding Giants,” “Confessions of A Dangerous Mind,” “Independence Day,” “Desperado,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Breathless,” and “Pink Flamingos.” Link continued to record albums and perform at concerts all over the world right to the end. Link Wray died at age 76 from heart failure on November 5, 2005 at his home in Copenhagen, Denmark.

By Woody Anders