During rock & roll’s first decade, Link Wray pioneered the use of reverberating power chords and raw distortion –
best heard in his 1958 instrumental hit “Rumble,” – a song so startling it was largely banned for fear it would incite juvenile violence.
Legions of rock guitarists on every continent testify that the biggest bang of all was the first time they heard “Rumble” by Link Wray (1929-2005), a dangerous slab of reverberating power chords and raw distortion laid down in 1958.
In the summer of “Purple People Eater,” “Witch Doctor” and “Patricia,” the rebellious sonic onslaught of “Rumble” cut through Top 40 radio like a steamroller. This was more than a decade before power chords even had a name; a decade after that, in the heat of the punk era, Wray’s collaboration with Robert Gordon left every retro-rockabilly guitarslinger in the dust.
The impact of Link Wray, one of Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Guitarists of All Time, can be heard in generations of American and British metal, punk, grunge, thrash, and psychobilly rockers, all of whom have claimed him and “Rumble” (and follow-ups “Raw-Hide” and “Jack The Ripper”) as their own. Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Springsteen head the A-list of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees who bow to Link Wray’s abiding influence.
Pete Townshend simply calls him the King: “If it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I would never have picked up a guitar.” Even Iggy Pop is an acolyte: “I left school emotionally after hearing ‘Rumble.’” The DIY recordings that North Carolina Native American Link Wray made on his three-track machine in the family’s converted chicken coop are the holiest of six-string grails.
“The major modus operandi of modern rock guitarists,” wrote Cub Koda, “the blueprints for heavy metal, thrash, you name it…if Duane Eddy twanged away for white, teenage America, Link Wray played for juvenile delinquent hoods, plain and simple.” The “Rumble” goes on forever.
“Rumble” (1958) • “Raw-Hide,” “Comanche,” “Slinky” (1959) • Link Wray & The Raymen (1960) • “El Toro,” “Jack The Ripper” (1961) • “Big City Stomp,” Great Guitar Hits By Link Wray (1962) • “Week End,” “Run Chicken Run” (1963) • “Ace Of Spades,” “I’m Branded” (1965) • “Batman Theme” (1966) • Beans And Fatback, Be What You Want To (1973) • “Red Hot” with Robert Gordon, Robert Gordon w/Link Wray (1977) • “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” Bullshot (1979) • Indian Child (1993)