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Fred Lincoln "Link" Wray Jr (May 2, 1929–November 5, 2005) was an Americanmarker rock and roll guitarist, songwriter and occasional singer.

Wray was noted for pioneering a new sound for electric guitars, as exemplified in his hit 1958 instrumental "Rumble", by Link Wray and his Ray Men, which pioneered an overdriven, distorted electric guitar sound, and also for having, "invented the power chord, the major modus operandi of modern rock guitarist," "and in doing so fathering," or making possible, "punk and heavy rock".

Early life

Wray was born in Dunn, North Carolinamarker to Lillie M. Coats and Frederick ("Fred") Lincoln Wray. It was there that Link first heard slide guitar at age eight from a traveling carnival worker, a black man named "Hambone." Link and his family later moved to Norfolk, Virginiamarker as his father got work in the Navy shipyards. Link served a hitch in the US Army and was a Korean War veteran. In 1956, his family later moved to Washington, D.C.marker, and from there, they moved to a farm in Accokeek, Marylandmarker. Link relocated to Arizonamarker with his brother Vernon in the very early 1970s, and later moved to San Franciscomarker in the mid 1970s.

Wray was a veteran of the Korean war, where he contracted tuberculosis that ultimately cost him a lung. His doctors told him that he would never sing again. So Link concentrated on his heavy guitar work. Despite this, on his rare vocal numbers he displays a strong voice and a range equivalent to Clarence "Frogman" Henry.


After discharge from the Army, Wray and his brothers Doug and Vernon Wray, with friends Shorty Horton and Dixie Neal, formed Lucky Wray and the Lazy Pine Wranglers, later known as Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands. They had been playing country music and Western swing for several years when they took a gig as the house band on the daily live TV show Milt Grant's House Party, a Washington, D.C.marker version of American Bandstand. The band made their first recordings in 1956 as Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands for Starday Records.


For the TV show, they also backed many performers, from Fats Domino to Ricky Nelson. In 1958, at a live gig of the D.C.-based Milt Grant's House Party (the regional version of American Bandstand) in Fredericksburg, VAmarker, attempting—at the urging of the local crowd—to work up a cover sound-alike for The Diamonds' hit, "The Stroll", they came up with the stately, powerful 12-bar blues instrumental "Rumble", which they originally called "Oddball". The song was an instant hit with the live audience, which demanded four repeats that night. Eventually the song came to the attention of record producer Archie Bleyer of Cadence Records, who hated it, particularly after Wray poked holes in his amplifier's speakers to make the recording sound more like the live version (see "Rocket 88" for Ike Turner's similar story). Searching for a title that would hit home with radio listeners, Bleyer sought the advice of Phil Everly, who listened and suggested it should be called Rumble, as it had a rough attitude that reminded him of a street gang. Rumble is slang for a "gang fight".

The menacing sound of "Rumble" (and its title) led to a ban on several radio stations, a rare feat for a song with no lyrics, on the grounds that it glorified juvenile delinquency. Nevertheless it became a huge hit, not only in the United States, but also Great Britainmarker, where it has been cited as an influence on The Kinks and The Who, and Jimmy Page among others. Jimmy Page cites the song in the Davis Guggenheim documentary "It Might Get Loud" and proceeds to play air guitar to the song in the movie. Pete Townshend stated in unpublished liner notes for the 1970 comeback album, "He is the king; if it hadn't been for Link Wray and 'Rumble,' I would have never picked up a guitar." In other liner notes in 1974, Townshend said, of "Rumble": "I remember being made very uneasy the first time I heard it, and yet excited by the savage guitar sounds."

Jeff Beck, Duff McKagan, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Bolan, Neil Young and Bob Dylan have all cited Wray as an influence. Billy Childish has covered several Link Wray tracks, including Rumble, Jack the Ripper and Comanche, which he still performs in his set. The 1980 Adam and the Ants song "Killer in the Home" (from their Kings of the Wild Frontier album) is based on the same ominous, descending three-chord glissando riff that is featured in "Rumble" (Ants' guitarist Marco Pirroni, an avid Wray fan, has described the song as "Link Wray meets Col. Kurtz" — the latter being a reference to Apocalypse Now). Mark E. Smith of The Fall sang the line "I used to have this thing about Link Wray, I used to play him every Saturday, God bless Saturday" in the song "Neighbourhood of Infinity" on the album Perverted by Language.

Link Wray was named as one of the hundred greatest guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, but still has not yet been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker. He is, however, a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Later career

The band had several more hard-rocking instrumental hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including "Rawhide", "Ace of Spades", and "Jack the Ripper", the latter named after a "dirty boogie" dance popular in Baltimoremarker at the time. The dirty boogie dance was among the several dance crazes featured in the 1988 film Hairspray.

After his initial hits, Wray's career had periods of retirement followed by renewed popularity, particularly in Europe. He toured and recorded two albums with retro-rockabilly artist Robert Gordon in the late 1970s. The 1980s to the present day saw a large number of reissues as well as new material. One member of his band in the 1980s, on drums, was Anton Fig, who later became drummer in the CBS Orchestra on the David Letterman show. Inspired by the use of his songs in various feature films, the 1997 "Shadowman" album is generally regarded as the Rumble Man's return to his raw rock'n'roll roots. Backed by a Dutch band consisting of Eric Geevers on bass and Rob Louwers on drums, Wray toured Europe and Australia as well, documented on a live album and DVD. Link's last new recording was 2000s "Barbed Wire", again recorded with his Dutch rhythm section. He was generally accompanied on tour by his wife Olive Julie, and since the late nineties his "colorful" Irish born road manager John Tynan. His regular backing band in the USA from 1998 until 2003 were bassist Atom Ellis and drummers Danny Heifetz (Mr. Bungle, Dieselhed) and Dustin Donaldson (I Am Spoonbender, various). He continued to tour up until four months before he died.

His music has been featured in numerous films, including Pulp Fiction, Desperado, Independence Day, Twelve Monkeys, This Boy's Life, Blow, Johnny Suede, The Shadow, Breathless, Roadracers, and Pink Flamingos, which is set in Baltimore.

Native American ancestry

Part Shawnee Indian, Wray frequently spoke of his ancestry in performances and interviews. Three of the songs he performed bear the names of American Indian tribes: "Shawnee", "Apache", and "Comanche." "Apache" was an instrumental composed by Jerry Lordan, which became a hit in the UK for The Shadows in 1960. Wray recorded one of the better covers of the song 30 years later, somehow finding new life in this mythic, minor-key, guitar/drum dialogue which by then was also associated with everyone from The Ventures to the Incredible Bongo Band.

He moved to Denmarkmarker in the 1980s after meeting and marrying a Danish student, Olive, who had been studying Native American culture. He lived his last years with Olive on a Danish island, touring frequently. Link Wray died November 5, 2005 at his home in Copenhagenmarker of heart failure. He was 76. He was buried at the Christian Church Cemetery in the eastern Copenhagen suburb of Christianshavnmarker on November 18, 2005.

According to a note added by Deborah Wray on his Rockabilly Hall of Fame page, Link Wray was married four times and is survived by nine children: Fred Lincoln Wray III, Link Elvis Wray, Shayne Wray, Elizabeth (Beth) Wray Webb, Mona Kay Wray Tidwell, Bellinda Wray Muth, Rhonda Wray Sayen, and Charlotte Wray Glass. Print and online obituaries have only mentioned the wife and son he was living with at the time of his death, Olive and Oliver Christian Wray.

Wray was backed by members of the Seattle band Jet City Fix for the duration of his next to last tour. His very last tour was booked and managed by Marc Mencher of Action Packed Events. Link's drummer on that tour was Gary Weiss of the rockabilly band Vibro Champs and he was backed on bass by Kris Day current bassist. The Vibro Champs website also features photos and video of Link's last touring band.

Robert Ehrlich, the governor of Maryland, declared January 15 to be Link Wray Day.

On March 25, 2006 Link was honored by "The First Americans in the Arts" with the Life Time Achievement Award.

On June 8, 2006, Link was inducted into the Native American Music Hall of Fame.



Release date A-side B-side Label Number
1958/March 31 Rumble The Swag Cadence 1347
1959/January 12 Raw-Hide Dixie-Doodle Epic 5-9300
1959/June 15 Comanche Lillian Epic 5-9321
1959/October Slinky Rendezvous Epic 5-9343
1959 Vendetta (as Ray Vernon) Roughshod Scottie NRS-3020
1960/March 7 Trail Of The Lonesome Pine Golden Strings (Based On A Chopin Etude) Epic 5-9361
1960/October 24 Ain't That Lovin' You Babe Mary Ann Epic 5-9419
1961/July 31 Jack The Ripper The Stranger Rumble 1000
1961/August 21 El Toro Tijuana Epic 5-9454
1962/March Big City Stomp Poppin' Popeye Trans Atlas M 687
1963/March 16 Rumble Mambo Hambone Okeh 4-7166
1963/April 6 The Black Widow Jack The Ripper Swan S-4137
1963/September 21 Week End Turnpike U.S.A. Swan S-4154
1963/December Run Chicken Run The Sweeper Swan S-4163
1964/March The Shadow Knows My Alberta Swan S-4171
1964/July Deuces Wild Summer Dream Swan S-4187
1965/February 13 Good Rockin' Tonight I'll Do Anything For You Swan S-4201
1965 I'm Branded Hang On Swan S-4211
1965 Girl from the North Country You Hurt Me So Swan S-4232
1965 Ace of Spades The Fuzz Swan S-4239
1966 The Batman Theme (with Bobby Howard) Alone Swan S-4244
1966 Ace of Spades Hidden Charms Swan S-4261
1967 Let the Good Times Roll (with Kathy Lynn) Soul Train Swan S-4273
1967 Jack The Ripper I'll Do Anything For You Swan S-4284
1979 It's All Over Now Baby Blue Just That Kind Charisma CB-333


Release date Title Label Number
1960 US Link Wray & The Raymen Epic LN 3661
1962 US Great Guitar Hits by Link Wray Vermillion V-1924
1963 US Jack The Ripper Swan S-LP 510
1964 US Link Wray Sings And Plays Guitar Vermillion V-1925
1963/2006 Link Wray Early Recordings Rollercoaster/Ace
1971 US Link Wray Polydor PD-24-4064
1971 US Mordicai Jones (w/ Bobby Howard) Polydor PD-5010
1972 US Be What You Want To Polydor PD-5047
1973 US Beans and Fatback (rec. 1971) Virgin V-2006
1974 US The Link Wray Rumble (rec. February 1974) Polydor PD-6025
1975 US Stuck in Gear
1979 US Bullshot
1979 US Live at the Paradisomarker
1990 UK Apache
1990 UK Wild Side of the City Lights
1993 DE Indian Child
1997 US Shadowman
1997 UK Walking Down a Street Called Love - live
2000 US Barbed Wire


Release date Title Label Number
1969 US Yesterday and Today Record Factory LP 1929
1993/May, 18 Rumble! The Best of Link Wray Rhino Records
2002 Mr. Guitar Norton Records

With Robert Gordon

Release date Title Label Number
1977 UK Robert Gordon w/ Link Wray
1978 UK Fresh Fish Special Private Stock PVLP 1038

See also

Surf music


  1. Cub Koda & Steve Leggett (2008). "Link Wray" Biography, AllMusic.
  2. Simmonds, Jeremy (2008). The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches, p.559. ISBN 1556527543.
  3. Ancestry of Link Wray

External links

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