Damn, but I’m really beginning to hate doing these things:
COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Guitar master Link Wray, the father of the power chord in rock ‘n’ roll who inspired legends such as Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and Pete Townsend, has died.
Wray, 76, died at his home in Copenhagen Nov. 5, a statement from his wife and son on his Web site said. No cause of death was given, but his family said his heart was “getting tired.” He was buried quietly after a service at Copenhagen’s Christian Church Nov. 18.
“While playing his guitar he often told the audience, ‘God is playing my guitar, I am with God when I play,'” his wife, Olive, and son, Oliver Christian, wrote. “We saw you go with God, you were smiling.”
Wray developed a style considered the blueprint for heavy metal and punk music. Frequently seen playing in his trademark leather jacket, he is best known for his 1958 instrumental “Rumble,” 1959 “Rawhide” and 1963’s “Jack the Ripper.” His music has been featured in movies including “Pulp Fiction,” “Independence Day” and “Desperado.”
Wray, who was three-quarters Shawnee Indian, is said to have inspired many other rock musicians, including Pete Townsend of the Who, but also David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Steve Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen. All have been quoted as saying that Wray and “Rumble” inspired them to become musicians.
“He is the king; if it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I would have never picked up a guitar,'” Townsend wrote on one of Wray’s albums. Neil Young once said: “If I could go back in time and see any band, it would be Link Wray and the Raymen.”
The power chord — a thundering sound created by playing fifths (two notes five notes apart, often with the lower note doubled an octave above) — became a favorite among rock players. Wray claimed because he was too slow to be a whiz on the guitar, he had to invent sounds.
When recording “Rumble,” he created the fuzz tone by punching holes in his amplifiers to produce a dark, grumbling sound. It took off instantly, but it was banned by some deejays in big cities for seeming to suggest teen violence.
In his speakers, not his amplifiers. He used a pencil to do it. And it was indeed some dark-sounding stuff. My uncle, an old-school jazz guy, hated that sound; he was listening to me play like that once; as he stalked off, he grumbled sourly that he could get the same sort of sound with a bad connection to the wall socket. But hey, I was fifteen, and he was….old.
“I was looking for something that Chet Atkins wasn’t doing, that all the jazz kings wasn’t doing, that all the country pickers wasn’t doing. I was looking for my own sound,” Wray told The Associated Press in 2002.
He was born Frederick Lincoln Wray Jr. in 1929 in Dunn, N.C. His two brothers, Vernon and Doug, were also musicians. The three became a country hit as “Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands.” Later, after “Rumble,” they became “Link Wray and the Raymen,” or Wraymen, as it was sometimes spelled. Later, the brothers’ relationship soured after a dispute about the rights to “Rumble.”
In 1978, he moved to Denmark and married Olive Julie Povlsen. They raised their son in a three-story house on an island where Hans Christian Andersen once lived.
Though he went out of style in the ’60s, he was rediscovered by later generations. He toured the United States and Canada since the mid-1990s, playing 40 shows this year. In 2002, Guitar World magazine elected Wray one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
I have never, ever put out a record without at least one cover of a Link Wray song on it, and I don’t intend to alter that tradition. I told Link this in the upstairs dressing room at the Double Door (Charlotte, not Chicago) one night, after having been onstage with him for about half a set — it was only supposed to be one tune, but he just kept asking me if I knew this song or that song, and I kept saying “hell yeah!”, and off we’d go — and I jokingly thanked him for not suing me for unpaid royalties. He laughed and thanked me instead; he said “it’s thanks to young guys like you (I was 38 at the time) that I can still go out and play. If it wasn’t for guys like you nobody would know who I am.”
Well, I dunno about all that, Link. You can rest easy in the knowledge that there are plenty of us out there who will never forget you, who owe you a great debt for the joy you brought us with your good humor and your wonderful, powerful music, and who will be playing “Deuce” or “Jack The Ripper” or “Branded” real damned loud tonight in tribute.
Hell, I might even take a pencil to a speaker or two before I’m done.
And the obligatory CF obit photo:
And, as an added bonus for the Fat Guy and Al Barger (well, and anyone else who cares to download it, I guess), a bootleg MP3 from that very night. If the playing is a bit sloppy, well, I’d just done five hours on a Sportster, coming back from the Myrtle Beach H-D rally, and was sorta wiped.
No wait, cancel that; if it’s a bit sloppy, well, dammit, get over it — it’s supposed to be.