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Link Wray

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Link Wray
Wray performing in July 2005
Wray performing in July 2005
Background information
Birth nameFred Lincoln Wray Jr.
Born(1929-05-02)May 2, 1929
Dunn, North Carolina, U.S.
OriginPortsmouth, Virginia, U.S.
DiedNovember 5, 2005(2005-11-05) (aged 76)
Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Musician
  • songwriter
Years active1955–2005

Fred Lincoln "Link" Wray Jr. (May 2, 1929 – November 5, 2005) was an American guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist who became popular in the late 1950s. His 1958 instrumental single "Rumble", reached the top 20 in the United States; and was one of the earliest songs in rock music to utilize distortion and tremolo.

Rolling Stone ranked Wray at No. 45 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.[1] He received two nominations for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, prior to being inducted in the Musical Influence category in 2023.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Wray was born on May 2, 1929, in Dunn, North Carolina, to Fred Lincoln Wray Sr. and Lillian Mae (née Coats), whom her son identified as being Shawnee.[4] He recalled living in very harsh conditions during childhood, in mud huts, without electricity or heating, going to school barefoot, barely clothed.[5] He recounted that his family experienced discrimination, including times when they had to hide from the Ku Klux Klan.[6][7] Wray later said: "The cops, the sheriff, the drugstore owner—they were all Ku Klux Klan. They put the masks on and, if you did something wrong, they'd tie you to a tree and whip you or kill you."[6] His family listed themselves as White on census records. Three songs Wray performed during his career were named for Indigenous peoples: "Shawnee", "Apache", and "Comanche".

Wray lived with his family in Portsmouth, Virginia from 1942 until 1955. He and his brothers Ray and Doug (born July 4, 1933 – died April 29, 1984) drove cabs during the day while working at night clubs in the Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia area. Wray's first bands, The Lucky Wray Band and The Palomino Ranch Gang, formed in Portsmouth and included brothers Ray, Doug, and Vernon (born January 7, 1924 – died March 26, 1979) and two other musicians, Dixie Neal and Shorty Horton.[8][9]

Wray served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War (1950–53). He contracted tuberculosis, which hospitalized him for a year. His stay concluded with the removal of a lung, which doctors predicted would mean he would never be able to sing again.[10]


Building on the distorted electric guitar sound of early records, Wray's first hit was the 1958 instrumental "Rumble". The record was first released on Cadence Records (catalog number 1347) as by "Link Wray & His Ray Men". "Rumble" was banned in New York and Boston for fear that it would incite teenage gang violence, "rumble" being slang for a gang fight.[11]

Before, during, and after his stints with major labels Epic and Swan, Wray released 45s under many names. Tiring of the corporate music machine, he began recording albums using a three-track studio he converted from an outbuilding on his brother's property that his father used to raise chickens, in Accokeek, Maryland. He wrote and recorded the LP Link Wray (1971), on which he wrote about his frustrations. The Neville Brothers have recorded two tracks from it, "Fallin' Rain" and "Fire and Brimstone".[10]

While living in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1970s, Wray was introduced to Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cipollina by bassist James "Hutch" Hutchinson.[12] He subsequently formed a band initially featuring special guest Cipollina along with the rhythm section from Cipollina's band Copperhead, bassist Hutch Hutchinson, and drummer David Weber. They opened for the band Lighthouse at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles from May 15–19, 1974.[13] He later did numerous concerts and radio broadcasts in the Bay Area, including at KSAN and at promoter Bill Graham's Winterland Ballroom venue, with Les Lizama later replacing Hutchinson on bass.[14] He toured and recorded two albums with retro-rockabilly artist Robert Gordon in the late 1970s.[15] 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, session drummer Anton Fig, later became drummer in the CBS Orchestra on the Late Show with David Letterman. In 1994, he played on four songs of the album Chatterton by French rocker Alain Bashung.[16] He went on to release two albums of new music: Shadowman (1997) and Barbed Wire (2000).

In November 2017, Easy Eye Records announced the future release of two recently discovered recordings, "Son of Rumble", presumably a follow-up to 1958's "Rumble", and "Whole Lotta Talking", recorded in 1970. The recordings were issued as a 45rpm single in April 2018.[17][18] Easy Eye released another 45rpm single of newly discovered/unreleased material for RSD 2019, "Vernon's Diamond" b/w "My Brother, My Son". "Vernon's Diamond" was recorded circa 1958-59 and is an early version of "Ace of Spades", and "My Brother, My Son" was recorded at the same sessions as "Whole Lotta Talking" in 1970. [citation needed]

Personal life and death[edit]

Link Wray's grave

Wray's first three marriages, to Elizabeth Canady Wray, Ethel Tidwell Wray, and Sharon Cole Wray, produced eight children. In the early 1980s, Wray relocated to Denmark and married Olive Povlsen, who became his manager.[19]

Wray died of heart failure at his home in Copenhagen, on November 5, 2005, at the age of 76.[20] He was survived by his nine children, 24 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.[19] Wray was cremated, and his ashes were buried in the crypt of the Christian's Church, Copenhagen.[21]

Musical style and influence[edit]

Link Wray's 1950s recordings "straddled country and rockabilly".[22] He later performed surf influenced garage rock in the 1960s, swamp rock and country rock in the early 1970s and hard rock in the late 1970s and onward.[23]

Wray is credited with inventing the power chord.[22] According to AllMusic's Cub Koda, Wray's instrumental recordings starting with "Rumble" through his Swan singles in the early 1960s laid the blueprints for "heavy metal, thrash, you name it."[22] "Rumble" facilitated the emergence of "punk and heavy rock", according to Jeremy Simmonds.[24]

Wray has influenced a wide range of artists. Jimmy Page described Link Wray as having a "real rebel attitude" and credited Wray in the documentary It Might Get Loud as a major influence in his early career. According to Rolling Stone, Pete Townshend of The Who once said, "If it hadn't been for Link Wray and 'Rumble,' I never would have picked up a guitar."[1] Mark E. Smith of The Fall wrote in his autobiography: "The only people I ever really looked up to were Link Wray and Iggy Pop... Guys like [Wray] are very special to me."[25] Iggy Pop[26] and Neil Young[27] have also cited Wray as an influence on their work.

Bob Dylan refers to Wray in his song "Sign Language", which he recorded as a duet with Eric Clapton in 1975: "Link Wray was playin' on a juke box I was payin'/ for the words I was saying, so misunderstood/he didn't do me no good"[28] Both Dylan and Bruce Springsteen performed Wray's tune "Rumble" in concert as a tribute to the influential musician upon his 2005 death.[29] In 2007, musician Steven Van Zandt inducted Link Wray into the Native American Music Hall of Fame with a tribute performance by his grandson Chris Webb and Native artist Gary Small.



Release date A-side B-side Label Catalog number US
March 1958 "Rumble" "The Swag" Cadence 1347 16
January 1959 "Raw-Hide" "Dixie-Doodle" Epic 5-9300 23
June 1959 "Comanche" "Lillian" Epic 5-9321
October 1959 "Slinky" "Rendezvous" Epic 5-9343
February 1960 "Trail of the Lonesome Pine" "Golden Strings" (Based on a Chopin etude) Epic 5-9361
1960 "Roughshod" [released as by Ray Vernon & The Raymen] "Vendetta" [released as by Ray Vernon & The Raymen] Scottie 1320
October 1960 "Ain't That Lovin' You Babe" "Mary Ann" Epic 5-9419
July 1961 "Jack The Ripper" "The Stranger" Rumble 1000
August 1961 "El Toro" "Tijuana" Epic 5-9454
November 1961 "Evil Angel" [A-side by Ray Vernon] "Danger One Way Love" [B-side by Ray Vernon with Link Wray & His Raymen] Rumble 1349
April 1962 "Poppin' Popeye" "Big City Stomp" Trans Atlas M-687
October 1962 "Hold It" [released as by Ray Vernon & The Raymen] "Big City After Dark" [released as by Ray Vernon & The Raymen] Mala 456
January 1963 "Dancing Party" "There's a Hole in the Middle of the Moon" Mala 458
February 1963 "Hambone" [A-side by Red Saunders & His Orchestra with Dolores Hawkins & The Hambone Kids] "Rumble Mambo" [B-side by Link Wray & The Wraymen] OKeh 4-7166
March 1963 "Jack The Ripper" [reissue] "The Black Widow" Swan S-4137 64
September 1963 "Week End" "Turnpike U.S.A." Swan S-4154
November 1963 "The Sweeper" "Run Chicken Run" Swan S-4163
February 1964 "The Shadow Knows" "My Alberta" Swan S-4171
July 1964 "Deuces Wild" "Summer Dream" Swan S-4187
February 1965 "Good Rockin' Tonight" "I'll Do Anything For You" Swan S-4201
April 1965 "I'm Branded" "Hang On" Swan S-4211
never released/withdrawn from schedule (originally set for mid–1965) "Please Please Me" "Rumble '65" Swan S-4221
July 1965 "Baby, What'cha Want Me" "Walkin' Down the Street Called Love" Diamond D-186
October 1965 "Girl from the North Country" "You Hurt Me So" Swan S-4232
December 1965 "Ace of Spades" "The Fuzz" Swan S-4239
February 1966 "Batman Theme" (with Bobby Howard) "Alone" Swan S-4244
July 1966 "Hidden Charms" "Ace of Spades" [alternate version] Swan S-4261
October 1966 "Let the Good Times Roll" (with Kathy Lynn) "Soul Train" Swan S-4273
1967 "Jack The Ripper" [reissue] "I'll Do Anything For You" [reissue] Swan S-4284
1968 "Rumble '68" "Blow Your Mind" Heavy H-101
1969 "Rumble–69" "Mind Blower" Mr. G (an imprint of Audio Fidelity) G-820
July 1971 "Fire and Brimstone" "Juke Box Mama" Polydor PD-14084
October 1971 "Fallin' Rain" "Juke Box Mama" Polydor PD-14096
1973 "Shine the Light" "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" Polydor PD-14188
1973 "I'm So Glad, I'm So Proud" "Shawnee Tribe" Virgin [UK] VS-103
1974 "I Got To Ramble" (Dedicated to the memory of Duane Allman) "She's That Kind of Woman" Polydor PD-14256
1974 "It Was a Bad Scene" "Backwoods Preacher Man" Polydor [UK] 2066 366
1975 "I Know You're Leaving Me Now" "Quicksand" Virgin [UK] VS-142
June 1979 "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" "Just That Kind" Charisma [UK] CB-333
April 2018 "Son of Rumble" "Whole Lotta Talking" Easy Eye 566577-7
April 2019 "Vernon's Diamond" "My Brother, My Son" Easy Eye Records EES-009


Wray was a featured collaborator on Robert Gordon's 1977 single "Red Hot" (Private Stock 45–156). The single peaked at No. 83 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.[31]


Release date Title Label Catalog Number
1960 US Link Wray & The Wraymen Epic LN 3661
1962 US Great Guitar Hits by Link Wray and His Raymen Vermillion LP-1924
1963 US Jack the Ripper Swan S-LP 510
1964 US Link Wray Sings and Plays Guitar Vermillion LP-1925
1969 US Yesterday – Today Record Factory LP-1929
1971 US Link Wray Polydor PD-24-4064
1971 US Mordicai Jones (with Bobby Howard) Polydor PD-5010
1973 US Beans and Fatback (rec. 1971) Virgin V-2006
1973 US Be What You Want To Polydor PD-5047
1974 US The Link Wray Rumble Polydor PD-6025
1974 US Listen to the Voices That Want to Be Free (with Joey Welz; rec. 1969–70) [reissued in 2013 as Rumble & Roll on Rokarola/Music Avenue 250346] Music City MCR-5003
1975 US Stuck in Gear Virgin V-2050
1979 US Bullshot Visa/Passport/Gem VISA 7009
1980 US Live at the Paradiso [at the Paradiso, Amsterdam] Visa/Passport/Gem VISA 7010
1985 UK Live in '85 Big Beat WIK 42; CDWIK 972
1989 DE Born to Be Wild: Live in the U.S.A. 1987 Line LICD 9.00690
1989 UK Rumble Man Ace CH 266
1990 UK Apache Ace CH 286; CDCHD 931
1990 UK Wild Side of the City Lights Ace CH 296; CDCHD 931
1993 DK Indian Child Epic/Sony Music EPC 473100 2
1997 US Shadowman Hip-O/UMe HIPD-40069
1997 US Walking Down a Street Called Love [live] Cult Music/Cleopatra CLP-9989
2000 UK Barbed Wire Ace CDCHD 770
2019 UK Link Sings Elvis [10" LP] Ace 10CHD 1553


Release date Title Label Catalog Number
1978 UK Link Wray: Early Recordings Chiswick/Ace CH 6; CDCHD 1460
1982 UK Good Rockin' Tonight Chiswick/Ace CH 69; CDCHD 1460
1987 UK Growling Guitar Big Beat WIK 65; CDWIK 972
1989 UK The Original Rumble: Plus 22 Other Storming Guitar Instrumentals Ace CDCH 924
1989 UK The Swan Demos '64 [reissued in 2005 as Law of the Jungle! The Swan Demos '64 on Sundazed SC-6221] Hangman HANG-31 UP
1990 UK Jack The Ripper [reissued in 1994 on Forevermore FVR-5002; and again in 2005 on Sundazed LP-5192] Hangman HANG-33 UP
1990 US Hillbilly Wolf: Missing Links Vol. 1 Norton ED 210
1990 US Big City After Dark: Missing Links Vol. 2 Norton ED 211
1990 US Some Kinda Nut: Missing Links Vol. 3 Norton ED 212
1992 US Walkin' With Link Epic/Legacy EK 47904
1993 US Rumble! The Best of Link Wray Rhino R2 71222
1995 US Guitar Preacher: The Polydor Years [2CD] Chronicles/Polydor 527 717
1995 US Mr. Guitar: Original Swan Recordings [2CD] Norton CED 242
1997 US Streets of Chicago: Missing Links Volume 4 Norton ED 253
1997 UK Robert Gordon with Link Wray / Fresh Fish Special [2-LP-on-1-CD; with extra bonus track: "Endless Sleep"] Ace CDCHD 656
1997 UK The Swan Singles Collection 1963–1967 [reissued in 2004 on Sundazed LP-5178] Rollercoaster RCCD 3011
2002 US Slinky! The Epic Sessions '58–'61 [2CD] Sundazed SC-11098
2002 UK Law of the Jungle Ace CDCHD 837
2004 UK "They're Outta Here", Says Archie [first issue of the unreleased 1958 Cadence album, rejected by label boss Archie Bleyer] Rollercoaster RCCD 3032
2006 US White Lightning: Lost Cadence Sessions '58 Sundazed SC-11137
2007 UK King of the Wild Guitar Ace CDCHD 1143
2007 UK The Pathway Sessions (includes the albums: Apache, Wild Side of the City Lights) Ace CDCHD 1154
2015 UK 3-Track Shack [2CD] (includes the albums: Link Wray, Mordicai Jones, Beans and Fatback) Ace CDCH2 1451

With Robert Gordon[edit]

Release date Title Label Number
1977 US Robert Gordon with Link Wray Private Stock; 1979 reissue: RCA Victor; 1997 CD reissue: One Way; 2015 CD reissue: Culture Factory PS 2030; AFL1-3296; OW-34493; 850703003880
1978 US Fresh Fish Special Private Stock; 1979 reissue: RCA Victor; 1997 CD reissue: One Way; 2015 CD reissue: Culture Factory PS 7008; AFL1-3299; OW-34491; 850703003873
2014 US Robert Gordon/Link Wray: Cleveland '78 [live] Rock-A-Billy/Cleopatra CLP-CD-1952


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "100 Greatest Guitarists - 45. Link Wray". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2021-12-06.
  2. ^ "Nirvana, Kiss, Hall and Oates Nominated for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" Archived September 2, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. Rolling Stone. October 16, 2013; retrieved October 16, 2013.
  3. ^ "Kate Bush, Missy Elliott, and Rage Against the Machine Inducted Into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's Class of 2023". pitchfork.com. 3 May 2023. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  4. ^ "Ancestry of Link Wray". Wargs.com. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
  5. ^ "Link Wray - MEGAMIX - 16 03 1994". YouTube.
  6. ^ a b Raidt, Dana (6 February 2019). "Link Wray Grew Up Hiding from the KKK in Rural North Carolina. Over the Course of His Career, He Refused to Be Erased". Indyweek.com. Archived from the original on 2021-09-24. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  7. ^ Cartwright, Garth. "Link Wray". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  8. ^ "Musician with Virginia roots "Rumbles" for an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame". 19 October 2017.
  9. ^ "New Biography Covers Rock 'n' Roll Guitarist Link Wray | Coastal Virginia Magazine". 21 June 2019.
  10. ^ a b Meadows, Dick (August 28, 1971). "Link: Doing it his Way". Sounds. Spotlight Publications. p. 8.
  11. ^ ""Rumble" Riles Censors". Pophistorydig.com. Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  12. ^ "The Leading Bands Site on the Net". BayAreaBands.com. Retrieved 2013-08-09.
  13. ^ "Whisky A-Go-Go Show List 1971-1975". Chickenona unicycle.com. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  14. ^ "Link Wray". wolfgangsvault.com. Archived from the original on 2012-06-25. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
  15. ^ Prown, Pete & Newquist, HP (1997). Legends of Rock Guitar: The Essential Reference of Rock's Greatest Guitarists, p. 25. Hal Leonard Corporation.
  16. ^ Chatterton (album booklet). Alain Bashung. Barclay Records. 1994. 523 111-2.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  17. ^ "Dan Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound Label Releases Never-Before-Heard Link Wray Song "Son of Rumble"". MXDWN Music. 29 November 2017. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  18. ^ "Steve Hoffman Music Forums". Forums.stevehoffman.tv. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  19. ^ a b Bernstein, Adam (November 22, 2005). "Guitarist Link Wray Dies; Influenced Punk, Grunge". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 8, 2013.
  20. ^ Sisario, Ben (November 22, 2005). "Link Wray, 76, a Guitarist With Raw Rockabilly Sound, Dies". The New York Times.
  21. ^ "Guitarist Link Wray Dies At 76". Billboard.com. 21 November 2005.
  22. ^ a b c Koda, Cub. "Link Wray Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2022-12-10.
  23. ^ Fablo, Syd (October 16, 2016). "Link Wray – Live at The Paradiso". Rock Salted. Retrieved 2022-12-10.
  24. ^ Simmonds, Jeremy (2008). The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches. Chicago Review Press. p. 559. ISBN 978-1-55652-754-8.
  25. ^ Smith, Mark E. (2009). Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith. Penguin UK. ISBN 978-0141028668.
  26. ^ "Iggy Pop – The Colbert Report". Comedy CentraL. 30 April 2013. Retrieved 2021-12-06.
  27. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "BBC Documentary; Don't Be Denied". BBC. Retrieved 2009-06-10.
  28. ^ "Sign Language". Dylanchords.info. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  29. ^ "Sign Language: the meaning behind the music and lyrics in Dylan's song". Bob-dylan.org.uk. 14 June 2016. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  30. ^ a b Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 1084–1085. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
  31. ^ "Hot 100 for the week ending October 15, 1977". Billboard. Vol. 89, no. 41. October 15, 1977. p. 88. Note that, despite the correct credit on the record itself, the Billboard chart credited Wray as "Link Ray".

External links[edit]