If there is one musician with an overriding influence over all rock guitarists – from 1960s British rock to 1970s punk to 1980s hardcore to 1990s grunge – that musician is Link Wray. Every young rebel who has donned a leather jacket and slashed away at an electric guitar with loud, distorted abandon owes a significant debt to Wray. With a DIY ethos and an electric intensity unlike any other guitarist, Wray was a decade ahead of his time when he emerged in the 1950s. He embraced sounds that had rarely been heard before – distortion, fuzz, tremolo, and wah-wah effects – all of which have become staples of rock guitar. Wray was the original punk, the inventor of the power chord, and the architect of a sound that laid the foundation for metal, punk, and every genre that relies on raw, untamed noise to convey its message.
Raised in North Carolina with Shawnee origins, Fred Lincoln Wray, Jr., joined his brothers in a band that played a mix of country and rockabilly music. While his family suffered racial discrimination due to their Native American background, Wray later honored their heritage in songs like “Comanche” and “Shawnee.”
Legions of guitarists testify that the “big bang” for them was the first time they heard Link Wray’s revolutionary instrumental “Rumble,” a ragged slab of edgy, brutal distortion that he laid down in 1958. The rebellious sonic onslaught of “Rumble” cut through Top 40 radio like a steamroller, echoing across the Atlantic and hypnotizing the first generation of British guitar heroes. Wray subsequently cut many more legendary instrumental classics, all of which exuded a tense, primitive energy that perfectly captured the essence of adolescence and changed rock & roll forever.
In the 1960s, after tiring of the music industry’s attempts to clean up his image, Wray moved back to his family’s farm in Maryland and built his own recording studio. His 1971 comeback album, Link Wray, was a fusion of country, blues, gospel, and folk rock on which he sang and played multiple instruments. Later in the 1970s, he recorded and performed with rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon before relocating to Denmark. Wray continued recording and performing well into his seventies, still wearing black leather and playing loud and proud until his death in 2005.
Link Wray’s influence has reverberated down through the ages. Named one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists, his impact can be heard in generations of British and American guitarists who followed him, including Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Bruce Springsteen. Pete Townshend famously said, “If it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I would never have picked up a guitar.”
“Rumble” (1958) • “Raw-Hide,” “Comanche,” “Slinky” (1959) • Link Wray & The Wraymen (1960) • “El Toro,” “Jack The Ripper” (1961) • “Week End,” “Run Chicken Run” (1963) “Ace Of Spades,” “I’m Branded” (1965) • “Batman Theme” (1966) • Link Wray (1971) • Beans And Fatback (1973) • Be What You Want To (1973) • “Red Hot” (with Robert Gordon), Robert Gordon with Link Wray (1977) • “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” Bullshot (1979) • Shadowman (1997)
Influences: Lead Belly, Elmore James, Chet Atkins
Legacies: The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Stooges
1100 Rock and Roll Boulevard
Cleveland, Ohio 44114