Link Wray Biography

Frederick Lincoln Wray, 2 May 1929, Dunn, North Carolina, USA, d. 21 November 2005, Copenhagen, Denmark. Guitarist Wray formed his first group in 1942, but his musical ambitions were thwarted by his induction into the US Army. He first recorded for Starday in 1955 as a member of the country outfit Lucky Wray And The Palomino Ranch Hands. He subsequently formed the Raymen with Shorty Horton (bass) and Doug Wray (drums), and enjoyed a million-seller in 1958 with ‘Rumble’, a pioneering instrumental on which the artist’s frenzied style and distorted tone invoked a gang-fight. The distorted ‘ripped’ sound was actually created using a ripped amplifier speaker; Wray punched holes in the speaker cones with a pencil to recreate the sound he had first stumbled upon on stage two years earlier. The ‘Rumble’ single incurred bans both on technical grounds and on account of its subject matter, but is now recognized as one of pop’s most innovative releases, and includes the Who’s Pete Townshend as a vociferous proponent. Wray achieved another gold disc for ‘Rawhide’ (1959), but ensuing releases, including ‘Jack The Ripper’ (1960), ‘The Sweeper’ (1963) and ‘Batman Theme’ (1965), failed to match this success. He continued to record, using a homemade three-track studio built in a converted chicken shack, and a 1971 album, Link Wray, was the subject of critical acclaim. It drew heavily on the artist’s country roots - he was part-Shawnee Indian - yet was still imbued with the primitive atmosphere of his early work. Renewed interest in Wray resulted in several archive releases, while contemporary recordings, although of interest, failed to match the promise of his initial ‘rediscovery’ collection.

In the late 70s the guitarist forged a fruitful partnership with new wave rockabilly singer Robert Gordon, before resurrecting a solo career the following decade. He had moved to Denmark in the late 70s and now based himself there. Wray’s primeval sound was echoed in the work of the Cramps and many other more contemporary groups. He was particularly respected in the UK where his influence on ‘trash’ guitar groups, notably the Stingrays and Milkshakes, was considerable. In 1997 he made a new album with UK’s prime R&B/Rock ‘n’ Roll reissue label Ace Records, having been previously associated with their Chiswick Records label. ‘Rumble On The Docks’ was vintage Link Wray and worth the price of the CD alone. Wray’s death in 2005 was reported by his family from his home in Denmark. Their simple statement claimed ‘his heart had got tired’. ‘Rumble’ is destined to endure for future generations discovering the electric guitar for the first time.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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