LINK WRAY (1929 – 2005)
Rock and Roll pioneer Link Wray as an enigma, a visionary, and most notably the
inventor of the power chord - that magically angry and aggressive blend of notes that paved the way for everything from
early power-pop to heavy metal, punk, grunge and beyond. He was oblivious to convention and played what he felt, seemingly
channeling his pent up anger over the poor treatment of our nation's Native Americans and other injustices he had
witnessed as a young guy growing up in Dunn, North Carolina into an genre of music that was entirely his own.
After a stint in the Korean War in which he contracted tuberculosis and subsequently lost a lung, he returned home to form his
first group with brothers Vernon and Doug, Lucky Wray & the Lazy Pine Wranglers, later changing their name to The Palomino
Ranch Hands. They performed material based on the blues-tinged country artists of the day with an emphasis on Hank
Williams (it would appear to me). I suspect this was when Link began innovating his signature distorted guitar sound
reminiscent of early African-American blues pioneers who would crank both their guitars and amps to 11 (if you will) to
express the pain and suffering they endured, the roots of course of the rock and roll holy grail, the American Blues.
Sometime in 1955, The Palamino Ranch Hands relocated to the outskirts Washington, D.C. and picked up bass player Shorty
Horton on bass with Link, Horton, and brothers Doug and Vernon. Veroon, then known as Lucky, becomimg lead vocalist. They recorded one record
on Kay records recording songs written by local songwriters with the remainder of their recordings being sold to a label
1958 was the turning point for Link. Switching from his signature Danelectro Longhorn Guitarlin to a Gibson Les Paul, he truly began to develop his signature power chord guitar style, a style that influenced so many guitarists that the list would take me days to compile but this quote from Pete Townsend pretty much says it all, "He is the king, if it hadn't been for Link Wray and Rumble, I would have never picked up a guitar."
His instrumental Rumble, recorded in 1958 was the birth of the man we know as Link Wray. Its distorted guitar and accelerated blues riffs paved the way for many a disenfranchised kid to pick up a guitar and channel their teenange angst. The tracks he recorded on Swan Records after Rumble and into the early 1960s were certainly the harbinger for the rock and roll songs that we cherish to this day from heavy metal to power pop, metal, hard rock and punk. We owe a debt of gratitude to Link that should be validated by his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Sadly, this has yet to be done and is long over due. I urge you to have a listen to Rumble today and work your way through Link's catalogue if you have not. You will gain an entirely new perspect on the advent of classic and modern rock, and you will hear the profound influence Link Wray had and has on the music we cherish.
- Dennis Allen