Credited with inventing the power chord on his 1958 hit "Rumble," Link Wray stands alongside Dick Dale as one of only a few truly legendary guitar figures of early rock and roll still hitting the boards today. While Dale became associated with what was then thought of as the "clean-cut" surf music trend, "Rumble" was banned by numerous radio stations for its gang-fighting connotation. The press associated Wray and his music in the public mind with leather-clad, Brando-style motorcycle toughs and other "sinister" characters. Wray refused to bend to record company pressures to clean up his image and move away from identification with "unsavory social elements"; "Rawhide," his follow up to "Rumble," reached No. 23 on the U.S. charts and was a hit among the burgeoning beat community. Facing mounting label pressure to tone it down, Wray, a pioneer in the use of distortion and the whammy bar, then became one of the first independent rockers by putting out the incendiary in-your-face rock instrumental hit "Jack the Ripper" (later featured in the Richard Gere film Breathless) on his own Rumble Records label. But Wray faded from public view in the '60s, and although he had a critically acclaimed album in 1971, he never found the commercial seam again.
Still, despite his limited public acceptance, Wray is credited as the seminal influence in a number of important rock music movements. His influence on the British Invasion groups was tremendous. The Who were literally Wray worshipers, and Pete Townshend often testified to Wray's influence on his style. Neil Young always lists Wray as a primary influence. Wray's guitar techniques and stage approach also lie at the epicenter of the heavy metal and punk movements, and he was a seminal influence on the original cowpunk outfit Jason and the Scorchers.
At 75, Wray is a living monument to the rebellious roots of rock and roll. Now a world figure, he is as much in demand for live performances today as he has ever been. And, no, he hasn't toned it down one damn bit, still blasting his way through two-hour tour-de-force shows. Let's get ready to rumble.
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