“Just Dirty and Up to No Good”: The Legacy of Link Wray
Link Wray died of heart failure at the age of 76 in his adopted city of Copenhagen, Denmark, on November 5, 2005, but the news didn’t break worldwide until weeks later. When that message did arrive, it might have seemed like a minor story to some, for Link Wray’s tremendous influence had always greatly outweighed his fame. Nonetheless, the word of his passing sent reverberations rolling throughout the highest echelons of rock and roll.
The news was transmitted to the world on November 20, the same date that Bob Dylan was to begin a five-night run at London’s Brixton Academy. And although Dylan made no public statement, everyone in attendance at the concert that night soon found out that Link was at the forefront of his mind. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan,” announced a voice over the public address as Dylan and band took the stage to the kind of dense, heaving crowd roar that only an icon of Dylan’s stature can summon. The six band members passed before the giant burgundy curtains cloaking the stage, taking their positions. Dylan adjusted his broad-brimmed, black hat and strolled out behind them, looking like some kind of Mississippi river-boat gambler in his natty black suit with sparkly trim. A pencil-thin moustache lent his remarkably pale visage a sinister air.
Once assembled, the band wordlessly and immediately tore into Link Wray’s instrumental calling-card and debut single, “Rumble” (1958), the boiling and sustained guitar chords crashing out over the crowd, the drums pounding out the song’s hard tribal nerve center, the musicians thrusting along in a loud and raw incarnation that was primitive miles from the rest of the night’s set. “Rumble” lasted about a minute and soon segued into the singer-songwriter’s own “Drifter’s Escape,” but it was a bracing tribute from Dylan, one of the most transformative figures in popular music and someone who had admired Link Wray ever since, as a teenager in 1959, he had seen him and the Wraymen take the stage in Duluth, Minnesota, guesting during a show on Buddy Holly’s ill-fated Winter Party Tour. (This was on January 31, a mere three days before the plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, that killed Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper.) In 1975, Dylan visited with Wray and told him, “Link, I was sitting in the front row when you and Buddy Holly were at Duluth, and you’re as great now as you were then.”
The next night after Dylan’s London concert, way over across the pond in his native New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen took the stage at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton to pay tribute as well—but with his own personal spin on the proceedings. He opened the show under a cloudburst of guitar distortion, announcing, “This is for Link Wray!” Bruce stood alone in a spotlight, with darkness all around him, determinedly driving the scalding chords of “Rumble” into the cavernous arena where they resonated and trembled. Bent over a red guitar (one that evoked Link’s signature instrument, “Screamin’ Red”), he laid the side of his hand into the tremolo bar and shook the hollow-bodied instrument, wringing every last grain out of the long chords.
The sound was at once gigantic and lonely, the barely accompanied guitar transmuting Link’s fiery and suggestive number into a soul-rattling dirge. Again and again Bruce dragged the plectrum thickly and steadily across the heavy steel strings, letting the massive chords settle out over the audience and dissipate on a humming drone, then pealing out the bright, stinging notes of the turnaround. Everything in the arena seemed to vibrate. Bruce, in tight jeans and looking tanned and fit as ever, seemed flexed with the effort, all of his concentration poured into the tribute. He laid the song bare, playing with the seeming gravity of a man offering up a song for the last time.
After the final, sustained “D” chord, Springsteen set the red guitar in a stand, letting the instrument remain alone on center stage for long moments, still vibrating hotly with sound, feedback nipping around the edges—the burdened sound system still moaning. The tones eventually and slowly faded, and the spot-lit guitar finally went quiet, gradually transforming from an instrument to a totemic image—something for the audience to contemplate, something that seemed fraught with Link Wray’s half-Shawnee spirit.
The crowd roared. Springsteen, who along with E-Street Band right-hand man Little Steven Van Zandt had cited Link as an important and early influence, had paid respect in spades.
Dylan and Springsteen aren’t the only significant musical figures to have come under the spell of Link Wray, however. “He is the king,” the Who’s Pete Townshend claimed in 1974. “If it hadn’t been for Link Wray…I would have never picked up a guitar.” Neil Young has voiced similarly high praise: “The big early influences?…Oh, man, Link Wray’s right there on top of the list,” he has said. The Band’s Robbie Robertson was also entranced. “Link Wray had the rawest sound, just dirty and up to no good,” Robertson said. “I had no choice but to play guitar.” Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page is a Link Wray fan as well; in fact, there is a remarkable moment in the 2009 documentary It Might Get Loud in which Page stands in the middle of his own record library, playing air-guitar, gleefully smiling, and expounding upon the virtues of Link Wray as a 45 of “Rumble” spins on the turntable. (Page, the man who inspired billions of air guitarists himself, later described the scene to an journalist as, “Me in my den, in the shadow of Link Wray.”)
In the film, Page tells fellow guitarists the Edge, from U2, and Jack White, “I listened to anything with a guitar on it when I was a kid. But first time I heard ‘Rumble’—that was something that had such profound attitude to it.” (The other two guitarists nod solemnly in agreement.) Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, and the Kinks’ Dave Davies are also arguably acolytes of Wray, while Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia was enough of a fan to actually play on several tracks of Wray’s 1973 album, Be What You Want To, during an era that can rightfully described as the Grateful Dead’s heyday and Link Wray’s wilderness years. Lou Reed and John Sebastian (Lovin’ Spoonful) are two of many others that have also cited Link as an early inspiration. And this is not to mention the whole historical layer of guitar-gritty 1960s garage groups that owe a debt to Wray’s sound.
But the artists of rock music’s “classic” era aren’t the only musicians whose DNA can be traced to the sounds and attitude of Link Wray. Certainly the nasty, gutter-punk guitar scrum of the New York Dolls’ Johnny Thunders found its antecedent in the legendary guitarist, and 1970s American punk rockers the Cramps provided an even more obvious reference point, with guitarist Poison Ivy practically becoming a one-woman Link Wray tribute. New York garage punkers the Fleshtones have also drawn great influence from Wray, and even the Neville Brothers have covered two Link Wray vocal compositions on record (“Fire and Brimstone” and “Fallin’ Rain,” in 1989 and 1990, respectively).
Mark E. Smith, of vaunted UK post-punk unit the Fall, has also been vocal about his adoration of the guitarist-songwriter’s music, going so far as to pay tribute to him in a lyric: “I used to have this thing about Link Wray/I used to play him every Saturday/God bless Saturday” (“Neighbourhood of Infinity”). Jason Ringenberg, of American cowpunkers Jason and the Scorchers, took and even more direct tack in 2004 with the song “Link Wray” (featuring some bristling, full-bore guitar from Link Wray acolyte and Los Straitjackets guitarist Eddie Angel). Even the hallowed Kurt Cobain of Nirvana musically referenced Wray in the song “Breed.” The song’s central riff—whether consciously cribbed or not—is a dead ringer for “Run Chicken Run.” Any attempts to trainspot Link’s influence lead to further such discoveries; Adam and the Ants, for example, consciously built an entire song based on the burning chords of “Rumble” (“Killer in the Home,” in 1980). More recently, Albert Hammond, guitarist of the Strokes, has said that he turns to the influence of Link Wray to instill “balls” in his playing.
Bob Irwin is the head of Sundazed Records, which has reissued a large volume of Wray’s work. (He is also the studio wizard behind multiple Sony remasterings of classic LPs by artists such as the Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, and Johnny Cash.) Irwin claims that Wray “set the prototype for the loud, distorted rock guitar,” becoming the “first guy that did it with a piledriver attack—without an apology, he flew in the face of what was going on.” Irwin, who has worked with numerous original tapes from Link Wray’s Epic recording sessions (1958-1961), said he was eager to have Sundazed take on the catalogue because it fits his central criteria: “It is exciting, unique, raw, and visceral.”
Eddie Angel has similar words for the Link’s music. As guitarist for the grammy-nominated, Mexican-wrestling-mask wearing combo Los Straitjackets, he has developed his playing and composition style around the influence of Link Wray, and his guitar work has been a centrepiece at Link tribute shows. (The album Eddie Angel’s Guitar Party, from the mid-1990’s, is likely the greatest Link Wray-influenced instrumental album ever—featuring, incidentally, Morrissey sideman Boz Boorer on sleazy sax.) Angel has also had a close musical association with the guitarist, first encountering him in a rehearsal in 1973. “It was like punk rock—even though we didn’t have that word at the time,” said Angel of his reaction to Wray’s playing. But he also pointed to the “soulful” quality of his guitar, noting how even though he “wasn’t the best player on a technical level,” everything was deeply felt. Angel also claimed that Link seemed almost oblivious to his own influence. Atom Ellis, of San Francisco band Dieselhead—which served as Link Wray’s band in the 1990s and 2002, also recognized a certain guileless quality. “There was just a stunning engima to how unconsciously Link played, but how sure he was of what he was trying to do,” Ellis noted. “He was a really honest lifeforce…He was honest like a wild animal is honest. When he performed you could hear that. It was almost spooky to be around.”
“He was also the sweetest guy,” noted Angel, “and very spiritual.” In fact, Wray once told Angel “that every time he played a solo he thought of God.” Angel was also sensitive to the complications and contradictions in his personality, though. “He was real paranoid about someone trying to kill him,” he pointed out, noting how Wray wouldn’t even want to go to a restaurant two doors from the hotel when Los Straitjackets toured with him in 1997. The death of John Lennon in particular resonated in Wray’s psyche in a bad way. “He saw America as a place where well-known musicians can get killed,” Angel recalled. He also remembered, however, a time when Link, playing at a small venue in Albany, New York, pulled Angel’s elderly mother on stage and crooned to her. Afterward, he spent hours talking religion with her in the dressing room. “The best way to describe him is as a bundle of contradictions—and as a sort of folk hero,” Angel claimed.
Indeed, Link’s own life story reads like folklore. Fred Lincoln Wray, Jr. (not “Frederick,” as many claim) was born to a Native-American, Shawnee mother and white father in 1929 in a crude shack in Dunn, North Carolina. “We were just born in a little hut—no floors in our house, just dirt, no electricity, just kerosene lamps and candles,” remembered Link. Link’s mother, Lillian Wray, was handicapped. She “had a strong spirit but a weak body,” Link once proclaimed. “She got crippled when she was 11 years old—a white girl put her knee in her back, y’know, broke my mother’s spine completely. I never heard her complain, not one time.” When he was an adolescent, his family relocated to Portsmouth, Virginia, living in government housing near the naval yards and enjoying the comforts of electricity for the first time. Wray’s circumstances were hampered by a significant bout of German measles that left him with impaired hearing and vision, but fortunately music found him early on. He started out on his older brother’s guitar and was playing in local jazz groups by the time he was 14, with his brother Vernon on drums. (Vernon Wray would eventually go by the flipped stage name of Ray Vernon and move from drums, to singer, to recording engineer.) Early on, Link came under the spell of guitarist Chet Atkins and other Nashville greats, but realizing he could never emulate their sophisticated style, he turned an adoring ear to Hank Williams and Ray Charles—artists that were grouped together in his mind because of their profoundly soulful ability to express human pain. Link once testily snapped at writer Jimmy McDonough that his own pain came not from women, but “from watchin’ my Momma sell butter door to door for five cents a stick, and seein’ my daddy standin’ in the corner shakin’, his hair and teeth all fallin’ out and nobody givin’ a shit about it. That’s where the pain in my music comes from.”
In 1951, in his early twenties, Link left home for the Army, serving in both Germany and Korea. After two years in the service, he returned home and formed a country band with his older brother, his younger brother Doug, and Brantley “Shorty” Horton (an older, portly pal who had served in World War II at Normandy). Ray was the lead singer and Doug played drums—for his part, Link was satisfied with his role as guitar sideman. He was not, however, satisfied with country music; like jazz, he found it too restrained and limited. Fortunately for him, the new sound of rock and roll was beginning to foment, and in its energy and excitement Link would finally find a form that could sustain his interest over the long haul. First, though, Link endured yet another setback in his musical progress when his health started failing. Link had become increasingly frail and sickly in 1956, and when he finally went for medical help, he was diagnosed with both pneumonia and tuberculosis. He was in such bad shape that the doctors had to remove his entire left lung. He also had to remain in hospital quarantine for one year with his brother Doug, who had also been ordered into quarantine because he lived with Link. (Link referred to this period as his time in the “death house.”)
It was while he was in the hospital quarantine that Wray claimed to have had his first profound religious vision. “God appeared in front of me,” he recalled. “And then I went flying through the air. Doug was there…I went flying across the room and then God just let me down easy and Doug said, ‘Are you hurt, Link?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not hurt. I saw God.’” He claimed to have a visitation of a darker sort years later, in the mid-1970s during the time that he was recording an album for Virgin records at Richard Branson’s countryside studio. He was drifting off to sleep when, “All of the sudden I felt these here hands crawlin’ all over my body…and this voice sayin’, ‘Get outta the room,’” he said. “I jumped up, took my clothes and shoes, and I ran out. I went down and slept on the kitchen table. That sure wasn’t God. The only thing I could say is that was something evil.” Wray would remain devotedly Christian throughout his life, often reading the Bible, and believing deeply in the tangible forces of good and evil—an element of his personality that seemed to contradict his leather-tough rock-and-roll persona and brawling guitar work. But he was a compelling paradox in many ways: Clad in black leather like a ’50s street tough, brooding at the world through dark sunglasses, and playing pugilistic and debauched tunes, he remained a teetotal, something of a health nut, and a lifelong vegetarian. (Those closely acquainted with him list his vices as all-day-long coffee consumption and excessive TV watching.)
While still quarantined in the hospital, he had a visitation of a less esoteric nature: He happened to catch Elvis Presley performing on a local TV show, an experience that would also have a profound influence—and Elvis would remain a lifelong fascination for him. In this new style of music, Link saw something he could devote himself to once he got out of the hospital and back into music. For Wray, though, volume—the sheer force of a loud, overdriven guitar—would become a key element. (Well into his 70s, he was blowing out amplifiers.) He found Scotty Moore, Elvis’ guitarist, to be too quiet and genteel. Despite there being no previous template for it, Link had it in his mind that rock and roll guitar needed to be big and brutal.
“Rumble” was created on the spot at a record hop in Fredericksburg, Virginia. (The Wray brothers were living in Washington, DC, at the time.) As a singer, Ray had had some dalliance with success while Link was in the hospital, but ultimately his career would be eclipsed by his younger brother’s guitar. While performing at the DC show, the hosting DJ, Milt Grant (who also had a TV show), asked the band to play a stroll, after the fashion of the Diamond’s current hit “The Stroll.” Link wasn’t familiar with the song, and frankly didn’t know what a stroll was. Doug, however, seemed to know what was going on and began to pound out a beat on drums. Link fell in and improvised, laying out those famous three chords, a miked amplifier giving the number extra punch and a kind of loud, nasty undertow that was uncommon in the late 1950s. “In the heat of that night, Ray stuck the microphone in my amplifier,” Link remembered. “The speakers are rattling because they can’t take that heavy playin’, they’re small, and I’m playin’ really hard, see? So they’re rattlin’ all over the place and these kids started swarming, rushin’ to the stage.”
From the frenzied crowd reaction—the band played the song several times that night—Grant, a sort of local Dick Clark, saw the potential for a hit and hustled the band into the studio. At first, Wray wasn’t satisfied with the sound, which he found too clean, so he poked holes in the amplifier tweeters, leading to one of the earliest examples of purposeful distortion on record. (Ike Turner has told a similar story regarding the recording of Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88,” on which he played guitar in 1951. But in that case, the amplifier damage was unintentional.) Cadence records snapped up the single, changed the title from “Oddball” to “Rumble,” and it shot to the Billboard top 20, forever transforming Link Wray’s career. Despite its success, however, the single was notoriously banned on radio throughout the U.S., particularly in New York City, which was in the grip of youth gang fights at the time. The powers-that-be felt that Link’s single would incite more violence, not just because of the title, but because of the sheer bristling, full-bore attack of song.
Link’s career was about more than “Rumble,” though, as his vast catalogue attests. After signing with Epic Records, the single “Raw-Hide” sailed to #23 on the charts when Dick Clark championed it on American Bandstand. Link recorded a horde of tunes for the label from 1958 until 1961, and much of it was remarkable and seemed to display the light and dark sides of Wray’s personality, which were always at war with each other; thus, for example, “Lillian,” the gorgeously languid and sparkling guitar paean to his mother, stands in the same trove alongside the buzz-saw propulsion and tribal tom-toms of “Comanche.” Link was also cutting some energetic vocal tracks for the label, something that the surgeons who took out his lung surely never envisioned. “Ain’t That Loving You Baby” married his incendiary, gut-bucket guitar to a crude and dirty vocal performance that rivals his guitar for sheer suggestiveness. His guitar and vocals also added a nasty undertow to the booty-shaking Ray Charles track “Mary Anne.”
Eventually cut loose from Epic—based on Link’s lack of hits and his own dissatisfaction with some of the hokey ideas they had for his music—he spent a good portion of the 1960s making powerful music far from the eyes of the public. Link had a difficult time with the burgeoning cultural revolution and its attendant culture. As he said of the period, he really “didn’t want to play to the ‘LSD crowd,’” so he ensconced himself back home in the greater D.C. area, “playing CCR and Elvis for the rednecks getting drunk off beer and whiskey.” He and the Wraymen also backed black singer Bunker Hill (a.k.a. David Walker) on some heated-up soul tracks. And though Link would later scorn 1960s youth audiences as drugged-up hippies, he was nonetheless creating some mind-bending music of his own during this time, music that began to head toward abstraction. “Jack the Ripper,” opening with slashing power chords and then jettisoning into a piercing, interplanetary guitar figure played on one string, was a universe away from what anyone was doing in 1961.
Link’s brother Ray had evolved out of the band to a role as engineer and producer. Converting an old chicken coop on his property in rural Accokeek, Maryland, to a studio, he, Link, and the band formed their own outpost of progress, Wray’s Shack Three-Track, where they could freely engage in their musical experiments. (The town is not “Accoceek,” as some writers would have it.) Swan was a hands-off label that dutifully released whatever was sent to them. The four years with Swan produced a trove of wide-ranging and bracing material. If “Rumble” had sounded dangerous in 1958, Link upped the ante in the mid-1960s with tunes such as the mutated and stinging blues of “Big City After Dark” and the manic, low-animal propulsion of “Run Chicken Run” (complete with guitar chicken squawks); but then there was also an impressive, good-time rock-and-roll take on Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country,” on which Link played it relatively straight. During this period, Link and band were also further honing their sound in some of the toughest, most dangerous clubs in Washington, DC, venues such as the 1023, where switchblades and handguns were practically de rigeur and the occasional brick came sailing through a window. The 1023 was embedded in an area fraught with housing projects and gangs—and there was many a tense night of potential violence—though not surprisingly the area toughs seemed to have a natural affinity for Link’s brawling music. (The 1023 was eventually consumed in the race riots of 1966.)
Swan met its demise in the late 1960s, but Link kept recording, putting out some of his most raw, forceful, and strange songs ever on his brother Ray’s Record Factory label. By the early 1970s, Wray was on a major label, Polydor, and had turned away from instrumentals toward music that seemed atypical for him. His 1971 self-titled album found the 42-year-old warmly settling into a brand of burnished Americana and folk-rock that seemed remote years from the guitar drive for which he was known. In fact, the country-funk groove of “Juke Box Mama” and the rolling, roadhouse country of “Take Me Home Jesus” seemed more the domain of the Band than Link Wray. Nothing here sounds contrived however—just different from what one would expect—and Wray, with his hard-scrabble southern roots, was as rightful an heir as any to this heartwood brand of Americana. (Perhaps most shocking was the LP cover, which captured him in profile—with long hair, no sunglasses, and an Indian headband.)
But much of the 1970s represented a wilderness for Wray. His brother Doug, an undeniable force behind the kit, left to open a barber shop, and the years of questionable business practices and lack of oversight (Link entrusted Ray with everything) finally came to a head. The early 1970s found Link living in a trailer in the Tuscon, Arizona desert and exploring his Native American roots at nearby reservations. The era also saw a string of dismal albums. Polydor threw lots of money at Be What You What To (1972), as well as the star power of players such as Jerry Garcia, Commander Cody, and Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna). But Link was clearly at some sort of impasse and uncomfortable with the surroundings, which represented a far cry from the relative autonomy of the converted chicken shack back in Maryland. The next Polydor album, The Link Wray Rumble (1974), returned him closer to his native rock-and-roll roots, but he was clearly treading water career-wise. The Polydor gig was up by the mid-1970s, and Wray headed to England to record yet another unremarkable record, Stuck in Gear (1976), for Virgin.
If most of the 1970s illustrated anything, it was that Wray’s musical power had been weakened in some middle ground of compromise that he had tried to strike between the burgeoning sounds of the era and his own more purist, raw, and unique rock-and-roll tendencies. Fortunately, punk rock was around the corner, a movement that not only suited, but seemed (to a degree) drawn from regions that Link had been exploring for decades. In 1977, he teamed up with Robert Gordon, a younger, throwback singer at the forefront of the rockabilly revival that had embedded itself in the larger punk movement. It was an uneasy alliance, with Link not entirely comfortable as a sideman and keeping his back to the audience unless soloing, but the Gordon gig became a valuable bridge between him and the younger crowd. The leather and shades were back, as if the new, leather-clad hordes of punks had affirmed and revitalized the old Link Wray. The guitarist’s time with Gordon was brief, but he did cut two albums with the singer and became acquainted with Bruce Springsteen via the association, with the Boss even playing live with the outfit and offering them the song “Fire” to record—a track that had originally been intended for Elvis Presley. Link also got to work with Elvis’ former backing crooners the Jordanaire’s. But ultimately the Gordon records were too restrained and limited an idiom for the full re-blossoming of Wray’s powerhouse guitar work.
1979 was a watershed personal year for the guitarist. His older brother, Ray, committed suicide (there are varying reports regarding factors), he left Robert Gordon’s band, and he met Olive Pavlsen, a decades-younger Danish college student with an interest in Native American studies who would come to be accused of everything from stabilizing Link to becoming the most divisive and alienating influence in his life. At any rate, after three failed marriages and seven children, the flaming red-haired, Rabelaisian-figured Olive would become his close companion and fierce guardian for the remainder of his life (and the mother of his youngest child, Oliver). Olive soon became his manager as well, and Wray permanently moved to Denmark in 1983 to be with her. In 1984, Link’s brother Doug died of a heart attack, and for twelve years, from 1985 to 1997, he never played in the States, preferring Denmark and England. (It is ironic—or perhaps a testament to Link’s health regime—that the “sickly,” one-lunged brother outlived the others.)
On record, some curious new music trickled out in the late 1980s, music cheaply and hastily cobbled together under duress of—and designed to aid—his straitened financial circumstances. England’s Ace Records put out The Rumble Man in 1989, a lo-fi endeavor with a drum machine in the mix. Nevertheless, songs like “Street Beat” showed that he was not afraid to rev the guitar distortion into the red, and there was a vague sense of the nervy and daring Link Wray of the 1960s. In his English colleagues at Ace, the guitarist also found a group of people sensitive to his classic work, and two quality, instro-drenched albums followed, Apache and Wild Side of the City Lights. The latter album, released in late 1989, was particularly bracing and featured a more-than-able ally in Bruce Brand, a multi-instrumentalist from many UK bands, in particular Thee Headcoats. (Billy Childish, leader of that outfit, has been an active proponent of Link Wray’s music.) Link also undertook some quality covers, including a ripping version of Elvis Presley’s “Little Sister,” driven by his distinctive vocals and edgy guitar.
Around the corner, however, was a revitalization driven by American cinema. Quentin Tarantino’s groundbreaking 1994 film Pulp Fiction used many classic guitar instrumentals, “Rumble” very prominently among them, to provide the atmosphere for his film. It wasn’t the first time Wray’s music was used on film—John Waters had appreciated the sleazy, vintage subversion in the guitarist’s music as far back as 1972’s Pink Flamingos, and a 1983 remake of Breathless featured his music as well. Since then, Link’s tunes have cropped up in films such as This Boy’s Life (1993), Johnny Suede (1991), Twelve Monkeys (1995), Desperado (1995), Independence Day (1996), Blow (2001), and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002). Driven by this resurgence of interest, Wray returned to the United States to tour in 1997, and thereafter continued to tour steadily into the new millennium, humping around the country in a budget van with much younger musicians and the omnipresent Olive. These were often lower-tier venues, sometimes with sparse crowds in attendance, but Link was going out the way he promised, with a guitar in his hands and the amplifier cranked to discomfiting volumes. His name also popped up in “greatest guitarists” polls in Rolling Stone and Guitar World magazines. His legend was secure, even if his commercial status was shaky—and even if he was far from a household name. And Link would ultimately emerge to be a player to whom even the gods of rock and roll bowed. Dylan and Springsteen validated that—and thanks to them his music was played to its largest crowds ever after his death. Jimmy Page validated that as well, air-strumming to “Rumble” in his den and making everyone in the room listen as the guitar at once swelled and disintegrated in a storm of vibrato. “It gets more intense,” Page said, eagerly pointing.
1. Robert Shelton, No Direction Home, (Cambridge, Da Capo, 2003), 53.
2. Liner notes to The Link Wray Rumble (1974).
3. Nick Kent, “Neil Young and the Haphazard Highway,” The Dark Stuff: Selected Writings on Rock Music (Cambridge: Da Capo, 2002), 299.
4. Barney Hoskyns, Across the Great Divide: The Band in America (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard, 2006), 14.
5. It Might Get Loud (SONY Pictures Classics, 2009). A Thomas Tull production, directed by Davis Guggenheim.
6. Carla Hay, “Jimmy Page and Jack White Sound Off on Guitar Greatness in It Might Get Loud,” examiner.com, August 12, 2009. http://www.examiner.com/ (Accessed August 18, 2009)
7. It Might Get Loud
8. Martin Roach, This Is It: the First Biography of the Strokes (London: Omnibus Press, 2003), 27.
9. Author interview.
10. Author interview.
11. Author interview.
12. Author interview.
13. Jimmy McDonough, “Be Wild, Not Evil: The Link Wray Story,” Perfect Sound Forever, 2006. http://www.furious.com/perfect/linkwray.html. (Accessed September 19, 2008)
14. Author interview.
15. Author interview.
16. Author interview.
17. Jimmy McDonough, “Be Wild, Not Evil: The Link Wray Story,” Perfect Sound Forever, 2006. http://www.furious.com/perfect/linkwray.html. (Accessed September 19, 2008)
23. “Fresh Air” radio show interview on National Public Radio at the end of the Shadowman tour of the United States, 1997.
24. It Might Get Loud